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Homer’s “The Iliad”

Iliad, one of the largest epic poems in Greek, written by Homer around 8th century BC is more a story of War and Glory. Characters emerge as a strong force always ready to fight to attain lost glory and pride. Society in Iliad evolves itself into the quest for the values through their achievements in the battlefield. Winning in a battle is a glorious preoccupation for warriors and defines their position in their group. A warrior proves his worth, superiority and status over the other men in disposition in great battles and in the public display of hand-to-hand fighting.

All his actions are governed by his ability to lead the battle, his tactics and strategies in war front, the physical attributes bestowed on him by God, the strength of his army, his past endeavours and family’s reputation. Heroes voice seems to echo in the heart of their soldiers bolstering their enthusiasm by mentioned in the following lines: “Friends, be men. Let sense of shame from all men fill your hearts. Remember, each of you, your children, wives, possessions, and your parents— whether alive or dead. They’re not here, but, on their behalf, I beg you to stand firm. Don’t let yourselves turn round and run away. ” (15.

769) [15. 661] As compared to Odyssey, in the Iliad, its common among public of great valuable disposition to assert their status and power in public to attain their self confidence and to empower with self awareness about how others would perceive them during perilous years of fighting, which is quite revealed in following lines: “Glaucus, why are we two awarded special honours, with pride of place, the finest cuts of meat, our wine cups always full in Lycia, where all our people look on us as gods? Why do we possess so much fine property, by the river Xanthus, beside its banks, rich vineyards and wheat-bearing ploughland?

It’s so we’ll stand in the Lycian front ranks and meet head on the blazing fires of battle, so then some well-armed Lycian will say, ‘They’re not unworthy, those men who rule Lycia, those kings of ours. It’s true they eat plump sheep and drink the best sweet wines—but they are strong, fine men, who fight in the Lycians’ front ranks. ‘ . . . ” (12. 332) [12. 310] Warriors of Iliad follow certain set of principles referred as “code of honor”, among these, majority of the events take place evolving heroic code and different characters behave on their own perceptions on the way heroic code should be regarded.

As the story moves forward, Hector appears to be one of the greatest Trojan warriors, and exemplary figure Homer beautifully crafted in his perception of a true hero-completely dedicated in his strict belief to the code of honor. In book three, Hector reprimanded Paris when he refuses to fight. Hector had an ardent belief that abstaining oneself from war is against the heroic code when his men are all in the battlefield. Battle may not be a choice for many but abstaining from battle is a matter of shame. It is better to die in a battlefield and attain glory rather than to live a recluse life without war.

He replied the following: “I would die of shame to face the men of Troy and the Trojan women trailing their long robes if I would shrink from battle now, a coward”. (6-523) The price for them for maintaining their honor and virtue is fame (kleos), and dying without fame in other words akleos is a disaster for them and the warriors of the Homeric epics commit the most outrageous deeds to avoid dying in obscurity or infamy. Homer was very clear in describing his hero and what his hero should be. His hero is brave and possesses moral values. He has leadership qualities and is a motivational force for others to follow.

His heroic code possess with four attributes like Aristos means supremacy, Arete means respect, Aristeia means prestige, depends on exploits and Kleos means desire for glory and remembrance. (Everything. com Online edition) Epic begins only with a tribute to the dynamism and power of its hero, “Rage- Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus son Achilles. ” (I: 1) This rage and dynamism that Achilles carries with him motivates many of the actions in The Iliad. Along with Achilles also possesses traits of egocentrism, and mercurialness, that made his character embodied with certain flaws.

Achilles could not bear torment of insult when Agamemnon seized Achilles consort Briseis and he prays to his mother Thetis for King’s downfall. In whole of Epic, Achilles is never considered, as heroic except he is the son of Gods, making his position stronger than other mortal warriors. Though brave yet his selfish interests over-looms larger in his character forbidding him to take part in the battle called by his country and its citizens. One character that stood apart then the rest is Hector, in whom Homer has put all the shades of heroic qualities.

With indomitable courage and resolutions to fulfill, the love for his family reflects from his soul. He has all the love for his people and did commendable job in bringing together his troops. On one hand if we see Hector with the attributes of courage and indomitable spirit and on the other hand, we have Paris who seemed at one stance a symbol of coward. In last years of war when an effort was made to resolve the conflict by a single battle between Paris and Menelaus, Paris was hesitant to and it was Hector who rebuked him:

“Are you too cowardly to stand up to the brave man whom you wronged? You would soon find out the kind of fighter he is whose lovely wife you stole. Your lyre would not help you at all, nor Aphrodite’s gifts … But the Trojans are too soft. Otherwise you would have been stoned to death long ago for the evil you have done. ” [Hector 1 to Paris. 3. 45] But when Paris could not refuse Hector’s reproach, he praised him and accepted with grace the reprimand and duel, but he did not recede to hear, “There is something you must not reproach me for: the lovely gifts I have from Aphrodite.

The precious gifts that the gods lavish on a man unasked are not to be despised, even though he might not choose them if he had the chance. ” [Paris to Hector 1, 3. 65] There are also some kind of engagements that Paris so cherish like taking care of armour, shield, and bow in the palace, with Helen beside him. Odysseus is seen as another hero with embodiments of heroic code and is seen as completely devoted to his people. Priam too is seen as a leader with all the characteristic traits of hero.

Hector has within him also the qualities recognizable as all human with all complexity of iron mystery of life and would often turn away into some unknown territory if faced by the cruel irrationality of fate. When faced with danger from Achilles, human side of Hector reinforced itself and he decided to run away from Achilles, who gave him chase and killed him at the back. It is to the Homer that we owe both heroic and non-heroic traits among characters making them both as human and as divine. Being a human, they have both heroic as well as villainous qualities and when they show their heroic code, they appear not less than divine.

Hector though having qualities of heroism too acts as a coward when he runs away from Achilles during war. Characters have their own attributes and show flexibility and change in their nature. The biggest example is a fight between Diomedes and Glaucus. Diomedes shows a great wrath when he attacks Gods and kills numerous people, and is again ready to enter into battle, but when realization dawns on them that their ancestors were allies, they decide not to fight and revoke their ancestors’ wishes of maintaining peace and friendship.

Both Achilles and Paris have villainous qualities in them. It was Paris’s quest for Helen that brought about this Great War. In-spite of little amount of cowardice that he had to show in the end, it is the character of Hector that only prevails over all the characters. Iliad is a chronicle of a long war, whereby end of characters are inevitable. Nobody could have saved Troy from fall, as Hector too says to his wife in Book 6, and the destiny of death had already knocked at the doors of the other characters too.

Priam and all of his children were destined to die and Hector too got killed much before the epic ends. Though Achilles did not die yet fate of death was in store for him. Iliad recognized the fact that even glorious men of Hector’s nature cannot elude death. This was reminded us again and again by the prophecy of Calchus, words of Hector for Andromache and debates of gods. Troy will fall with the fall of their warriors and supporters but the fortifications of Greek will also not remain intact for long.

But it is the beauty of Homer who developed the essence of mortality as an emblem of immortality. In other words though the Greek heroes leave their mortal bodies but their glory will always shrine amidst their people. It is this glory that they so long cherished and is their most valuable code of honor.


Homer. The Iliad (Fagles, Robert, trans. ). New York: Penguin Book USA Inc. , 1991 Everything. com. The Hero of The Iliad. Internet. Available: http://everything2. com/index. pl? node_id=930503, February 12, 2008.

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