Western thought and culture grew out of Greek ideals. Since “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) many of the ideals expressed by Homer, Sophocles, and Hesiod ring true for Westerners today. Part of the myth of a tragic hero includes a leadership position of some sort: often noble birth, kingship, or military leadership. Tragic plays like Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and the Iliad served as worship, entertainment, examples of virtue, and cautionary tales. Modern Americans can look back at such works and apply the ideas to selecting and serving as leaders on a national, community, or family level. Some of desirable qualities illustrated in Archaic and Classical Greek works include self-control, fairness, respect for moral law, service to one’s community, courage, and honor.
“The Greek maxim ‘Nothing in excess’” (Hollister 131) illustrates the need for self-control. Every tragic hero ended up committing an act of hubris based on his own fatal flaw. Many of those fatal flaws could have served the man and his country if tempered with self-control. “In the field of ethics, [Aristotle] advocated moderation in all behavior, arguing that emotions and actions (anger and love, eating and drinking) are themselves neither good nor evil and should be neither suppressed nor carried to excess: virtue is the avoidance of extremes, the ‘golden mean’” (Hollister 130).
In the Iliad, many characters lack self-control which causes war, strife, and death. Paris’s Paris’ lack of self-control regarding Helen started the Trojan War which kept the soldiers away from their homes for years. Achilles’ lack of self-control in his rage added to the loss and pain for both the Greeks and the Trojans. The Iliad begins:
Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades’ dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, As Zeus’ will was done (1-6)
After Achilles overcame his indulgence in allowing the Greeks to suffer in battle without him, he let his rage get the best of him and defiled Hector’s body. Throughout Book 1 of the Iliad, others beseech Achilles to control his anger. Achilles’ protégé, Patroclus’ lack of self-control led to his death when he pursued the Trojans all the way to the city walls rather than falling back as Achilles had instructed him to do. Homer’s gods to exhibit self-control; this sets them apart from mortals.
Zeus wants to save his son, Sarpedon from death as he battles Patroclus. He knows the warriors fate and seems to have the power to change it, yet he chooses to reign in his emotions and control his actions to keep peace on Olympus and in the mortal realm. Achilles’ mother, a goddess herself, asks Zeus to grant her son’s prayer rather than interfering in mortal affairs herself. The gods seem to understand the advice given to Oedipus: “Those who are quick of temper are not safe” (617). Self-control allows leaders to act...