Kleos in the Iliad

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Kleos in the Iliad

When we consider the Hero in ancient Greek culture, we must forget our notion of what a hero is. The ancient Greek concept of a hero was different from our own culture's. The motivation for any Homeric Greek is glory, or "Kleos", that is to be honored and respected among their people. Not only does kleos imply being honored and respected, it literally means ‘to be heard.’ Achieving kleos entails that your tale and ultimately you will live on forever. Kleos is essential to the Greeks and life would not be worth living without it. When a warrior or hero is advised to avoid risking their life in battle it almost drives them even further towards the deed. It is better to be killed in action rather than to live and be thought a coward. By our rational standards one would certainly not be thought a coward if they didn't rush into battle to almost certain death, the Greeks however, live by a different set of rules, a different set of standards and a different set of goals. In The Iliad, Homer explores the ancient Greek struggle for mortal men to attain immortality through glory in battle, and even death. Those who achieve great kleos in battle are respected and loved by their families and kinsmen, while those who turn away from it are scorned. When faced with inevitable death, the epic heroes of The Iliad choose war so they may realize immortality in their deaths.

The idea that kleos is such an integral part of ancient Greek culture can be shown through a comparison of the young Trojan princes, Hector and Paris. Paris, who is essentially blamed for the instigation of the Trojan-Greek war, fails to appear on the battlefield to defend his home. Paris has chosen instead to stay at home with his bride Helen, for whom the Trojan armies fight.  However, as Helen describes to Paris’ brother, Hector, “I wish I had been the wife of a better man, someone alive to outrage, with withering scorn of men” (Iliad VI. 415-417) that even she...
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