Homer’s Iliad and the experience with Honor in the Iliad
In his Iliad, Homer uses the character of Diomedes to personify his definition of effective leadership, often juxtaposing him with the unproductive and cowardly Agamemnon. Homer believes that the bravery to assert one’s opinions and the willingness to act independently, even against authority, constitutes a successful leader. After suffering severe casualties and losses at the hand of Hector and the Trojans in Book 9, it is Diomedes who first denounces Agamemnon’s plans of retreat and unifies the Achaean forces with words of promise. Later that same book, following the failed embassy to Achilles, Diomedes alone instills hope in the Achaean kings by seizing control from the flustered king and ordering Agamemnon to fight in the front lines himself. Finally, Diomedes is forced to bravely save the Achaean cause again in Book 14 when tempted with thoughts of surrender and home by Agamemnon – he exerts his authority and bravely refuses to retreat, encouraging his comrades to continue fighting. Diomedes’ effective leadership saves the Achaean forces from the incompetent rule of Agamemnon and leads to the eventual fall of Troy.
Homer first explicitly equates bravery and independence with leadership while describing the panicked Achaean reaction to the recent Trojan victories. In a state of utter despair and hopelessness, Agamemnon contemplates sailing home, returning in disgrace. Diomedes immediately retaliates, “Desert – if your spirit drives you…but the rest…will hold out until we’ve plundered Troy” (Il 9.48-53). Diomedes understands that Troy is destined to fall, and to abandon siege now would to fail both his troops and his countrymen. Instead of succumbing to the whims of his ruler, Diomedes buoys the morale of the soldiers and essentially saves the Achaean cause due to his effective leadership and brave affirmation of his rightful opinion.
Similarly, after the embassy to Achilles proves to be a failure, Diomedes’ superior leadership is exemplified as he seizes control of the desperate situation and bravely rejects the thoughts of surrender or retreat proposed by Agamemnon. As the Achean kings sink into despair, Diomedes wastes no time in chastising Agamemnon’s poor leadership and quickly ordering him to “Deploy your chariots…and you, yourself fight in front of the ranks” (Il 9.863-865). To accept Achilles’ stubbornness as inevitable defeat is simply cowardice – in stark opposition to Homer’s definition of great leadership. Although Diomedes overtly steps out of line by ordering his superior to fight in the front lines, he understands what is necessary for victory, unlike the incompetent Agamemnon. Diomedes’ unorthodox action is clearly effective and representative of capable and productive leadership; those present immediately view him as their leader and accept his plan to fight – thus keeping the Achaean struggle alive.
Finally, as all hope for the Achaeans again seems lost, Diomedes’ qualities as a leader shine in comparison to the inadequate command of Agamemnon. Once more, the Trojans seem to have conquered the Achaeans, and once more, Agamemnon proposes fleeing to Greece in shame. Instead of agreeing to this proposal or expressing his desire to return home as most soldiers would, Diomedes bravely spurns any ideas of surrender. Diomedes commands, “I say, go back to fighting, wounded as we were” (Il 14.156) and his leadership is embraced by the soldiers. As the courage of men fails, Diomedes alone has the power to unite the Achaeans and lead them to victory.
Through an analysis of the epic battles and courageous heroism presented in Homer’s Iliad, it becomes very clear that Homer uses the character of Diomedes to personify his definition of effective leadership. Diomedes’ influential authority saves the Achaean forces from the incompetent rule of Agamemnon and prolongs the Achaean struggle until Achilles’ cooperation. Although Diomedes does not technically preside over the Achaean forces, his willingness to act independently of the ineffectual Agamemnon and bravely assert his opinions makes him one of the most respected and efficacious Achaean leaders.
Through an analysis of Homer’s Iliad, it becomes very clear that honor also serves as an integral value in Greek society. Homer believes that amongst men, victory and conquest in battle constitute honor, and the pursuit of honor should be placed above all else. Hector’s admirable abandonment of his family in order to seek glory and honor is starkly juxtaposed with Paris’s embarrassing fondness for a lifestyle of “eros” and passive attitude towards warfare. Perhaps the most laudable hero in the Iliad, Achilles, has been immortalized in history for his complete denial of the comforts of home in order to die with honor in battle.
Homer first explicitly equates victory in battle to honor while juxtaposing the fiery battle-hungry Hector with the alternatively docile character of Paris. After being rescued from the rage of Menelaus by Aphrodite, Paris is chastised by both his brother and lover for his lack of ferocity. Helen even goes as far to complain, “I wish I had been the wife of a better man, someone alive to outrage the withering scorn of men” (Il 6.415-416). Due to Paris’s cowardice, Helen finds no issue with using such harsh words to berate Paris makes it clear that she is embarrassed to be married to a man without honor.
Conversely, Hector is willing to abandon his loving wife, Andromache, and newborn baby for the pursuit of honor. While consoling his wife, Hector explains that “winning my father great glory, glory for myself”(Il 6.529) is his only option if he hopes to maintain his honor. To stand by his family, even in such chaos, would be considered cowardice and behavior unfit for a man of such dignity. Clearly, the brothers Paris and Hector are portrayed in two completely different lights – one as a man who longs for “eros” and the comforts of easy-living, and the other as a brave and honorable prince, a role model for the listeners of the poem.
However, it is Achilles, the poem’s bravest, most fierce, and most honorable warrior who best exemplifies the honor’s inherent reliance on victory and glory in battle. Throughout the poem, Achilles is presented as a god amongst men, unconquerable in battle and one who garnered the respect of all who knew his name. Achilles, knowing that death awaits him if he chooses to enter the Trojan War, makes it clear that his desire for revenge and eternal honor outweighs the promise of a long and productive life. While pleading with his mother, Achilles begs, “For the moment, let me seize my glory!” (Il 18.144), revealing that while he indeed fights to avenge the death of Patrocolus, the pursuit of glory and honor is an ever-present and enduring motivator in the hearts of Greek and Trojans alike.
An analysis of the epic battles and courageous heroism presented in Homer’s Iliad reveals that honor in Greek society was highly dependent on success in warfare. Homer believes that amongst men, victory and conquest in battle constitute honor, and the pursuit of which should be placed above all else. This is in stark contrast to modern society, where honor is not defined by such brutish characteristics. Rather, the virtues which compose honor are far more civil and would most likely be looked down upon as un-honorable in Greek society.
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