Of The Iliad Essay, Research Paper
Homer’s Iliad, is a book about war. It was a war between the Greeks and the Trojans around 1100 BC. This story is mainly about two warriors: Achilleus and Hektor, both of them are the greatest in their own country. However, what makes them heroes of this book? Besides their great combat skill, I would suggest their way to face their own death distinguished them from other characters in the book.
In the story, Achilleus knew his fate,
“For my mother Thetis the goddess of the silver feet tells me I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death. Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans, my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting; but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers, the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life left for me, and my end of death will not come to me quickly.” (Book IX: 410-6)
Therefore, when Agamemnon sent his embassy, Odysseus, Phoinix, and Aias, to ask Achilleus to come back to battle to win the war, he refused Agamemnon offered, no matter what the offer is,
“Neither do I think the Son of Atreus, Agamemnon, will persuade me, nor the rest of the Danaans” (Book IX: 314-6).
It is because he is very afraid of his own death, as he told to her mother before he went back to battle,
“Yet I am sadly afraid, during this time, for the warlike son of Menoitios that flies might get into the wounds beaten by bronze in his body and breed worms in them, and these make foul the body, seeing that the life is killed in him, and that all his flesh may be rotten” (Book XIX: 23-7).
However, the death of his friend, Patroklos, changed his mind. He decided to go back to war for his friend’s revenge, as he blamed himself he was not in the war to protect his best friend, even it meant he would die shortly. He said, “I must die soon, then; since I was not to stand by my companion when he was killed” (Book XVIII: 107-8). This made him a fearless warrior as he wished his strife “would vanish away from among gods and mortals”, and he “must win excellent glory” before he dead.
On the other hand, Achilleus’s enemy, Hektor, also knew his fate,
“For I know this thing well in my heart, and my mind knows it: there will come a day when sacred Ilion shall perish”. (Book VI: 447-8)
In Book VI, when his wife Andromache asked him to retreat from war and leave with them, Hektor answered,
“All these things are in my mind also, lady; yet I would feel deep shame before the Trojans, and the Trojan women with trailing garments, if I like a coward I were to shrink aside from the fighting, and the spirit will not let me, since I have learned to be valiant and to fight always among the foremost ranks of the Trojans, winning for my own self great glory, and for my father.” (Book VI: 440-6)
Hektor knew he would be killed in the battle. However, his warrior’s pride, and his role as the King Priam’s son, would not let him flee from battle. In fact, he accepted his fate bravely because he wanted his wife to be proud of him,
“This is the wife of Hektor, who was ever the bravest fighter of the Trojans, breakers of horses, in the days when they fought about Ilion” (Book VI: 460-1).
Both warriors, Achilleus and Hektor, knew they would face their death once they decided to go back to the battle. Both of them had their own chance to turn away from the battle and moved on for their own life with their families. However, both of them returned to the battle because of their own reasons: Achilleus fought for his best friend’s revenge, and Hektor fought for his family’s honor. This distinguished them from the other characters.
Other characters in the book, both mortals and immortals, were afraid of death when they are threatened. For example, after Achilleus left Greece and the Trojans were winning from the battles between Greeks and Trojans, Agamemnon was,
“stricken at heart with the great sorrow, went among his heralds the clear-spoken and told them to summon calling by name each man into assembly but with no outcry” (Book IX: 9-12),
and he “stood up before them, shedding tears, like a spring dark-running that down the face of a rock impassable drips its dim water” (Book IX: 14-15). Also, when Zeus threatened Hera by saying “go then, sit down in silence, and do as I tell you, for fear all the gods, as many as are on Olympos, can do nothing if I come close and lay my unconquerable hands upon you”. Hera was “frightened and went and sat down in silence wrenching her heart to obedience” (Book I: 565-569).
Compare with the fearless actions of Achilleus and Hektor to face their death, the reactions of Agamemnon and Hera seems coward to the audience. According to James Redfield, the author of the book “Natural and Culture in the Iliad”, defined the greatness of Homer’s heroes,
“The greatness of Homer’s heroes is a greatness not of act but of consciousness. There is not much nobility in the act of war, which is in itself a negation of human things, barbaric and impure. But there is a nobility in men’s capacity to act and at the same time comprehend themselves and their situation” (Redfield 101-2).
The fearless action of Achilleus and Hektor, and their reasons of their action, can conclude they are the real heroes in the Iliad.
Redfield, James M. Nature and Culture in the Iliad. The University of Chicago Press,
1975, Chicago: pg. 101-2.