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Essay/Term paper: The iliad

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Book Reports

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Throughout The Iliad, the heroic characters make decisions based on a

definite set of principles, which are referred to as the "code of

honor." The heroic code that Homer presents to the reader is an

underlying cause for many of the events that take place, but many of the

characters have different perceptions of how highly the code should be


Hektor, the greatest of the Trojan warriors, begins the poem as the

model of a Homeric hero. His dedication and strict belief in the code of

honor is illustrated many times throughout the course of The Iliad. An

example of this is presented in book three of the poem, where Hektor

reprimands Paris for refusing to fight. He says to Paris, "Surely now

the flowing-haired Achains laugh at us, thinking you are our bravest

champion, only because your looks are handsome, but there is no strength

in your heart, or courage" (3:43). Hektor believes that it is against

the heroic code for a person to abstain from fighting when his fellow

men are in the battlefield. Hektor faces a moral dilemma when dealing

with Paris. By being Paris' brother, Hektor is supposed to protect and

honor his decisions, but he believes that Paris is wrong in his actions,

and feels it necessary to make that known to him.

Another place where we see Hektor's strict belief in the code of honor

is in the events that take place during his return home in the sixth

book. Hector returns to Troy in order to have the queen and the other

women make a sacrifice to Athena, hoping that she will help the Trojans

in the war. After arranging that act he visits Paris, with the intention

of convincing him to fight. Visibly upset, Hektor scolds Paris, telling

him that "The people are dying around the city and around the steep wall

as they fight hard; it is for you that this war with its clamour has

flared up about our city. You yourself would fight with another whom you

saw anywhere hanging back from the hateful encounter," (6:327). Paris

agrees that he has been dishonoring himself, and tells Hektor he will

return with him to fight. Hektor then goes to find Andromache, who is

standing by the walls outlining the battlefield with Astanax, their son.

When Andromache pleads with Hektor to stay home and cease fighting,

Hektor refuses, telling her that he would feel deep shame in front of

the Trojans if he were to withdraw himself from the war. Hektor then

tells Andromache that the thought of her being dragged off by the

Achains troubles him, but he is relieved by the knowledge that she will

be looked at as "the wife of Hektor, who was ever the bravest fighter of

the Trojans, breakers of horses, in the days when they fought about

Ilion," (6:460). This causes Andromache to shed tears. On the one hand,

she understands Hektor's beliefs and deep sense of morality, but on the

other feels it is just as honorable to stay home and care for one's

family. This is a second place in which Hektor feels torn between two

conflicting responsibilities.

A character's social status was mainly based upon his performance in

the battlefield. Achilleus is a tragic figure who believes strongly in

social order, but questions the idea of fighting for glory. When Aias

and Odysseus are sent by Agamemnon to plead with Achilleus' to fight for

the Greeks, Achilleus denies them, saying "There was no gratitude given

for fighting incessantly forever against your enemies. Fate is the same

for the man who holds back, the same if he fights hard" (9:316). This

statement shows that Achilleus is an individual, and does not conform to

the ideas of the others. Achilleus is portrayed as a fatalist, believing

that there is no point in fighting, because the end is the same for

everyone. In book nine, when Agamemnon admits he is wrong and offers

gifts, Achilleus still refuses to join his army in battle. He does not

see Agamemnon's gifts as a reconciliation attempt, but rather as an

insult. Achilles believes that Agamemnon's offerings are selfish and

boastful, and he denies them to in order to show Agamemnon that his

loyalty cannot be bought.

Later in the poem, Achilleus revenges Patroklos' death by killing

Hektor. It is customary and proper to return a dead body to its home so

it can be given a proper burial, and it is against the code of honor to

perform acts of excessive cruelty. Achilleus is so distraught by his

friends' death that he contradicts both of these conditions. First, he

refuses to return Hektor's body to the Trojans, and then proceeds to

drag it behind his carriage by the ankles. Achilleus' deliberate

mutilation of Hektor's body shows the reader that he does not hold the

code of honor in high regard.

Nestor is the character in the poem who best convinces the others to

diligently follow the code of honor. There are many instances in which

the social order of The Iliad is disrupted, and Nestor comes forth to

help restore the order. Although they are thought by the reader to be

somewhat pointless, Nestor's stories always have a deeper meaning behind

them. In book seven Hektor challenges the Achaians, asking which of them

is willing to fight against him. When none volunteer, Nestor tells them

the story of his victory against Ereuthalion, emphasizing that at the

time he fought he was the youngest among the warriors. He says to the

troops, " If I were young now, as then, and the strength still steady

within me; Hektor of the glancing helm would soon find his battle. But

you, now, who are the bravest of all the Achaians, are not minded with a

good will to go against Hektor," (7:157). This speech compels nine of

the Achaian's to volunteer, showing Nestor's power to influence the

warriors to stick to the heroic code. Later in the same book, Nestor

again stresses the importance of the code of honor when he suggests that

the Greeks retreat from fighting and bury their dead, because it was

believed that the funeral shows the social status of a warrior. Nestor

also wants the warriors to subside from fighting in order to build a

wall to protect them. He convinces them by saying, "We must dig a deep

ditch circling it, so as to keep off their people and horses, that we

may not be crushed under the attack of these proud Trojans," (7:341).

Nestor realizes that the Trojans have the upper hand, and does not want

the Greeks to lose without a putting up a respectable fight. He feels

that for the Greeks to turn around and leave would be a great dishonor,

and does everything in his power to keep them in the battle. Nestor's

advice, finally, challenges the Achaians to live up to the honorable

precedent set by the book's fallen heroes.

The characters in The Iliad base many of their actions on the code of

honor. The warriors believe that the most dishonorable thing someone can

do is refrain from fighting with his fellow soldiers, whereas Achilleus

disagrees. Although a "code of honor" is present in the Iliad, many of

the characters interpret and maintain it in different ways. 

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