Themes, Motifs and Symbols

  • Created by: chunks-42
  • Created on: 27-05-15 16:56


Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Glory of War

One can make a strong argument that the Iliad seems to celebrate war. Characters emerge as worthy, or despicable based on their degree of competence and bravery in battle. Paris, for example, doesn't like to fight, and correspondingly receives the scorn of both his family and his lover. Achilleus, on the other hand, wins eternal glory by explicitly rejecting the option of a long, comfortable, uneventful life at home. The text itself seems to support this means of judging character and extends it even to the gods. The epic holds up warlike deities, such as Athene for the reader's admiration while it makes fun of the gods who run from aggressions, using the timidity of Aphrodite and Artemis to create a scene of comic relief. To fight is to prove one's honour and integrity, while to avoid warfare is to demonstrate laziness, ignoble, fear, or misaligned priorities.

To be sure, the Iliad doesn't ignore the realities of war. Men die gruesome deaths; women become slaves and concubines, estranged from their tearful fathers and mothers; a plague breaks out in the Achaian camp and decimates the army. In the face of these horrors, even the mightiest warriors occasionally experience fear, and the poet tells us that both armies regret that the war ever began. Though Achilleus points out that all men, whether brave or cowardly, meet the same death in the end, the poem never asks the reader to question the legitimacy of the ongoing struggle. Homer never implies that the fight consitutes a waste of time or human life, he portrays each side as having a justifiable reason to fight and depicts warfare as a respectable and even glorious manner of settling the dispute.

Homer has never been surpassed in his ability to portray both the beauty and horror of war. War brings out the best in his heroes, as they tap previously unknown reserves of strength, courage and loyalty. But war also can bring out the worst in men. The endless carnage and cruelty of the poem dehumanises many of the men of the Iliad, and Homer never shirks from depicting the brutality of battle. Although Homer glorifies warriors, the Iliad is full of an unmistakable love for peace.

Military Glory over Family Life

A theme in the Iliad closely related to the glory of war is the predominance of military glory over family. The text clearly admires the reciprocal bonds of deference and obligation that bind Homeric families together, but it respects much more highly the pursuit of kleos, the 'glory' or 'renown' that one wins in the eyes of others by performing great deeds, Homer constantly forces his characters to choose between their loved ones and the quest for kleos, and the most heroic characters invariably choose the latter. Andromache pleads with Hektor not to risk orphaning his son, but Hektor knows that fighting among the front ranks, represents the…


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