The Theme of War in Homer's Iliad


War and the Judgement of Characters

  • Those who are enthusiastic about war or are good in battle are portrayed as better, more powerful and respected characters. 
  • Example - Achilles rejects a peaceful life with his aging father to return to battle. He is glorified by his men as a hero. 
  • Paris is condemned by his family and by his wife for rejecting war and battle. He is therefore made an almost comic character by both the poet (Homer) and other characters in the Iliad. 
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War and the Immortals

  • The value and respect of an immortal character is based on their enthusiasm and involvement in war just as the mortals are. 
  • Aphrodite, for example, is weak in battle and rarely involves herself, and is therefore made to seem comical or weak, like Paris. 
  • Athene on the other hand, is portrayed as a stronger and more respected character due to her heavy involvement and skill in battle and tasks to do with war. 
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War the Reality of War

  • Homer depicts war as a justified method of settling a dispute, and portrays the characters and events that are involved in war as glamorous and admirable. 
  • Homer does not refrain, however, from illustrating the harsh realities of war. For example, the orphaning of Hector's child in Book 22, the separation of father and daughter (Chryses and Chryseis) in Book 1 and the plague sent to the Achaean camp by Apollo in Book 1. 
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War Verses Family

  • Homer's war-involved characters are glorified even when they choose war and battle over family. This is because it is part of the unwritten code of honour to defend your city, country or clan, above all else, including family. 
  • Achilles is glorified for choosing to defend the honour of Patroclus and to avenge Hector over spending time with his aging father in his homeland. This honourable decision is emphasized when we find out that Achilles does indeed know that he is destined to die in battle, as we discover in book 19. 
  • Hector, like Achilles, is depicted as more respectable and admirable for choosing to fight for his clan despite his wife Andromache begging him not to return to battle and leave an orphaned child. His decision, like Achilles, is further glorified by the fact that he too knows his own fate is to die in battle. 
  • Paris, unlike Achilles and Hector, chooses to spend time with his family (his wife, Helen) over fighting and war. His character is then mocked by both the poet (Homer) and other characters in the Iliad, depicting him as weak and unmasculine, therefore not honourable like his brother Hector. 
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