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Glory of War in the Homer’s “Iliad”

Naturally, mention of participation in war is viewed with indifference because it often points to atrocities and other inhuman acts associated with it. Homer’s epic poem however contradicts this not by showing how magnificent war is but by presenting possible glory associated with involvement in the war. Homer forces the characters to choose war as a way of bringing fame to them thus ensuring that their names run down to future generations. This Greek hero is characterized by the honor and glory that he brings to his society, both whiles arrive and at death. This is something that the Iliad strongly emphasizes. The war itself begins because the Greeks wanted to regain their glory and honor after the Trojan absconded with the wife of the Greek king. The fall of Troy is hence viewed as a thing whose glory shall never perish (Cochran 2.324). One’s actions in war act as a pointer to the honor accorded to an individual as a result of their act of heroism. Heroism in battle results in subsequent political and social influence. This is exemplified in an ensuing argument over a possible retreat where Odysseus utters an honorable fighter’s remarks of not going home empty-handed (Cochran 2.297). The utterance is well received while thoughts of giving up the battle by Thersites, a commoner, are disdained by the rest leading to his being struck by Odysseus to please him. Due to his consistent participation in the war, Odysseus has status and his argument does not allow criticism especially from individuals of less status like him and who are less of fighters as well. The poem generally does not criticize the gruesome deaths, enslaving, and estrangement. Instead, the poem views these vices as a glorious and respectable way of settling the dispute. The implication here is that all individuals are involved in war and not just the men.

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To start with, Achilles has to choose between his homecoming and glory by going to war. He begs Agamemnon’s envoys -Odysseus, Phoenix, and Ajax – to reinstate him in battle. This is an indication that he wanted to choose the battle of the two fates presented to him (Cochran 9.410-416). From his mother Thetis, he knows the battle spells his death. He also knows that by participating in war, he might very well die.

However, he decides against not going to war and instead, opts to go home. Although he knows that glory associated with participation in a way may not be forthcoming, nonetheless, he looks forward to a long life. The war will give him imperishable fame and the subsequent immortality, meaning his name will forever be discussed by forthcoming generations. He, therefore, foregoes his long life for battle and inevitable death which promises him a higher reward, in this case, glory.

Avoiding warfare is a show of laziness and an ignoble fear while participation shows wholeness, respect for self and society. This attracts admiration. Paris and Hektor exemplify this family honor in the way they contrast each other. On the one hand, Hektor is a brave respected fighter who has learned to win glory for his family (Cochran 6.444). On his death, he is mourned by people of all calibers with gods protecting his body from further mutilation by angry Achilles. On the other hand, his brother Paris dislikes war. Paris who initiated the war prefers to stay in sorrow than offering himself to fight (Cochran 6.336). His family scolds him and his lover Helen even regrets leaving her homeland with him. Instead, she is beguiled by Hektor. Paris is a weakling with nothing to offer his family. The more aggressive Hektor is ashamed of his brother Paris who is a disgrace and a disappointment. This notion extends to deities as well. The epic leaves the reader with admiration for deities who support war and their antics to ruin and fight like Athena. Those who are a little cowardly and run away from hostility seem comical, as exemplified by the timidity of Aphrodite and Artemis.

Glory in the Iliad follows the characters involved in their deaths, as long as they served well in war. There is thus the emphasis on retrieval of body and a decent burial for heroes, further explaining why the fighters have zeal and are not afraid of what happens to them after death. Achilles and Priam go through magnanimous difficulty to have the bodies of people they loved returned to them. For example, Achilles goes back to battle despite insults by Agamemnon to fight for and revenge Patroclus’s body while Priam goes for Hektor’s. In his revenge mission, Achilles tries to mutilate Hektor’s body in a bid to dishonor him (even in death) because he is a Trojan hero often referred to as the glorious Hektor (Cochran 22.395). Priam does not take death as a barrier to honor and glory earned in life. He, therefore, bends low and begs for his son’s body confessing that he has had enough mortification to a point of kissing the hands that killed his son (Cochran 24.505). He has done these sacrifices to achieve individual glory which is the community’s view of his actions. Glory was hence preserved in death even when his physical remains decayed in the Iliad.

As stated earlier, societal respect and status come with one’s bravery in battle. Leadership is not inherited but rather earned through one’s actions. In the same way, one may lose leadership to a more deserving individual. This implies that a leader has to fight hard to remain relevant to his or her subjects while those in the lower ranks work harder to earn glory, honor, respect, and status. Agamemnon for instance falters when he calls leaders to convince them to run away with their ships (Cochran 9.27) something that is received with contempt. He is challenged by Diomedes who is willing to stay and reduce the city of Troy to ruins (Cochran 9.42). Similarly, strong fighters motivate their people. Their presence spells success or defeat depending on the situation. The Greeks are considering defeat when Achilles abstains from fighting after Agamemnon slights him. It is a show that strong warriors are a stronghold for their people.

One may argue that the Iliad is about war yet does not glorify it. That perhaps it centers on the life of humans and gods and how fate predisposes them to problems they have to communally solve. That it is a poem on family life, and the value men place on their womenfolk, hence struggling to protect them and fight for them. They are all possible propositions because they are evidenced in the Iliad. However, behind them is an inner passion by the Greeks to preserve their names in the hope of achieving glory. Glory was the driving force behind forsaking family- wives, and children, the women submitting to slavery, the fighters losing friends among other realities of war. According to the Iliad, war is glory and glory is life.

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Works Cited

Cochrane, James. Homer’s Iliad: Translated into English Hexameters Edinburgh: Elderslie House. 1857, Print.

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