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The Iliad

The Iliad

by Homer

Warfare Theme

Over the years, some scholars and critics have described the Iliad as the first piece of anti-war literature. This is true in some respects, though ultimately misleading. It is true in that the Iliad portrays war in a completely unvarnished way. Simply put, its battle scenes are disgusting and brutal. The Iliad leaves little doubt that the capture of Troy will result in widespread murder, theft, and the enslavement of its women and children. At the same time, however, it portrays war as an almost inevitable part of human life – this can be seen in the description of the Shield of Achilleus, which has been interpreted as a total picture of the world. In this way, the Iliad's portrayal of war is similar to its portrayal of mortality: it stinks, but there's no way around it.

Questions About Warfare

  1. Which does the Iliad portray as most important to success in warfare: individual bravery or collective action?
  2. Is it fair to describe the Iliad as an anti-war work?
  3. Does the Iliad take a positive or a negative view of military glory?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Iliad views war as an inevitable part of human life.

The Iliad views the burden of war as mainly borne by non-combatants.

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