Homeric Heroism in the Iliad

Heroic Code

- The Homeric hero's aim is to achieve honour - esteem recieved from one's peers

- Their lives would be meaningless without it, so it is more important than life itself, explaining why Homeric heroes would die fighting for honour

- In the Iliad, when a hero is advised to stay away from a life threatening situation, he ignores this warning

- A hero's honour is determined only, firstly, by his courage and physical abilities, to a lesser degree his social status and possessions

- The highest honour can only be one in battle, where the competition is fiercest and the stakes are the greatest

1 of 24

Heroic Code

- An inferior heroic honour would come from hunting and athletics and an even lesser honour by sole non - physical heroic activity, the giving of advice in council

- NESTOR is a good example, he is too old to fight and so makes a priority of giving advice in council, because this is the only heroic activity left for him to do

- Homeric heroism is savage and merciless, but motivates the action in the poem

- Success means survival and greater honour, failure means death and elimination from the competition for honour

- Victory in battle can be forgotten, which explains why the victor always sought to acquire a permanent symbol of his win in the form of the defeated enemy's armour

2 of 24

Heroic Code

- Captive girls are also used as symbols of honour, the Homeric hero is fiercely individualistic, only concerned with his own honour and of his household, which serves as an extension of himself

- Unlike AENEAS in THE AENEID the Homeric hero is NOT concerned about his fellow warriors as he is about himself. Loyalty to the community and city (polis) was not yet important, as it would be later

- Moral and social pressures ensure a compliance with the heroic code because heroes are primarily concerned with what their peers will think and say in regard to their actions

- This is proven through HECTOR, when ANDROMACHE tries to persuade him not to re - enter war:

'..Yet I would feel deep shame before the Trojans...If like a coward I were to shrink aside from the fighting' - Shows his fear of adverse public opinion, forcing him to ignore his wife's pleas and risk his life for the sake of honour

3 of 24


- Ancient Greek religion was polytheistic - worshipped various gods who presided over different aspects of the physical world and human experience

- Greek gods are not spiritual beings but are anthropomorphic

- They display all human emotions, virtues and vices, and resemble and act like them

- There is a patriarchal organisation of the gods, ZEUS being the patriarch

- One of the most important things that can be said about a god or mortal is the identity of the father

- They are very concerned with human affairs, partially because Gods have mated with mortals and produced half god/human children, or have favourites participating in war. They take sides according to who they like/dislike E.G ATHENE and HERA are FIERCELY ANTI - TROJAN (Due to loss of beauty contest judged by Trojan Paris)

4 of 24


- APHRODITE favours the TROJANS (She was the winner and dotes on Paris)

- There is consistent divine intervention, where the involvement of the gods can exact human action E.G ATHENE preventing ACHILLES from killing AGAMEMNON

- Action is presented on two planes in The Iliad - HUMAN and DIVINE

- Gods also serve to show the limitations of man and mortality, and how meaningless human affairs are

5 of 24

Look out for in Iliad

- Character Analysis - especially in Book 3

- Irony (Dramatic Irony) is used to underline the frustration suffered by central characters in literature in the pursuit of their own happiness

- Similes and Metaphors

- Foreshadowing

- Imagery

- Tragedy - The Iliad gives a sense of futility of human action conveyed by the use of dramatic irony E.G HOMER showing his characters unknowingly doing things that lead them to their doom E.G actions of ACHILLES and HECTOR and how these contribute to their misfortunes

6 of 24

The Iliad Book Summaries

Book 1

- Opens with the Trojan war in its 10th year, in the Archaian camp

- Opens directly, without any elaborate scene setting

- Describes the fatal quarrel between AGAMEMNON and ACHILLES, of which cause all the subsequent consequences and action in the poem

- Introduces human and divine elements:

- The characters of AGAMEMNON and ACHILLES, the role of THETIS, Achilles' mother, and her knowledge of his fate

- The power of the GODS and their involvement in human affairs

7 of 24

The Iliad Book 1

- Gives notice it will be an unpleasant tale, not lighthearted entertainment

- Themes of heroes lying unburied, terrible events causing suffering on both sides and the dark force and use of the divine (Griffiths)

- The story is both the anger of Achilles and the fulfilment of the will of Zeus

- Old priest CHRYSES comes to Achaian camp to ask for his daughter CHRYSEIS to be released, who is allocated to AGAMEMNON as his concubine. He is a priest of APOLLO

- Poet has already presented archetypes at this point, Chryses is an innocent whose life is destroyed by war, through loss of son or daughter, a figure of dignity and pathos of which the Iliad has alot of sympathy for

- Agamemnon rejects Chryses appeal and Apollo gives vengeance in the form of a swift and catastrophic plague which kills many of the Achaian army

8 of 24

The Iliad Book 1

- An assembly is called and the seer reveals the true reason for Apollo's anger, so Agamemnon insists he is provided with another 'prize' to compensate for the loss of Chryseis, and threatens to replace her with Achilles' own prize of honour, BRISEIS, causing an argument between them. This threat is carried out immediately after the assembly

- Agamemnon is clearly in the wrong by the presentation of his character and through the reluctance of the heralds have to carry out his orders, and Briseis's reluctance to go with them

- After Briseis is taken rfrom him Achilles calls his mother, THETIS. She tells Achilles to withdraw from the fighting and promises to secure ZEUS' agreement to show honour to Achilles by granting enough success to the Trojans to show Agamemnon his stupidity in slighting the best of the Achaian fighters

9 of 24

The Iliad Book 1

- Zeus agrees, but HERA saw Thetis visit to Olympus and starts a quarrel with Zeus that ends with him threatening physical violence, this then subsides into laughter when Hera's son HEPHAISTOS intervenes.

- Important contrast between the immortal and mortal arguements here, the mortal results in great suffering and death, and the divine is easily turned to feasting, and Hephaistos says there is no worth in quarrelling over humans

- Achilles withdraws from the fighting and Zeus promises major Trojan success, fulfilling his promise to Thetis

10 of 24

The Iliad Book 6

- The gods are now out of the fighting, and the Achaians break the Trojan line and drive them back towards the city. HELENOS/PARIS (Hector's brother) urges him to rally the Trojans, then go to the city and arrange for the women to offer appeasement to ATHENE, in the hope she will hold back DIOMEDES

- Diomedes, whilst HECTOR is on the way to Troy, meets the Lycian GLAUKOS, and despite how the audience expect a major battle, Glaukos tells the story of his ancestry and Diomedes realises their families are linked in guest - friendship so the encounter ends in the exchange of armour and joy

- The rest of the book is set in Troy, contrasting with the scenes of Paris and Helen in book 3. The Trojan interlude is carefully crafted and structured to have Hector in scenes with the women of Troy, HECABE, HELEN, and ANDROMACHE, whilst there is consistent contrast of the characters of the brothers of HECTOR and PARIS

11 of 24

The Iliad Book 6

- The scenes explore the effects of war on the 'non - combatants', the women and children, and the contrast between a fighting man and the ties that would hold him in peace

- The scenes offer directly and symbolically the seperate spheres of men and women, and war and peace. PARIS is not in his sphere, lounging in the women's quarters fussing over his armour, while the women carry their tasks around him

- Hector goes to visit his wife ANDROMACHE and it is clear that she is also not in her sphere, when he discovers she is not at home, and when she later tries to advise him on tactics in desperation to keep her husband in Troy.

- Hector returns her to her sphere: 'go back to the house and see to your own work'

- Hector and Andromache meet at the exact point which forms the boundary, physically and symbolically, between the spheres of war and peace and women and family and fighting men. The Skaian Gates

12 of 24

The Iliad Book 6

- The tension between a man's duty is to fight and his duty to his family is shown when Hector's great nodding helmet terrifies his own baby son

- Hector refuses Andromache's tearful pleading to 'Put family above country' and Hector goes out to the plain to face war

- Andromache reluctantly returns home, she is here performing her domestic tasks when Hector is killed in book 22, when once again Hector decides to stay outside of Troy's walls and rejects HECABE's, HELEN's, and ANDROMACHE's appeals again.

- Andromache obeys Hector's instruction and tells her maids to get on with their tasks, but she gives them the task of lamentation for Hector whilst he is still alive. It is clear that as this scene ends there is an impending tragedy that Hector will die

- PARIS comes running through the city to catch Hector just as he is turning to leave, and the two brothers return to battle

13 of 24

The Iliad Book 18

- PATROCLUS has been killed by HECTOR who believed he was ACHILLES, not knowing the hero had withdrawn from the fighting. At the end of book 17, MENELAUS sends ANTILOCHUS to tell ACHILLES of his death

- Achilles' extreme grief brings his mother, and the second act of the four scenes between Achilles and Thetis has now an ironic parallel with the first, Achilles' grief is as a result of his first appeal to his mother and how his wishes were granted by Zeus

- He only cares about killing HECTOR now, even though THETIS tells him once he has done this he will certainly die

- He curses the anger that caused the death of Patroclus and many others. Thetis reminds him he can't fight without ARMOUR and so promises that by morning she will bring him divine armour made for him by HEPHAISTOS

14 of 24

The Iliad Book 18

- The Trojans threaten to recover PATROCLUS' body, and HERA sends IRIS to tell ACHILLES to show himself at the ditch to frighten back the Trojans. He does, and ATHENE sets a burning flame on his head while he shouts three times. 

- The Trojans fall back and Patroclus' body is rescued

- HERA sends the sun down to end the fighting for the day

- The Trojans meet in an assembly, and POULYDAMAS tells them they should go back to the city and not risk being on the plain for another night, seeing as Achilles is rejoining the battle after his appearance

- HECTOR fatally ignores this advice, and he later regrets this. There is double determination here, human, because Hector and Poulydamas never really liked each other, and divine because ATHENE takes away the Trojans' wits and logic when they put their vote to support Hector 

15 of 24

The Iliad Book 18

- On the Achaian side there is night long mourning for Patroclus, after his body is washed and anointed

- THETIS comes to HEPHAISTOS' house on Olympus and asks him to make new armour for her son ACHILLES. HOMER provides a change of scene and tone here, to provide a break from the tension before the final acts of tragedy and drama appear, leading to the fall of Troy

- The working of the shield is described in intense, elaborate detail, the design of the decoration encompasses the world, human activity in times of war and peace, and gives a pictorial representation of the wider world beyond the Trojan war.

16 of 24

The Iliad Book 22

- HECTOR stays outside in front of the Skaian Gates after ACHILLES has been fooled by APOLLO and is fast running back to Troy

- Hector's fatal decision here is also doubly determined, because Hector's 'Cruel fate shackled Hector to stay there outside' but it is also his own decision, prompted by his shame of not letting the Trojans back into the city for the previous night and how he thinks he destroyed his people through his own stupidity and mistake

- PRIAM sees Achilles speeding over the plain and implores Hector to come back into the city.

- HECABE bares her breast in appeal to her son, but they can't move him

- It becomes clear in book 24 that Priam can't move his own son, but he can move the man who killed him

- Hector's fear comes when Achilles draws closer and he runs

17 of 24

The Iliad Book 22

- ACHILLES pursues him three times around the walls of Troy under the eyes of his parents and friends, past the landmarks of Troy and peacetime, with the two springs beside them

- ZEUS debates whether to save HECTOR for the moment or let him be killed, as he had done with SARPEDON ( his own son ) and PATROCLUS, a link which places the three deaths in a cumulative sequence.

- Zeus opens his golden scales and Hector's pan sinks down into Hades, APOLLO leaves Hector and ATHENE comes to ACHILLES

- Athene tricks Hector into fighting by presenting herself as Hector's brother DEIPHOBOS, coming to give him aid

- The battle begins and Hector realises the gods have called him to death when his brother is no longer there to help him

18 of 24

The Iliad Book 22

- Hector charges at Achilles in a final try for glory, and is killed by a spear thrust through the throat.

- As he dies, he prophesies Achilles' own death, as Patroclus had done to Hector when he killed him

- Achilles refused to accept Hector's plea for a burial and that his body should be returned to his family, and he ties it by the ankles behind his chariot and drags it back to the ships

- The death and defilement of Hector is witnessed by his parents, and the sound of their lamentation reaches ANDROMACHE where she sits at home engaged in her domestic duties, concerned there should be hot water for Hector's bath on his return from battle

19 of 24

The Iliad Book 22

- Andromache rushes to the wall and faints at the sight of Hector dragged lifeless behind Achilles' horses

- The book ends on her immediate lament, which dwells on the cruel charge that awaits ASTYANAX, now he is fatherless

- Alot in this very moving and emotive scene is a conscious relation to the scene between HECTOR and ANDROMACHE in BOOK 6, where she foreshadows the tragedy which she is now enduring

20 of 24

The Iliad Book 24

Every day Achilles, still grieving for Patroclus, drags Hector's body three times around Patroclus' tomb.

- For eleven days the gods look down in anger and pity for Hector, so a divine assembly is called

- HERA produces a quarrelsome speech which causes ZEUS to summon THETIS to Olympus, with a proposal which will save Hector's body and give honour to Achilles

- The lapse in time, the gods anger parallel to Achilles in book 1, the troubled divine assembly afterwards, the presence of Thetis, who first came to demand honour for Achilles and in the end sent to achieve it, has explicit relations to book 1 and also establishes the final book as a climax and a reversal, giving it a circular structure

- Thetis is sent to tell Achilles the gods are angry and request that he releases the body for ransom. In parallel, IRIS goes to PRIAM and tells him to bring ransom for Achilles. Again, divine causation will work through human inclination

21 of 24

The Iliad Book 24

- Priam is determined to go the ships, but HECABE strongly opposes him

- In a very human way, Priam takes out his anger on the Trojan bystanders and drives them all away, railing at his other sons because they survived when Hector, his 'one son' was killed.

- Priam is met on the plain as darkness falls and escorted to Achilles' hut by the disguised HERMES, by ZEUS' orders

- This is the most extensive meeting between god and man in the Iliad, which shows the rare divine pity of which motivates this act from the gods, and works in parallel with human pity to being a resolve

- Priam comes wordlessly into Achilles' presence, and clasps his knees, supplicating him and kisses 'those terrible, murderous hands, which had killed many of his sons' - the full ritual of supplication

22 of 24

The Iliad Book 24

- He succeeds by reminding Achilles of his father PELEUS, and Achilles is moved to shared lamentation and pity

- Achilles' reply expresses the whole tragic version of the Iliad. He sees the fellowship of suffering which unites Peleus to Priam, both reached the height of human greatness, yet misery fell upon them in the loss of their 'only' sons, since Hector nor Achilles can now protect their fathers in their old age

- This sets them in a 'universal context' under 'divine governance'

- Suffering and death are the fates for mortals, of which no amount of lamentation can change, and the gods have no sorrow

- Achilles is still dangerous despite his pity, but his respect for Priam is maintained. He lifts Hector's body onto the bier with his own hands, leaving clothing from the ransom to shroud it, insists on the full and symbolic hospitality of food and bed and agrees to hold the Achaians from battle for the time that Priam wants Hector's burial, which is for nine days

23 of 24

The Iliad Book 24

- HERMES wakes Priam and tells him it is not safe to reside there, and escorts him out of the Achaian camp

- As the new day breaks, Priam brings Hector's body to the gates of Troy, and the whole population gathers in grief

- There follow three laments led by the women before the rest come

- They are from ANDROMACHE, HECABE and HELEN, whose relation and dependance on Hector were explored in book 6

- Nine days are spent preparing for Hector's funeral, and he recieves a proper ritual, the Iliad ends with a lasting description of the honorific burial of a hero, duly lamented by his family and people

24 of 24


No comments have yet been made

Similar Classical Civilization resources:

See all Classical Civilization resources »