Study Guide

The Iliad Pride

By Homer


Book 1

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?

Book 4

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?

Book 5

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?

Book 9

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.

Book 16

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.

Book 18

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.

Book 22

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.

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