Iliad and Honor

Topics: Iliad, Achilles, Trojan War Pages: 6 (2162 words) Published: May 9, 2006

Honor and glory are central to the Greek character. Since heroes are the essence of the society from which they come, Greek heroes live their lives according to honor and glory, in all their varied forms. Honor and glory trigger an epic war that takes the lives of numerous men, and shape its development at every stage. The fall of Troy is "a thing… whose glory shall perish never (Homer, Iliad 2.324)". The goal of the Greeks is the fame that resounds even after death, and they let nothing bar their way. The honor of the individual, family, and community guide every action and response. Honor and glory define the hero, and therefore are the foundations for everything that comes to pass in Homer's Iliad. The concepts of honor and glory are critical to understanding the motivation of the heroes in Homer's Iliad. Glory was gained by great, heroic actions and deeds and was conferred upon an individual by others who witnessed and acclaimed the glorious actions. Major battles provided an opportunity for many to find glory at once. Honor was similar to glory, but while the public had to view actions and deem them glorious, each individual maintained their own sense of personal honor which did not always coincide with honor as defined or perceived by the masses. Honor was gained through heroism in battle, but also through compelling speechmaking, loyalty and other noble qualities that a person might demonstrate. Having honor and glory allowed a Greek to gain influence in their society; as Osborne writes, "Individuals exert political influence according to their social standing, their rhetorical abilities, and their personal charisma, but not according to their holding the office of ruler (Osborne, 150)". An example that demonstrates this point occurs in the Iliad amidst an argument over a possible retreat. Odysseus, a respected fighter, makes the claim that it is "disgraceful to wait long and at the end go home empty-handed (Homer, Iliad 2.297)". His message is well received. Meanwhile, Thersites, a man- and commoner- despised by all, advises the army to return home and is struck down by Odysseus to the pleasure of the gathered crowd. Here the respect and honor that Odysseus has achieved lends sufficient weight to his argument that his opponent, without equivalent status, is barely allowed to retort. The honor and glory an individual has gained increase the respect and influence he commands as well. Honor and glory were important to the ancient Greeks because social status was not fixed. Positions of power were not simply inherited, and through honorable and respected actions a person could elevate their social position significantly. This mobility in Greek culture inspires a cooperative attitude between the local leaders and the people following them. The leaders require the voluntary cooperation of the people under them, and only achieve that with respect and honor. This quality allows Achilles to disobey Agamemnon and refuse to fight when Agamemnon dishonors him by taking his prize. Many of the strategic decisions for the army that are made throughout the Iliad are reviewed by a group of respected fighters and elders, even though Agamemnon is considered the main leader. In book nine, facing a rout at the hands of the Trojans, Agamemnon calls a counsel of leaders to persuade them that the army should "run away with our ships (Homer, Iliad 9.27)" before losing more men. However, Agamemnon's suggestion shocks his audience, and his idea is emphatically rejected. Diomedes states, "if in truth your own heart is so set upon going, go… yet the rest of the flowing-heart Achaians will stay here until we have sacked the city of Troy (Homer, Iliad 9.42)". Agamemnon's leadership position can easily be transferred to another, if he begins to falter. Status could always be gained and lost, and therefore it was necessary to continually protect your honor and resulting...
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