Study Guide

The Iliad Love

By Homer

Love

Book 6
Hektor

(Hektor:)
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?

Book 14

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?

The Gods

(Zeus:)
''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?

Book 16
The Gods

(Zeus:)
"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.

Book 17

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?

Book 22

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?

Book 24

(Andromache:)
"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?

Priam

(Priam:)
"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?

Helen

(Helen:)
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)

Here, Helen tells off Aphrodite for meddling in her life. These lines are interesting because they portray love as a destructive force. Can you think of any other passages in the poem that express a similar view of this, or another emotion?

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