Discuss the Portrayal of Heroism from the Books of the Iliad Studied So Far Throughout the Iliad, Homer portrays heroism in a variety of ways. Heroism is not just the heroic code, the set of guidelines that heros follow, but is a reflection of what actions are acceptable in a certain context. In addition, heroism must be portrayed through a medium of a hero, thus the portrayal of a hero is essentially a portrayal of heroism. I will explore some themes within the Iliad and discuss how they portray heroism.
The aim of every hero is to achieve time, which can be translated from Greek to English to mean honour. Time is essential to heroes; a life without receiving esteem from their peers is perceived as meaningless and undesirable. A hero’s time is determined primarily by his courage and physical abilities and to a lesser degree by his social status and possessions. A key example of heroism being portrayed through time is in book 1, when Agamemnon has to give back Chryseis to her father.
As he has lost his prize of war, he therefore demands another to compensate for the loss of honour this has incurred. “Is it so that you can hold on to your own prize, while I just sit back and bear the loss of mine, is that why you tell me to give back the girl? No, if the great-hearted Achaians will give me a prize, suiting it to my heart’s liking, to be of equal value – then so be it. ” Book 1, pg 6. This follows the idea of time, as something reflecting Agamemnon’s status has been taken from him, thus he needs to get his lost honour back through compensation.
His loss of honour leads to him taking Brise?s from Achilleus, which consequently dishonours Achilleus thus leading to Achilleus’ mental and physical withdrawal from heroism, through his refusal to fight. Therefore, in this example both heroes’ response to time is used by Homer to portray heroism as being concerned with status, as it is this issue of time that lies at the heart of what it means to be a hero. Furthermore, another way that Homer portrays heroism in the Iliad is through kleos. Kleos can be translated from Greek into English to mean glory, and is the way in which heroes are remembered through oral epic poetry.
Heroes’ actions not only have to bring them time, but also kleos. Homer reveals that the heroes in the Iliad are chiefly concerned with the ideas of time and kleos, as they worry that they will be forgotten due to not having enough of these and will therefore not reach their ultimate desire of being immortalised. A key example of a character who strives for ultimate glory is Achilleus, as he initially withdraws from battle due to an insult to his time but ultimately returns to gain the more important kleos. If I stay here and fight on round the Trojans’ city, then gone is my homecoming, but my glory will never die: and if I come back to my dear native land, then gone is my great glory” book 9, pg 143. This quotation not only shows how the hero Achilleus is aware of his changeable fate, but also shows the importance of glory to heroes as he ultimately chooses to fight and win glory. In addition, from this it can be inferred that there can be no heroism without glory, and the only way to achieve real glory is through death.
Therefore, in this example Homer portrays heroism through kleos, as without the desire for kleos, you are not a true hero, as heroism is, in essence, the end result that all heroes fight and die for. Another way Homer portrays heroism is through aristeia. Aristeia can be translated from Greek into English to mean battling excellence, and as the highest honour can only be won in battle, showing aristeia will gain the hero time. Heroism is portrayed through aristeia, because through having aristeia, the hero kills their opponent, thus showing them to be a good hero so they are respected more.
A key example of a hero showing aristeia is in book 11, with Agamemnon’s display of aristeia. He is likened to a lion; “As a lion easily crunches up the infant young of a quick-running deer… so was it that none of the Trojans could keep these two from destruction” pg 169. This example shows Agamemnon’s aristeia and how he is feared by the Trojans because of it thus proving him to be heroic. Therefore Homer portrays heroism through aristeia, as to be one of the best heroes you have to show battling excellence, and through aristeia you gain time from your peers which is a major concern to a hero.
Women are used by Homer to portray heroism in a number of ways. One of the key concepts of women is how they can feminise heroes and ultimately cause them to be shamed. A key example of this is in book 6, where Hektor is approached by Hekabe, Helen and Andromache, all of whom attempt to persuade him to stay in Troy and not fight. Hektor however refuses them all; “Wife, all that you say is in my mind also. But I would feel terrible shame before the men of Troy and the women of Troy with their trailing dresses, if like a coward I skulk away from the fighting. This example shows how Hektor is a good hero because he has resisted temptation and has therefore not been shamed. Thus women portray heroism in the sense that good heroes will not be swayed by women and will stay focused on battle. Another way in which women portray heroism is through how they are presented as objects to heroes. The example of Chryseis being Agamemnon’s prize of war, shows how heroes are what their possessions are; “indeed I prefer her to Klytaimestra the wife of my marriage, as she is in no way her inferior in body or stature”. Book 1, pg 6.
This quotation shows how by losing Chryseis, who is obviously very beautiful and desirable, he loses honour, so ultimately Homer uses women to portray how heroes’ statuses can be affected by them. Homer also uses Helen to portray a unique take on heroism, as she is self-aware, intelligent, analytical, active and self-critical, all of which are traits which heroes have. This is shown clearly in book 6 when she says to Hektor; “in times to come we can be themes of song for men of future generations. ” This highlights how Helen is unusual in how she has awareness of the future, which only heroes and augurs tend to have.
Therefore Homer uses women to portray ideas of heroism in the sense that heroes are what they possess, so by having beautiful women, they gain more honour. In addition to this, women, especially Helen, portray heroism by showing the qualities that a hero should have, and women such as Andromache also reveal how even though a hero may be tempted to remain in their home city, their role is to fight in battle and not be cowardly. In addition, Homer uses anti-heroes to portray the idea of how a hero should not act or think. Anti-heroes’ actions do not comply with the heroic code and they are viewed negatively by other heroes.
The main anti-hero in the Iliad is Paris, and Homer uses his character to contrast with Hektor’s to effectively show how a hero should act. In book 6 Hektor goes “after Paris to call him back” and finds him in the bedroom “fussing over his exquisite armour”. The fact that Paris is not fighting and is in the bedroom, which is a feminine space, portrays him as an anti-hero as he contrasts with Hektor’s character who is the ideal hero; a good fighter and leader, intelligent and brave. In addition in book 11, Paris uses a bow and arrow; the coward’s weapon, to attack Diomedes. Alexandros jumped out of his cover with a happy laugh, and spoke in triumph: ‘You are hit – my arrow did not fly wasted. ” Not only was Paris hiding and not properly engaging in battle like a hero, he laughed happily, which is not normal behaviour for a hero. His portrayal as an anti-hero continues at his lack of concern about being feminised by Diomedes; “It troubles me as much as if a woman had hit me. ” which is further abnormal behaviour for heroes. Therefore Homer uses anti-heroes to portray how heroes should not act, thus giving an idea of perfect heroism – the opposite to how anti-heroes act.
Heroism is also portrayed by Homer through Xenia, which can be translated from Greek into English to mean guest friendship. A key example of this is in book 6, where Glaukos and Diomedes decide to honour the friendship of their grandfathers and not kill each other. Their guest friendship shows the ideas of honouring your father and “now you have me as your loyal host in the heart of Argos, and I have you in Lycia, whenever I come to that country. Let us keep away from each other’s spears” pg 96. Their encounter portrays how heroes have to value decisions made by their forefathers.
Another example of xenia is in book 9 where Achilleus is host to Phoenix, Odysseus and Aias. “led them in, and sat them on seats spread with purple rugs… mix the wine stronger, and make a cup for each of them. These are my dearest friends who have come under my roof. ’” This example shows the key concepts of xenia; the host must be courteous, the host must offer food, the guest must not be a burden. Therefore Homer uses xenia to portray heroism as honouring the hero’s father and being courteous to guests, thus generally being a considerate person to others.
Moreover, old men are used by Homer to portray heroism, as old men are heroes who can no longer fight. They therefore have knowledge and experience of battle techniques which they pass on to younger heroes. An example of this is in book 1 when Nestor attempts to stop the argument between Agamemnon and Achilleus on these grounds; “you must listen to me, since both of you are younger than me” and Agamemnon creeds that his advice is correct however still chooses not to listen to him; “Yes, all that you say, old man, is right and true”. This highlights how old men are wise and their advice is respected and generally used by younger heroes.
Old men also use motivational stories to inspire heroes, for example Phoenix tells Achilleus the story of Oineus in the hope that Achilleus will forget his anger and resume fighting. “Dear friend do not have the mind that he did… No, come while the gifts are yours”. Thus old men are used to guide younger heroes to do what is right as they hold the wisdom of good heroic conduct. Moreover, old men are cunning and this is shown through Nestor’s character, especially in book 11 when he manipulates Patroklos’ ego and suggests his plan; “you ould speak like this to the warrior Achilleus, in the hope of winning him… let him at least send you out… and let him give you his fine armour to wear into battle” pg 185-6. Here Nestor shows the cunning and knowledge of what is right to guide Patroklos into getting Achilleus to come back to battle. Nestor is also used by Homer to challenge the conventional image of old men, as he is stronger than young men; “Another man would strain to move it from the table when it was full, but Nestor, the old man, could lift it with ease. ” Pg 180.
Nestor is also still given honour gifts of women even though he does not fight; he is honoured like a hero because of the value of his wisdom; “chosen by the Achains as a special gift for Nestor, for his supremacy over all in the giving of advice. ” Pg 181. Thus Homer uses Nestor to portray heroism in a different way; he challenges the idea of honour only being gained in fighting, as Nestor gains honour through his advice. This provides another way in which heroes can gain time from their peers, as Nestor has done, therefore revealing more about heroic concepts.
Therefore old men are used by Homer to guide and motivate the younger heroes, portraying them as heroes in their own rights, even though they can no longer fight, as their wisdom of heroism is still valued highly. Overall, Homer portrays heroism in multiple ways throughout the Iliad. This allows the audience and reader to have an idea of how heroes should act, character traits that they have and values and principles that they hold.
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