An Analysis of the Reasons Why Homer’s Iliad is Considered as a Morality Play
In the Iliad, Homer highlights how it is human nature for individuals to be susceptible to malicious intentions no matter how deep seated one’s moral compass is, thus allowing the Iliad to be considered a morality play. The Iliad is also considered to be a morality play primarily because of how there are characters other than the protagonist that demonstrate the embodiment of virtue and corrupt behavior. The play also allows the audience with the opportunity to obtain moral advisement. It is the summation of these characteristics that allows the Iliad to be considered a morality play.
A major moral of the Iliad is associated with how the failure of reason and the lack of control over human passion is shown to be the chief cause of discord and tragedy. If man behaves irrationally, irrational situations will happen to him. Nature and the Gods join in to enforce this irrationality and then tragedy results in this question of who and what is responsible for man’s destiny. The basic belief of the ancient Greeks was that man is in the grip of forces far stronger than he and is at the whim of those forces or more specifically subservient to the will of Zeus at the same time. There are also issues of personal responsibility and men must make decisions in which they weigh their passions against reason. Achilles’ main preoccupation which manifests most frequently in the epic is wrath and it is the source of much suffering on the part of his fellow warriors. He refuses to join their battle out of pride and they endure many losses and fatalities due to his selfish decision making. In the case of Achilles, it is his vengeance and rage that inundate him and eventually cause him to succumb to his fateful early death.
The purpose of the Iliad is to show the importance of man’s life in this very struggle itself. Achilles is a hero because he emerges from this struggle a better man. He first goes through stages of pride, fury, and revenge which are all brought on from a state of anguish. He is deprived of his honor and loses his best friend because of his irrational behavior, but when he finally charges into battle knowing he is doomed to die and is moved by the poignant pleas of Hector’s father to return Hector’s body he undergoes an important transformation. He recognizes that there are forces greater than himself and he comments that men are wretched things and the Gods who have no cares themselves have woven sorrow into the very pattern of people’s’ lives. It is with this realization that he develops a genuinely tragic vision of life and grows into a full tragic hero. This transformation provides the audience with the opportunity to be encouraged to live a righteous life and obtain moral guidance, thus making this epic a morality play. The Iliad also contains several characters that accurately depict the virtuous and corrupt traits that appear throughout the epic. Odysseus is a clever character, however his actions reflect his misguided moral judgment. He appears to use deceit and dishonorable war tactics to get ahead in the Trojan war. His cleverness and lack of honor allow him to get further in life, however it is known that he pays for his actions later on through his journey back to Ithaca as made apparent in the Odyssey. The principle of retribution for one’s actions is made apparent through Odysseus and other characters within the Iliad.There are many themes and messages in the Iliad- one of the themes is justice which operates in a very brutal way in the story and more often than not men find themselves confused, deceived, and ultimately destroyed by powers beyond their control represented of course by the Gods.
The Iliad is considered to be a morality play for numerous reasons, however it is primarily often referred to one due to how the protagonist represents either humanity as a whole or as a structure. It is also considered to be a morality play because of how it encourages the audience to live a righteous life, provides them with moral guidance, and consists of supporting characters that are the personifications of virtue and corrupt behavior.
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