“The Iliad” is known to be one of the most famous Greek poems written by a blind poet Homer. The influence of the poem on the Roman, Greek and European cultures was considered great and enormous. The Iliad is dated circa 8th century BC, although now some scholars such as Martin West and Richard Seaford prefer to date it in the 6th-7th century BC. “The Iliad” tells about events taking place during the last year of Lion siege (about 10th century BC) or Trojan War.
The main theme of the “The Iliad” is glorification of the war. There is an idea that the novel even celebrates war, because all the characters are judged by their competence, bravery and courage in the battles. It seems that the poem supports the war, because such judging extends even to the gods. Iliad proclaims that to fight means to prove honor and bravery. Furthermore, the poem proclaims that war is predominant over the family life and has to be always on the first place for all men.
The poem admires the bonds of obligation that connects families together, whereas the respect for the “glory” is significantly higher. It is seen in the poem that the poet always forced heroes to make choice between their beloved persons and desire for glory. One more theme is the impermanence of human life. It is a matter of fact that Iliad is only a brief period in a long war; it provides the specific ends of each person involved in the plot.
Apparently, “The Iliad” promotes the ideal of a hero stating that heroism plays crucial role in those times.
Heroic Code in the Poem
“The Iliad” emphasizes that Achilles is the greatest warrior in the Greek army. Actually “The Iliad” tells about Achilles’ anger and wrath rather than about the Trojan War. Surely, Achilles is illustrated as main hero of the epic and his role is crucial to the plot. Nevertheless, it is necessary to admit that he is a complex warrior ignoring, for example, cultural norms of society.
Achilles should be regarded as a hero trying to get victory, though his actions sometimes contradict heroic code. The epic tells that Achilles is the greater fighter in the Achaian Army and he is invulnerable, except his heel. According to the legend, his mother dipped him in the River Styx when he was a baby. It is also underlined that no warrior has equals strength and war skills. (Heroic Behavior 2005)
Achilles’ heroism is displayed in his sense of social order in the very beginning of the poem when a deadly plague is destroying the army. Achilles tries to reveal the truth, whereas his King Agamemnon takes no measures. Thus Achilles decided to act by how own assembling the army. However, his heroism and desire to reveal the truth upsets the order of the protocol stating that only the King is provided with the right to assemble the entire army and to take control over them.
Nevertheless, Achilles has partial success, because he reveals the reason why the plague is killing soldiers, though he creates disorder when understands that only Agamemnon is responsible for the deadly plague. Despite disorder, Achilles is a hero as he is the only person being interested in revealing the truth and helping army to survive. Furthermore, Achilles tries to return order to the army, though his efforts can be hardly successful. Further, it is necessary to say that Achilles doesn’t leave his army without serious reason. Agamemnon wants to possess Achilles’ war prize – maiden Briseis – and such action is considered similar to Paris’ kidnapping of Helen. (Heroic Behavior 2005)
Achilles wins eternal glory, because he always rejected long, uneventful, calm and comfortable home life. It is direct evidence of his heroism, though perception of Achilles as a hero isn’t flawless compared with Odysseus. Achilles appreciates highly the value of honor, glory and bravery and therefore he prefers to sacrifice the only chance to live a long life with their families: “For my mother the goddess, silver-footed Thetis, telleth me that twofold fates are bearing me toward the doom of death: if I abide here and war about the city of the Trojans, then lost is my home-return”. (Book 9, 410)
Furthermore, Achilles associates heroism with social status, though in his isolation the hero thinks of personal glorification meaning that he wants to fight alone to win the glory, because “a man dies still if he has done nothing”. (Book 15, 147) For a certain time period, human emotions appear in his mind and he thinks that both family and individual are important to be heroic warrior. It is the evidence that personal feelings and emotions aren’t alien to him and he is able to relate to other on a personal basis. Surely, these characteristics are inherent to real hero.
Nevertheless, the concept of love and close relations appear only after Patroklos’ death. Therefore, true Achilles’ heroism is seen only Patroklos’ death. Only then he sees his family life and relations with other people from mortal viewpoint. However, on the other hand, he is closer to the divine aspects of love at the same time. He realizes that his duty as a hero to avenge Patroklos’ death.
He considers sitting by his hips as “a useless weight on the good land” (Book 16,165) and thinks that it causes deaths of many Achaian warriors. Apparently, some glimpses of clear mined appears in his consciousness, though he still can’t be regarded cunning. Heroic code is contradicted by constant Achilles anger, because it is paramount, whether he is violent or sulking. (Heroic Behavior 2005)
Actually, Achilles’ battle with the river is the most savage scene ob the poem, because insane wrath of the hero is at the peak. For the first glance the scene may appear confusing, though it is significant for further perception of the hero. It is possible to suggest that the river endows Achilles with excessive evil, because Achilles doesn’t simply kill, he enjoys outraging the corpses. The river is vividly personified by Homer and thus is described as battle between two beings. Achilles is certainly hero, because he is able to fight for his life, though the methods of fighting sometimes contradicts heroic code. (Heroic Behavior 2005)
Achilles’ heroism has overreached itself, because it aimed at punishing all the Trojans blamed for Patroklos’ death. Also, Achilles develops excessive cruelty and lack of pity meaning that desire to kill and to win the glory has seized him and has outshined human emotions seen in the poem. Therefore, similar to other Homer’s characters Achilles hasn’t developed significantly with poem flowing. A slight glimpse of humanity caused by Patroklos’ death makes him to seek reconciliation with Agamemnon. However, his range isn’t alleviated and Achilles develops neither as deliberative nor as self-reflective character, because he is consumed by wrath, pride and bloodlust. Therefore, the question whether Achilles can be defined as a hero is too contradictive to give a direct answer.
Odysseus is a legendary figure being famous for excessive amounts of brains and muscle as well as for his perceiving as almost superhuman. It is necessary to outline that Odysseus embodies the ideals of Homeric ideal hero and cunning man. He is characterized by manly valor, loyalty, piety and intelligence. The image of Odysseus has transcended time and even nowadays remains popular and admired by modern world.
Odysseus is admired for his being a hero and simultaneously an ordinary man who devoted his entire life to adventures and retrieving the life he once had. He is richly talented athlete, sailor, warrior, storyteller, carpenter, beggar, and lover. Odysseus is able to display brutality and boldness, although at the same time he appears sensitive and shy. Due to proper skills (ability to face danger and to fight for survival), strength and intelligence, Odysseus is qualified as a classic ancient hero being constrained at the same time by emotions and feelings inherent to humans. Odysseus’ strength is never to falter, because “he must be made of iron…”. (Book 17,143)
“The Iliad” concentrates only on physical strength proclaiming it as a main attribute of real hero: strong, brave, courageous and ready to die for victory. Therefore, Odysseus and Achilles are described differently, though both of them are considered heroes. Odysseus’ heroism is displayed in his ability to overcome adventures and difficulties, though the special role is paid to his human emotions and feelings.
Thus he seems more realistic than Achilles. Further, Odysseus never falters under the obstacles of being far away from home. It is possible to suggest that Odysseus symbolizes strength and cunning, wise and intelligence, whereas Achilles is only the symbol of physical strength being the greatest warrior. Odysseus has overcome all the difficulties due to his strategic planning and creative thinking, whereas Achilles prefers to us only physical power.
Although Achilles possesses superhuman strength and invulnerability, he seems less heroic compared with Odysseus. Achilles has all marks of being a great warrior, though his deep-seated character contradicts personal perceptions of a hero.
Moreover, Achilles is unable to control his rage and pride and he is driven only by a thirst for eternal glory, whereas Odysseus is driven by strong desire to return home. In the result Achilles wins great glory, but his life is brief and ends violently. On the other hand, Odysseus, due to power of his cunning and wit, leaves till old age and his destiny is to die in peace. Therefore, the poem portrays different heroism: Odysseus’ heroism and cunning symbolizes the desire for calm leaving, whereas Achilles’ heroism symbolizes the desire for eternal glory. (Fitzgerald 1991)
Speaking about Paris, he preferred not to fight and therefore he was scorned by his family and beloved woman. Therefore, he is considered as less heroic compared with Achilles, who won eternal glory, because he always rejected long, uneventful, calm and comfortable home life. Paris is shown to be more subjected to women’s tenderness i.e. love and other feelings being inherent to humans.
Paris is characterized by unmanly behavior and he is often self-centered. According to Homer, such qualities aren’t attributes of real hero. Paris preferred to spend time with beautiful Helen instead of fighting in the war. Therefore he is treated with derision. It is noted that Paris is skillful in fighting with arrow and bow, but not with spear or sward. That is evidence that Paris isn’t heroic warrior. Furthermore, he usually lacks spirit preferring to spend time making love to his beloved women, whereas other heroes are fighting for him and instead of him. The author depicts Paris with scorn thinking that he should be born a woman. (Fitzgerald 1991)
Hector is one more heroic personality in the poem. He is considered the mightiest warrior in the Trojan army. Apparently, Hector’s power matches Achilles’, though he is less concentrated than Odysseus, for example. Despite the fact that Hector is the first to set fire to an Achaean ship, his leadership isn’t flawless, because he demonstrates cowardice in the book 17 for several times when fleeing Great Ajax. Hector’s courage is recovered only after receiving the insults of his comrades Aeneas and Glaucus. The next moment to mention is that Hector isn’t so skillful in leading army and making proper decisions compared with Achilles and Odysseus. For example, Hector he foolishly orders the Trojans to camp outside Troy’s walls the night before Achilles returns to battle. (Fitzgerald 1991)
Hector may seem to be too impulsive and insufficiently prudent as Achilles, though he is not arrogant and overbearing. Furthermore, Hector depicts him as a tender, family-oriented man, because he fights in his homeland. Hector is provided with human emotions and feelings such as deep, sincere love for his wife and children.
He is the only to treat Paris with forgiveness and indulgence, though he realizes that Paris surely lacks heroic spirit avoiding military duties. He is never violent with his brother using only frustrated words. Despite human emotions, Hector is hero, because he never forgets responsibility to Troy. Also he is the most tragic character in the poem, because it is impossible to remain indifferent when reading about his Duel with Achilles. Hector realizes that the gods have abandoned him, though he refuses t flee. (Fitzgerald 1991)
Summing up, it is necessary to mention that Homer’s hero is strong, courage, brave and always ready to fight and to die. Achilles is an ideal of Greek hero for Homer, though the author admits that Achilles compared with Odysseus lacks the power of the cunning being also important for the hero. Of course, Paris is shown as less heroic character, because he refuses to fight preferring to remain with Helen. Hector’s, Achilles’ and Odusseus’ heroism is illustrated differently, although for the author they are worthy of being honored.
Fitzgerald, Robert (translt.). The Iliad of Homer. New York, USA: Penguin Books, 1991.
Heroic Behavior: Why is Achilles the Greatest of the Greek Heroes? Available at http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa092899a.htm
Minchin, Elizabeth. The Interpretation of a Theme in Oral Epic: ‘Iliad’ 24.559-570. Greece & Rome, 33, 1 (1986, April): 11-19. Available at http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0017-3835(198604)2%3A33%3A1%3C11%3ATIOATI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-L