Criticism of Homer’s “The Iliad” Essay
Criticism of Homer’s “The Iliad”
Homer’s Iliad would have been severely criticized by Socrates, as depicted by Plato in The Republic. Plato is critical of Greek literature and mythology and even went so far as to propose a system of censorship in the ideal city. Plato believed myths to be lies and thus the propagation of these lies should be halted in society. In The Republic he wrote, “Whenever they tell a tale that plays false with the true nature of gods and heroes…they are like painters whose portraits bear no resemblance to their models.” In this excerpt, Plato is saying that when literature “plays false with the true nature of gods and heroes”-which means depicts false information-it paints a false impression of reality. Therefore Plato proposed a system of censorship to prevent this false depiction of reality.
This censorship was primarily focused on protecting the impressionable youth. Plato felt that early exposure to fictional accounts would dull a person’s ability to make accurate judgments regarding matters of fact and might encourage some people to emulate the worst behavior of the tragic heros. As a result, Plato was severely critical of Greek literature and mythology. In viewing The Iliad, Plato would criticize it for several reasons. For one, throughout the epic the Gods use humans as pawns to do their own bidding-the argument can even be made that the entire Trojan war was started and developed as a result of Godly affairs.
The reason the Trojans and Greeks fought was because of Helen, who was taken from the Achaeans and given to the Trojans by Aphrodite. Then when Thetis beseeches Zeus to make the Greeks to lose, they do. So the entire epic is largely a game between the Gods with the humans as their pawns. To the impressionable youth of Greece whom read this epic, this is hardly a positive aspect of life. This could easily bring about in them a cynical view of life-therefore in this respect Plato would be heavily critical of the Iliad.
In inspection of Homer’s epic The Iliad, Plato would undoubtedly find that too many loathsome acts are committed and thus it should be censored. He would point to Paris’ cowardice, to Agamemnon’s abuse of power, and to Helen’s unfaithfulness to Menelaus. He would point to Achilles’ blood-thirst, to his abandonment of the Greeks, and to his bouts of rage. But although Achilles committed all these shameful acts in The Iliad, an implicit message in the epic is the eventual destruction brought about by unchecked rage. The Iliad begins with “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation.” We also know that Achilles is destined to die because of this rage. So although the various acts that Achilles commits are detestable, we can learn from his mistaken ways. In reading The Iliad, the Greek youth could see the effects of uncontrollable rage and learn the unfavorable fate destined to those who possess it. Therefore Homer could defend his work by saying that not only shouldn’t The Iliad be censored because it could corrupt the youth, but if anything it should be championed for it teaches important lessons such as the results of unchecked rage.
In defense of the Iliad, Homer might say that Plato fails to see past an equation between morally good characters and good literature. That is to say that Sokrates, or Plato who portrays him, erroneously believes that literature cannot be good if the characters it portrays are not morally good. But this is clearly not a fact-very often, in order to educate the youth and the population as a whole it is necessary to demonstrate the less than glorious aspects of life. An education based solely on the positive aspects of life fails to include the other facet of life-the immoral-which is fundamental to a well rounded education.
In theory it might seem logical to censor literature which exposes people, places, or things contrary to what society believes should be emulated. Ostensibly, it makes sense to cover up cowardice, immorality, ignorance, corruption, etc. for these things might influence the youth negatively. But the truth is that we are all exposed to these things eventually. Therefore exposure to them beforehand in literature is especially important as it can be used as a tool to show that these immoral things are frowned upon. In addition, a well-rounded individual cannot be formed if he is only exposed to the positive side of life, for an entire other side exists-and being informed and aware of this other side is integral to an individual’s proper education.
Naturally, Homer and Plato would see differently in respect to the effect The Iliad would have on its audience. Assuming the audience is the Greek youth, Plato would most likely believe it would corrupt their impressionable minds. It would give them inaccurate ideas about how people should act and it would give them a taste of the horrors of war. Paris cowardly leaving the battlefield after losing to Menelaus, then going to his bedroom to make more love to Helen is not the way people in an ideal city should act. Neither is taking the daughter of a priest of Apollo and not returning her after a supplication by her father. Brutally murdering Hektor then dragging his body back to the Achaean camp, as Achilles did, is not the way people should act either. The youth of a nation, as Plato would agree, should not be educated in the ways in which people shouldn’t act but rather in the ways they should. Through a negative portrayal of the Gods and humans in general, the impressionable minds of the youth would be forever corrupted and as such literature such as The Iliad should be censored.
Homer on the other hand would say the opposite. He would argue that a well-rounded individual cannot be formed if he is only exposed to the positive side of life, for an entire other side exists-and being informed and aware of this other side is integral to an individual’s proper education. He could also defend his work by saying that not only shouldn’t The Iliad be censored because it could corrupt the youth, but if anything it should be championed for it teaches important lessons such as the results of unchecked rage (in Achilles).
Censorship of literature that inaccurately depicts the correct way in which people should act was championed by Plato. As such, The Iliad by Homer would have been severely criticized as it depicted Gods and humans acting in ways contrary to those an ideal city would promote. On the other hand Homer would claim that sole exposure to the positive side of life makes for an incomplete education, and that through the reading of the epic, the erroneous ways of the characters can be learned from as ways in which not to act, and thus the Iliad should not only not be censored but if anything endorsed.