“The Iliad”: the Heroic Code

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Homer’s introduces several characters who were considered as great hero in the era of ancient Greek. As story flows in the poem, these great individuals took the role as heroes for either personal or social dimensions by upholding some heroic codes. These Greek heroes did not always act in accordance with what we consider today as moral values and patriotic action; rather, they have demonstrated their heroism by their success and courageous actions for the “heroic code,” a set of rules for honor, glory, and pride which upheld a hero’s personal meaning of life in this great epic.

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““The Iliad”: the Heroic Code”

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The Greek originated word “hero” have three meanings and is linked to lineage, era, and behavior. In the Iliad, A hero is either a mortal with one human and one divined parent with strong actions, or a courageous person with transcendent vision with great deeds and personal sacrifice. Achilles Homer presents both Achilles and Hector who are the two main characters who were portrait as great warrior with opposite view towards these heroic codes. In the epic, when Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, ordered to took away Briseis, Achilles prize of honor by saying-

“Go to the hut of Achilles, son of Peleus;

Bring back the girl, fair-cheeked Briseis.

If he won’t give her up, I’ll come myself

With my men and take her – and freeze his heart cold.” (Puchner 223)

Achilles felt extremely insulted and filled with anger which makes him to withdraw from the war despite the heroic code of honor and pride. Achilles felt betrayed by Agamemnon and such action makes him to take selfish action and desire to make others suffer as he has suffered. He asked his mother to speak to Zeus and persuade him to help the Trojans. Here we see the clear deformation of heroic code by both Agamemnon and Achilles for their self-interest action. Without the great warrior Achilles, the game of war started to change, and Trojans were near to destroy Greeks army. Agamemnon sends his best man to convince Achilles to join the fight which will follow with rewards, in his speech to Odysseus, Achilles says,

“In the end, everybody comes out the same.

Coward and hero get the same reward.” (Puchner 223)

but Achilles sole purpose in life was achieving great honor by any means necessary keep him content in his decision and abandon the heroic code. There are other scenarios where we see the hypocrisy in Achilles decision to turn his back on the heroic code once he himself found a victim by losing his best friend Patroclus in the war. To seek revenge his friends’ death, he returned to war by knowing from the goddess about his fate of sort life if he joins the war. And Thetis, the mother of Achilles, in tears, said to him:

“I won’t have you with me for long, my child,

If you say such things. Hector’s death means yours.” (Puchner 223)

When he finally returns to the battlefield after his lengthy sulk, to avenge his friends’ death, he killed Hector and denied fulfilling Hector’s dying request to return his body to his family. The Iliad started with a slight to Achilles’ sense of honor where homer draws the connection between the anger of Achilles and his sense of honor. Here we can see that Achilles honor is strictly personal; he fights for his own honor, not the honor of the Achaeans, and honor has been sorely offended by Hector’s killing of Patroclus. The heroic code simply allows Achilles the opportunity to indulge his taste for unrestrained violence and self-honor.

At the same time the term “thymos” or spiritedness of Achilles is related to his capacity for anger and it is also the source of his great capacity for love and friendship. Thymos is vividly depicted at the end of the Iliad where Achilles not only return hector’s body to his father but made a truce for twelve days for proper ritual of Hector’s dead body. Here Achilles anger-filled thymos has been transformed by pity, sympathy, and compassion. He has become a fuller and even a better human being than he was when his thymos was directed only to honor and pride.

Conclusion: At the end, heroic code in the Iliad has many forms and its significantly tied with once personal and social dimensions. Among characters depicted as hero’s in the poem who upholds the value of heroic code, but Hector was a great hero who showed the courage to uphold the honor, glory, and pride by his actions and sacrifices. Achilles selfish and reckless activities depicted him as hero who is so quick to turn his back on the heroic code and warrior culture for self-interest. The heroic code for honor, glory and pride are seems to be the focal point who considered as hero’s in the Iliad.

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"The Iliad": The Heroic Code. (2021, Apr 09). Retrieved November 29, 2022 , from

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