Role of Wrath in the Illiad

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Niraj Khatiwada
Seminar Paper
Mr. Davis & Ms. Davis
October 29, 2012

What Role Does Wrath Play In The Iliad?

The very first line in the Iliad states the main theme of the whole story, as Homer asks the Muse to sing of the "wrath of Achilles." This wrath, all its occurrences, transformations, influences, and consequences, unfold the devastating events in the Iliad.

Initially the book starts showing people in a normal state of life, but the main story of Homer’s Iliad, however, starts once there is the ignition of wrath among prominent characters of the story like Agamemnon and Achilles. In the normal state, people are capable of behaving rationally, using experience and wisdom to guide their action. However, during the main action of the Iliad, the wrath of Achilles and that of other dominant characters creates an unfortunate situation that results in many wars and bloodsheds and causes much destruction.

In such a terrible situation, the human desires exceed boundaries, affecting not only the humans but even the gods themselves and disturbing the normal order of the gods and the humans. The resulting disorder is remarkably represented in the Iliad by the chaotic battle between different groups. So is the initiation of greater trouble for Greek soldiers in the Trojan War the result of anger and emotions of Agamemnon, Achilles and eventually of the gods?

The initial stages of the Iliad provide several examples of situations involving anger, demonstrating both correct and incorrect means of dealing with it. Agamemnon initially directed his anger against Chryses who begged Agamemnon to return his daughter Chryseis to him (Book 1, 24-32). Agamemnon refused his demand. The prophet, however, had a close relationship with Apollo. Consequently, Agamemnon’s anger turned out to be fatal, because it involved the god and this resulted in the wide spread of plague in his kingdom.

At the same time, Agamemnon’s anger also dishonored the pride of Achilles when he commanded that Achilles battle prize be brought to replace Chryseis. In response, Achilles withdraws from the war, producing greater strife, both personally and within the larger context of the war. Achilles' initial anger is a direct result of an act that Achilles perceives to be an attack on his personal honor. As seen in many parts of the book, honor and personal glory for the Greeks, and specifically heroes, existed as the most valuable thing in their lives. So we see a situation where two titans clash for a sense of achieving that personal honor. Agamemnon believes that, as chief of the Achaean forces, he deserves the highest available prize: Briseis, and is thus willing to antagonize Achilles, the most crucial Achaean warrior, to secure what he believes is owed to him. Achilles would rather defend his claim to Briseis, his personal victory and thus what he believes is owed to him, than defuse the situation.

Both Agamemnon and Achilles seem to prioritize their respective individual glories over the well-being of the Achaean forces. Not a single one has tried to overlook the situation and deal with it in a responsible way. Each man considers deferring to the other a humiliation rather than an act of honor or duty; each thus puts his own interest ahead of that of his people, jeopardizing the war effort.

However, Achilles was not an ordinary warrior; he was semi divine, and when offended he also took some harsh steps. Angered by the act of Agamemnon he persuaded Zeus via Thetis to take revenge against those who had dishonored him. The anger of Achilles has been found to be destructive, since he persuades Zeus, to make the Achaeans lose and the enemies win the battle. This wrath is seen to have initiated the crucial events in the story.

While the poem focuses most centrally on the rage of a mortal, it also concerns itself tremendously with the motivations and actions of the gods. While Homer describes the quarrel between Achilles and...
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