These two terrified and in awe of the king stood waiting
quietly, and did not speak a word at all nor question him.
But he knew the whole matter in his own heart, and spoke first:
"Welcome, heralds, messengers of Zeus and of mortals.
Draw near. You are not to blame in my sight, but Agamemnon
who sent the two of you here for the sake of the girl Briseis." (1.331-336)
He spoke, and Diomedes of the great war cry was gladdened.
He drove his spear deep into the prospering earth, and in winning
words of friendliness he spoke to the shepherd of the people:
"See now, you are my guest friend from far in the time of our fathers. […]
Let us avoid each other's spears, even in the close fighting.
There are plenty of Trojans and famed companions in battle for me
to kill, whom the god sends me, or those I run down with my swift feet,
many Achaians for you to slaughter, if you can do it.
But let us exchange our armour, so that these others may know
how we claim to be guests and friends from the days of our fathers." (6.212-215, 226-231)
For a full discussion of the Ancient Greek cultural institution of "guest friendship" or xenia (that's the term in Greek), turn to the relevant passage in our summary of Book 6. For the moment, though, isn't it amazing how this ritualized friendship, started generations ago, can make these two warriors put down their spears instead of killing each other?
Come then, let us give each other glorious presents,
so that any of the Achaians or Trojans may say of us:
"These two fought each other in heart-consuming hate, then
joined with each other in close friendship, before they were parted."' (7.299-302)
These words spoken by Hektor to Aias are another example of the fine line between friends and enemies. Can you think of any other examples – either elsewhere in the Iliad or in your own life – of opponents gaining grudging respect for each other?
"Welcome. You are my friends who have come, and greatly I need you,
who even to this my anger are dearest of all the Achaians.'
So brilliant Achilleus spoke, and guided them forward,
and caused them to sit down on couches with purple coverlets […]." (9.197-200)
In this scene, Achilleus welcomes Odysseus, Aias, and Phoinix, who have come to his tent to present Agamemnon's offer of a consolation gift. It seems similar to his lines in Book 1 above, where he shows that, even though he's mad at Agamemnon, he doesn't hold a grudge against those who have to carry out his orders.
The thing is, the Greek text here is actually a bit unclear. The end of line 197 really just says "there is great need," which could be interpreted as either "I need you" or "you need me." How would your interpretation of Achilleus's actions change if Lattimore (the translator we have been using) had translated it the other way?
"Hephaistos, come this way; here is Thetis, who has need of you."
Hearing her the renowned smith of the strong arms answered her:
"Then there is a goddess we honour and respect in our house.
She saved me when I suffered much at the time of my great fall
through the will of my own brazen-faced mother, who wanted
to hide me, for being lame. […]
Now she has come into our house; so I must by all means
do everything to give recompense to lovely-haired Thetis
for my life. Therefore set out before her fair entertainment
while I am putting away my bellows and all my instruments." (18.392-397, 406-409)
Friends help out friends. Can you think of any other parts of the Iliad where this code is either followed or abandoned?
[…] afterwards when the sun sets
make ready a great dinner, when we have paid off our defilement.
But before this, for me at least, neither drink nor food shall
go down my very throat, since my companion has perished
and lies inside my shelter torn about with the cutting
bronze, and turned against the forecourt while my companions
mourn about him. (19.208-213)
In most cultures, eating is a social occasion to join together with friends. Why do you think Achilleus would refuse food at this point of the story?
There was a time, ill fated, o dearest of all my companions,
when you yourself would set the desirable dinner before me
quickly and expertly, at the time the Achaians were urgent
to carry sorrowful war on the Trojans, breakers of horses.
But now you lie here torn before me, and my heart goes starved
for meat and drink, though they are here beside me, by reason
of longing for you. There is nothing worse than this I could suffer,
not even if I were to hear of the death of my father […]
or the death of my dear son, who is raised for my sake in Skyros
now, if godlike Neoptolemos is still one of the living. (19.315-322, 326-327)
In these lines, with his typical extreme emotion, Achilleus expresses the depth of his grief at losing Patroklos.
Patroklos, far most pleasing to my heart in its sorrows,
I left you here alive when I went away from the shelter,
but now I come back, lord of the people, to find you have fallen.
So evil in my life takes over from evil forever.
The husband on whom my father and honoured mother bestowed me
I saw before my city lying torn with the sharp bronze,
and my three brothers, whom a single mother bore with me
and who were close to me, all went on one day to destruction.
And yet you would not let me, when swift Achilleus had cut down
my husband, and sacked the city of godlike Mynes, you would not
let me sorrow, but said you would make me godlike Achilleus'
wedded lawful wife, that you would take me back in the ships
to Phthia, and formalize my marriage among the Myrmidons.
Therefore I weep your death without ceasing. You were kind always. (19.287-300)
This is the only time that Briseis speaks in the entire Iliad, revealing her touching relationship with Patroklos, based only upon kindness and respect. Often, one can learn a great deal about a person from looking at their friends (and romantic partners). What light, if any, does Briseis's speech about herself and Patroklos shed on Achilleus? Conversely, what insight, if any, does what we know about Achilleus provide into Briseis and Patroklos, two crucially important characters about whom we know so little?
Hektor, of all my lord's brothers dearest by far to my spirit:
my husband is Alexandros, like an immortal, who brought me
here to Troy; and I should have died before I came with him;
and here now is the twentieth year upon me since I came
from the place where I was, forsaking the land of my fathers. In this time
I have never heard a harsh saying from you, nor an insult.
No, but when another, one of my lord's brothers or sisters, a fair-robed
wife of some brother, would say a harsh word to me in the palace,
or my lord's mother—but his father was gentle always, a father
indeed--then you would speak and put them off and restrain them
by your own gentleness of heart and your gentle words. Therefore
I mourn for you in sorrow of heart and mourn myself also
and my ill luck. There was no other in all the wide Troad
who was kind to me, and my friend; all others shrank when they saw me. (24.762-775)
This speech of Helen over the body of Hektor is similar to that of Briseis over the body of Patroklos (see above). Both speeches reveal how important it could be for a captive woman to have a friend in her new household – someone who didn't treat her as a possession, and who would stick up for her when the going got tough.
And the games broke up, and the people scattered to go away, each man
to his fast-running ship, and the rest of them took thought of their dinner
and of sweet sleep and its enjoyment; only Achilleus
wept still as he remembered his beloved companion, nor did sleep
who subdues all come over him, but he tossed from one side to the other
in longing for Patroklos, for his manhood and his great strength
and all the actions he had seen to the end with him, and the hardships
he had suffered; the wars of men; hard crossing of the big waters. (24.1-8)
Okay, so as you've probably noticed, it's hard to judge sometimes whether Achilleus's feelings for Patroklos fall into the category of "friendship" or something more. Either way, it's clear that spending time with Patroklos was an important part of Achilleus's day-to-day existence; with the loss of his companion, he is at loose ends and cannot move on to other activities – beyond abusing the body of Hektor.
Thetis answered him then letting the tears fall: "Ah me,
my child, your birth was bitterness. Why did I raise you?
If only you could sit by your ships untroubled, not weeping,
since indeed your lifetime is to be short, of no length.
Now it has befallen that your life must be brief and bitter
beyond all men's. To a bad destiny I bore you in my chambers." (1.413-418)
Thetis seems to think that Achilleus's destiny is so bad that she wishes she never even raised him. Her feeling here will be echoed by Achilleus in Book 18, lines 86-87, when he wishes he had never been born. That said, do you agree with this? Do you think it is better to live with a bad destiny or never be born at all?
[…] among them stood up
Kalchas, Thestor's son, far the best of the bird interpreters,
who knew all things that were, the things to come and the things past,
who guided into the land of Ilion the ships of the Achaians
through that seercraft of his own that Phoibos Apollo gave him. (1.68-72)
To us, the whole idea of a "seer" – somebody who watches birds and looks for other signs of the will of the gods – might seem a little strange. And yet, what about weather forecasts, or economic forecasts in the modern world? Do you think it makes sense for us to rely on these forecasts, or are they just as strange as ancient prophecy?
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished […]. (1.1-5)
These are the very first lines of the Iliad, and they function sort of like a modern movie preview. The art of the movie preview is to give a flavor of what's to come, but not give everything away. Do you think that Homer hits the nail on the head? Does it make the story more or less interesting to know that everything in it happens according to the "the will of Zeus"?
Kalchas straightway spoke before us interpreting the gods' will:
"Why are you turned voiceless, you flowing-haired Achaians?
Zeus of the counsels has shown us this great portent: a thing late,
late to be accomplished, whose glory shall perish never.
As this snake has eaten the sparrow herself with her children,
eight of them, and the mother was the ninth, who bore them,
so for years as many as this shall we fight in this place
and in the tenth year we shall take the city of the wide ways." (2.322-329)
One of the interesting things about Kalchas's prophecy here is that we only hear about it second-hand, through Odysseus. Odysseus, as we all know (especially those who have read the Odyssey), is a master of trickery, so everything he says has to be taken with a grain of salt. What would be the advantage of making up a prophecy? Would you act differently if you knew that you were fated to succeed only after many years of failure?
Yet, as it was not the destiny of great-hearted Odysseus
to kill with the sharp bronze the strong son of Zeus, therefore
Athene steered his anger against the host of the Lykians. (5.674-676)
At first this might look like your standard-issue account of destiny stepping in to direct the hero's actions. On close inspection, however, it turns out to be highly ambiguous. Because, if it's destined that Odysseus won't kill the son of Zeus (i.e., Sarpedon), is it destined that Athene will stop him, and in just this way? Here, as elsewhere, it seems more like the gods choose to act in accordance with destiny, rather than being forced to do so.
Poor Andromache! Why does your heart sorrow so much for me?
No man is going to hurl me to Hades, unless it is fated,
but as for fate, I think no man has yet escaped it
once it has taken its first form, neither brave man nor coward. (6.486-489)
Okay, so we know Hektor is trying to cheer up his wife here, but if you were Andromache would you fall for that? So what if Hektor will only die when he's fated to die? Doesn't it still make sense for his wife to be sad whenever he dies? On another point, when Hektor says that the brave man can't escape his fate any more than the coward, what do you think would make someone want to be one instead of the other?
For my mother Thetis the goddess of the silver feet tells me
I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day my death. Either,
if I stay here and fight beside the city of Trojans,
my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting;
but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,
the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life
left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly. (9.410-416)
Achilleus's destiny gives him a choice over how he is going to lead his life. How does this fit in with the picture of destiny elsewhere in the work? Is Achilleus just special? If you had a destiny like him, would you rather know it or have it kept secret from you?
Ah me, that it is destined that the dearest of men, Sarpedon,
must go down under the hands of Menoitios' son Patroklos.
The heart in my breast is balanced between two ways as I ponder,
whether I should snatch him out of the sorrowful battle
and set him down still alive in the rich country of Lykia,
or beat him under at the hands of the son of Menoitios. (16.433-438)
To us, this might sound contradictory. Zeus is pondering whether he should save Sarpedon from death, even though that would go against his destiny. Can the gods defy fate? In fact they can – and so can mortals, sometimes (see the quote from Book 20, below). If you read Hera's reply, which comes immediately after this passage, you will see that Zeus doesn't back down because he has to, but rather because it would be inappropriate to save Sarpedon.
'This is the word the Achaians have spoken often against me
and found fault with me in it, yet I am not responsible
but Zeus is, and Destiny, and Erinys the mist-walking
who in assembly caught my heart in savage delusion
on that day I myself stripped from him the prize of Achilleus
Yet what could I do? It is the god who accomplishes all things.' (19.85-90)
When Agamemnon is trying to patch things up with Achilleus, do you find his excuse convincing? (Erinys, just so you know, is the personification of vengeance.) If you are familiar with Shakespeare's Hamlet, you might want to compare Agamemnon's excuse with the similar one made by Hamlet to Laertes (Act 5, Scene 2, lines 226-244). Then read Laertes's response and see if it sounds like something Achilleus might say.
For if we leave Achilleus alone to fight with the Trojans
they will not even for a little hold off swift-footed Peleion.
For even before now they would tremble whenever they saw him,
and now, when his heart is grieved and angered for his companion's
death, I fear against destiny he may storm their fortress. (20.26-30)
Is it reasonable for Zeus to fear that Achilleus might act against his own destiny? Do you think the rest of the Iliad supports or contradicts this view of human freedom? If it contradicts it, does Zeus know something the rest of us don't know? Or is there just something special about Achilleus?
lord of the silver bow who set your power about Chryse
and Killa the sacrosanct, who are lord in strength over Tenedos,
Smintheus, if ever it pleased your heart that I built your temple,
if ever it pleased you that I burned all the rich thigh pieces
of bulls, of goats, then bring to pass this wish I pray for:
let your arrows make the Danaans pay for my tears shed. (1.36-42)
When Chryses, the priest of Apollo, makes his prayer, he reveals something important about the religion of the Ancient Greeks. It was very much based upon a give-and-take relationship between mortals and gods: the mortal would make sacrifices, or would build monuments to the gods, but he could ask for something in return.
Now as he weighed in mind and spirit these two courses
and was drawing from its scabbard the great sword, Athene descended
from the sky. […]
The goddess standing behind Peleus' son caught him by the fair hair,
appearing to him only, for no man of the others saw her.
Achilleus in amazement turned about, and straightway
knew Pallas Athene and the terrible eyes shining. […]
Then […] the goddess grey-eyed Athene spoke to him:
"I have come down to stay your anger--but will you obey me?--
from the sky; and the goddess of the white arms Hera sent me,
who loves both of you equally in her heart and cares for you.
Come then, do not take your sword in your hand, keep clear of fighting,
though indeed with words you may abuse him, and it will be that way." (1.193-195, 197-200, 206-211)
Some scholars have argued that the Homeric gods might sometimes just be metaphors for human thought processes. For example, when Athene – the goddess of wisdom – appears above Achilleus and tells him to cool his jets, that could just be a poetic way of saying that his better judgment takes over. It seems difficult to apply this theory in every case, however (many gods act beyond their specific job description). How convincing do you find it, here and in the Iliad overall?
I have taken away the mist from your eyes, that before now
was there, so that you may well recognize the god and the mortal.
Therefore now, if a god making trial of you comes hither
do you not do battle head on with the gods immortal,
not with the rest; but only if Aphrodite, Zeus' daughter,
comes to the fighting, her at least you may stab with the sharp bronze. (5.127-132)
This quote reveals just how strange the Ancient Greek understanding of the gods was. Just when you expect Athene to have taken the mist off Diomedes's eyes so that he doesn't fight with any gods, it turns out that he's only supposed to fight one of them: Aphrodite. What does the fact that Diomedes fights with gods and gets away with it say about Achilleus's claim to be the best of the Achaians?
[…] but you, Hektor, go back again to the city, and there tell
your mother and mine to assemble all the ladies of honour
at the temple of grey-eyed Athene high on the citadel;
there opening with a key the door to the sacred chamber
let her take a robe, which seems to her the largest and loveliest
in the great house, and that which is far her dearest possession,
and lay it along the knees of Athene the lovely haired. Let her
promise to dedicate within the shrine twelve heifers,
yearlings, never broken, if only she will have pity
on the town of Troy, and the Trojan wives, and their innocent children. (6.86-95)
Once again, the theme of worship as a two-way street comes up. Helenos thinks that if the women of Troy make a good enough offering to Athene, she will help them. Unfortunately, things don't turn out that way.
Father Zeus, is there any mortal left on the wide earth
who will still declare to the immortals his mind and his purpose?
Do you not see how now these flowing-haired Achaians
have built a wall landward of their ships, and driven about it
a ditch, and not given to the gods any grand sacrifice?
Now the fame of this will last as long as dawnlight is scattered,
and men will forget that wall which I and Phoibos Apollo
built with our hard work for the hero Laomedon's city. (7.446-453)
Bad things happen when humans try to build things without the gods' permission. Or is Poseidon more angry because he thinks the wall will have a kind of immortality? Talk about a fragile ego.
Then, Achilleus, beat down your great anger. It is not
yours to have a pitiless heart. The very immortals
can be moved; their virtue and honour and strength are greater than ours are,
and yet with sacrifices and offerings for endearment,
with libations and with savour men turn back even the immortals
in supplication, when any man does wrong and transgresses. (9.496-501)
Let's break down what Phoinix is saying here. First, he says Achilleus should stop being such a jerk. Then, he says even the gods stop being jerks when people offer them stuff. Now we all know that Achilleus just got offered a ton of stuff, but he's still not being nice. Does he think he's better than the gods or something? That doesn't sound very pious.
Teukros was allotted first place to shoot. He let fly
a strong-shot arrow, but did not promise the lord of archery
that he would accomplish for him a grand sacrifice of lambs first born.
He missed the bird, for Apollo begrudged him that […]. (23.862-865)
See what happens when you don't promise to help out the gods? Teukros should have known better.
Antilochos, beloved of Zeus, come here. This is justice.
Stand in front of your horses and chariot, and in your hand take
up the narrow whip with which you drove them before, then
lay your hand on the horses and swear by him who encircles
the earth and shakes it you used no guile to baffle my chariot. (23.581-585)
Menelaos is calling the gods to function, in effect, as a lie-detector test. Generally, do you think that the gods in Homer's poem do a good job at preserving truth, justice, and the Achaian way?
Hera, be not utterly angry with the gods, for there shall not
be the same pride of place given both. Yet Hektor also
was loved by the gods, best of all the mortals in Ilion.
I loved him too. He never failed of gifts to my liking.
Never yet has my altar gone without fair sacrifice,
the smoke and the savour of it, since that is our portion of honour. (24.65-70)
Unlike Teukros, Hektor always remembered his manners in dealing with gods. Even if they cannot save him from his fate, they still keep looking out for him.
Friends, who are leaders of the Argives and keep their counsel:
[…] the gods have granted me the killing of this man
who has done us much damage […]. (378-380)
Achilleus gives the gods credit for the killing of Hektor. Does this seem consistent or inconsistent with his character more generally?
You wine sack, with a dog's eyes, with a deer's heart. Never
once have you taken courage in your heart to arm with your people
for battle, or go into ambuscade with the best of the Achaians.
No, for in such things you see death. Far better to your mind
is it, all along the widespread host of the Achaians
to take away the gifts of any man who speaks up against you.
King who feed on your people, since you rule nonentities;
otherwise, son of Atreus, this were your last outrage. (1.225-232)
Yet could none of the Trojans nor any renowned companion
show Alexandros then to warlike Menelaos.
These would not have hidden him for love, if any had seen him,
since he was hated among them all as dark death is hated. (3.451-454)
These lines come after Aphrodite wraps Paris (a.k.a. Alexandros) in a cloud of mist and saves him from being killed in his duel against Menelaos. Specifically, they refer to when Menelaos is looking around the field to see where his enemy went. Why do you think the Trojans hate Paris so much? Here's a hint: first think about why Homer specifically chooses to compare Paris to "dark death" in the way that he is hated.
Go back and proclaim to him all that I tell you,
openly, so other Achaians may turn against him in anger […].
He cheated me and he did me hurt. Let him not beguile me
with words again. This is enough for him. Let him of his own will
be damned, since Zeus of the counsels has taken his wits away from him.
I hate his gifts. I hold him light as the strip of a splinter.
Not if he gave me ten times as much, and twenty times over
as he possesses now, not if more should come to him from elsewhere, […]
not if he gave me gifts as many as the sand or the dust is,
not even so would Agamemnon have his way with my spirit
until he had made good to me all this heartrending insolence.
Nor will I marry a daughter of Atreus' son, Agamemnon,
not if she challenged Aphrodite the golden for loveliness,
not if she matched the work of her hands with grey-eyed Athene;
not even so will I marry her; let him pick some other Achaian […]. (9.369-370, 375-380, 385-391)
This is pretty self-explanatory. We just thought these were some serious disses, and deserved to be given a fair hearing. Actually, this is only a taste of the full passage. If you really want to hear Agamemnon get owned, you'll have to take a look at the original.
Zeus sent down
in speed to the fast ships of the Achaians the wearisome goddess
of Hate, holding in her hands the portent of battle.
She took her place on the huge-hollowed black ship of Odysseus
which lay in the middle, so that she could cry out to both flanks […].
There the goddess took her place, and cried out a great cry
and terrible and loud, and put strength in all the Achaians'
hearts, to go on tirelessly with their fighting of battles.
And now battle became sweeter to them than to go back
in their hollow ships to the beloved land of their fathers. (11.2-6, 10-14)
For starters, you might be interested to know that this goddess of Hate—her name in Greek is Eris—is the same goddess who crashed the marriage of Peleus and Thetis in the Backstory's Backstory. (If you don't know what we're talking about, check out our discussion of the deep, deep causes of the Trojan War in the summary of Book 2.)
Even more shocking than the appearance of Hate, however, is her effect, which can be seen in the last two lines of this passage. Compare these lines with Achilleus's words from Book 18 (quoted below) which also suggest that "hate" can be sweet to those in its grip.
Now, since I am not going back to the beloved land of my fathers,
since I was no light of safety to Patroklos, nor to my other
companions, who in their numbers went down before glorious Hektor,
but sit here beside my ships, a useless weight on the good land, […]
why, I wish that strife would vanish away from among gods and mortals,
and gall, which makes a man grow angry for all his great mind,
that gall of anger that swarms like smoke inside of a man's heart
and becomes a thing sweeter to him by far than the dripping of honey. (18.101-104, 107-110)
Like so many passages in the Iliad, this one looks simple on the surface, but can provide more than enough food for thought. First of all, we think it is worth considering that part of Achilleus's hate is directed towards himself, as these lines show. (Also remember that, earlier in this book, at lines 33-34, Antilochos had to hold Achilleus's hands to make sure he didn't kill himself.)
Second, what do you think about his closing words, which suggest that there is something about anger or hate that makes it taste sweet to those who experience it?
Poor fool, no longer speak to me of ransom, nor argue it.
In the time before Patroklos came to the day of his destiny
then it was the way of my heart's choice to be sparing
of the Trojans, and many I took alive and disposed of them.
Now there is not one who can escape death, if the gods send
him against my hands in front of Ilion, not one
of all the Trojans and beyond others the children of Priam. (21.99-105)
For a fuller version of this quote, look at our discussion of it under the theme of "Compassion and Forgiveness." Right now, though, it stands as a pretty clear statement of how Achilleus has a turned a page. Instead of hating his friends and praying for the Trojans to beat them, now he is completely consumed with hatred for the Trojans.
And the other sons of the Achaians came running about him,
and gazed upon the stature and on the imposing beauty
of Hektor; and none stood beside him who did not stab him;
and thus they would speak one to another, each looking at his neighbour:
"See now, Hektor is much softer to handle than he was
when he set the ships ablaze with the burning firebrand."
So as they stood beside him they would speak, and stab him. (22.369-375)
This outrage committed by the Achaians begs comparison with the actions of Achilleus that follow, when he disgraces Hektor's body in various gruesome ways. Do you think that the fact that the Achaians do this makes it okay (because it suddenly seems normal) for Achilleus to do what he did? Or do you think that Homer means us to blame Achilleus and the Achaians?
No more entreating of me, you dog, by knees or parents.
I wish only that my spirit and fury would drive me
to hack your meat away and eat it raw for the things that
you have done to me. So there is no one who can hold the dogs off
from your head, not if they bring here and set before me ten times
and twenty times the ransom, and promise more in addition,
not if Priam son of Dardanos should offer to weigh out
your bulk in gold; not even so shall the lady your mother
who herself bore you lay you on the death-bed and mourn you:
no, but the dogs and the birds will have you all for their feasting. (22.345-354)
This is probably the most extreme expression of hatred in the entire Iliad. (The only other lines that come close, and possibly equal these, are those of Hektor's mother, in Book 24, lines 212-214.) How do these lines contribute to our understanding of Achilleus's character?
Then, when he had yoked running horses under the chariot
he would fasten Hektor behind the chariot, so as to drag him,
and draw him three times around the tomb of Menoitios' fallen
son, then rest again in his shelter, and throw down the dead man
and leave him to lie sprawled on his face in the dust. (24.14-18)
Achilleus's hate for Hektor is so extreme that it continues even after his death. Why do you think that this behavior is the final straw that makes the gods step in and put a stop to his anger?
"I wish I could set teeth
in the middle of his liver and eat it. That would be vengeance
for what he did to my son." (24.212-214)
This quotation, which we also talk about under the theme of "Compassion and Forgiveness," is an expression of a mother's hatred for the man who killed her son. Of course, it most immediately recalls Achilleus's similar lines from Book 22 (see above). Do you think one character's reaction is more understandable than the other, or are they both equally horrifying?
And now my prize you threaten in person to strip from me,
for whom I labored much, the gift of the sons of the Achaians.
Never, when the Achaians sack some well-founded citadel
of the Trojans, do I have a prize that is equal to your prize. […]
Now I am returning to Phthia, since it is much better
to go home again with my curved ships, and I am minded no longer
to stay here dishonoured and pile up your wealth and your luxury. (1.161-164, 169-171)
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – except in the case of Achilleus, where the reaction is unequal and vastly more destructive than the original action. All the same, don't you think Achilleus has a bit of a point here? If he's doing all the work, how come Agamemnon gets to take all the credit? Don't you think that would make you a bit angry?
Still I am willing to give her back, if such is the best way.
I myself desire that my people be safe, not perish.
Find me then some prize that shall be my own, lest I only
among the Argives go without, since that were unfitting. (1.116-119)
This is what gets the ball rolling: the pride of Agamemnon. Do you think there is any legitimacy to what he's saying here, or should he just put up and shut up?
What is this word that broke through the fence of your teeth, Atreides?
How can you say that, when we Achaians waken the bitter
war god on Trojans, breakers of horses, I hang back from
fighting? Only watch, if you care to and if it concerns you,
the very father of Telemachos locked with the champion
Trojans, breakers of horses. Your talk is wind, and no meaning. (4.350-355)
This is Odysseus reacting to Agamemnon's calling him a slacker at fighting. If you were in his sandals, you'd probably say the same thing, wouldn't you? If so, then you too would fall into Agamemnon's trap. For all Odysseus's cleverness, he doesn't see that Agamemnon is just teasing him to get him to try harder. Have you ever played that sort of trick on someone?
Be men now, dear friends, and take up the heart of courage,
and have consideration for each other in the strong encounters,
since more come through alive when men consider each other,
and there is no glory when they give way, nor warcraft either. (5.529-532)
This quotation follows the previous one nicely, illustrating a similar point. Even though the Iliad shows us – time and again, and in great detail – the negative side of pride, it also shows us some of the positives. One advantage of pride is that it can make people perform good actions out of fear of losing respect. In this case, Agamemnon thinks that if his men keep pride in mind, they will get through the battle more safely. Can you think of any other instances – in the Iliad, elsewhere in literature, or in real life – where pride has this positive effect?
Son of Atreus, most lordly and king of men, Agamemnon,
I wish you had not supplicated the blameless son of Peleus
with innumerable gifts offered. He is a proud man without this,
and now you have driven him far deeper into his pride. Rather
we shall pay him no more attention, whether he comes in with us
or stays away. He will fight again, whenever the time comes
that the heart in his body urges him to, and the god drives him. (9.697-703)
What do you think about Diomedes's remark here – that the only solution to Achilleus is to ignore him? Do you have the same impression we do – that Diomedes understands Achilleus in a way that the other chieftains don't? Diomedes is constantly being compared with his father, Tydeus. Do you think this might give him a special insight into the nature of pride?
Son of Telamon, seed of Zeus, Aias, lord of the people:
all that you have said seems spoken after my own mind.
Yet still the heart in me swells up in anger, when I remember
the disgrace that he wrought upon me before the Argives,
the son of Atreus, as if I were some dishonoured vagabond. (9.644-648)
This parting remark by Achilleus to the emissaries makes it pretty clear what made him most mad about Agamemnon's actions in Book 1. Agamemnon has just offered to give Achilleus Briseis back, and to swear an oath that he never slept with her. On top of that, he's throwing in a lot of awesome stuff, which you can read about in our summary of Book 9. But Achilleus refuses it all, because he isn't interested in material things: he cares about his honor.
Now is your time for big words, Hektor. Yours is the victory
given by Kronos' son, Zeus, and Apollo, who have subdued me
easily, since they themselves stripped the arms from my shoulders.
Even though twenty such as you had come in against me,
they would all have been broken beneath my spear, and have perished.
No, deadly destiny, with the son of Leto, has killed me,
and of men it was Euphorbos; you are only my third slayer. (16.844-850)
If you've read Book 16, you'll know that what Patroklos says is technically true: Hektor was only the third person to strike him (though he was the only one to deliver a fatal blow). All the same, it definitely sounds like Patroklos is trying to knock Hektor's ego down a few notches, basically telling him he talks the talk, but doesn't walk the walk.
If it is true that brilliant Achilleus is risen beside their
ships, then the worse for him if he tries it, since I for my part
will not run from him out of the sorrowful battle, but rather
stand fast, to see if he wins the great glory, or if I can win it. (18.305-308)
Have you ever gotten yourself into a difficult situation just because you were afraid to admit you couldn't handle it? Sure you have. You should understand what Hektor's going through at this point.
Ah me! If I go now inside the wall and the gateway,
Poulydamas will be first to put a reproach upon me,
since he tried to make me lead the Trojans inside the city
on that accursed night when brilliant Achilleus rose up,
and I would not obey him, but that would have been far better.
Now, since by my own recklessness I have ruined my people,
I feel shame before the Trojans and the Trojan women with trailing
robes, that someone who is less of a man than I will say of me:
"Hektor believed in his own strength and ruined his people." (22.99-107)
This is a classic example of pride's double jeopardy. Because he was too full of himself to listen to Poulydamas's advice back in Book 18, Hektor now finds himself in a bad situation. But, for the same reason, he can't get out of that situation because he's afraid of Poulydamas saying "I told you so."
But now my death is upon me.
Let me at least not die without a struggle, inglorious,
but do some big thing first, that men to come shall know of it. (22.303-305)
Even when he feels death hanging over him, Hektor's sense of pride dictates his actions. Knowing that he did not die a shameful death is his final consolation.
Thereafter beginning from the left he poured drinks for the other
gods, dipping up from the mixing bowl the sweet nectar.
But among the blessed immortals uncontrollable laughter
went up as they saw Hephaistos bustling about the palace.
Thus thereafter the whole day long until the sun went under
they feasted, nor was anyone's hunger denied a fair portion,
nor denied the beautifully wrought lyre in the hands of Apollo,
nor the antiphonal sweet sound of the Muses singing. (1.597-604)
This might not immediately seem like it has to do with the theme of mortality, but it is important to understand that much of what the Iliad says about mortals is meant to be contrasted with what it says about gods. The immortality of the gods is one of the most important things about them. In fact, as you can see here, they are sometimes referred to simply as "the immortals." Why do you think Homer would want to contrast the scene of Achilleus and Agamemnon's argument with this picture of divine celebration?
Antilochos was first to kill a chief man of the Trojans,
valiant among the champions, Thalysias' son, Echepolos.
Throwing first, he struck the horn of the horse-haired helmet,
and the bronze spearpoint fixed in his forehead and drove inward
through the bone; and a mist of darkness clouded both eyes
and he fell as a tower falls in the strong encounter. (4.457-462)
This is the first of many, many scenes like it in the Iliad: someone is no sooner introduced – sometimes with a little bit of biographical information – than killed in gruesome fashion. Even though moments like this may seem repetitive and gross, they are important to the poem as a whole. Scenes like this remind us that death is not abstract: it strikes down real people, and it hurts.
Meanwhile his brilliant companions laid godlike Sarpedon
under a lovely spreading oak of Zeus of the aegis,
and strong Pelagon, one of his beloved companions,
pushed perforce through and out of his thigh the shaft of the ash spear.
And the mist mantled over his eyes, and the life left him,
but he got his breath back again, and the blast of the north wind
blowing brought back to life the spirit gasped out in agony. (5.692-698)
Even though Sarpedon does not die in this scene, what happens to him shows the fine line between life and death. Have you ever heard that people say "Bless you" when you sneeze, because it used to be thought that sneezes were caused by the soul leaving the body? Sarpedon blacking out from pain is obviously much more serious than a sneeze, but Homer describes it in the same way: his life leaves him, and then comes back. Even today, many people who have had near-death experiences recall feeling as if they had floated out of their bodies.
High-hearted son of Tydeus, why ask of my generation?
As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another
Alright, so this is a pretty ridiculous answer to a simple question. All Diomedes wanted to know was who Glaukos's parents were. Did he really have to go that far? Let's say you get pulled over in your car – maybe one of your tail lights is out. The officer asks you for your name and registration. Are you really going to answer, "What does it matter who I am? We are like unto leaves: we appear and we fall"? Glaukos is being pretty bold here.
Come then! After once more the flowing-haired Achaians
are gone back with their ships to the beloved land of their fathers,
break their wall to pieces and scatter it into the salt sea
and pile again the beach deep under the sands and cover it;
so let the great wall of the Achaians go down to destruction. (7.459-463)
For thousands of years, one of humanity's surefire ways of trying to escape mortality has been to build lasting monuments as a way of preserving their memory for future generations. True, the Achaians built their wall more out of immediate necessity, but it would probably still make them mad to know how easily it got leveled. That said, the fact that we even know about this wall shows the power of the spoken and written word to outlast physical remains – Poseidon wasn't able to destroy the work of Homer! For an exploration of this power of language, check out Sonnets 55 and 65 by William Shakespeare.
Oh if I only
could be as this in all my days immortal and ageless
and be held in honour as Athene and Apollo are honoured
as surely as this oncoming day brings evil to the Argives. (8.538-541)
It is a curious fact about the Iliad that, for all its focus on the theme of death, it rarely shows characters longing for immortality. This is one of the few times when this happens, and it is interesting that Hektor says it out of excitement – wanting the moment to last forever – instead of despair at a moment passing.
Fate is the same for the man who holds back, the same if he fights hard.
We are all held in a single honour, the brave with the weaklings.
A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much. (9.318-320)
Achilleus's attitude here is not unique in the Iliad. (Compare his remarks here with those of Hektor in Book 6, lines 488-489, quoted in the section on "Fate and Free Will.") What makes them distinctive is that they come from Achilleus. Do you think that this attitude is consistent with his character elsewhere in the Iliad? For a modern literary treatment of death as the great leveler, read W. B. Yeats's great poem "Cuchulain Comforted." (Cuchulainn, pronounced "Ka-HOO-lan," is a great hero of Celtic mythology.)
Aïdoneus, lord of the dead below, was in terror
and sprang from his throne and screamed aloud, for fear that above him
he who circles the land, Poseidon, might break the earth open
and the houses of the dead lie open to men and immortals,
ghastly and mouldering, so the very gods shudder before them;
such was the crash that sounded as the gods came driving together
in wrath. (20.61-67)
One thing's for sure about the Homeric worldview: it doesn't paint a rosy picture of the afterlife. (You'll get an even better sense of this if you read the Odyssey, Book 11.) So much of our lives is spent wondering about what happens after death. Do you think you – or the heroes of the Iliad – would do things differently if you were able to get a sudden glimpse into the underworld? (Here's a hint, to make you even more curious to read that book of the Odyssey: in it, the ghost of Achilleus gives Odysseus a partial answer to this question.)
The ghost came and stood over his head and spoke a word to him:
You sleep, Achilleus; you have forgotten me; but you were not
careless of me when I lived, but only in death. Bury me
as quickly as may be, let me pass through the gates of Hades.
The souls, the images of dead men, hold me at a distance,
and will not let me cross the river and mingle among them,
but I wander as I am by Hades' house of the wide gates.
And I call upon you in sorrow, give me your hand; no longer
shall I come back from death, once you give me my rite of burning. (23.68-76)
Do you believe in ghosts? If you don't, that's okay; bear in mind that Patroklos's ghost only appears in a dream – so it could all be Achilleus's imagination. Whichever way you interpret it, though, what the ghost of Patroklos says is very relevant to the way we think about mortality today.
Isn't Patroklos really asking for "closure," the same word we hear constantly these days on TV, the radio, in self-help books – basically anywhere people turn to get advice on dealing with grief? What do you think changes when, as here, these ideas are put in the mouth of a dead man, or (if you prefer) the image of a dead man?
Aged sir, if only, as the spirit is in your bosom,
so might your knees be also and the strength stay steady within you;
but age weakens you which comes to all; if only some other
of the fighters had your age and you were one of the young men! (4.313-316)
These words, spoken by Agamemnon to Nestor, bring home the universal fact of death. Even though, if you're lucky, you can escape death in battle, old age spares no one.
Yes, old sir, all this you have said is fair and orderly.
Yet here is a man who wishes to be above all others,
who wishes to hold power over all, and to be lord of
all, and give them their orders, yet I think one will not obey him. (1.286-289)
When Agamemnon makes this complaint during his big argument with Achilleus, he reveals an underlying factor in their contest: the competition for political authority. Did you ever wonder why, when someone seeks political office, we say that he or she is "running" for it? Or, for that matter, why we call it a race?
Forever quarreling is dear to your heart, and wars and battles;
and if you are very strong indeed, that is a god's gift. (1.177-178)
Even though Agamemnon is talking about Achilleus as a warrior, what he has to say could be applied to any sort of competition. Basically, he's saying that Achilleus isn't any better than he is, because whatever advantage he has is because some god has helped him. The modern-day controversy about doping in sports comes out of similar feelings as Agamemnon's. What do you think about the role of doping in sports? Is it fair when someone has access to an advantage that no one else does?
But when the other drove to his feet, resourceful Odysseus,
he would just stand and stare down, eyes fixed on the ground beneath him,
nor would he gesture with the staff backward and forward, but hold it
clutched hard in front of him, like any man who knows nothing.
Yes, you would call him a sullen man, and a fool likewise.
But when he let the great voice go from his chest, and the words came
drifting down like the winter snows, then no other mortal
man beside could stand up against Odysseus. (3.216-223)
Can you think of any activity in the Iliad that doesn't lend itself to some form of competition? Here, Antenor is praising Odysseus for his incredible speaking ability, which he contrasts with that of Menelaos (immediately before these lines). Although Menelaos and Odysseus are not going head-to-head with each other in a formal contest, it still makes sense to think of them as competing in some underlying way. At least Antenor seems to think so.
The son of devious-devising Kronos has given you
gifts in two ways: with the sceptre he gave you honour beyond all,
but he did not give you a heart, and of all power this is the greatest. (9.37-39)
In these lines, Diomedes tells off Agamemnon, who earlier was saying that he didn't have any courage. Now Diomedes turns the tables on him, saying that he, Agamemnon, doesn't have courage (this is what he means by "a heart"). Here Diomedes expresses a deep truth about competition: nobody is the best at everything. How does this connect up with the role of Achilleus within the book? Doesn't he think he can go it alone?
'Son of Peleus, never hope by words to frighten me
as if I were a baby. I myself understand well enough
how to speak in vituperation and how to make insults.
I know that you are great and that I am far weaker than you are.
Still, all this lies upon the knees of the gods; and it may be
that weaker as I am I might still strip the life from you
with a cast of the spear, since my weapon too has been sharp before this.' (20.432-437)
In these lines, Hektor speaks up for every underdog. Even though the other guy has all the advantages, there's always room for an upset. The only trick is to hang on to a glimmer of hope – even if it's only hope for luck, or, as Hektor puts it, for the help of the gods. In the summary of Book 20, we compared this passage to the following famous lines from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, which present the same idea: "I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."
They ran beside these, one escaping, the other after him.
It was a great man who fled, but far better he who pursued him
rapidly, since here was no festal beast, no ox-hide
they strove for, for these are prizes that are given men for their running.
No, they ran for the life of Hektor, breaker of horses. (22.158-161)
It is passages like this – from the scene when Achilleus is chasing Hektor around the walls of Troy – that make even experienced readers of Homer amazed at his complexity. Later on (in Book 23) we will see extended scenes of athletic competition that echo, in various ways, the earlier scenes of warfare. But what is Homer saying? Is he saying that warfare is really like a game, or is it that games are really a form of warfare? Or is the truth something else? Is there a third thing that both resemble – some underlying human need to be the best?
He spoke, and a man huge and powerful, well skilled in boxing,
rose up among them; the son of Panopeus, Epeios.
He laid his hand on the hard-working jenny, and spoke out:
"Let the man come up who will carry off the two-handled goblet.
I say no other of the Achaians will beat me at boxing
and lead off the jenny. I claim I am the champion. Is it not
enough that I fall short in battle? Since it could not be
ever, that a man could be a master in every endeavour.
For I'll tell you this straight out, and it will be a thing accomplished.
I will smash his skin apart and break his bones on each other.
Let those who care for him wait nearby in a huddle about him
to carry him out, after my fists have beaten him under." (23.667-675)
Some things never change. Compare this passage with some of Muhammad Ali's speeches. Notice any similarities?
If both of them had had to run the course any further,
Menelaos would have passed him, and there could have been no argument
But Meriones, strong henchman of Idomeneus, was left
a spearcast's length behind by glorious Menelaos. (23.526-529)
If there's one major difference between warfare and athletics (okay, so there are many differences), it's that in athletics there are rules. Just because you're the fastest doesn't mean you win, so long as you can't do it within the duration of the game.
Can you think of any moments during the Iliad's battle scenes where characters act as if there are rules in war? Here's a hint: sometimes this is clearest when somebody thinks the rules of war have been broken.
Aias, surpassing in abuse, yet stupid, in all else
you are worst of the Argives with that stubborn mind of yours. Come then,
let us put up a wager of a tripod or cauldron
and make Agamemnon, son of Atreus, witness between us
as to which horses lead. And when you pay, you will find out. (23.483-487)
What is it about sports that can make the spectators as engaged (if not more) than the competitors? Does this challenge to a bet seem similar to or different from other scenes of rivalry in the Iliad?
By skill charioteer outpasses charioteer. He
who has put all his confidence in his horses and chariot
and recklessly makes a turn that is loose one way or another
finds his horses drifting out of the course and does not control them.
But the man, though he drive the slower horses, who takes his advantage,
keeps his eye always on the post and turns tight, ever watchful,
pulled with the ox-hide reins on the course, as in the beginning,
and holds his horses steady in hand, and watches the leader. (23.318-325)
Here Nestor is playing the role of coach to his son, Antilochos. Do you think he is giving good advice? Would his advice hold true for every situation in the Iliad, even outside of athletic competition?
Meriones in turn killed Phereklos, son of Harmonides,
the smith, who understood how to make with his hand all intricate
things, since above all others Pallas Athene had loved him.
He it was who had built for Alexandros the balanced
ships, the beginning of the evil, fatal to the other
Trojans, and to him, since he knew nothing of the gods' plans. (5.59-64)
Tall Hektor of the glancing helm answered him: "Aias,
son of Telamon, seed of Zeus, o lord of the people,
do not be testing me as if I were some ineffectual
boy, or a woman, who knows nothing of the works of warfare.
I know well myself how to fight and kill men in battle;
I know how to turn to the right, how to turn to the left the ox-hide
tanned into a shield which is my protection in battle;
I know how to storm my way into the struggle of flying horses;
I know how to tread my measures on the grim floor of the war god." (7.233-241)
In Ancient Greek, the same word, ergon, is used to refer to "work" done in an everyday context and "deeds" done on the battlefield. Hektor's speech to Aias emphasizes this connection, treating warfare as a skill much like any other.
Now the sun of a new day struck on the ploughlands, rising
out of the quiet water and the deep stream of the ocean
to climb the sky. The Trojans assembled together. They found
it hard to recognize each individual dead man;
but with water they washed away the blood that was on them
and as they wept warm tears they lifted them on to the wagons.
But great Priam would not let them cry out; and in silence
they piled the bodies upon the pyre, with their hearts in sorrow,
and burned them upon the fire, and went back to sacred Ilion.
In the same way on the other side the strong-greaved Achaians
piled their own slain upon the pyre, with their hearts in sorrow,
and burned them upon the fire, and went-back to their hollow vessels. (7.421-432)
In this scene, the poet shows us the essential similarity between the Achaians and the Trojans, even though they are on opposing sides of a long war. Can you think of other moments in the Iliad that place such emphasis on shared humanity?
[…] there man's courage is best decided,
where the man who is a coward and the brave man show themselves clearly:
the skin of the coward changes colour one way and another,
and the heart inside him has no control to make him sit steady,
but he shifts his weight from one foot to another, then settles firmly
on both feet, and the heart inside his chest pounds violent
as he thinks of the death spirits, and his teeth chatter together:
but the brave man's skin will not change colour, nor is he too much
frightened, once he has taken his place in the hidden position,
but his prayer is to close as soon as may be in bitter division […]. (13.276-287)
In these words spoken to Meriones, Idomeneus says that war reveals the true nature of a person's character. Do you think this is true of stressful situations generally? What do you make of Idomeneus's distinction between someone who has courage and someone who lacks it?
'Hektor, you are too intractable to listen to reason.
Because the god has granted you the actions of warfare
therefore you wish in counsel also to be wise beyond others.
But you cannot choose to have all gifts given to you together.
To one man the god has granted the actions of warfare,
to one to be a dancer, to another the lyre and the singing,
and in the breast of another Zeus of the wide brows establishes
wisdom, a lordly thing, and many take profit beside him
and he saves many, but the man's own thought surpasses all others.' (13.726-734)
Poulydamas's advice to Hektor is similar to Nestor's advice to his son Antilochos in Book 23, lines 318-325 (quoted in our discussion of the theme of "Competition"). Nestor's advice, of course, doesn't have to do with war, but rather with how to win a chariot race. Both figures point out that brawn isn't everything—you've got to have brains too.
Now I utterly despise your heart for the thing you have spoken;
you who in the very closing of clamorous battle
tell us to haul our strong-benched ships to the sea, so that even
more glory may befall the Trojans, who beat us already,
and headlong destruction swing our way, since the Achaians
will not hold their battle as the ships are being hauled seaward,
but will look about, and let go the exultation of fighting.
There, o leader of the people, your plan will be ruin. (14.95-102)
Try to think about these lines (spoken to Agamemnon) alongside those by Aias quoted below from Book 15 (lines 733-741). Here, Odysseus is saying that the Achaians will only stay in battle formation if they know they are all in it together. Do you think Aias would agree with him?
Friends and fighting men of the Danaans, henchmen of Ares,
be men now, dear friends, remember your furious valour.
Do we think there are others who stand behind us to help us?
Have we some stronger wall that can rescue men from perdition?
We have no city built strong with towers lying near us, within which
we could defend ourselves and hold off this host that matches us.
We hold position in this plain of the close-armoured Trojans,
bent back against the sea, and far from the land of our fathers.
Salvation's light is in our hands' work, not the mercy of battle. (15.733-741)
Aias's words show a terrifying moment: the moment when you realize there is no way out except the way you make yourself. Have you ever been in such a situation? (It could be studying for a test, training for a sporting event, acting in a play, etc.)
Did the knowledge that you had no choice make it easier or harder for you to act? Can you connect this experience with other moments in the Iliad when characters act under the influence of necessity (for example, under the influence of fate)?
He who among you
finds by spear thrown or spear thrust his death and destiny,
let him die. He has no dishonour when he dies defending
his country, for then his wife shall be saved and his children afterwards,
and his house and property shall not be damaged, if the Achaians
must go away with their ships to the beloved land of their fathers. (15.486-488, 494-499)
In these words, Hektor reminds the Trojans of everything at stake in their battle against the Achaians. From what we know of the fall of Troy from other literary works, such as the Odyssey and the Aeneid – not to mention the predictions of Andromache, quoted at the end of this section – Hektor's fears sound more than justified.
On it he wrought in all their beauty two cities of mortal
men. And there were marriages in one, and festivals. […]
But around the other city were lying two forces of armed men
shining in their war gear. (18.490-491, 509-510)
The designs Hephaistos puts on Achilleus's shield have been interpreted as a complete picture of the natural and human worlds as Homer's society understood them. Why do you think the god would include these two cities in that picture? Do you think the Iliad views war as an inevitable part of human life, or can it be avoided?
My husband, you were lost young from life, and have left me
a widow in your house, and the boy is only a baby
who was born to you and me, the unhappy. I think he will never
come of age, for before then head to heel this city
will be sacked, for you, its defender, are gone, you who guarded
the city, and the grave wives, and the innocent children,
wives who before long must go away in the hollow ships,
and among them I shall also go, and you, my child, follow
where I go, and there do much hard work that is unworthy
of you, drudgery for a hard master; or else some Achaian
will take you by hand and hurl you from the tower into horrible
death, in anger because Hektor once killed his brother,
or his father, or his son; there were so many Achaians
whose teeth bit the vast earth, beaten down by the hands of Hektor.
Your father was no merciful man in the horror of battle. (24.725-739)
Andromache's words to her fallen husband, Hektor, come near the very end of the Iliad. What do you think they say about the nature of war, as portrayed in the book?
Zeus, and you other immortals, grant that this boy, who is my son,
may be as I am, pre-eminent among the Trojans,
great in strength, as am I, and rule strongly over Ilion;
and some day let them say of him: "He is better by far than his father",
as he comes in from the fighting; and let him kill his enemy
and bring home the blooded spoils, and delight the heart of his mother. (6.476-481)
These lines show that Hektor is not merely a great warrior; he also deeply loves his wife and child. Can you think of any other instance in the entire Iliad in which a character wishes somebody else were better than him or herself? We can't either. By expressing this thought, Hektor expresses something special about the love of parents for children – as well as the strength of his own love.
So speaking he set his child again in the arms of his beloved
wife, who took him back again to her fragrant bosom
smiling in her tears; and her husband saw, and took pity upon her,
and stroked her with his hand, and called her by name and spoke to her:
"Poor Andromache! Why does your heart sorrow so much for me?" (6.482-486)
These lines continue the depiction of Hektor as a family man. Which do you think is more important to Hektor: his love for his family or his sense of duty as a warrior? Or do these add to each other?
She spoke, and from her breasts unbound the elaborate, pattern-pierced
zone, and on it are figured all beguilements, and loveliness
is figured upon it, and passion of sex is there, and the whispered
endearment that steals the heart away even from the thoughtful.
She put this in Hera's hands, and called her by name and spoke to her:
"Take this zone, and hide it away in the fold of your bosom.
It is elaborate, all things are figured therein. And I think
whatever is your heart's desire shall not go unaccomplished.' (14.214-221)
When she removes her beautiful zone (or "girdle") and gives it to Hera, Aphrodite seems to be agreeing with the famous words of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, "Wine comes in at the mouth, / And love comes in at the eye." (The original poem may be found here.) Do you think that her belief is justified?
''Hera, there will be a time afterwards when you can go there
as well. But now let us go to bed and turn to love-making.
For never before has love for any goddess or woman
so melted about the heart inside me, broken it to submission,
as now […]." (14.313-317)
Alright, it's true that this is probably more in the "sex" category than "love" as such, but let's just take Zeus at his word. What is significant about this moment is that it shows the power of emotions – whether they be anger, pride, or love – to completely take possession of a person. Can you think of other moments in the Iliad where this theme appears?
"Ah me, that it is destined that the dearest of men, Sarpedon,
must go down under the hands of Menoitios' son Patroklos.
The heart in my breast is balanced between two ways as I ponder,
whether I should snatch him out of the sorrowful battle
and set him down still alive in the rich country of Lykia,
or beat him under at the hands of the son of Menoitios." (16.433-438)
Many of the gods have children fighting for either the Achaians or the Trojans. In this case, Zeus's love for his son Sarpedon is so strong that he considers acting against fate to save him.
But the horses of Aiakides standing apart from the battle
wept, as they had done since they heard how their charioteer
had fallen in the dust at the hands of murderous Hektor. […]
They were unwilling to go back to the wide passage of Helle
and the ships, or back into the fighting after the Achaians,
but still as stands a grave monument which is set over
the mounded tomb of a dead man or lady, they stood there
holding motionless in its place the fair-wrought chariot,
leaning their heads along the ground, and warm tears were running
earthward from underneath the lids of the mourning horses
who longed for their charioteer, while their bright manes were made dirty
as they streamed down either side of the yoke from under the yoke pad. (17.427-428, 432-440)
This book has everything, doesn't it? So this moment could be interpreted as a bit over-the-top, but we think it's still pretty awesome. What, if anything, does the Iliad's depiction of love gain from this image of the human-animal bond?
So the old man spoke, and in his hands seizing the grey hairs
tore them from his head, but could not move the spirit in Hektor.
And side by side with him his mother in tears was mourning
and laid the fold of her bosom bare and with one hand held out
a breast, and wept her tears for him and called to him in winged words:
"Hektor, my child, look upon these and obey, and take pity
on me, if ever I gave you the breast to quiet your sorrow.
Remember all these things, dear child, and from inside the wall
beat off this grim man. Do not go out as champion against him […]." (22.77-85)
These dramatic gestures of parental love tap into one of the Iliad's most important themes. Remember: the very first scene of the book shows the priest Chryses coming to ask for his daughter back; then, the climax of the main narrative shows Priam receiving back the body of Hektor. One thing that makes this scene different from those two is that here the parents are asking their child to do something. How does this cast the parent-child relationship in a different light?
"Therefore your people are grieving for you all through their city,
Hektor, and you left for your parents mourning and sorrow
beyond words, but for me passing all others is left the bitterness
and the pain, for you did not die in bed, and stretch your arms to me,
nor tell me some last intimate word that I could remember
always, all the nights and days of my weeping for you." (24.740-745)
These lines reveal the depth of Andromache's love for her husband, Hektor. Do you think that her contrast between the strength of private emotions and that of public opinion is true of the Iliad as a whole?
"Make haste, wicked children, my disgraces. I wish all of you
had been killed beside the running ships in the place of Hektor.
Ah me, for my evil destiny. I have had the noblest
of sons in Troy, but I say not one of them is left to me,
Mestor like a god and Troilos whose delight was in horses,
and Hektor, who was a god among men, for he did not seem like
one who was child of a mortal man, but of a god. All these
Ares has killed, and all that are left me are the disgraces,
the liars and the dancers, champions of the chorus, the plunderers
of their own people in their land of lambs and kids." (24.253-262)
This sounds like an insult toward his other children (okay, so it is), but doesn't it also express the depth of Priam's love for his son, Hektor? This is the only mention of Priam's sons Mestor and Troilos, who apparently died before the book begins. What do you make of this fact?
Strange divinity! Why are you still so stubborn to beguile me?
Will you carry me further yet somewhere among cities
fairly settled? […]
Go yourself and sit beside him, abandon the gods' way,
turn your feet back never again to the path of Olympos
but stay with him forever, and suffer for him, and look after him
until he makes you his wedded wife, or makes you his slave girl. (3.399-401, 406-409)
Now as he came back the king spun another entangling
treachery; for choosing the bravest men in wide Lykia
he laid a trap, but these men never came home thereafter
since all of them were killed by blameless Bellerophontes.
Then when the king knew him for the powerful stock of the god,
he detained him there, and offered him the hand of his daughter,
and gave him half of all the kingly privilege. (6.188-193)
Okay, so you might argue that this is less a case of compassion or forgiveness than of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." This wouldn't be wrong.
On the other hand, it is true that, oftentimes, forgiveness comes about when you see another side of someone that you hadn't seen before – as, in this case, the king of Lykia sees that Bellerophontes is going to make easy work of any trap he sets for him. Also, you have to think about this from Bellerophontes's perspective. He could have easily said, "Forget you, I'm not marrying your daughter, not after all the times you tried to kill me." (Admittedly, his own family tried to kill him, so he doesn't have that many places to turn.) The fact that he's willing to become a member of the Lykian king's household shows that he, too, is willing to let bygones be bygones.
'[…] a man takes from his brother's slayer
the blood price, or the price for a child who was killed, and the guilty
one, when he has largely repaid, stays still in the country,
and the injured man's heart is curbed, and his pride, and his anger
when he has taken the price; but the gods put in your breast a spirit
not to be placated, bad, for the sake of one single
girl.' ( 9.632-638)
In these lines, Aias reminds Achilleus of the traditional ways in which people put aside their differences and learn to forgive. He cannot understand why Achilleus persists in being so hard-hearted, and encourages him to have a bit more sympathy with the other Achaeans. Unfortunately, things are bound to get worse before they get better.
"Take us alive, son of Atreus, and take appropriate ransom. […]"
Thus these two cried out upon the king, lamenting
and in pitiful phrase, but they heard the voice that was without pity:
"If in truth you are the sons of wise Antimachos,
that man who once among the Trojans assembled advised them
that Menelaos, who came as envoy with godlike Odysseus,
should be murdered on the spot nor let go back to the Achaians,
so now your mutilation shall punish the shame of your father." (11.131, 136-142)
This incident, like so many in the book, shows the breakdown or failure of compassion. Why do you think Agamemnon acts the way he does? What does that make you think of him?
"Still, we will let all this be a thing of the past, though it hurts us,
and beat down by constraint the anger that rises inside us.
Now I am making an end of my anger. It does not become me
unrelentingly to rage on." (19.65-68)
With these words, Achilleus makes his peace with Agamemnon. But do you think he really forgives him, or is it just that now an even bigger hatred (against Hektor) has distracted him?
Poor fool, no longer speak to me of ransom, nor argue it.
In the time before Patroklos came to the day of his destiny
then it was the way of my heart's choice to be sparing
of the Trojans, and many I took alive and disposed of them.
Now there is not one who can escape death, if the gods send
him against my hands in front of Ilion, not one
of all the Trojans and beyond others the children of Priam.
So, friend, you die also. Why all this clamour about it?
Patroklos also is dead, who was better by far than you are.
Do you not see what a man I am, how huge, how splendid
and born of a great father, and the mother who bore me immortal?
Yet even I have also my death and my strong destiny,
and there shall be a dawn or an afternoon or a noontime
when some man in the fighting will take the life from me also
either with a spearcast or an arrow flown from the bowstring. (21.99-113)
This famous passage throws a wrench in the machinery of the theme of compassion. On the one hand, it seems to be a classic example of the failure of compassion: after all, Achilleus is saying that nobody can offer him anything that will make him stop killing as many Trojans as he can. On the other hand, he does put himself in Lykaon's shoes, so to speak, when he imagines that one day he, too, will be violently killed. What do you make of this ambiguity?
Hektor, argue me no agreements. I cannot forgive you.
As there are no trustworthy oaths between men and lions,
nor wolves and lambs have spirit that can be brought to agreement
but forever these hold feelings of hate for each other,
so there can be no love between you and me, nor shall there be
oaths between us, but one or the other must fall before then
to glut with his blood Ares the god who fights under the shield's guard. (22.261-267)
Throughout history, nothing has prevented compassion so often as the belief that one's enemy isn't even a member of the same species. This is what Achilleus is getting at when he compares their situation to a fight between a man and a lion, or a lamb and a wolf – except that he, of course, wants to keep it that way. What do you think Homer wants us to think about Achilleus at this moment?
I myself, who was angry, now will give way before you,
since you were not formerly loose-minded or vain. It is only
that this time your youth got the better of your intelligence.
Beware another time of playing tricks on your betters. (23.601-605)
In this scene, Homer depicts a conflict getting defused before it gets out of hand. (To see the context, read Book 23, or check out our summary.) There are two interesting ingredients in this reconciliation (though you can probably find others). The first is understanding: Menelaos forgives Antilochos because he was young once too, and knows what that's like. The second is reciprocity, or, if you prefer, the idea that respect is a two-way street. Menelaos is going to let Antilochos off easy this time, but he expects him to smarten up in the future.
The son of Atreus rose, wide-powerful Agamemnon,
and Meriones rose up, Idomeneus' powerful henchman.
But now among them spoke swift-footed brilliant Achilleus:
"Son of Atreus, for we know how much you surpass all others,
by how much you are the greatest for strength among the spear-throwers,
therefore take this prize and keep it and go back to your hollow
ships […]." (23.887-893)
Sometimes actions speak louder than words. What could be a truer sign of the reconciliation between Achilleus and Agamemnon than Achilleus admitting Agamemnon's skill at spear-throwing?
How can you wish to go alone to the ships of the Achaians
before the eyes of a man who has slaughtered in such numbers
such brave sons of yours? The heart in you is iron. For if
he has you within his grasp and lays eyes upon you, that man
who is savage and not to be trusted will not take pity upon you
nor have respect for your rights. […]
I wish I could set teeth
in the middle of his liver and eat it. That would be vengeance
for what he did to my son. (24.203-208, 212-214)
Another great enemy of compassion is mistrust. In this case, Priam's wife (and Hektor's mother), Hekabe, tries to convince him not to go ask Achilleus for the body back, thinking he will just kill him. (And who could blame her, given what Achilleus has already done?) Because she is so full of mistrust, the only thing she can think of is vengeance – expressed with a savagery that so far we have only seen associated with Achilleus.
So he spoke, and stirred in the other a passion of grieving
for his own father. He took the old man's hand and pushed him
gently away, and the two remembered, as Priam sat huddled
at the feet of Achilleus and wept close for manslaughtering Hektor
and Achilleus wept now for his own father, now again
for Patroklos. The sound of their mourning moved in the house. Then
when great Achilleus had taken full satisfaction in sorrow
and the passion for it had gone from his mind and body, thereafter
he rose from his chair, and took the old man by the hand, and set him
on his feet again, in pity for the grey head and the grey beard,
and spoke to him and addressed him in winged words: "Ah, unlucky,
surely you have had much evil to endure in your spirit." (24.508-518)
The climax of the Iliad is this moment of shared feeling between two enemies. What do you make of the way in which this scene progresses – from each thinking of his own lost loved-ones, to Achilles thinking about the suffering of Priam?