Themes in "Iliad'" by Homer
I've had many students email me, asking for more literature-based posts, and because I love literature and write lit/history curriculum for a living, I have decided to oblige you all. In fact, if you all really love it so much, I am going to create several ebook study guides for the most popular literature taught at the high school and university level. But first, let's see how popular this post is. If you like it, then I will make more of them.
This is a sample of a curriculum lesson that I wrote awhile back. It is on the Themes of The Iliad. I hope it helps you out with whatever you are studying.
Homer’s epic poem the Iliad track the conflict of the Trojan War in its final year. The Trojan War was a conflict between the Achaeans and the city of Troy. The fight begins when Helen returns to Troy with Priam’s son Paris. To get her back, Achaean King Menelaus takes his army to Troy. Themes such as love and friendship, fate and free will, and honor arise throughout the poem.
Love and Friendship
The power of love and friendship is explored throughout the Iliad. It is a main source of many conflicts. Different types of love such as romantic love, familial love, and brotherhood between warriors are commonly found in the story.
The kinship between warriors is powerful, as witnessed in the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. The brotherhood between Achilles and Patroclus is intenser than any other warrior relationship shown in the poem. Just take a look at this exchange from Patroclus to Achilles:
“But one thing more. A last request—grant it, please.
Never bury my bones apart from yours, Achilles,
let them lie together…
just as we grew up together in your house.”
The two men are so close that Patroclus wants to be buried alongside Achilles in the same way as family would be buried together. Why is their relationship so strong? Well, many scholars point to a homoerotic relationship, but I am under the thought that brother-like love can be just as passionate as romantic love. Moreover, friendship between warriors is both necessary to maintain morale during times of war, but it also extends beyond the battlefield. This brotherly relationship is what sparks Achilles’s decision to avenge Patroclus’s death by killing Hector. After killing Hector, Priam comes to claim his son’s body, and it is the understanding of love and friendship that convince Achilles to let him have his son’s body.
Fate and Free Will
Greek literature and mythology rely heavily on fate and free will as a predominate theme. The Iliad is no exception. The fates of Achilles and Hector are brought up constantly.
For example, in Book One, Thetis, Achilles’s mother laments her son's birth, alluding to his death during the Trojan War. Thetis says, "O my son, my sorrow, why did I ever bear you?All I bore was doom…Doomed to a short life, you have so little time." Thetis acts as if there is no running from what has been decided by fate.
Hector treats fate and free will similarly in the following quote in Book Six, :
"Why so much grief for me?
No man will hurl me down to Death, against my fate.
And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it,
neither brave man nor coward, I tell you--
it’s born with us the day that we are born."
Hector tells his wife Andromache that there is nothing anybody can do to prevent his death should it be slated to happen. According to this notion, men have no say in the direction of their lives because fate has already decided the outcome.
Honor is perhaps the most important theme in the ‘‘Iliad’’. Earning honor in battle was a sign of worthiness, and a quality all ancient Greek men desired. Honor permitted ancient Greek soldiers to live on after death as legends, a designation akin to being a god. For most ancient Greek men earning honor in death was preferable to staying alive.
For example, the plot of Achilles is centers around the idea of honor. In Book 9, Achilles says,
“Mother tells me,
the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet,
that two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,
my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
my pride, my glory dies . . .
true, but the life that’s left me will be long,
the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.”
Here, we can see how important honor is to Achilles. During this passage, Achilles reflects on his mother’s words while he considers whether to return home or to stay and fight with Agamemnon. Achilles would choose to be immortalized in death, rather than return home to live a long life, unremembered. In fact, Achilles avenges Patroclus’s death knowing that by doing so, he sealed his fate and would die before returning home.
If you liked this post, please leave a comment or like the post, so I know that you want more of these posts. When the study guides are ready, I will write a post or update this post.
10/17/2016 10:13:23 am
Thank you! I've been reading your lit expositoins and they are super helpfull. Especially, your Bog Queen info! Thanks again.
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