The Iliad is a very early piece of ancient Greek story-telling literature described as an epic, and one of the first of its kind. As the prequal to The Odyssey, The Iliad takes place in the duration of the Trojan War, which itself is a mythological event and was never proven to have actually happened; though to the ancient Greeks it was a very real happening that their ancestors partook in worth telling about. Most if not all ancient Greek stories are meant to be read as a play rather than as a book, which is why this story is a close first in its category. Though it is unique in this way, it still follows many traditional story telling values of the Greeks, including the centric heroism found in multiple characters as well as the concept of fate and the gods’ many trials towards the creation of a true hero.
Homer emphasized the definition of a hero and the many different ways it can develop within a person. The primary heroic figures of this epic can be argued to be Achilles and Hector, who here are one another’s opponents on opposite sides of the war; Achilles with the Greeks and Hector with the Trojans. Each character follows the Hero’s Journey template through different tests and triumphs, Homer outwardly attempting to make Achilles fit the hero archetype more, although in my opinion, Hector succeeded in becoming the truer hero of the two. Although he died practically in the middle of the hero’s journey wheel, the definition of a hero in Greek mythology is one who is admired and celebrated for their bold exploits and favored by the gods. In simpler terms, one who is rewarded with fame and recognition for making sacrifices in the name of fate given to them by the gods.
While Homer may have excelled in making Achilles stand out as the protagonist, he failed at making him the greater hero figure in this story. “Son of Laertes in the line of Zeus, Odysseus the Strategist– I can see that I have no choice but to speak my mind and tell you exactly how things are going to be.” (Homer 9.312-315). My opinion stands that both Achilles and Hector were selfish and heavily overpowered characters who aren’t near to the more modern “zero-to-hero” archetype, but Hector was quicker to recognize the extent of the sacrifice he was to make and the path of honor he was to choose. He was quick to make sacrifices for the health and happiness of those he left behind, his son for example, as he knew he would have to leave them in the hands of the gods.
“Zeus and all gods, grant that this my son become, as I am,
foremost among trojans, brave and strong, and ruling Ilion
with might. And may men say he is far better than his father
when he returns from war, bearing bloody spoils having killed his man.
And may his mother rejoice.” (Homer 6.501-506)
He exploited more bravery in his way, every action he took knowing that he was nearing his death against Achilles, and he knew clearly the fate he wished for filled with honor, which he got presented as The Iliad as well as the Twelve Days. Achilles as well was honored by The Iliad, which is still read today.
The Iliad addresses Patroclus as the “beloved friend” of Achilles many times throughout the story. “Patroclus obeyed his beloved friend and brought Briseis, cheeks flushed, out of the tent and gave her to the Heralds, who led her away.” (Homer 1.358-360). To me, Patroclus was a very peculiar character in The Iliad; he was Achilles’ entire world in a sense, the only human that truly mattered to him. This is why When Patroclus was killed in battle, Achilles loathed the world and rampaged. I was stricken with interest in the true relationship between the two characters; the Greeks could not care less about one’s sexual orientation and the idea of the two being lovers was very prominent throughout the epic. What was for sure was that they were definitely more than friends, as much as modernized translators attempted to get rid of that fact as best as they could. The agony rippling through Achilles when this friend was killed was undeniable.
“Then let me die now. I was no help to him when he was killed out there.
He died far from home, and he needed me to protect him. But now,
Since I’m not going home, and wasn’t a light for Patroclus or any of the rest
of my friends who had been beaten by Hector, but just squatted
by my ships, a dead weight on earth…” (Homer 18.103-109)
While this story was primarily about war and the journey of a god-like hero for honor, it also strongly revolves around the concept of love and protection. Hector’s love for his family and the sacrifice he was willing to give for them, for example, was striking compared to Achilles, who was only truly willing to do anything for Patroclus. Love of self, or pride, is also a great part of the story amongst all characters, playing a large role in getting the protagonists to fight in the war in the first place over having a peaceful successful life with their families; both characters seeking pride and honor over peace and being forgotten.
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