Honor and Glory in the Iliad

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The goddess of love Aphrodite bestowed the gift of Helen to Paris and even saved him in battle. Love, and even love of one’s family, however, will not save the city of Troy and in this warrior culture, only the elite survive.

A theme in The Iliad associated with the glory of war is the supremacy of military glory over family. The text showcases through different relationships the interconnected bonds of familial obligation, but Homer illustrates that the pursuit of glory will always supersede those familial bonds. Homer’s characters often are tasked with the choice between family and the personal quest for glory. Typically the most heroic characters, such as Hector, habitually choose glory and honor over a long life with family.

Hector’s wife Andromache pleads with Hector not to risk orphaning his son, but Hector knows that fighting is the only way of winning great glory in the war. After Hector is slain by Achilles, Andromache paints a vivid portrait of what her son’s life will be like now after his father’s death, where he will be “humiliated in every way” and “pressed by hunger,” as is so often the case when a husband and father dies and leaves his family behind (557). The hero who dies in battle may win eternal glory, but it is still hell for the family he leaves behind. Both Hector and Achilles make grave decisions and this is emphasized by the fact that each knows his fate ahead of time, showcasing the Greek’s obsession with the concept of fatalism. The characters prize the values of honor, bravery, and glory, so much so, that they willingly sacrifice the chance to live a long life.

Throughout the epic Hector is seen largely as a well-rounded man, one who loves his country and family, and has seemingly dedicated his life to serving others. In Book 6 we see Hector with his wife and son grieving the fact that he will soon perish in battle and that his wife and son will be doomed shortly after his fall. Knowing what will befall his family though he still cannot “shrink from battle” for he would “die of shame” and be declared a coward (210). Although it seems that Hector does not want this life of war he still wishes that his son be “first in glory among the Trojans” showcasing how the culture of the time is very much a warrior culture focused on battle and glory regardless of one’s limited life span (211).

Towards the end of Book 6 Hector raises the issue of fate and how “neither brave man or coward” can escape it and that to grieve for it is unnecessary since one cannot fight it, echoing Achilles’ own words in Book 9 (212). The entire epic moves to the critical point when Achilles and Hector face off against each other in battle. One is a husband and father who stands for the civilized values of his society and people, willing to be defeated at the hands of his enemy, an enemy who seems to seek only personal revenge and personal glory.

Achilles is fighting for individual rage and glory while Hector fights for his community, which is inherent to his role as a protector. He is a devoted warrior “a great man of war” who knows his duty and fights for his people even though he knows that they are doomed (209). His responsibility to Troy, to his troops, to his family, and his role as the instrument of Zeus sets him up for complex situations that no other character seems to experience. With such fickle gods controlling human fate, one can only work to make life meaningful in their own right. Hector explains this notion to his wife, Andromache, because he knows that his fate is inescapable and he feels compelled to live his life in search of this individual glory.

The final duel between Achilles and Hector in Book 22 showcases a clash between heroic titans and emphasizes the heroic value of battling for individual glory. Achilles proves superior in terms of physical strength, however, he emerges as inferior in terms of integrity, with his mistreatment of Hector’s body. Hector redeems himself with his refusal to return to the safety of Troy’s walls and to “die at his hands in glory” (545). Hector’s integrity is shown when he attempts to obtain from Achilles a mutual guarantee that the winner treat the loser’s corpse with respect. Even knowing that his fate is to die at Achilles hands, Hector still charges at Achilles sword and this showcases the values that he represents, those of nobility and heroism.

Throughout the poem, Homer showcases Achilles as a mindless machine only intent on rage without the ability to think beyond himself. His wounded pride allows his countrymen to suffer defeat and his rage over Patroclus’s death causes him to lose all sense of integrity and disrespect Hector’s corpse. Achilles does eventually regain his humanity and integrity by respecting Priam’s plea to return Hector’s body, thereby allowing the Trojan people a respite from battle in order to honor their dead prince.

The contrast between the raw self-absorbed fury of Achilles and the restraint of Hector reveals how Achilles’ obsession with honor causes him to be a “prisoner of his self-esteem” and how far one is willing to sacrifice being cut off from humanity to obtain glory in this warrior culture of the ancient Greeks (Knox 56). We see that Greek culture places great significance on both enmity and friendship and that each has its proper place. The characters and the text itself seem to see the proper balancing of these opposites as an example of an individual’s worthiness, especially in regards to the proper burial of the dead.

Another aspect of the ancient Greek value system emerges in the agreement both sides make to pause their fighting to bury and honor their respective dead. The emphasis placed on the retrieval of the body and the burial, for both Hector and Patroclus, illustrates the Greek perception that respect and renown continue after death, and therefore validate the struggle in life to achieve honor and glory. In Book 24 even the gods ask “what honor will he gain” by continuing to defile the body of Hector, but eventually Achilles comes down from his self-imposed rage (590).

In Book 24 when Priam implores Achilles to return Hector’s corpse for proper burial he makes himself sympathetic in Achilles’ eyes by drawing a parallel between himself and Achilles’ father, Peleus. Achilles knows, as Priam does not, that he is fated to die at Troy and never return home and this truly summons Achilles’ pity and breaks down his resistance. Achilles realizes that one day his father will learn that his son has died at the hands of enemies and that he will never see his body again. Achilles feels pity for Priam and even prevents his own violent temper from erupting in front of Priam so as not to “break the laws of Zeus,” illustrating how a man that is concerned with religious laws is not one totally consumed by selfish actions (607).

When Achilles admits to human limitations by telling Priam “we too, old king, must think of food,” unlike when he wouldn’t eat or sleep before killing Hector, he then is bonded to the rest of humanity by admitting his own mortality and physical needs (608). The course of his rage ends in his recognition of human frailty and his finding sympathy for others. The character of Achilles represents the human conditions of war and peace and the balance between the two that every day humanity struggles with.

In this particular passage Homer seems to speak through Achilles when he speaks of how he knows that as the immortals spin their lives men must “live on to bear such torments” while the “gods live free of sorrows,” similar to the statement made in Book 6 “like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men” are fleeting, with much sorrow in between with only the achievement of glory the balm to such a short existence (605, 201). In his admission of mortality and his sympathy for another man, Achilles evolves into the archaic Greek ideal of the elite male, a paragon of courage and patrician manners, in a society that placed great value on the notions of hospitality.

Hospitality was a high value in society and the relationship established by hospitality was passed down to the descendants. For the ancient Greeks, hospitality was applied in all public affairs and failure to extend this towards guests was an affront to the gods. In ancient Greece, when traveling, one counted on the protection and care of those who offered him hospitality, so in return the guest was not supposed to violate the host’s hospitality. The stealing of Helen was itself a dishonorable act and started the Trojan War because Paris also defied the host-guest relationship, which is of serious import to the Greeks.

A prime example in the poem of hospitality is the guest-friend passage when Diomedes meets Glaucus on the battlefield and Diomedes wonders who Glaucus is. Glaucus asks why “ask about my birth,” since the lives of men are no more important than the generations of leaves (200). But then Glaucus tells the stories of his ancestors and at the end of these family stories Glaucus tells how his father sent him to Troy and to “never disgrace the generation of [his] fathers” and to “be the best” and the “bravest” (202).

The ‘best’ here in this context also means elite fighter or an excellent man, reminding the reader once again how important this value was. Diomedes then acknowledges that Glaucus is ‘my guest from the days of our grandfathers long ago!’ because Diomedes’s grandfather hosted Glaucus’s grandfather (203). This connection showcases how much the Greeks valued the tie of guest-friends. In the end they exchange gifts and vow never to harm each other for there are “plenty of Trojans there for [him] to kill” (203). The Greeks placed value on honor, physical prowess, strategery of mind, and hospitality. All of which creates a conflict of values in daily Greek life, especially in the context of war.

Homer’s The Iliad showcases a culture’s loyalty to the private ideal of conduct and honor but it doesn’t ignore the realities of war. Men die gruesome deaths and women often become slaves and concubines to the victors of the battle. In the face of these horrors, even the mightiest warriors occasionally experience fear, though Achilles points out that all men, whether brave or cowardly, meet the same death in the end. Homer portrays each side as having a justifiable reason to fight, and the legitimacy of the war, and depicts warfare as inevitable, but glorious. We are all “lovers and victims of the will to violence” no matter what century we live in as part of the human condition (Knox 29).

The honor of the individual, family, and community guide every action and response for Homer’s characters. Honor and glory define the hero, and therefore are the foundations for the poem. While political prowess came into conflict with physical prowess these conflicts show how the Greeks were perhaps moving more toward an age of political consolidation. Similarly, The Iliad recognizes men’s glory does not live on in their material constructions but in their heroic deeds. The poem emphasizes the ephemeral nature of human beings and their world. This suggests that mortals should try to live their lives as honorably as possible, for if mortals’ physical bodies cannot survive, then perhaps their words and deeds can through their heroism and heroic actions.


Cite this paper

Honor and Glory in the Iliad. (2021, Nov 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/honor-and-glory-in-the-iliad/



How does The Iliad portray war as glorious and honorable?
The Iliad portrays war as glorious and honorable because the characters fight for their beliefs and are willing to die for their country.
What is glory in The Iliad?
The glory of The Iliad is in the way it tells the story of the Trojan War and the heroic deeds of Achilles.
What is honor in The Iliad?
Honor is a concept that is highly valued in The Iliad. It is often associated with bravery, skill in battle, and other admirable qualities.
Who shows honor in The Iliad?
Honor is an essential part of the Greek hero Hero cults were one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion . In Homeric Greek, "hero" (ἥρως, hḗros) refers to the mortal offspring of a human and a god. Greek hero cult archetype as demonstrated in Homer's Iliad. Achilleus, Agamemnon, and Hektor all demonstrate varying levels of honor and glory throughout the first six books.
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