Homer’s Illiad

1) In Homer’s The Illiad, we see some very interesting similarities and differences between the respective characters of Hector and Achilles. It is first easiest to identify where exactly the motives for these two characters are different. Early on in our reading, we see how Achilles reacted to the most recent Greek misfortune on the battlefield versus the Trojans. It had become apparent to Achilles that the immortal Apollo had “rained death’ on the Greeks after the Greek warlord Agamemnon refused a ransom for a girl in his possession originating from the girl’s priestly father (177). Having confronted Agamemnon about this, and inspiring a popular demonstration in favor of returning the girl to her father, dissension between the Greeks began to transpire. Agamemnon obliged to the call to return the girl, but only at Achilles expense. In a scheme meant to bring Achilles great dishonor, Agamemnon ordered his men to go to Achilles’s camp and retrieve Achilles’s own beauty, Briseis, and turn her over to the warlord’s possession. This action was the catalyst to Achilles’s disenchantment to take part further in the fighting on the battlefield against the Trojans. The result was a long period of inactivity and sulking on Achilles part, as well as a personal plea through his mother to Zeus to bring to bear further Greek misfortune on the battlefield. This all effectively amounts to a strong indication of deeply personal, or more bluntly selfish, Greek motives existing on the battlefield. This becomes even more apparent when the only thing that reverses Achilles’s stomach for continued fighting is when his beloved friend, Patroclus, is finished off on the battlefield by Hector.

This is in stark contrast to the motives which on the surface inspired Hector. In book VI, Hector returned from the battlefield to his father’s palace to inspire his brother Paris to exit the comfort of the palace and return to the fighting occurring on the battlefield against the Greeks. Hector was approached by many, to include his mother, wife, and sister-in-law, with the idle prospect of sitting down in comfort for a while and avoiding the toils of war. Hector rebuffed all of these requests with an attribute he was quoted as saying, “My heart is out there with our fighting men. They already feel my absence from battle’ (196). It seems that Hector must have felt some disenchantment at his aim to inspire his lackadaisical brother to the battlefield where his presence was missed, but Hector I believe showed one of the utmost attributes of any leader; he genuinely felt personal empathy toward his fellow Trojans fighting and dying against the Greek invaders. This in fact was his most “personal’ interest.

But Hector’s personal interest and empathy toward his fellow Trojans in the battle is precisely similar to the motive which spurs Achilles back into battle. It only took longer for Achilles to identify with his true feelings. After Achilles became disenchanted with the fighting stemming from Agamemnon’s actions, Achilles was of the opinion, “Nothing is worth my life, not all the riches … If I stay here and fight, I’ll never return home, But my glory will be undying forever. If I return home to my dear fatherland My glory is lost but my life will be long’ (210). It is noteworthy that after speaking this, Achilles elected to take the option to fight only after Patroclus died in fighting. The fact that Achilles only felt the urge to fight until death after his close confidant met his demise means that his genuine emotions were not different than Hector’s in substance, just perhaps more deeply personalized. While Hector identified with every Trojan fighting and dying to protect Ilion, the true emotion he invested in the otherwise less than desirable fighting was the comradery of spirit that has been displayed on every battlefield that has existed since the beginning of time. This emotion can be summarized by myself as simply, “If my brother must suffer and endure the fighting, I want to be right there along with him.’ This emotion was only different for Achilles because he did not feel it for any ordinary Greek who died. This is possibly due to the nature of the gains being attained during the fighting on Trojan soil. Achilles only felt this emotion after his “brother’ died. Hector thus became the focus, as well as the prize for Achilles, in avenging Patroclus’s death.

2) While I do believe that Achilles actions may have ordinarily seemed like sacrilege amongst the Greek soldiers ordinarily, I believe that Hector may have been an exception to this code of conduct. The reason being is there is there appears to be some ambiguity as to the other Greek soldiers conduct. This is because there are multiple references of other Greeks whom “drove their bronze’ into Hector after his death (265). This is likely due to a deep seated hatred of Hector amongst the Greeks for his killing of many of the remaining Greek fighters’ brethren. So I do not entirely agree with this premise. I will say however that it appeared that the Greek gods, aka immortals, were perhaps the ones most disturbed (besides the Trojans) by this vulgarity. In fact, the only thing I see that turned Achilles away from his rage exhibited toward Hector and meant to avenge Patroclus was when his mother approached him and told him that Zeus and the other gods were “indignant’ with his behavior (258). Achilles’s response to the wishes of the gods was, “If the god on Olympus wills it so.’ Thus, Achilles knew long before Priam arrived what forces were driving Priam’s act to recover his son. This is just further evidence that the forces central to virtually every major activity or decision in Greek daily life centered the gods will. The compassion I believe that Achilles felt for Priam, father of Hector, later after Priam came into Achilles tent is therefore significant, but of less significance in the overall scheme of things than the wishes of the gods.

3) Having been in the military during wartime and having a family to support of my own, I can honestly say from a real life perspective I have pondered this question and have never come up with a definitive answer. From experience, there is a choice to make. If you go and fight, you will leave behind your family and possibly never see them again. At the very least, you will go and fight and not see them again for a very long time. For all of my experience overseas, they might say that family comes first. That is usually only true when the family circumstances are very dire. When this is not so, the military and the mission take top priority. The family suffers as a natural result, and only the strongest of bonds are able to withstand this strain. The other choice to make is not to go. The implications of not going are total lack of honor and a severance of ties with your brothers, whom you come to learn to rely on for everything during training. You feel as though breaking that brotherly bond makes your brothers weaker and more prone to hostile entities. There is no easy choice to be made. There is probably only one truth; that there is only loss whatever decision is to be made, and that a decision must be made one way or the other. I believe The Illiad speaks volumes to what I have mentioned here from my personal experience. I believe this is the books best quality as well, and I hope it makes as much sense to everyone else as it surely does to me.

1 thought on “Homer’s Illiad

  1. veyjustin

    First I would like to thank you for your service.
    Second I would have to agree with your thoughts on question three. It would seem there is no correct answer or right choice to make when put in that position.

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