Andromache As The Real Victim In The Iliad
In Homer’s The Iliad, there are many victims of war such as Sarpedon, Patroclus, and Hector, all of whom die. There is, however, another lesser discussed victim of this war, Andromache. Andromache, the wife of hector, showcases the effect of war on those left at home who must live through the aftermath. The epic poem presents her background with Achilles, how caring she is, and how tragic her future will be.
Achilles, who is often thought to be the hero, is truly a villain in Andromache’s eyes. Achilles killed her father, mother, and all seven of her brothers. “I have lost my father. Mother’s gone as well. Father… the brilliant Achilles laid him low”. Even though Andromache does view Achilles as a villain, she also has some respect for him. Achilles has inflicted suffering upon her, yet she still respects him. Andromache describes him in a positive light, and is even thankful towards him, “He killed Eetion, not that he stripped his gear-he’d some respect at least”. As a result of Achilles’s actions against her family, she is terrified that he will strike once again and take away the rest of her family.
Despite the tragedy in her life, Andromache is still a good-hearted person. The first time she is mentioned is when Hector is trying to find her to say goodbye one final time. Being unsuccessful, he asks a servant: “Where’s Andromache gone?… Athena’s shrine where the noble Trojan Women gather to win the great grim goddess over?” One of the first places he assumed she went was the temple to help with the war. After Hector returns to the battle he gives a speech on how kindhearted she is to the horses. “The loving care Andromache, generous Eetion’s daughter, showered on you aplenty”. She gave the horses extravagant food and drink and attended to them before attending to Hector . This demonstrates how caring she was to others.
At the end of the poem, Andromache is lamenting the future that awaits her. Achilles killed Hector as she feared and now, she and her child must face the consequences of the soon to be lost war. She mourns: “my child, will follow me to labor, somewhere, at harsh, degrading work, slaving under some heartless master’s eye”. There is no other path for her to take as women had very limited options. Andromache continues with her child’s fate differing from hers significantly. “Some Achaean marauder will seize you by the arm and hurl you headlong down from the ramparts-horrible death”. The fate of her child adding on to the tragedy that awaits her.
In conclusion, Andromache is the true victim of The Iliad. Every family member, except for her child, killed by Achilles and ultimately her child will be killed. Then to add to that she had to face a dismal future. Andromache was not the only one to have this fate, however. The other women of Troy would have faced a similar fate. They would be slaves or trophies while their husbands, brothers, and sons would be killed. Ultimately, women like Andromache are the real victims of the war in Homer’s The Iliad.
An Idea Of A Person’s Excellence In The Iliad Of Homer
Courage, intelligence, and physical strength are all excellent qualities found in humans, and they are valued above all else to the ancient Greeks in The Iliad of Homer. These qualities can be seen in many of the characters in this epic poem, and the people fortunate enough to have these qualities are regarded more highly than those who lack them. A person’s excellence or their aretê is determined by their courage, intelligence, or physical strength that they exhibit to those around them.
While intelligence and physical strength are fiercely respected by the Greeks in The Iliad of Homer, courage is seen as the best quality a person can have. In fact, it is this lack of courage that turns Paris’ own brother Hektor against him in the fight with the Achaians. Hektor notices Paris’ fear towards Menelaos and states “Surely now the flowing-haired Achaians laugh at us, thinking you are our bravest champion, only because your looks are handsome, but there is no strength in your heart, no courage”. Hektor, therefore, lost any respect he had for Paris all because he showed weakness towards an enemy that Paris himself provoked. Even though Paris is seen as “godlike” due to his beauty, it is not enough to sustain his aretê to his family let alone his comrades. Cowardice could then be seen as the worst quality to have amongst the ancient Greeks, and once displayed, it is hard to gain back the respect lost.
Similarly to courage, intelligence is a virtue admired amongst the Achaians and is used as a determinant for a person’s aretê. Intelligence is seen as the ability to reason and to cleverly be able to persuade others with merely words. It is a powerful tool if wielded correctly and a prime example of this power is displayed by Odysseus. Odysseus was visited by Athena and told to go to the kings of the Achaians in order to rally them to fight against the Trojans. “So he went through the army marshaling it, until once more they swept back into the assembly place from the ships and shelters clamorously…”. Since men of great influence all listened to Odysseus, it shows an enormous amount of respect for his voice of reason and his wisdom. If Athena, a goddess of Olympos, knew that Odysseus could succeed in encouraging the Achaians where Agamemnon failed then this proves that Odysseus’ intelligence is the major determinant for his aretê. Therefore intelligence is an important quality as well when determining someone’s excellence.
In addition to courage and intelligence, physical strength is another characteristic revered by the Achaians and is obviously portrayed by Achilleus. Achilleus is a demigod and as such his strength on the battlefield greatly surprasses that of the average man. A man with such physical strength as Achilleus would make it nearly impossible to not highly esteem him. He is able to commit amazing feats which in return gains him respect among the Achaians. Due to this Achilleus has immense influence, enough to make Agamemnon worry that he may try to overthrow his authority “Yet here is a man who wishes to be above all others, who wishes to hold power over all, and to be lord of all, and give them their orders, yet I think one will not obey him”. Without his physical strength Achilleus would not have acquired so much respect from his fellow Achaians which in turn would not have made him a threat to Agamemnon. Physical strength played a key component in determining Achilleus’ aretê and helped him gain power over his soldiers.
In The Iliad of Homer there is a correlation between a person’s aretê and the amount of power they wield. The higher a person’s excellence, the more respect they garner and with that more power. Men like Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilleus and Paris are all men of influence and they all have or had in Paris’ case great worth in the eyes of their peers. Their qualities whether it be courage, intelligence, or physical strength help to determine their excellence and maintain their status as great men. Without such characteristics it would have been very hard for them to have earned their positions. They might have been born into titles like a king but it is very difficult to maintain such a position without the respect of your subjects. These men prove that it takes certain qualities as well as effort to gain excellence.
The Role of Women in Homer’s Iliad
The Iliad, by Homer, primarily revolves around the male characters in the epic poem, but the few women in the story play a salient role. The women are seen as nothing but trophies for the dauntless works of men, but the roles that they depict play a crucial role in the development of the plot and storyline. Gender roles are a social construct that outlines the ‘appropriate’ attitudes, behaviors, and actions of men in women in the context of society. They aid in defining what is masculine or feminine, and show the way people should be regarded.
In Homeric epics, female characters are vital to the plot because they act as a basis of comparison for the men, as the outrageousness of their actions can be seen when in juxtaposition with a woman’s. Additionally, they add depth and create a theatrical aspect. For example, The Iliad would not have happened had there not been a quarrel over Helen. Historically, women are seen as the inferior gender, regularly being viewed as weak and inadequate. The female population has been continuously ostracized from society and its major decisions. In more recent years, the subject of gender roles has become a very controversial topic, as the majority of people believe women are being treated unfairly compared to men. In the Iliad, women are written with little thought put into the character, and they are thrown into the story merely for the plot, but in modern literature, the female characters play a more integral and involved role in terms of the plot, dissimilar from female objectification displayed in past literature.
Masculinity in The Iliad is portrayed by men who seize a place as a master, while femininity is encapsulated by women who have little say in the decisions made in society, and are accustomed to being seen as the property of men. In present-day literature, women are deeply embedded into stories and often play a heroic role but in the Iliad, women are complex characters written simply to enhance the storyline and create drama. Take Helen for example. Her story greatly altered the plot, as she indirectly started the Trojan war. Helen is regarded as the most beautiful women in the world, which led to a conflict over her hand in marriage. She was already wedded to Menelaus, who was on the Greek side, but left him to run away with Paris, who was on the Trojan side. After the war had begun, Iris stated “…you [Helen] will be called the dear wife of whichever one wins”. This shows that while Helen has intense emotions and feelings pertaining to her situation, she had no say in anything that took place.
Another example of using the objectification of women for the purpose of writing is the characters of Briseis and Chryseis. When Chryseis was forced to be returned to her father, Agamemnon was angry, yet consented to avoid more of his men falling to the plague. Following the agreement to return Chryseis, Agamemnon states, “But you must provide a prize for me at once. For me to be the only Argive here, Without some gift of honor would hardly be right!”. The men in The Iliad believe that their bravery in the war warrants a reward, most commonly a girl. Without a trophy girl to fuel their pride, men feel inferior. Agamemnon tried to appropriate Briseis (Achilles war prize) as compensation for his loss. This caused Achilles to descend into a fit of rage as he was insulted that Agamemnon had the audacity to try and steal what he believed he deserved. Ultimately, Briseis is treated as a pawn between these two men to create a conflict in the long war, and advance the plot.
In contrast, the women in novels today are often written in heroic roles or as main characters. Numerous female characters in modernized literature break stereotypical gender roles by not needing the help of a man to save them, or though letting women exist on their own by disincluding the idea of a love interest in the novel entirely.
The Relationship Between Men And Women In Homer’s The Iliad
“If it is true that brilliant Achilles is risen beside their ships, then the worse for him if he tries it, since I for my part will not run from him out of the sorrowful battle, but rather stand fast, to see if he wins the great glory, or if I can win it” says Hektor in Homer’s The Iliad. Pride is spread out in the entire story of the Iliad which is caused by male warriors and the way they feel about their women. Women are seen in the Iliad as objects and also as manipulators of men; they care more about what is going on and suffer from loss while men are warriors who only care about their pride and honor.
The Iliad is clearly describing how women are treated by men. To illustrate, Helen and Briseis were bet on as if they were objects in an auction. A woman’s role is to be complimenting the man’s greatest feats and they are often treated as objects. “Still I am willing to give her back, if such is the best way. I myself desire that my people be safe, not perish. Find me then some prize that shall be my own, lest I only among the Argives go without, since that were unfitting.” says Agamemnon. Agamemnon lost Chrysies and took Briseis, Achilles war prize. Both of them were traded off like objects. Women are used as objects and not as human beings. Women look inferior to men when they are given away as prizes. Also, they were given to gods or married to gods or family members, such as Helen was married to Menelaus without any choice, chosen by his men to be married to him. Helen was taken by Paris; it then caused the Trojan War. It was not out of free will. Women in Greek culture are typically treated differently from men because men are the warriors who protect and fight for their cities. Also the cities were dominated by males who created these wars between them and their war prizes were the women. Although women are human beings, in the Iliad they are viewed as trophies and prizes which gives men honor after going into war.
Women in The Iliad are also manipulators of men. Women are viewed as sexual manipulators. They act deviously to men to get what they want. They do this by having sex with them or doing some outrageous acts. ”Hera, there will be a time afterwards when you can go there as well. But now let us go to bed and turn to love-making. For never before has love for any goddess or woman so melted about the heart inside me, broken it to submission, as now.’ says Zeus The goddess Hera seduces her husband, Zeus, in an effort to get the Trojan War to go in her favor. Hera seduces Zeus and drugs him into a deep sleep so that she can go and interfere in the Trojan War and make more Trojans die.
The relationship of men and women is that men care only for their pride while women care for one another. They have feelings as it is shown with Briseis conversation with Achilles after the death of Patroklos; she is heartbroken and very sorry Patroklos died. Achilles is also having a bad time dealing with his friend’s death, but in his grief he fell into despair and rage. Achilles only wants revenge for Patroklos’ death by killing Hektor. Also women are the source of conflict between parties as it is seen within the Trojan and the Achaeans, specifically with Paris and Menelaus, Agamemnon and Achilles. Fighting over the most beautiful women in the world was what started the Trojan War and ended up taking the lives of thousands of soldiers.
“Hektor, you are too intractable to listen to reason. Because the god has granted you the actions of warfare therefore you wish in counsel also to be wise beyond others. But you cannot choose to have all gifts given to you together. To one man the god has granted the actions of warfare, to one to be a dancer, to another the lyre and the singing, and in the breast of another Zeus of the wide brows establishes wisdom, a lordly thing, and many take profit beside him and he saves many, but the man’s own thought surpasses all others.” Says Poulydamas
Men only care for pride and honor; it is the motivation that gives the warriors the will to fight with all their might and save lives of others. Pride also pushes them closer to their demise such as when Hector doesn’t listen to Poulydamas’ advice which then leads to his death. Hektor thinks that because they had already accomplished so much, why he would turn back; it is all because of his pride and honor he didn’t fall back.
The book revolves around the lust for women and what ended up as a result of men’s pride and honor. Also the tragic death of Patroklos and Hektor which resulted in more grief and despair for both Trojans and Archean. Women are belittled by men which results in women being used for only their body and in order to satisfy men’s lust. It destroys the culture and families like when Paris destroyed Menelaus’ family.
The Tragic Dichotomy In The Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem, which was written by the ancient Greek poet Homer; the story recounts most of the significant events experienced in the final weeks of the Greek and the Trojan War under the military action of the city of Troy. The Iliad tells the story of what occurred during the last year of the Trojan War. The poem was written in the mid-8th century BCE, and therefore it is considered as the earliest work in the whole Western literary tradition. In this essay, we will review about the story Iliad, we will then discuss the dichotomy that is portrayed in the story, after the discussion is well understood we will be in the position of connecting this dichotomy with the current world issues considering the contrast between suffering and understanding as experienced in our contemporary society.
In the story ‘The Iliad’ it displays the chaos between the city of Troy army, known as the Trojans, and a confederation of Greek cities, which was collectively known as the Achaeans. The course of the war was when Paris, who was the son of Troy’s King Priam, seized the most beautiful woman in the world known as Hellen from the Achaean king Menelaus. This did not impress the Achaeans, and therefore they raised a massive army and sailed to Troy, hoping to win the woman back by force. This is where the war started claiming many lives. However, Homer began to write the story after nine years of the conflict between Troy and the Achaeans, During this period the Achaeans had just sacked a nearby city, and took several beautiful women with a lot of treasure. Chryses, Who was a priest from the sacked city, Tried approaching the Achaean camp to ask for there asks for her daughter back from the leader of the Achaeans, but it was all in vain.
In this story revenge is what everyone thinks can make things better for him. For instance, Chryses prays to Apollos to punish the Achaeans Army, and indeed the army is struck with a plague. Secondly, Achilles, who was the greatest of the Achaean fighters, asks for revenge on Agamemnon from his mother Thetis asking her to beseech Zeus to turn the tide of the war against the Achaeans. Another instance of retaliation is seen when Achilles learns of Path on the death of Patroclus; they, therefore, desiring revenge on Hector and the Trojans, what they deed by slaughtering numerous Trojans. A truce is declared When Priam pleads with Achilles for mercy, by asking the Achilles to remember his ageing father. Achilles is moved by his entreaty and agrees to give back Hector’s body. Priam returns to Troy with Hector, and the Trojans grieve for their loss.
Relating the Iliad to the current world, Killers are often described with inhuman similes. Still, in the fury of the rampage, the greatest heroes take on the aspect of ‘god-kindled fire’ or some similar elements. Iliad is a tale of violent deeds and violent men what is experienced in the current world, Everyone ones to win the war with or without bloodshed, everyone is after revenge without knowing that he is likely to lose even more. Looking at all these instances, we get a better explanation from Peter Leithart in Heroes of the City of Man; he explains that Iliad is valuable because it reveals the longing of the pagans for a true Prince of Peace. We can, therefore, point to key characters like Priam, Helen and Achilles, who mourn the wreckage of their world without seeing beyond it. The story Iliad presents, juxtaposed with the heroic life and a well-developed alternative. The Tragic Dichotomy is the juxtaposition of different ways of life, a good life but of different versions. In this case, we can say a life of convenience, life Hector and Achilles could have chosen, a life of peace, order, family, justice, average wealth but relative obscurity, they could choose a life of respect for and fellowship with humanity rather than private and destructive. According to Rose&Peter, in the current world there are different decisions that should be made, to choose what kind of life that we should live considering the sort of life Hector and Achilles chose. Wars are experienced all-time between different counties where every country needs to get what they want by force, blood is shed and a lot is lost, yes, this could be a solution to heroes but if we choose what we need wisely, if we need peace justice and humanity we can live a better life.
In conclusion, in any case we have had it enough that Homer’s poem Iliad, not by any stretch promotes peace, it is far more than a poem of force. Therefore, this is what we might find in the Tragic Dichotomy and it’s spatial. Consequently, it is a visual way of linking the poem to a powerful tool for teaching this most pagan of classics. The story, therefore, warns on the effects of using force to demand what you need, be it be justice. It also warns against revenge in some instances. A truce is declared when Priam pleads with Achilles for mercy by asking the Achilles to remember his ageing father, therefore, this shows that being humble and giving dialogue a chance in the current society is the best way to solve disputes between two parties, one of the parties need to humble down and apologize the way Priam did.
The Interaction Between Fate And Choice In The Iliad
When does fate and when does choice play a role our lives, or in this world? That question may always be asked but in Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad fate and choice happen often. Throughout The Iliad Homer creates numerous conflicts between not only the mortal Greeks and Trojans, but the Gods as well. Though there is a difference between what fate is and what choice is; their similarities coincide with each other. Fate causes one to act in a certain way, which causes one to make a decision based on their choice. The Gods stick their nose in the mortal conflicts the majority of the time. When this happens, mortals ask for advice as they trust the knowledge of the Gods, impacting the end results of many wars and the lives of the individuals. In The Iliad there are many characters who seem to question the idea of fate and their destiny. Looking at Homer’s idea of fate and choice is important being a modern reader, student, and person, to try and answer when fate and choice plays a role in our lives as well. As the Gods do control fate, it is the choices in which determine the outcome of each immortal’s life.
Something that is familiar to many modern people is the Bible. The Bible believes anybody who chooses to do what God asks will find out if John’s teaching comes from God or whether it comes from his own experiences. Questioning whether or not something comes from destiny or fate, or whether it comes from your own actions can have outcomes that coincide together. An example is in The Iliad Achilles does not want to fight, his friend, Patroclus decides to wear Achilles armor, along with pretending to be Achilles by choice. Patroclus then meets his fate of dying, being killed by Hector. If Patroclus did not decide to wear the armor of Achilles, he may not have died but the death of Patroclus is what inspired Achilles to want to fight, distraught and revengeful Achilles returned to war and kills Patroclus. In her essay “Character as Fate in Ancient Literature, “Mary Gould says, Achilles could have quit when Patroclus was killed. He could simply have gone in the direction opposite of outrage and returned home”. This shows how the choice of Achilles going to fight and kill Hector was choice. Life events feed off of each other, the choice of fighting and killing ended in fate of dying, fate of dying causes a choice of more fighting and that choice causes more fate of dying.
Another example of human choice and the consequences causing fate to fall into place takes place when Agamemnon took Chryses the daughter of the priest, causing Apollo to grow angry. After Apollo becomes angry because of Agamemnon’s choice, Apollo places a plague in the army to punish Agamemnon for taking Chryses. As stated by “Professor E. Joy in her sample student essay “Fate is Simply Free Will Driven by Ego, “Of the ladder, it can logically be assumed that had Agamemnon not taken the woman or other wised angered Apollo, there would not have been a plague and most if not all the men who died would have lived longer”.
Characters in The Iliad embrace the idea of fate or destiny, though they understand, the roads they pave may eventually lead them to death knowing there is a safer option. Great warriors thought that if they died honorably in war, they would carve their names into remembrance. Taking Achilles story into consideration of how these men welcome fate with open arms. Thetis, Achilles’ mother, tells him to fight in this battle for he will die gloriously, and if he returns home, he will live a long life but forever be forgotten. In Homer’s The Iliad Achilles states “Mother tells me, the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet, that two fates bear me on the day of death. If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy, my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies. If I voyage back to the fatherland I love, my pride, my glory dies… true but the life that’s left me will be long, the stroke of death will not come on me quickly”. After all, Achilles did choose to stay and fight this Trojan war, dies in the hands of Paris. This shows how a beautiful fate is far more important to the Greeks than living a long, happy life. The quote creates a question of if fate gives you options to choose from. Achilles is given an option to fight and die in the war or go home. This could be Homer discretely telling us that the men have some control over their own fates alongside the Gods. Or is it that Achilles thought he had a choice, when truly, his fate was already set for him after all.
One critic says, “Homer does not state that the power of fate is dissociated from Zeus and that it is an independent power in itself”. Everything that occurred in the poem had to be accompanied by Zeus. Meaning there was not a story in the poem that clearly states that the immortals or gods are subordinated to fate. Many stories in the poem show that Zeus throws fate. This proves that everything that has happened is connected to fate, but the gods have not been involved in every occasion. An example would be when Odysseus was to return home by faith, yet it was Zeus who had ordered the release. Along with the openly stated point that Odysseus came to Ithaca with the help of the Gods in the first place. In many other occurrences as well proves that everything has to do with Zeus and his desires. None of the other immortals hold the power to call the shots when it comes to fate. On page 389, book 15, lines 80-89 in The Iliad Zeus outlines the sequence of events to come and how he cannot change it, even the impending death of his mortal son, Sarpedon.
Referring back to the Bible the verse “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die”. This goes to show that in modern times everything is in the hands of our God as well, just as fate was in the hands of Zeus. Choosing to do things, asking for advice, and deciding what to do are all contribution towards the fate in which is in hand for one. The only difference is there is no way to change what is going to happen in the end. You can pray for the god’s help when you are doubtful, confused, angry, and to say thanks. Those prayers are always answered just not always in the way we want them to be. That can be the best thing or the worse thing that can happen.
The interaction between fate and choice is involved in every event that happens throughout the poem. Showing how through fate is already determined, characters still hope it will go in their own favor or continue to try and win. For example, though the wars outcome is already determined- the dedication, loyalty and the importance of the glory of the Trojan soldiers still remain strong though they know they are going to die.
This interaction between fate and choice adds to Homer’s poem by establishing a relationship with the gods and mortals, shows a bit of irony in certain situations along with showing insight into the characters decisions. By creating this relationship Homer enhances the meaning of the poem. He does this by giving some insight into characters like how they respond to the idea of fate and choice. This shows irony of situations like when Paris tries to use choice to change fate, which cannot be altered. This allows us to see the relationship between the mortals and gods along with how the gods power sits above the wants and wishes of mortals.
Iris Gernler says “one thing for sure fact can be deducted from this complex situation, however, and that is that everything happens for a reason… nothing is left to chance”. The mortals can try to do anything they desire to change or alter fate, but it will never change the outcome as it has been decided already.
Duffy believes “whether fate is controlled by the gods, or not they will always go together”.
“Nation of Swarming Insects”: the Subduing of Mass Consciousness in the Iliad
The warriors of Homer’s Iliad strive to ascertain posthumous glory, yet the majority of individuals involved in the main conflict seemingly lack personal sentience as they remain anonymous and unconscious to the power of those who exhibit individuality – those who actively rise from the masses to exemplify autonomy. Illustrating conformity to naturalistic impulses by likening the Achaian forces to swarms of bees as well as through comparison between Thersites’ cry for mutiny, Homer establishes the decisive need for individuality and selfhood within the hero, for only those who wield the power of the gods – or diverge from their divinely overwhelming authority – can execute agency within the conflict of The Iliad.
A necessary sense of banality governs the condition of the warrior in Homer’s epic in so far as, instead of being granted autonomy, the consciousness of the soldiers is diminished to a kind of uniformed mindlessness that renders the attainment of glory impossible. In a simile in Book II, Homer introduces the legions of Achaian soldiers as being “like the swarms of clustering bees” who categorically lack individuality (as inferred from the comparison to the hive mind species). Likewise, Homer further pacifies the actions of individuals by presenting them as hanging “like / bunched grapes as they hover beneath the flowers in springtime”, noting the incessant nature of their condition as they “issue forever / in fresh bursts from the hollow stone”. Thus, compounded and reduced to a lesser aggregate condition, the warriors lose individuality and thus their fate is predetermined. While heroes of the epic exhibit the perceived ability to challenge fate or, at least, to acknowledge the divine forces that give rise to immutable destiny, the warrior “bees” act without agency as they move “this way and that way”, unaware of both the motivations and consequences of their actions. Even when Homer concedes collective action as “the people” take “their positions”, it is made clear that the human action among the masses provokes natural discontent with the “earth groaning” in retort. If the subdued individuality of the common warrior serves to complement the divinely ordered world, then only those who wield divine power over nature are granted a heroic likeness. Even so, this parallels some kind of variant on the Euthyphro dilemma: are the heroes great because the gods choose them or do the gods choose the heroes because they are great?
Likewise, the presentation of “Powerful Agamemnon” in the poem constructs a notable dichotomy that allows for the discussion of the origins of power and its respective worth. Perhaps the most obvious emblem of the king’s divergence from his hive is his material sceptre which “Hephaistos had wrought him carefully”. Homer immediately details the celestial history of this sceptre rather than a story of Agamemnon’s might, for the fact that ownership of the entity can be traced all the way to Zeus grants authority to Agamemnon beyond what his individual actions could have expressed. Indeed, the sceptre was left for the great king “to carry / and to be lord of many islands and over all Argos”. Furthermore, Agamemnon – when first addressing his swarm – leans “upon this sceptre” to gain the divine power of logo, physically relying upon a symbol of regalia and thus of monarchal heritage. Yet, as Agamemnon speaks over the nonsensical murmurs of Achaian warriors, he achieves individuality only through a divergence from the naturalistic simile that constricted the consciousness of his society. Nevertheless, it is ironic that when Thersites is chastised by Odysseus the latter wields Agamemnon’s sceptre and “dashes” it against Thersites’ back, thus symbolically assuming a seemingly transactional leadership which in turn justifies many of Thersites’ claims about Agamemnon’s poor leadership. Even Odysseus does not question the validity of Thersites’ assertions but instead challenges his intrinsic status and thus individuality: “there is no worse man than you are”. In emphasising “who is speaking and not what is being said”, Homer demonstrates the ways in which the consciousness of a regular soldier is subdued.
Moreover, as Schreiber-Stainthorp elucidates, “that Thersites is the only common soldier to be given a significant amount of space in the epic” explains why Homer can justifiably exclude lowly figures from any deep characterisation in the rest of the poem. Interestingly, this could suggest that, although Thersites’ occupation determines that he would typically fall into the aforementioned category of the “clustering bees”, his consciousness is not subdued due to his blatant rejections of mindless heteronomy. Even so, the fact that Thersites does not reappear suggests that his outburst subverts the contemporary themes. Indeed, the narrator makes it extremely obvious that Thersites is not to be liked, an observation emphasised through the notable lack of epithets used in descriptions of him. Bearing connotations of respect, epithets are used elsewhere to describe Agamemnon as “the shepherd of the people” which is itself ironic due to the association of shepherds and good leadership. In addition, Homer’s description of Thersites’ objections begin with a vitriolic discourse on the latter’s appearance thus influencing how his opinions will be considered. Thersites is described as “the ugliest man who came beneath Ilion” which is significant as the Greek term for the aristocracy – kalloi kagathoi – translates to the “beautiful and good”. Werner Haeger effectively surmises this ideology as ‘the chivalrous ideal of the complete human personality, harmonious in mind and body, foursquare in battle and speech, song and action” wherein physique is often used as a proxy for honour and consequently individuality, a catalyst for consciousness.
Nevertheless, in direct contrast to Thersites is Achilles; “Thersites satirises what Achilles epitomises”. Where Thersites is beaten until he “a round tear dropped from him” for rejecting a corrupt authority that is mindlessly accepted by the rest of the leigon, Achilles is presented as righteous in Book I when he confronts an unjust Agamemnon who both characters criticise for not sharing the spoils of war and urge the soldiers to return home. Thersites even asks Agamemnon – in a similarly rhetorical opening to Achilles’ speech – “what further thing do you want”. Yet the difference is that Achilles is made an individual for his splendor, not – as is the case for Thersites – his ignominy. Whilst not asserting that designating Thersites as a conventional foil is unexpected, there still remains to be asked why Homer makes Thersites so eerily like Achilles? Nevertheless, the significantly public and painful humiliation of Thersites can be concluded as having intended to squash any further move towards mutiny, essentially subduing mass consciousness.
In essence, if the majority of participants in Homer’s war lacked sentience and passively engaged in the war, then the heroes of Homer’s epic are those who participated actively in the unfolding of destiny. Despite perhaps falling victim to the tragedy of fate, the Homeric hero acknowledges this greater power and wields divinity — either through celestial symbols or divine intervention — in active force guided by ideals of the individualised self, not the collectivised swarm.
The Human Condition In The Iliad By Homer
Homer’s The Iliad is an epic poem that talks of the Trojan War. Many similarities in behaviour between the gods and people are described in this epic. In Book 14 of The Iliad, “Hera Outflanks Zeus”, the book incorporates the disparity between the gods. At first, Hera shadily convinces the daughter of Zeus, Aphrodite, to make her irresistible. “Quick with treachery noble Hera answered, ‘Give me Love, give me Longing now, the powers you use to overwhelm all gods and mortal men!’ / Aphrodite, smiling her everlasting smile, replied, ‘Impossible — worse, it’s wrong to deny your warm request…’”. Next, Hera becomes allies with Sleep to betray Zeus, making it that Poseidon can help the Achaeans. Aphrodite power causes her to create a plan, in which Zeus is seduced and have him put to sleep as they make love. “’Sleep, master of all gods and all mortal men,… Put Zeus to sleep for me! Seal his shining eyes as soon as I’ve gone to bed with him, locked in love, and I will give you gifts…’”. We observe here that Hera tempts Sleep with bribes as people often do when they know something they want is difficult to obtain. These envious, deceitful, and other humanistic qualities of the gods inevitably produce disagreement amongst them, which is in turn manifested in the lives of mortals.
In polytheistic Greek cultures such as that of the world of The Iliad, the gods affect the lives of mortals based primarily on the gods’ whims. Each people have their own contingent of gods who support them, but also other gods who dislike them and whom they do not worship. This conflict between the influences of one god’s favor and another’s menace on the Achaeans is portrayed in the death of Patroclus, Achilles’ brother-in-arms. Hera and Poseidon help enormously to keep the Trojans from burning the Achaeans’ ship. Patroclus, no longer able to sit by idly as his comrades die, stirs to action and slays many Trojans; however, when he fights Hector, Apollo is angered at Patroclus’ zeal. “…Apollo knocked the helmet off his head and under his horse’s hooves it tumbled… / Disaster seized him — his fine legs buckling — he stood there, senseless… / Hector… came rushing into him right across the lines and rammed his spearshaft home, stabbing deep in the bowels…”. Patroclus’ death is devastating to the Achaean armies’ morale and, more central to the story, it further disrupts Achilles’ already unbalanced sophrosyne. The torment that Achilles endures here epitomizes the human condition. After reading Homer’s text, we realize that while it contains fine poetic history it is in fact about the human condition and how it affects people, Achilles primarily.
The reality for people in the world of The Iliad is that they live under many gods, and that they cannot please all of them; indeed, the gods are at odds with each other and to support one means to upset another. While the ideal condition for the Greeks is to possess sophrosyne, in reality there are too many uncontrollable external pressures to do so. Just as the gods who influence men are not harmonious, therefore, we find this quality also in the explanation of the human condition for Greek cultures. In the case of Christianity, we first consider how the human condition appears in The Book of Job, an exemplary text in this instance which tells the story of Job, a pious, righteous man who is relentlessly tormented by God. In several rounds of discussion with three of his friends, Job maintains that he has not sinned against God and that God is wrongfully punishing him. God finally appears before Job and his friends in “The Voice from the Whirlwind,” and forces Job to justify his assertion that God acted unjustly. “’Has God’s accuser resigned? Has my critic swallowed his tongue?’” Job responds and the conversation continues: “’I am speechless: what can I answer? I put my hand on my mouth. I have said too much already; now I will speak no more.’ / [God continues] ‘Do you dare to deny my judgment? Am I wrong because you are right? Is your arm like the arm of God? Can your voice bellow like mine?’”. While God acknowledges Job’s correct claim that he had not sinned, that does not mean that God’s actions were unjustified. The reason we find here for Job’s suffering is that God has knowledge far beyond any human’s; he is greater, and more powerful. On this basis, therefore, anyone can suffer regardless of how pious he or she is. Interestingly, the human condition here is like it is for the Greeks; while worshipping God will minimize one’s suffering as will worshipping the gods of whom one has favor for Greeks, God or the gods who do not favor an individual could just as soon intensify it.
Another form of the human condition is described in the Old Testament book Exodus, in which the God of Moses and the Israelites make a covenant with his people. The conditions of the covenant for the Israelites are clear in the Ten Commandments which he gives to his people. God’s reciprocity for their worship is told as follows: “’Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. / I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run.’”Here, the human condition must then be the suffering that results when a person fails or refuses to worship God and no longer has his protection. Whereas for the Greeks the human condition was based on an external locus of control, for Christians it generally is internal. We note that God’s actions in Job are at odds with the covenant He made with the Israelites, but Job is not an Israelite and the covenant may not apply. In the epilogue of Job, however, God also admits that Job told the truth about Him and returns double what He took from Job during the trials. From this final perspective, God is benevolent rather than whimsical and the human condition is internally determined by a person’s piety. The human condition in Christianity we understand as being related to the reality of man by God’s creation of him. God is omniscient and omnipotent, and we find evidence of this (among other places) in Job’s dialogue. He says, “’Only God is wise; knowledge is his alone’”, and later, when speaking to God, “’I know you can do all things and nothing you wish is impossible. / I have spoken of the unspeakable and tried to grasp the infinite.’” God, therefore, did not create man out of necessity, but rather out of love so that man could rule other animals in the likeness of God and worship God for His perfection. When man sins against God, he refutes God’s infinity and does not receive His benevolence. The human condition, therefore, results from violating a personal obligation to one’s creator.
Plato also considered the human condition in The Republic as it applies to just and unjust persons alike. In his cave allegory, he describes four stages of cognition and how they represent the ascension from physical objects in the world to the true reality, composed of knowledge forms. His whole model is created to facilitate the exploration of the nature of justice; and, before probing knowledge as it applies to justice, Plato determines that justice must be the best quality to possess. “’Justice belongs in the most valuable category. It is the good that the happy man loves both for its own sake and for the effects it produces.’” We should intuitively value justice more than anything else because it is the greatest good; however, to explain what effects the Good have on people, Plato describes the hierarchy of cognition with his cave allegory. Plato’s cognitive model is separated by two distinct sources of perception: the sun, which governs the physical world of lower-order perceptions, and the good, which governs the true reality and of which are forms, the pure, highest order of knowledge. We are able to advance from the realm of the sun to that of the good through our observations of physical objects and subsequent belief that, though none of the objects we see are perfect replications of their natural forms, somewhere beyond the physical world the perfect form of every object resides. “’You know as well that [mathematicians] make use of visible shapes and objects and subject them to analysis. At the same time, however, they consider them only as images of the originals… / And all the while they seek a reality which only the mind can discover.’” Once an individual understands mathematically the principle object from which all its physical reproductions are derived, he or she can use that principle as a figurative step ladder to reach the reason behind it. That reason, or knowledge, is the mental perception of the corresponding form; it is truth, beauty, just, and good. After constructing his model for the good, just, and truth based on cognition, Plato realizes a problem in that even the most just people can suffer from physical ailments and lead difficult lives. His solution to this problem, however, is not elegantly derived through logical discourse, but rather is a mythological account of the reincarnation of the soul. Describing how man achieves his best state through the many physical incarnations of his soul, Plato writes, “’So [a man] will learn how to shun excess. He will choose a life that avoids the extremes both in this world, as far as that is possible, and in all life to come. For this is how a man will find his greatest happiness.’”
When we consider the belief of Plato and Socrates that the just person has internally (in his soul) reached his best state and that no physical suffering can change that state because it is independent of the physical world, this reincarnation model is reasonable. In it, the soul may at times stray from the good; however, the just souls always return to the good through reason because they understand there is no better quality to possess. In Platonism, therefore, the human condition resides completely within each person. The true reality is that the soul’s goodness is determined by the extent to which it (the mind, which is a function of the soul) possesses knowledge and is consequently able to exercise reason to maintain equilibrium. The human condition in the physical world is relatively unimportant, therefore, because it is not internal to the soul. Plato would identify internal imbalance as a much more serious type of suffering, and this is congruous with his model of the true reality because knowledge and reason are strictly functions of the soul, not the physical world. One should achieve the greatest good and maintain it through all life; then, the problem of physical suffering is trivial and, in that sense, resolved. While Islam and Christianity are similar, a significant difference is the source of evil for each. In Christianity people are predisposed to evil due to original sin whereas, in Islam, man is created good and later tempted by Satan to dissent from Allah. It is written of Allah, “I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me.” As in Christianity, Allah’s creations are not necessary to him, but rather are created so that they may marvel at his infinity and his wonder. Man is created to hold power on earth over its creatures, and upon creating Adam, Allah commands his angels to bow to this first man. Satan refuses, saying, “’I am better than him. Thou createdst me of fire while him Thou didst create of mud.’ / [Allah] said: Then go down hence! / Lo! thou art of those degraded.’” Satan’s nature is degraded, and due to his feelings of superiority to man, he tempts him to falter in his loyalty to Allah – sin. In Islam, therefore, the human condition is the consequence of sin, which is based on an internal decision that is influenced externally by the temptation of Satan. The reality of humans in Islam again reflects the human condition: people are born good and their purpose is to worship Allah, for He is greatest; the human condition is the consequence of not fulfilling one’s purpose by turning from God’s greatness to the temptation of sin and putting oneself before God.
The relationship between the true reality, posited by each religion or philosophy, and its explanation of the human condition is significant because there are no two which are different and share the same view of reality. When two are similar but not identical (such as Christianity and Islam), this produces incongruities which cannot be resolved to satisfy the principles of each, much less those of other philosophies or religions which are not so similar. What, then, can we determine about the human condition? A person cannot consider the one explanation of the human condition which he or she prefers.
What Does the Image of a Predator Mean in the Iliad
Both vicious and highly intelligent at once, wolves and leopards are often compared to the most venerated hunters and warriors of Homeric poetry. Though the role of predator and prey are switched in each of these pregnant pauses, the skill and intuition of both the Greek and Trojan armies is highlighted in similes from Books 16 and 21 of Homer’s Iliad, in which combatants are likened to these ferocious animals. The simile in book 16 portrays a pack of wolves waiting for just the right moment to pounce on straying lambs, slowly picking them off one by one without the notice of their shepherd. In the simile from book 21, there is no wolf conniving a way to its meal; instead, a leopard faces down her opponent, her mind unwavering as she prepares to fight until the death of either the hunter or herself. Upon closer examination of the two similes, however, the similarity between the two animals begins to break down, suggesting a turn of events in the Trojan War, as the predator quickly becomes the prey and the Greeks begin to lose their battle.
The ferocity of the two armies is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the pregnant pauses in which men are compared to ruthless animals, implying a lack of remorse for those they have killed and a strong intent to do so again. In book 16, Greek leaders stage an aggressive attack on Trojan warriors, brutally and quite forcefully sending their swords and spears through the bodies of their enemies, leaving behind piles of flesh and blood. The violent action is then interrupted in a sort of suspension of narrative time, depicting the way in which the Greeks are fighting to be as ferocious as an animal who might hunt its prey: Wolves will unerringly pick off lambs or kids That have become separated from the flock Through the shepherd’s lack of attention, The predators making swift havoc Of the defenseless young animals (Iliad, 16.374-378). The diction within this passage elicits a feeling of barbarity and offers insight into the wicked minds of those in battle. Just as wolves hunt lambs, Greek soldiers “unerringly” pursue their targets, relentlessly “pick[ing] off” the Trojans like vultures at rotting meat. The analogy of weak lambs to the Trojan forces evokes sympathy and perhaps even a sense of duty to protect them. Like lambs, the soldiers are defenseless to the attacks of the stronger Greek army, who are taking advantage of their “shepherd’s” – Priam’s – absence and inadequacy as their leader. Yet this is how life is meant to be in both battle and in the wild: the strong overpower the weak, the hunter devours its prey. The wolves make “swift havoc” of the lambs, reflecting the despair of the Trojans who are aware of the danger surrounding them, but who can do little to nothing to protect themselves. Instead, the Greeks continue to bombard their targets with all their might, hoping to gain an advantage and eventually win the war.
In much the same way, the simile in book 21 compares the armies to savage animals and merciless hunters. But while the simile in book 16 highlights the strength and weakness of the Greek and Trojan armies, respectively, Book 21 uses this pair of man and animal to exemplify the resilience and determination of the Trojans against Greek leaders. Preparing for battle against Achilles, Agenor summons all the courage he can muster: A leopard steps out from the deep bush In full sight of a hunter, completely unafraid. Even if she hears the hounds baying, She will not turn and run, and even if The human is lucky enough to strike first And hit her with his spear, she will not give up, But will fight on with the spear in her body Until she is killed – or gets her claws in him (Iliad, 21.594-601). Comparing Agenor to a leopard, Homer uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of the impending battle between two of the strongest forces of the Greek and Trojan armies. Invoking visual and auditory imagery of “hounds baying” as the leopard “steps out from the deep bush”, the bravery of Agenor is highlighted as he faces what appears to be his imminent death. Despite the overwhelming power of Achilles and the hunter, Agenor and the leopard he is compared to are determined to fight with all the strength they have, regardless of the outcome. The animalistic nature of both the Greek and Trojan soldiers is emphasized in both similes as the wolves relentlessly attack the lambs, just like the leopard and hunter are relentless in their battle against each other. In the same way as the simile in book 16, this willingness to accept their fate incites a maternal instinct in the audience to protect the vulnerable lambs and the powerful, yet seemingly disadvantaged leopard. But while the parallels between the two similes might seem obvious at first, it is the subtle differences between the two that make them so important.
Though at least one army is likened to a ferocious animal in the similes, it is crucial to take note that only the Trojans appear as animals in Book 21. Preying on the vulnerable lambs, the wolves of the Book 16 are quickly paralleled to the Greek leaders and their troops who “had their way with the Trojans,” highlighting the inhumane nature of both the Achaeans and their enemy (16.379). In the second simile, however, the source of conflict is not between two animals but between a mighty leopard and a threatening hunter. Where at first it seems that the battle is balanced between the man and ferocious animal, a more detailed look at the differences between the two emphasizes the circumstances of the fight, and the leopard no longer looks like the clear winner but a conquerable opponent. This contrast of human versus animal underlines Agenor and Achilles’ dissimilarities in the war, both personally and in respect to their entire army. Represented by the hunter, Achilles is demonstrated to be of far higher intelligence and strength than that of his animal counterpart, Agenor. Like the baying hounds to the hunter, Achilles has the entirety of the Greek army by his side, therefore coupling his intelligence with strength in numbers to give him a significant advantage during battle. Unlike the barbarity seen in book 16 by the Greeks ruthlessly attacking the defenseless Trojans, this change from animal versus animal to animal versus human highlights the turn of events in the Trojan War as the Greeks slowly begin to lose the war, the Trojans gaining more and more strength.
But it is not just the dissimilarity between man and animal that continues the contrast between the similes, as it is imperative that one also take notice of the gender distinction employed by Homer. When carful attention is paid to the secondary details surrounding a simile, subtle nuances in the diction suddenly appear more readily and can lead to a deeper analysis of the events which it is describing. Much like the imagery from book 16, the simile in book 21 evokes a feeling of pity for both the lambs and leopard respectively. However, it is not until we read deeper into the meaning of Homer’s words that we start to get a sense of why the audience feels this way. In addition to intelligence, the hunter has an advantage that could be seen as even greater: gender. Utilizing connotations of strength and dominance, Homer assigns the hunter with a male gender, emphasizing the likelihood of Achilles winning the battle. Similarly, the distinction of the leopard being female is representative of the Trojans’ gentler nature and vulnerability during battle. And while both similes incite compassion within the audience, the combination of intelligence and gender disadvantages in book 21 calls for greater sympathy and eventual support for Agenor and the Trojans in the war.
And yet it is still not enough to simply mention the differences between the similes – careful attention must be paid to what these differences implicate for both the Trojan War and the Iliad as a whole. While both wolves and leopards are fearless hunters in their territories, it is the metaphor of the wolves as Greeks and the leopard as Trojans that separates the two. This essential difference between the wolves and lambs in book 16 and the leopard and hunter in book 21 highlights the change in direction of the Trojan War. Though at the start the Greeks were considered to be the more dominant force, after years of battle, the Trojans begin to gain an edge, building confidence and control as the Greeks desire willpower in battle declines. Initially, the Greeks are compared to wolves who prey upon the weak lambs. This signifies their strength and also the weakness of the Trojans, who can do nothing to protect themselves from being taken one by one to their death and ultimate loss in the war. Just like the lambs in the simile, the Trojans have a poor leader who cannot dedicate enough attention to his flock in order to keep them safe. However, over time, the roles swap and the Trojans become comparable opponents to the Greeks, refusing to give in, fighting on even “with the spear in her body until she is killed.”
Through his exemplary use of diction, imagery, and connotation within both the primary and secondary details of the similes, Homer not only highlights the characteristics of those fighting, but also helps to explain the history and outcome of the war. By comparing the warriors to ruthless hunters and animals, both weak and strong, the audience is given a glimpse into the action of the time as well as the emotions of those involved. When at first it seems the Greeks will undoubtedly win the war against the Trojans, their unwavering determination pays off, as they eventually become equitable opponents in battle. It is Homer’s praiseworthy manipulation of language to convey messages subliminally that makes his writing not only relevant but meaningful for both readers of his time and present day audiences.
Sarpedon as a Symbol of a Strong Character in the Iliad
If the Iliad were a simple war narrative with a clear bias towards the protagonist’s side, Sarpedon would be portrayed as a two-dimensional enemy soldier who dies during the action. However, the Iliad is no such story. Complex and intensely human ideals, morals and emotions are woven into the very fabric of the poem, and these themes are by no means limited to the Greek side. Sarpedon is a character who is deeply linked with the themes of heroism, family, death and loss throughout the narrative. This serves to distinguish him from other named Trojan leaders, and arguably affords him a similar status within the poem to more prominent characters such as Hector and Paris. While Achilles’ rage and consequent moral dilemma forms the crux of the narrative, Sarpedon’s character arc forms a foil that contextualises Achilles’ paradox. Achilles rejects the heroic code; Sarpedon not only assumes but outlines and defends it in his famous speech to Glaukos. Achilles fears that the kleos given to a hero is not worth the price of death; Sarpedon comes closer to death than any other character in Book 5, yet still rises to fight a war that is not his. Perhaps more striking however, is his father Zeus’ unwillingness to consign his son to death, despite the fact that Sarpedon’s end fits within the dios boule as a whole. This episode brings up questions about Zeus’ true power, and the purpose of the epic. All of this combines to create a single, complicated character of many, fighting a war of many motives.
The Iliad is full of heroes on both sides of the war. In concentrating on the major players, it is easy to minimise the role the lesser heroes play within the narrative. Upon first glance, Sarpedon does appear to be a lesser hero. He appears sporadically throughout the poem, always within the context of war and never for any elongated period of time. His prowess in war is never dwelt on as is Hector’s, or Patroclus’, and he is even almost removed from the action in Book 5 when he is gravely wounded. However, it is arguably this very episode that initially cements his status as an important character within the narrative. The formulaic nature of the oral composition has resulted in the association of specific language with specific outcomes; for example, the idea of a hero’s spirit leaving him while a “mist” descends has almost always been used to signify death. When Sarpedon is wounded by the spear of Tleptolemus, the poet explicitly uses these very phrases to describe Sarpedon’s state. “…his spirit left him-a mist poured down his eyes…” (Il, 5.799) translates Fagles, and others have made this idea even more explicit. Lattimore’s 1951 translation states: “he lost his life”. And yet, Sarpedon here does not die. “A gust of the North Wind… carried back the life breath/he had gasped away in pain.” (Il 5.800-1). There is more than one way to interpret this use of language: either the poet accidentally ‘killed’ off Sarpedon too early and had to invent some way to bring him back (which seems unlikely), or the poet is deliberately using language to single out and distinguish the son of Zeus from other heroes. As stated by Barker, the use of this specific phrasing is used to describe dying heroes in almost every case but two; here, with Sarpedon, and in book 22 when Andromache learns of her husband’s death. “…she fainted, falling backwards/gasping away her life breath…” (Il, 22.548-49), yet as Sarpedon does, she recovers her “life breath” and returns to the living. This serves to highlight the importance of Hector to Andromache, and distinguishes them from all other lovers within the narrative; their intensely bittersweet interaction in book 6 during his brief return to Troy is perhaps the most human moment in the poem. If this is the case, then the same idea can be applied in book 5 to Sarpedon. The poet’s innovative use of language, the break from the norm, all point to the idea that Sarpedon is both unique and significant. This, in turn, sets up his importance in later events.
Sarpedon’s brush with death and subsequent distinction puts him in a unique position with regards to Achilles’ rage. By almost experiencing death, yet rising to fight once more, Sarpedon has somewhat experienced Achilles’ final fear and still chooses to fight for kleos. In Book 9, Achilles informs the embassy of his new stance on the heroic life: death is too high a price for the poor compensation he receives whilst living, especially when compounded with Agamemnon’s slights. In contrast, Sarpedon in Book 12 delivers his famous speech to Glaukos in the heat of battle supporting the hero’s trade. After steeling himself to charge the Greek wall, he outlines their duty to charge in the front lines because of the time they receive at home: “… they hold us both in honor, first by far/with pride of place, choice meats and brimming cups” (Il 12.360-61). The life Achilles is rejecting is here being wholeheartedly embraced. Classicists have often pointed to this passage as a clear outlining of the heroic ideal, the motivation behind heroism throughout the Iliad: trading effort for timê, gera and kleos. However, there is ambiguity present in the second part of Sarpedon’s speech. After outlining the prizes of a heroic life, Sarpedon then contrasts it with the idea of being immortal: if he and Glaukos could only “live forever”, he would “never fight on the front lines again”. However, since they are not, they must fight, to “give our enemy glory or win it for ourselves!”. Read in context, it appears that Sarpedon means to insist that the life of a king is so wonderful, it is second only to the unobtainable immortal life. However, there is a second interpretation possible: the life of a king is good, but nothing near the joys of eternal existence. This second interpretation is the thought process behind Achilles’ rebuttal of book 9’s embassy; and yet, it is important to note that these two interpretations do not contradict one another. There is a tendency to claim that Achilles denounces the heroic life entire, when in truth he simply rejects it. The promise of kleos is deemed simply not worth an early death, and so Achilles begins to turn from war. Sarpedon’s delineation of the heroic life furthers the understanding of Achilles’ plight by providing a contrast – a man who rejects the idea and a man who embraces it. This in turn serves the essential humanity of the poem when Achilles eventually returns to war: in contrast to Sarpedon who is very forthcoming about his aspirations for kleos, Achilles is motivated not by personal gain, but by loss and revenge.
Despite all this, it would be incorrect to assert that kleos and timê were the sole reasons for men like Sarpedon going to war. Other than the initial conflict between Menelaus and Paris and the question of the honour lost between them, the poem states again and again that heroes fought to protect their families. Hector’s goodbye to his son and wife, as well as his conviction that he is “the one man strong enough/to fight off your day of slavery” (Il 6.552-53) is a clear example of the motivation of family in war. Sarpedon too discusses his wife and son on several occasions, most prominently when taunting Hector to fight in book 5 (“… command the rest/to brace and defend their wives.”, Il 5.558-59) and upon his almost death (“… not my fate… to bring some joy to my dear wife, my baby son”, Il 5.787-89). These many references to a domestic world in the heat of battle draw the poem away from the glory of war and into the themes of life and loss. Yet for Sarpedon and Hector, these considerations do not outweigh the glory of war. Sarpedon seems reconciled to the idea that he will not “journey home again to the fatherland I love” (Il 5.788), and continues to fight. Hector rejects Andromache’s suggestion that he “take [his] stand on the rampart here” (Il 6.511), as in doing so he would “die of shame” (Il 6.523) for not fighting in the front-lines. Both men fight to protect their wives from the marauding Greeks as Sarpedon emphasises in book 5, but their zeal for the heroic life does seem to somewhat outweigh these considerations. In contrast, when faced with Book 9’s embassy. Achilles dwells upon the life he could have when he returns home, and places a higher value on domestic felicity and longevity than heroism. Thus, both Hector and Sarpedon act as a foil to Achilles. Achilles’ longing for life at home becomes more understandable, especially to modern audiences, when contrasted with the Trojan men’s almost lack of care.
Death, then, is understood as only temporarily avoidable; this theme drives the action for the latter part of the poem. The death of Patroclus outweighs all Achilles’ considerations for life and sends him back into battle. In contrast, Sarpedon’s death expands upon this theme of loss and fate in a unique way. He is lamented not just by his mortal companions, but by his immortal father Zeus. Despite Zeus’ creation of the dios boule and his control over the war, Zeus is almost powerless to intervene in his son’s death. An interesting paradox is presented – Zeus, who set the dios boule as an extension of his will cannot willfully act against it. This begs the question; is the supposed ‘will of Zeus’ then truly the will of Zeus? The heroes constantly kowtow to the will of the Gods, yet the gods prove that even they cannot protect their favourites. Zeus’ singular pain in sacrificing his son is evident in the image the poet presents of the god, showering “tears of blood that drenched the earth” (Il 16.546), so it is clearly not a simple matter of lack of care. Saperdon’s death is the one that produces the most consternation. Why then must Sarpedon die?
A possible answer to this lies perhaps not in the will of the gods, or the will of fate, but rather the tradition of the poem. The successful attempts of gods to protect heroes in previous books have all served some purpose: for example, Aphrodite’s abduction of Paris in Book 4 stops the premature ending of the poem, while Poseidon and Aphrodite’s respective rescues of Aeneas ensure that he survives to be the protagonist of the Aeneid. If the poet were to intervene, poetic tradition would be disrupted and this would in turn give license to other poets to change the narrative, and the epic would be distorted. Sarpedon’s fate, then, must submit to Achilles’. In this manner, the will of Zeus becomes one with the will of the poet; both working to the same end, despite the pain of losing favoured heroes. Achilles’ fate is unavoidable, and this defines the fate of all those around him.
Sarpedon’s character helps expand upon prominent themes in the Iliad. His outlining and embodiment of the heroic trade juxtaposes Achilles’ rejection of it. He is distinguished by both the poet and by his father Zeus in various ways, linking him to the inherent themes of the Iliad. More than this, Sarpedon is a Trojan fighter who is portrayed with a great deal of feeling and sympathy, as are Hector, Andromache, Paris, Helen and Priam. This negates the idea of the Iliad as a simple war poem; if this were the case, the Trojan Sarpedon would not have been the one to exemplify the heroic life in the way that he did, and his death would not have been dwelt on with so much pathos. Although he never directly interacts with Achilles, Sarpedon’s character is linked with the themes the poem is concerned with, and forms a foil which sheds light upon Achilles’ consternation. All this belies the idea that Sarpedon is a lesser hero or a dismissable character, but places him squarely amongst the greater heroes as he deserves.
Fagles, Robert, trans. The Iliad. United States of America: Penguin Books, 1991.
Barker, Elton T. E. “The Iliad’s Big Swoon: A Case of Innovation within the Epic Tradition?” Trends in Classics 3.1 (2011), 1-7
Lattimore, Richmond, trans. The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951.
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