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"The Iliad" And The Pursuit Of Honor And Glory

1408 words - 6 pages

The Iliad, which is an epic poem written about the Trojan War, was the first thing written in the European tradition. Astonishingly, its quality and appeal have yet to be surpassed. This is a result of Homer's use of idealistic themes, many of which show up in many modern novels. One of the most dominant themes present in The Iliad is the pursuit of honor and glory. Even though the Achaeans and Trojans are in a violent battle with one another, both display a similar attitude: the acquisition of glory is more important than life itself.

The Achaeans are more concerned with personal glory and achievement rather than the well-being of the city. Two Characters who definitely display this characteristic are Agamemnon and Achilles. Agamemnon is selfish and is only concerned with his own honor. This is seen almost immediately in the poem. In book one, during the tenth year of battle, Chryses visits Agamemnon and offers ransom for his daughter, Chryseis who was taken as plunder early in the war. Although the ransom is attractive, Agamemnon refuses the money because the girl represents power and glory and that is far more important than wealth. Plunder represents victory; therefore, the more women Agamemnon possesses, the more glorified and powerful he feels. Eventually, Agamemnon returns the girl to her father; however, he insists that someone give him a female to compensate for his loss and restore his honor. He views the situation as a challenge to his authority and complains, "I alone of the Argives go without my honor. That would be a disgrace" (1.139-40). Agamemnon demands, the "Argives will give me a prize, a match for my desires, equal to what I have lost, well and good. But if they give me nothing I will take a prize myself (1.159-62)." When Achilles confronts Agamemnon about this, Agamemnon responds, "You are nothing to me--you and your overweening anger! ... I will be there in person at your tents to take Briseis in all her beauty, your own prize--so you can learn just how much greater I am than you... (1.214-20)" This is a great dishonor to Achilles. Even Athena calls Agamemnon's behavior an "outrage." Briseis is a prize that Achilles received for valor and courage in battle. Thus, Agamemnon dishonors Achilles and berates him as a warrior. Furthermore, the reader is reminded through Achilles, that the only reason the Achaeans are fighting against Troy is because of Agamemnon and his brother, Menelaus' honor. They are the only two wronged by Troy and for their sake the Achaeans are fighting against men who have done them no wrong. Thus, Agamemnon puts innocent lives on the line in order to preserve his own glory.

As a result of the insult to Achilles' honor, he is determined to restore his glory and his status as a great worrier. In the process, he is going to selfishly put his honor above the well-being of his fellow troops and friends. Achilles is a "man born and shaped for battle, who values life, his own...

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