The ancient greek code of honor as demonstrated in Iliad and Odyssey

Categories: The Iliad
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The Ancient Greeks are a proud people who placed a supreme importance to their accepted ideals of heroic honor. In some instances, fulfilling the duty of the code of honor was considered more important than saving their own lives (Perry 66). The Greek believed that an honorable man is able to keep or defend his woman. The Greek male are often portrayed as courageous and heroic and for him to lose a woman is a blight to his manhood (Perry 66). Iliad is a story of war between the Greeks and the Trojans.

In Book 3 it is revealed there that the cause of the seemingly pointless war was to redeem King Menelaus’ honor when his wife, Helen, was kidnapped by Paris, a Trojan Prince (Iliad Book 3). In Odyssey Book IV there was a discussion on whether or not Helen did elope with Paris in her own free will but according to her it was Aphrodite who brought her to Troy in keeping with her promise to Paris that she will give Helen to him as a reward (Odyssey BookIV).

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A duel between Paris and Menelaus ensued wherein Paris was almost defeated by Menelaus if goddess Aphrodite did not intervened (Iliad Book3).

The Greeks followed a strict code of honor regarding a hero’s portion in the spoils of war. “The Greek word for honor is time which means “price or “value” (Schein 71). The best fighters were given the choicest part in the spoils of war(“Guide”). Agamemnon did not follow this code of honor among the warriors.

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Book I of Iliad opened with a story about Agamemnon and Achilles who quarreled because of the issue of their spoils. Agamemnon, the general of the Greek forces, insulted Achilles, the bravest and the greatest Greek warrior, when he took away beautiful Breseis, Achilles’ war prize, for himself.

Earlier, Agamemnon’s own war prize, Chrysies, was returned to her father at the order of Apollo. Achilles had felt that Agamemnon did not give him due credit as a great warrior and disgraced him before the entire Greek army. Achilles was enraged that Agamemnon could do such a thing to him when in fact according to him “it was my hands that did most of the fighting” (Butler “Iliad” 1990-2000). Agamemnon reasoned that as a general of the Greek army, he deserved the best spoils and so claimed Breseis as his (Iliad Book 1).

Achilles angrily withdraw from the battle and threatened Agamemnon that he and his men will return to his own country as soon as possible because according to him,” I will not stay here dishonored ”(Butler “Iliad” 1990-2000). It is important to note that Achilles is portrayed as a very proud, hot tempered Grecian who regarded his personal honor more important than the lives of others for he knew that his withdrawal from the battle will cause death to fellow Greeks. Not only had that he even appealed to his mother to convince Zeus to let the Trojans win (Iliad Book 1).

The Greek believed that to fight in battle is a great honor. Aside from the spoils of war the Greek wants to win a battle for a simple reason that their names will be immortalized after their death as their heroic deeds will be sung by the poets. At the time of their death, a rite is to be performed in their honor (“Guide”). In Iliad a good example of this is the death of Patroculos. In Book 23 the day after the Greek war hero, Patroculos, was buried, Achilles holds a series of competitions to honor his memory.

Great prizes were offered to the winners of boxing, wrestling, archery, and a chariot race (Iliad Book23). Achilles himself knew beforehand that he will meet the same fate of Patroculos nevertheless he joined the battle not to exact revenge or to fulfill an oath. He came to war to reap honor and glory. It must be remembered that before Achilles joined the Greek army, he was given two choices: join the battle against Troy and gain honor but die young or live long in his own country without honor. Achilles chose the latter (Iliad Book 23).

However, when Achilles was visited by Odysseus, hero of the Odyssey, in the underworld, he said that “I would rather be a servant in a poor man’s house and alive than be a king of kings in the underworld” (Butler “Odyssey” 1990-2000). He regretted dying so young in the pursuit of honor. In another aspect his withdrawal in the battle had caused a low moral to the Greek warriors so that when Agamemnon by way of testing the courage of his men lied to them that he is going to give up the battle, the Greek army revealed their true feelings by eagerly running towards their ships to go home.

But Odysseus reminded the Greeks that it is dishonorable to retreat from battle. For the Greeks to retreat in battle is shameful. They will surely be regarded as disgraceful by their own countrymen (“Guide”). As Odysseus appealed to their heroic pride, the men, not wanting to lose their face in their own countries, went back to their tents to continue the battle in spite of the suffering and hardships they had already endured during the previous fight (Iliad Book 2).

Later, Agamemnon in Book 3 challenged these men to fight in the battle by reminding them of the heroic deeds of their own fathers (Iliad Book 3). Paris had disgracefully broke this code of honor when during the battle he retreated to his bed with Helen. The Trojan army was so angry at this that they”…hated him like death” (Iliad Book IV). The Greeks also gave importance in honoring their oaths. When Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world during her time, was yet unmarried many great noble men courted her foremost are Menelaus, Odysseus, Diomedes, Patroculos and Idomeneus.

Since it is impossible for all of them to marry Helen the suitors had swore a solemn oath among themselves that whoever Helen will chose to be her husband they will defend him against his enemies. Helen chose Menelaus so that years later when Paris kidnapped Helen and took her to Troy all noble warriors were called upon to fulfill their oaths. Unlike Achilles who seems to be obsessed with earthly honor Odysseus tried to avoid fulfilling this oath by pretending to be insane (Oddyssey Book III).

The Greeks also honor the bond of friendship. The classic example of this is between Greek warrior Diomedes and the Trojan warrior Glaucus. When the two opposing warriors are engaged in single combat they discovered that both their grandparents were friends. They promised not to fight against each other in the incoming battle and even exchange their armor so that they can easily recognize each other among the fighting men. The friendship that was formed between their grandparents was a guest-friendship relationship.

Diomedes father had once entertained Glaucus father as a guest for twenty days. The two ancestors had exchange a purple belt and a double cup as a sign of friendship (Iliad Book VI).. As a man of honor, both warriors felt they were bound to continue the bond of friendship of their ancestors. Many strong friendships began this way. The Greeks are famous for being hospitable to their guest because they thought they may be entertaining a god or goddesses in disguise. When gods or goddesses were entertained well, the host can expect favor from them (“Guide”).

WORKS CITED Butler, Samuel. The Iliad by Homer. 27 July 2007. http://classics. mit. edu/Homer/iliad. 1. i. html Butler, Samuel. The Odyssey by Homer. 27 July 2007. http://classics. mit. edu/Homer/odyssey. 23. xxiii. html “Guide to Reading the Iliad”. 1990-2000. http://faculty. gvsu. edu/websterm/Read_Iliad. htm Perry, Marvin. History of the World. Boston: Houghton and Mifflin Company, 1988. Schein, Seth. The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer’s Iliad. Berkeley: University of California Publishing, 1984.

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The ancient greek code of honor as demonstrated in Iliad and Odyssey. (2016, Aug 20). Retrieved from

The ancient greek code of honor as demonstrated in Iliad and Odyssey
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