The interaction between fate and free will: A complicated theme, the interaction between fate and free will is present in every book of the Iliad. At times it seems that men have no real freedom. The gods intercede repeatedly, altering events as they please. But Homer was no determinist, and there is a place in the Iliad for human agency. At key points, Homer makes it clear that mortals make important choices, and a few times mortals nearly overturn the dictates of fate itself. Zeus's will determines much of fate, but even he is sometimes subject to a higher necessity that is never personalized in the Iliad.
Pride: Pride is a theme of pivotal importance, not only for the Iliad, but for all of Greek literature. Where pride in Christianity is a vice paired off against the central Christian virtue of humility, pride to the ancient Greeks was the source of both ruin and greatness. The central hero of Christianity, Jesus Christ, is the embodiment of humility. Divine, he suffers humiliation that not even mortals should bear. In contrast, it is hard to imagine a male heroic Greek hero who is humble; for the Greeks, pride is inextricable from heroic action.
The pursuit of Glory: Closely linked to the above theme, the pursuit of glory is a consuming occupation for Homeric heroes. A Homeric hero wins glory by performing great deeds, the memory of which will outlive him. There is no comforting afterlife in Homer. Shades go down to the gloomy world of Hades. Emphasis is on the deeds of this life for the sake of this life, and a hero must win glory that will be remembered always by the living even after he is gone.
The glory of battle and the horror of war: Homer has never been surpassed in his ability to portray both the beauty and horror of war. War brings out the best in his heroes, as they tap previously unknown reserves of strength, courage, and loyalty. But war also can bring out the worst in men. The endless carnage and...