The Iliad 3 Essay, Research Paper
The Circle: The Key to The Hidden Themes of The Iliad
In society, the circle is considered to be a symbol of continuous motion. In literature, common concepts such as this can be related to events and trends in the story to convey a much deeper thematic message. Therefore, through analysis of these relationships the reader can understand bigger picture that is being presented. In Homer s The Iliad the concept of the circle is applied to multiple aspects of the story including the heroic cycle, the circle of life, and the heroic journey. Although it may have a very simple meaning in modern society, the concept of the circle in The Iliad is related to multiple aspects of the book in order to convey complex and important underlying themes to the reader.
One of the first circular trends to become apparent to the reader is the heroic cycle. All heroes of classic literature complete this customary cycle beginning with their rise to power and ending with their death. This is not to be confused with a hero s heroic journey, which is the process that brings change and new understanding. The heroic cycle that is apparent in The Iliad begins as a hero rises to power. Often, a hero is offered a chance or is forced into this rise of power by an external force or situation that is out of his or her control. For example, in The Iliad, Patroclos is offered by chance the possibility of wearing Achilles armor to fight against the Trojans. Patroclos only confronts Achilles because he realizes the severity of the current situation as seen in the following passage:
Don t be angry, Achilles my prince, our strong deliver!
Such misfortune has come to out people! They are who
used to be the best in the field, lying wounded, shot or
stabbed, somewhere among the ships! (188; Book 16)
However, if a character of a story attempts to rig a beneficial situation such as this with subversive actions they are not considered to be embarking upon the heroic cycle because no devious actions may be involved in a hero s quest through the heroic cycle.
Patroclos, upon accepting Achilles armor and fighting against the Trojans, has begun his rise to power. At this point in the text Patroclos is seen as the lead warrior as portrayed in the following passage: And then the Achians would have taken the proud city of Troy by the velour of Patroclos, for he went onwards like a storm (199; Book16). But as Fate would have it, every hero s period of triumph and glory must come to an end.
The last phase of the heroic cycle is the hero s death and destruction. Patroclos high moment soon comes to a close when he is stunned by Phoibos and killed by Hector. The following passage describes this event and it is apparent that Patroclos is unable alter his fate.
Patroclos did not see him coming, for the god was hidden
in the mist. He stood behind Patroclos: his eyes rolled in rage,
and he slapped him between the soldiers with the flat of his
hand. The helmet was knocked from his head and the plumes
were dabbled in blood and dust. . His mind was blinded,
his knees crickled, under him, he stood there dazed (201; Book 16)
Soon Hector kills Patroclos and ends his heroic cycle. Patroclos is a superb example of the heroic cycle because his journey is short and compact. Most main character s quests are much longer and last through many chapters. Here, all in the same chapter, Patroclos experiences his call and rise to power, peak of glory and triumph, and death. Yet, the rounded pattern of the heroic cycle is not the only application of the circle to society in The Iliad; the circle also adds multitudes of meaning of the circle of life.
Timeless literature typically contains several universal themes and morals that allow it to relate to future generations. In The Iliad, the concept of the circle is applied to the circle of life to symbolize its perpetual motion. Yet this circular pattern also holds true to the trend of emotions found in The Iliad. Just as the circle of life and death will never go away, feelings such as hate and love will never completely disappear from society because they are uncontrollable. In the following conversation between Hector and Helen it is possible to see Helen s belief that the gods have control over emotions (Hector s and her own):
Brother dear, I am ashamed; I shudder at myself! I can do
nothing but evil! I wish a whirlwind had carried me off to
the mountains on the day that I was born, or thrown me
into the roaring sea-I wish the waves had swept me away
before all this is done! But since the gods have ordained it
so, I wish I had been mated with a better man, one who could
feel the contempt and indignation of the world (80; Book 9).
Another example of the concept of the circle in The Iliad is Achilles great shield. Achilles shield contains a series of concentric rings in which each ring symbolizes a different aspect of ancient Greek society as well as the circle of life. The outermost circle is special as it is a picture of the ocean, a symbol of what the ancient Greeks believed to be the boundary of their society. In present day, we can relate to these beliefs of the ancient Greeks through examples such as these. Our boundaries as humans today reach as far as out atmosphere will provide us with oxygen, but with the help of machine technology man can travel far into outer space. The actual rings on the shield, dividing each aspect of society, symbolize the inexorable circle of life and how each element of the social structure will continue as long as the gods will allow. Even another mini circular pattern present in this piece could be the cycle of honor and how it must constantly be redeemed and warranted. The Iliad is full of these cycles and circular patterns. Without these underlying patterns the reader would loose a lot of the deeper meaning of the story by convey the meaning of honor, love and even help to explain a few ancient Greek beliefs and traditions. Yet, the circle of life is not the most prominent circular theme in The Iliad, rather the heroic journey that Achilles undergoes throughout the story is the most noticeable circular cycle seen in the book.
In order for a character to undergo change and to be considered the hero of a story, he or she must complete the heroic journey at least once during that piece. In The Iliad, Achilles completes the heroic journey and by doing this he gains greater understanding and a heightened awareness of the value of ones own honor versus that of others. By the end of the book, Achilles moves from thinking that nothing is more important than the King Agamemnon apologizing and getting his own injured pride redeemed, to avenging his friends death in order to redeem his pride for him so that he can have an honorable funeral. Yet, Achilles must accomplish many difficult tasks and complete many hard stages before reaching the end of his journey.
The first stage of Achilles heroic journey in The Iliad is separation from the familiar. In the beginning of Book I, King Agamemnon and Achilles quarrel over the King s war prizes. This social uproar serves as Achilles call to his heroic journey. Achilles is being denied by the King the honors that he believes he deserves. This aberration from normal places a crucial role in Achilles decision to withdrawal from fighting.
Achilles realizes the challenge presented before him and has entered the threshold stage of his heroic journey. Achilles realizes that unless King Agamemnon apologizes for embarrassing him in front of the army he must take action. The following passage reveals the anger that Achilles is feeling and his decision to remove himself from battle:
Yes, for I should be called coward and outcast, if I yield
to you in everything you choose to say. Lay your commands
on others, don t order me about, for I do not think I shall obey
you anymore. I tell you one thing, and you will do well to
remember it. I will never use my hands to fight for a girl either
with you or with any one (16; Book I).
It is apparent that Achilles own injured pride is why he decides to withdrawal from the fighting. Achilles justifies this decision by saying that neither he nor any of his followers have had any personal quarrels with the Trojans (19; Book I).
Achilles has now entered the initiation and transformation stage of his heroic journey where he encounters many challenges that tempt Achilles to give in. In Book IX King Agamemnon offers many temptations for Achilles to return and fight to the Achians as found in the following passage:
Seven flourishing cities I will give to him all standing
near the sea rich with cattle he shall [be able to] load his
vessel with piles of gold and bronze and choose for himself
twenty of the finest Trojan women and I will honor him
as if he were my own son, Orestes (105; Book 9).
Yet, Achilles refuses all of these temptations because he knows the only way he will return to battle is for King Agamemnon if he swallows his pride and gives Achilles a personal apology.
In Book XVI, Achilles reaches the stage of abyss during his heroic journey. Patroclos pleads with Achilles to let him wear his armor so that the Achians might have a chance. Patroclos cries that the Achians will crumble if you will not save [our] nation from destruction (188; Book XVI). After some debate Achilles gives in and grants Patroclos permission to use his armor in battle, but soon Apollo and Hector kill Patroclos. Achilles is stunned by this event and has a moment of revolution. At this moment Achilles realizes that his friends honor is more important than his own and determines that he needs to return to the fighting in order to avenge Patroclos death. Once Achilles returns to battle he has completed the transformation phase of his heroic journey as well as the stage of atonement. Achilles has acted upon his decision to avenge Patroclos death and has given up on fulfilling his own honor in hopes to regain that of his friends by killing Hector. The boon that Achilles will receive for completing his journey is the new armor. Achilles return to battle symbolizes his return to society with his enlightened mind and new found determination.
All of the events that Achilles undergoes throughout The Iliad are actually steps in completing one cycle of a heroic journey. However, the heroic journey is a cycle that is completed many times throughout a person s lifetime. Achilles is definitely the hero in the story of the Iliad because he is the character who underwent the greatest amount of change, and this great conjecture is only apparent to the reader because of the application of the circle to the important themes of the story.
In society, the circle is considered to be a symbol of continuous motion. In literature these common concepts can be related to events and trends in the story to convey a much deeper thematic message. Therefore through the analysis of these relationships found in the text, it is easy to see that the importance of these relationships to convey meaning is vast. With comparisons such as these, the reader can understand bigger picture that is being presented in the story. In Homer s The Iliad the concept of the circle is applied to multiple aspects of the story including the heroic cycle, the circle of life, and the heroic journey. Each of these cycles provides the reader with a more comprehensive knowledge and richer experience after they have finished the book. Without these relationships many of the underlying themes and morals that convey meaning may be lost and, therefore; The Iliad might not be considered one of the greatest pieces of classic literature, as it so rightfully deserves.