Homer’s Illiad

1.  What are the differences and similarities between Achilles’ relationship with his fellow Achaeans and Hector’s relationship with his fellow Trojans?  Outline not only how these two warriors relate to those around them but to each other.

Hector is the leader of the Trojan Army.  A prince of Troy, he is the natural leader.  Troy’s finest warrior, he at times acts with rash behavior, typical of one who has no equal within his experience or close by.  The Trojan Army makes huge strides in gaining the upper hand due to the absence of Achilles and it is Hector’s leadership that takes them there.  His fellow warriors respect him, yet when he show’s flaws, they are more than willing to question his judgement or rebuke his occasional demonstration of cowardice.   Obviously a man of great character, his fellow Trojan’s do not fear him as an irrational leader, tending towards rage, so they feel free to offer comment, meaning no harm.  Hector, at the same time, can be rash, and shows this when he tells his friend, Polydamas that he isn’t inclined to allow his leadership to be usurped.  He is presesent among the army, they have been victorious, therefore they should not hide from the enemy.

In sharp contrast to Hector, is Achilles.  Achilles is the leader of the Myrmidons, his elite company of warriors.  Other Greek warriors practically worship Achilles and like a football team that needs its star quarterback to be successful on the football grid, the Achaeans or Greeks, miss their mark constantly without Achilles present.  Several times, the Greek leadership refer to the justified offense Achilles feels, understand his pride is in his way and is effecting them all, but like typical men who respect each other’s qualities and specifically, a right to protect one’s honor, they are unwilling to push Achilles too far.   His status among them gives him room to rage and act out without anyone interfering.  Perhaps they fear his rebuke, but also, they know him and how much of a fighter he is.  Just before Book XVI, Diomedes says, “He’ll fight later alright.  When he is ready, or a god tells him to.”  Agamemnon, the Greek Commander, literally resents Achilles place among the Greeks.

Demonstrating his lack of self-control or more likely, giving rein to his wrath, which will cost him, Achilles drags the body of Hector toward the ships.  Image public domain.

Demonstrating his lack of self-control or more likely, giving rein to his wrath, which will cost him, Achilles drags the body of Hector toward the ships. Image public domain.

These contrasting attributes show themselves again as Hector is attacked outside the walls of Troy, where he waited for the fateful encounter with Achilles.  Hector is ready to negotiate the terms of victory, Achilles is not, he can only see red at this point.  In the resultant fight, Hector’s body is mutilated, in spite of a dying plea that for his father’s sake, that it be honored in burial.  Hector has owned up to his faults, is willing to pay the dues for it.  Achilles, having lost Patroclus, knowing its a result of his own behavior, desires only to make Hector pay for it.  This makes Achilles look like the lesser man, even though his strength and cunning is greater than Hector’s, Hector’s character and integrity demand greater honor than Achilles is willing to accord him.  In Achilles eyes, Hector is nothing.

2.  What is it that brings Achilles back to balance after his berserk episode, and what significance can this transformation have, what does it communicate?

War is brutality in its purest form.  It is murder unleashed, without payment.  Yet the Iliad demonstrates that there is actually a payment to be made.   It is interesting to me here, that Homer uses the loss of Patroclus to trigger this maniac behavior in Achilles.  We believe that we go to war to serve our country.  And that is what we do.  A fireman serves the public.  But in both instances, what it comes down to in the end is the bond between warriors, those who suffer together.  Losing a member of the team, of the company of warriors, is often more difficult to deal with than the idea of losing ones own life.  The loss of a loved, brother warrior.  This is regardless of any failure on Patroclus’ part in the death.  He disobeyed orders of the leader of the Myrmidons, he let his own prowess get ahead of him, maybe he wanted to be like Achilles.  Here, as in the previous question, we see that Achilles, in spite of knowing his own part played in his grief, gives vent to it and Hector’s honor is trampled.  But really it is Achilles honor that suffers most.  His action is the berserk behavior of one effected by combat fatigue, today a well-known factor of war, but for many centuries, as aspect of war unknown to those who had not seen combat.  Although one could also argue that what is being displayed is simply rage at the enemy.   Both are recognized on the historic battlefield.  When the Sioux women punctured Custer’s ears with sewing awls made of bone, was it berserk behavior, or were they expressing hate, rage, or perhaps telling him he should have listened better?

Modern war has shown us that this "berserker" behavior exists.  Prior to World War I, its common presence was not well understood.

Modern war has shown us that this “berserker” behavior exists. Prior to World War I, its common presence was not well understood.

The modern wars as well as the wars of the old world were full of such moments.  What cools Achilles rage?  Time, spent rage leaves one exhausted and less likely to continue in brutality, but also Homer brings the god’s into action to use Hector’s father’s plea soften Achilles’ rage.  Priam, perhaps reminding Achilles much of his own father, demonstrates devotion to his son’s honor,  bravery in facing his son’s killer, and honorable behavior in the enemy’s camp.  He manages to get Achilles to think of how his own father would feel in the same situation, which Achilles knows is not far away.  This causes Achilles to feel strongly about releasing Hector’s body.  He also feels toward Priam as he might his own  elderly father, ensuring that Priam is safe, receives food and drink and a place to sleep, with Hector’s body secured.


3.  Book 22.  This scene speaks to the inner-tug these warriors feel between two distinct codes of behavior: 1. The Warrior Code and 2.  The Familial Code.  The first code is dependant upon Honor and  Victory:  the second on responsibility for offspring and spouse.  Are these two codes mutually exclusive?  Why or why not?

This question deserves the best answer I can give it.  It strikes so close to home.  I have been a warrior, wedded to the Code and I surrendered that position in order to abide by the Familial Code.  As a young man I longed for both and found them very incompatible.  When away overseas, which was much of the time, I longed to be back with my love in my arms, making a home and creating a family.  Yet, once away from the Warrior Code, it ate at me.  I found life without purpose, my occupations didn’t interest me, they seemed to lack any reward that I respected.   Money was not a factor.  I had wanted a wife and a home.  Once I had those things I longed to be a warrior again.  It was not the only factor in the failure of my marriage, but I’m convinced it played a role.  Without the Warrior Code to live up to, I felt unfulfilled and felt I had surrendered my identity.  Then came the fire service.

The Warrior Code is alive and well in the world as is the Familial Code. Balancing the two takes focused effort and daily  dedication to both, especially the family.  Photo public domain.

The Warrior Code is alive and well in the world as is the Familial Code. Balancing the two takes focused effort and daily dedication to both, especially the family. Photo public domain.

It took time and maturity, but my second marriage has survived the fire service, whose own Warrior Code is much like the military’s.  Driven warriors and driven firemen differ in mission, but not in intensity or desire for excellence. For a time, I think there was little difference in my approach to the Warrior Code present in the fire service.  I pursued it full force.  So many firefighters I know are that way.  Its runs in the blood, this drive to do the best you can, loving every minute of it, the reward being the thrill of the moment, the feeling of danger, the intense emotions, the respect of your peers, the intense realism of the service to the public.  Balancing the two codes takes a focused effort, coupled with dedication, daily demonstrated to both, especially the family.   Somewhere along the way, I realized I had two grown daughters and I could not remember much about being a Dad.  My wife, patient, loving, but willing to speak out, did so.  With the young twins, I had a second chance.  I realized that if I did not take her warning, the littlest ones would grow to adulthood without me, and we would all lose.  So I forced myself to change.  It was that or lose my role in the family. It hasn’t been easy.  All the extra things I did as a fireman, had to be paired back.  I had to say “no” to things that had brought me so far in my career.  I had to let someone else, get the Honor and Victory.  My reward has been great this time.

Hector balanced both, although in the end, it cost his family everything.  What choice did he have?  He either fought or his family suffered.  Failure meant they would lose him and their own lives.  He had no real option.  He didn’t ask for the war.  However, the Warrior Code is pulling at Hector as well.  Having lost honor and victory due to his fairly foolish decision to keep the Trojan warriors camping exposed, he now is faced with having to earn his honor back.  This shortens his life, his families security, and Troy’s fate is clinched.  Achilles chooses the Warrior Code intentionally, for honor and glory’s sake, knowing it is going to cost him his life.  To him the Familial Code has less grip than it did on Hector.  He also had the use of many war trophies as concubines, perhaps making the pull of family less intense.  In today’s world, some who follow the Warrior Code, do very poorly at balancing it with the Familial Code.  Those who put the Familial Code first, all the time, are not the best of warriors.  Those who long to be both, struggle more than the other two.  Always caught in between.  They tend to be deeply loved by their peers for their efforts among the warriors, and deeply loved by their family at home.  Constantly torn.   I am willing to be torn.






5 thoughts on “Homer’s Illiad

  1. Mary Filbin

    God bless you and thank you for all you do. That said I loved how you related this poem to other events in history and gave a wider view. I agree with your analogy of Achilles being the star player, and like some we see today he was acting like a drama queen.

    Thank you for letting us see a part of your life. Having never had to choose between the two codes in theory they seem to be able to work together. After reading your response I have a much better understanding of the struggle and just how far apart they can be. May you find the balance you seek. Blessings.

    1. bdfleagle Post author

      Thanks, Mary. Maybe I reveal too much sometimes. But at this point in my life, quick response to “get the grade” can be totally derailed by the undercurrent of “I know exactly how that feels”. Next thing I know, I’m blathering on…

  2. megkwag

    You have such a great response to this discussion question! Honestly, you made me understand the poem a little better! I like how you added your personal experiences into this too. It shows that it’s a reality and it helps to relate the poem that much more.

    1. bdfleagle Post author

      Thank you. To be honest, I have never wanted to read Homer at all. I don’t think much of Brad Pitt either. But I really liked the story far more than I anticipated because aside from the gods squabbling (which is more like comic relief) I found the story very realistic in its portrayal of these struggles in military or service life.

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