The Pursuit of Honor in Homer’s Iliad
Throughout history, people have pondered the question of human mortality. In examining the issue, the Ancient Greeks, came to the conclusion that there are two spheres of immortality: that which is reserved for the Gods and that which can be attained by mere mortals. The Gods are destined to eternal youth and life; however, for humans who are predestined to die, this existence is impossible to attain. Rather, humans must strive to gain everlasting honor, the only form of immortality available to them.
It is this idea that Homer seeks to expound in his epic poem, "The Iliad." Throughout his poem, Homer depicts the degree to which honor plays a role in the lives of the Greeks, and the manner in which they are willing to sacrifice in order to reach their goal. This theme manifests itself from the outset of the work, as "The Iliad," is set during the Trojan war, a particularly long and bloody war, fought not over political differences, not over boundary disagreements and not to protect the nation. Rather, it was a war fought to defend and uphold the honor of one individual, Menelaous whose wife had been stolen from him by the Trojan prince, Paris.
This is the value that suffuses the narrative of "The Iliad." According to the axioms of Greek society, one must defend his status and prevent shame from being brought upon him, at all costs. "...[M]y father, he sent me to troy, and urged upon me repeated injunctions, to be always among the bravest and hold my head above others, not shaming the generation of my fathers..." (VI 206-9) This is the Greek bible, the guide to proper decorum. A man's honor, and the honor which he brings his father, is paramount.
Hektor, the bravest of the Trojan warriors, is a patent example of the extent to which the principles of Ancient Greek society permeated the thoughts and actions of those who lived in it. During the course of the battle, Hektor returns home in order to visit his wife. It is here that he is faced with the choice that all warriors must contend with: remain at home and lead a long life of peace and anonymity or return to battle and earn honor. Hektor's wife, knowing that a return to battle is the equivalent of death, entreats her husband to remain at home, "...you have no pity...on me...who soon must be your widow...and for me it would be far better to sink into the earth when I have lost you..." (VI 406-8) Hektor claims that despite his worry about abandoning his wife and son, he is unable to stay at home as "...I would feel deep shame before the Trojans...if like a coward I were to shrink aside from the fighting; and the spirit will not let me, since I have learned to be valiant...winning for my own self great glory and for my father." (VI 441-45) The need to attain human immortality is so imbedded in Hektor's psyche, that even the knowledge that his actions will leave his son an orphan and his wife a widow, is unable to convince him to relinquish his...