The Portrayal of Heroism in the Iliad

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Discuss the Portrayal of Heroism from the Books of the Iliad Studied So Far Throughout the Iliad, Homer portrays heroism in a variety of ways. Heroism is not just the heroic code, the set of guidelines that heros follow, but is a reflection of what actions are acceptable in a certain context. In addition, heroism must be portrayed through a medium of a hero, thus the portrayal of a hero is essentially a portrayal of heroism. I will explore some themes within the Iliad and discuss how they portray heroism. The aim of every hero is to achieve timé, which can be translated from Greek to English to mean honour. Timé is essential to heroes; a life without receiving esteem from their peers is perceived as meaningless and undesirable. A hero’s timé is determined primarily by his courage and physical abilities and to a lesser degree by his social status and possessions. A key example of heroism being portrayed through timé is in book 1, when Agamemnon has to give back Chryseis to her father. As he has lost his prize of war, he therefore demands another to compensate for the loss of honour this has incurred. “Is it so that you can hold on to your own prize, while I just sit back and bear the loss of mine, is that why you tell me to give back the girl? No, if the great-hearted Achaians will give me a prize, suiting it to my heart’s liking, to be of equal value – then so be it.” Book 1, pg 6. This follows the idea of timé, as something reflecting Agamemnon’s status has been taken from him, thus he needs to get his lost honour back through compensation. His loss of honour leads to him taking Briseϊs from Achilleus, which consequently dishonours Achilleus thus leading to Achilleus’ mental and physical withdrawal from heroism, through his refusal to fight. Therefore, in this example both heroes’ response to timé is used by Homer to portray heroism as being concerned with status, as it is this issue of timé that lies at the heart of what it means to be a hero. Furthermore, another way that Homer portrays heroism in the Iliad is through kleos. Kleos can be translated from Greek into English to mean glory, and is the way in which heroes are remembered through oral epic poetry. Heroes’ actions not only have to bring them timé, but also kleos. Homer reveals that the heroes in the Iliad are chiefly concerned with the ideas of timé and kleos, as they worry that they will be forgotten due to not having enough of these and will therefore not reach their ultimate desire of being immortalised. A key example of a character who strives for ultimate glory is Achilleus, as he initially withdraws from battle due to an insult to his timé but ultimately returns to gain the more important kleos. “If I stay here and fight on round the Trojans’ city, then gone is my homecoming, but my glory will never die: and if I come back to my dear native land, then gone is my great glory” book 9, pg 143. This quotation not only shows how the hero Achilleus is aware of his changeable fate, but also shows the importance of glory to heroes as he ultimately chooses to fight and win glory. In addition, from this it can be inferred that there can be no heroism without glory, and the only way to achieve real glory is through death. Therefore, in this example Homer portrays heroism through kleos, as without the desire for kleos, you are not a true hero, as heroism is, in essence, the end result that all heroes fight and die for. Another way Homer portrays heroism is through aristeia. Aristeia can be translated from Greek into English to mean battling excellence, and as the highest honour can only be won in battle, showing aristeia will gain the hero timé. Heroism is portrayed through aristeia, because through having aristeia, the hero kills their opponent, thus showing them to be a good hero so they are respected more. A key example of a hero showing aristeia is in book 11, with Agamemnon’s display of aristeia. He is likened to a lion; “As a lion easily crunches up the...
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