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Homer’s Iliad

In Greek mythology, heroes were humans, male or female of remote antiquity, possessing superhuman abilities and descended from the immortal gods themselves. An example of such hero is Achilles, the son of the sea-goddess Thetis. Although her mother is a goddess, Achilles is a mortal since his father is also a mortal. The basic norm in Greek mythology with regard to mortality is that: if one of the parents is a mortal, then the offspring is also a mortal (with one exception – Dionysus). Achilles is also endowed with superhuman abilities.

When Achilles was a baby, his mother brought him to the river Styx in order to receive the gift of ultimate protection. No part of his body is vulnerable to any physical wound. His body is destined to be armor by itself; except of course the heel. Ancient Greek heroes are generally treated as individuals who are by nature mortal; that is, for all the glory and prestige, they would have to experience death. Note that almost all Greek heroes died in battle, as what most legends narrate. Hercules is not an exception to this rule.

Even if Hercules was admitted to the company of gods, he suffered the so –called fundamental painful act: death. In other words, even if Hercules was immortalized in Greek mythology, he would have to suffer the ultimate fact of human existence: death. Ancient Greek heroes then are differentiated from the gods for two reasons. First, gods are by nature immortal. Their existence is not bounded by the rudiments of nature or FATE for that matter. For example, when the war-god Ares was wounded by the mortal Diomedes, the former experienced what is called a “mock death.

” The god’s death was momentarily; it was bound to return to his former nature. In short, the “dead seriousness of death” can only be experienced by humans. Second, the gods are aesthetic beings who enjoy the beauty of life and nature in contrast to the ancient Greek heroes who lavish on human suffering and cruelty of FATE. By sufferings and trials, they receive the rewards of dignity and respect from their comrades. What were the qualities of the heroes of Iliad? It is quite clear that in Homer’s Iliad, heroes show many symbolic characteristics of heroism, maliciousness, and submission to the gods.

It is said that if one is to be a hero, he/she has to be ready and fierce in battle and never show cowardice. To show heroism is to show how the heroes are vengeful against any and all enemies who render oppression to their families and friends. They show no mercy or pity in battle, hence the hero must be savage and inhumane (which by today’s standard are characteristics of a uncivilized people). “What disgrace! Look at you, carrying on in the armies’ muster just like boys – fools! ” (Homer, 800B. C. /1990:2. 400-401).

Achilles, for example when he refuses to fight to the side of the Greeks in the beginning of the epic, shows his heroism “I swear, a yearning for Achilles will strike Achaea’s sons and all your armies! But then, Atrides harrowed as you will be, nothing you do can save you- not when your hordes of fighters drop and die, cut down by the hands of man-killing Hector! Then- then you will tear your heart out, desperate, raging that you disgraced the best of the Achaeans! ” (The Hero of the Iliad, http://www. everything2. com/index. pl? node_id=930503) When Achilles decides to fight Hector, he said, “Fool, prate not to me about covenants.

There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall and glut grim Mars with his life’s blood. Put forth all your strength; you have need now to prove yourself indeed a bold soldier and man of war” (Homer, 800 B. C. /1994). Achilles savageness and inhumanity in battle is welcomed by the Greeks as signs of heroism, and that accords him prestige.

This is also true for other heroes in the epic. The great champion of the Trojans, Hector, though considered by many to a lesser hero than Achilles, is not exempted from this first quality of a hero. His brother, Paris, describes him, “‘Ah Hector, you criticize me fairly, yes, nothing unfair, beyond what I deserve. The heart inside you is always tempered hard, like an ax that goes through wood when a shipwright cuts out ship timbers with every ounce of skill and the blade’s weight drives the man’s stroke. So the heart inside your chest is never daunted’” (Homer, 800B. C.

/1990:3. 69-76). This is also true in the case of the Great Ajax, son of Telamon when he urged Hector to fight him in single battle. He said, “Hector, you shall now learn, man to man, what kind of champions the Danaans have among them even besides lion-hearted Achilles cleaver of the ranks of men. He now abides at the ships in anger with Agamemnon shepherd of his people, but there are many of us who are well able to face you; therefore begin the fight” (Homer, 800B. C. /1994, VII). He never shows mercy or liking of his enemies in battle. The norm is: to kill or to be killed.

An ancient Greek hero is also submissive to the will of the gods. Every action of a hero should have blessings from the gods. The hero’s destiny is dictated by the will of the gods. “So let no man hurry to sail home, not yet… payment in full for the groans and shocks of war we have all borne for Helen” (Homer, 800B. C. /1990:2. 420-423). Achilles never disobeys the will of Athena, the favorite offspring of Zeus (goddess of wisdom and battle – who carries the thunderbolt and personal effects of Zeus). Here are some instances when every action of the hero is attributed as the will of the gods.

Achilles says after he dragged and mutilated the body of the fallen Hector, “So be it. If Olympian Jove of his own motion thus commands me, let him that brings the ransom bear the body away” (Homer, 800 B. C. /1994). Hector also exemplifies this virtue (for the Greeks this is a type of virtue; he said, “Had it been some mortal man who had sent me some prophet or priest who divines from sacrifice- I should have deemed him false and have given him no heed; but now I have heard the goddess and seen her face to face, therefore I will go and her saying shall not be in vain.

If it be my fate to die at the ships of the Achaeans even so would I have it; let Achilles slay me…” (Homer, 800B. C/1994, XXIV). One of the lesser Greek heroes, Ajax (Great Ajax), although adamant to the actions of the gods (he personally criticized the gods for being involved in the war with the Trojans) also shows this kind of heroic virtue. He attributes his strength and courage to the greatest of the gods, Zeus at one instance.

An ancient Greek hero is also one who possesses great courage and strength, celebrated for his daring exploits and essentially on the gods’ favor. His courage and willingness to commit himself to the immortality of time, as the greatest of mortals are signs of nobility; that they descended from the gods. Before going to battle, Achilles sings a song of courage to inspire the Greeks and of course himself to fight. He is described as, “… delighting his heart now, plucking strong and clear on the fine lyre-

beautifully carved, its silver bridge set firm he won from the spoils when he razed Eetion’s city. Achilles lifting his spirits with it now, singing the famous (“klea”) deeds of fighting heroes” (The Hero of the Iliad, http://www. everything2. com/index. pl? node_id=930503). With al considerations of heroism, an ancient Greek hero is bound to receive the reward of immortal glory. Achilles, for instance, knows that if he returns home, he will not be able to achieve immortal fame.

His mother knows the future of Achilles: the latter will choose death for glory rather than life in shadow. He says in one passage of the Iliad, “If…I remain to fight around Troy town, I lose all hope of home but gain unfading glory” (Nagy –quote on Iliad, http://www. uh. edu/~cldue/texts/introductiontohomer. html). With all these are the Greek heroes.


Greek heroes: The Iliad vs. Today’s Standards. URL http://www. planetpapers. com/Assets/4391. php. Retrieved September 11, 2007. Homer. 1990. The Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. USA: Penguin Books.

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