Events such as disasters, plagues, and wars occurred which brought about change. The setting of the Iliad begins with a war between Greece and Troy. This conflict had been going on for ten years. Back when the Iliad was written it was conceivable for the duration of war to last many years. In this day and time our concept of the duration of a war is somewhat shorter.
Another aspect of Greek ideology relating to war that differs from people living today is the personal aspect of war. The culture of Greeks in 700 B.C. conducted war where the participants most always saw their enemy on the battlefield.
In book one of the Iliad the way Greek and Trojans armies conducted warfare much different than we do today. In modern warfare the individual in many cases is taken out of the equation. The majority of the time soldiers on the battlefield today do not see their intended target. This is due much to the advancements in technology which puts distance between combatants. In the warfare of Homer’s day those engaged in mortal combat could look in the eyes of their enemy.
This closeness of combat made warfare fought on more of a personal level than it does in today’s military. That is not to say that war today is not personal, it’s just on a different level. As soldiers in the United States military placed a high value on honor so did the characters portrayed in the Iliad but on a more personal level. This is because not only could they see each other in close combat, they were able to evaluate, make judgments and convey to others how their fellow soldiers performed in combat.
It was this personal nature of battle that influenced the cultural beliefs in Homer’s time. Homer illustrated these values and beliefs to a degree in the Iliad in the way his characters were shown to value personal glory and honor.
In the Iliad, another difference in culture as it pertains to war is how the Greek generals behaved toward each other; two generals in particular, Agamemnon and Achilles. In the opening scene of the book begins “Begin with the clash between Agamemnon-The Greek warlord- and godlike Achilles”.
These two characters argue back and forth on several different issues. Their harsh words were brought about by their men dying from a plague which was thought to be caused by the gods due to the actions of Agamemnon.
The way these high ranking military officers conducted themselves and how their emotions effected the decisions, demonstrates a difference between the structure of the Greek’s military and the military of the United States.
The structure of the Greek military portrayed by the Iliad suggests they did not have a well established chain of command, at least not at the higher ranks and were less organized in comparison to the U.S military of today. Here again it seems that the culture of homer’s day places emphasis on the personal glory of the individual.
In the U.S. military there may be disagreements between generals but there is a rank structure and procedures set in place in order to resolve conflicts that may occur. In short, the attitudes, behaviors, and the emotions expressed by Agamemnon and Achilles were accepted then but by no means would be tolerated in today’s military.
Another cultural difference, somewhat pertaining to war, is the treatment of women. The Iliad mentions how the Greek regarded women as prizes, slaves, and possessions. “The girl is mine, and she’ll be an old woman in Argos before I let her go, working the loom in my house.” (Homer) “Still I’ll give her back …” “but I want another prize ready for me right away.” (Homer) Agamemnon speaking to Achilles “I’m coming to your hut and taking Briseis, your own beautiful prize, so that you will see just how much stronger I am than you, and the next person will wince at the thought of opposing me as an equal.” (Homer)
The war in the Iliad was over a woman in our day and time wars are not fought over the possession of a woman but are fought over human rights, religious beliefs, and against the threat of tourism. In addition in the U.S., women are considered equals to men and even serve in the military, which would not even be considered in Homer’s time.
One last contrast that I would like to mention is the religious beliefs of the Greeks. They believed in many gods and that some mortals, such as Achilles, were conceived from gods. They also believed that they were able to communicate and be granted special favors by these gods. Achilles speaking with his mother, a sea nymph, “Now you have to help me if you can. Go to Olympus and call in the debt that Zeus owes you.” (Homer) It was believed that the grandfather of Achilles was Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. The Greek gods were believed to be powerful, but had very human like attributes, some good and some bad In our society today, there are many religions but the majority of them believe in only one God and in the Christian religion, there is only one and all powerful, all knowing and loving God.
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