The Iliad and Greek Heroes

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The Iliad is an epic tale of war and hero's within the Greek way of life. A

predominant and consistent theme of honor and glory reside throughout the poem. The

motivation for any Homeric Greek is glory, or "Kleos", that is to be honored and

respected among their people. Emphasis is put on living by the heroic code. Honor 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. The objective of attaining

Kleos was the centerpiece of life. Kleos could only be attained beating your opponent,

it could not be won if it's offered voluntarily or as a dowry . On the flip side of the

pursuit of glory and respect, is the avoidance of shame and humility for not taking part in

war or not risking your life. To be shamed in life is far, far worse than to be killed in


A Homeric warrior would be greatly shamed if he were to turn his back on a

battle or confrontation even if he is certain that if he fights, he will die. To you and I, this

seems ridiculous and outright offensive to common sense and logic but such thoughts

didn't exist in those days, it was all about glory, it was all about respect. If you ran from

battle you might as well keep running because you will be looked upon as a failure, as a

scab, as an embarrassment to the native land and your family. You could be disowned,

you could be exiled, or you can even be killed. It's unfortunate in fact that such high

standards were placed of the hero's in this poem. Many great men perished during the

Trojan war because it was not in their wishes to conceive defeat and fall back, they had to

fight to the death, it was the only way. The hero often finds himself in "kill or be killed"

situations where they are fighting their opponents will and desire for glory and their

loathing and unacceptability of shame. When a battle took place, it was one on one. One

hero vs. another, one man and his resume of victories vs. another's. This is how the

Homeric Greeks kept tallies. To the victor went the spoils, thus they kept their

adversaries' armor from the battle in a symbolic showing of their great feat. It would be

brought back to the homeland and displayed as a sign of power; this is how Kleos was

attained, and how respect was earned.

To the victor went more than the battle armor. They would regularly take their

pick of the local women to take back with them and "lay in bed together". This became

one of the centerpieces for the conflict between Achilleus and Agamemnon, when a

quarrel arose and Achilleus was asked to allow Briseis, a prize that he won in battle, to go

back to her land. It is common to keep your female prizes as your own; however,

Achilleus felt that his ego was tested when he was asked to return her. This went hand in

hand with the honor factor, it would be shameful for him to oblige and give back what he

rightfully won. After all, she was a symbol of Kleos, by giving her back he was losing

something which he strived so hard to attain. The Greek warrior was very selfish, there

was no sense of community on their foremost mind, and it was about the self and their

status among others. The warrior who was most feared was the warrior that got the most

respect and admirations from the generations that would follow. The poem is after all

about Achilleus, a great warrior that fought hard and attained much glory in doing so.

The shame that one would...
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