Warfare is a common thread that ties Homer's Iliad to Virgil's Aeneid. However, the way warfare is treated in the two epics is different. This can be attributed to many factors including the time between the composition of the pieces, the fact that pieces were written by different authors, and the fact that the pieces were written in different places. We can use these pieces to get a view of what the society that produced them thought about war and how the view of war changed as time went on in the ancient world.
The Iliad is a poem of war. The entire narrative takes place at or near a battlefield with men who had been fighting a seemingly never ending war for over nine years, and portrays many many battles great and small. At the beginning Homer invokes the muse by saying “begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed, Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.”(Homer, Iliad 1.7-8) This is the first of many battles throughout the poem.
The conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles could be considered the most important even in the poem. It removes the Greeks' greatest hero from the battlefield for most of the poem. An interesting situation arises because of this. Achilles, the great hero, is refusing to fight. Glory on the battlefield is the measuring stick for any Greek man of high birth, and Achilles refusing to fight would be considered to be an act of shameful cowardice. However, there would be damage to Achilles' pride if he fought for Agamemnon. This conflict between pride and duty would be a difficult issue for a Greek man to resolve, as both were important in Greek society.
As mentioned before, glory on the battlefield is very important to Greek society. This is reflected in the Iliad. Combat is essentially broken down into duels and small skirmishes. Homer takes time to give at least some information about the combatants, even if that particular character's only purpose in the poem is to die on the end of a hero's spear. An example of this is in Book IV when Ajax kills Simoisius. Homer says “Telamonian Ajax struck Anthemion's son, the hardy stripling Simoisius, still unwed... His mother had borne him along the Simois' banks when she trailed her parents down the slopes of Ida to tend their flocks, and so they called him Simoisius.”(4.547-51) In a war that has lasted nine years where untold numbers of men have died, why would Homer take such care to tell his audience about someone like Simoisius? Perhaps because if the listener knows something about the vanquished opponent, that gives more glory to the conquering hero. Another reason could be that for the vanquished in death they receive some measure of glory for fighting bravely against a famous hero like Ajax. Another place we see this emphasis on glory when Hector returns to Troy in Book VI. Hector's wife Andromache begs him to take his armies and make his stand near a fig tree close to the walls of Troy.(6.511-20) While Andromache's advice may be...