The Nature of Honour in Virgil and Homer Essay

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In the epics of both Homer and Virgil, the meaning and politics of honour play a significant role in the decisions and actions of the characters. Honour involves arbitrary set of rules, so just what is is and why did people need to maintain these rules at all? In these poems, honour is linked to a hero’s possessions, identity, and deed. All three are important, but one’s deeds seem to matter the most and without performing great deeds, honour cannot be had the other two ways.
Honour is often represented by possessions, and, in a way, the possessions are honour itself. Briseis, the girl that was taken from Achilleus, is honour because her movement from one possessor to another is always accompanied by and equal movement of honour. One would think for Agamemnon to lose his prize to a god, an already greater being, would not affect his honour, since his strength compared to other men has not changed. This is true if honour is only based on what is known about a man’s strengths and weaknesses, so the girl herself must be a source of honour.
The Greek army has been camped out on the shores of Troy for a very long, so they do not have much supplies, and much fewer tokens to show their honour, so honour itself is also running out. When Agamemnon says that he will need something to replace the prize that he has lost at the start of the poem, Achilles replies, “ shall the great-hearted Achaians give you a prize now? There is no great store of things lying about I know of.” (Homer, Iliad 1.124) The men need to continually add to their honour, and without a large victory, they are not able to do so, so there is tension, and the tension is made worse when Agamemnon takes what Achilleus thinks is more than his fair share. ...

... middle of paper ... we can get at least a partial picture of how the ancient civilizations regarded the concept of honour and come to a few conclusions about what it is and how it functions. At times it seems like a commodity that is traded around, and it is certainly attached to material goods. One’s birth and fate, and more importantly how they act and what they do with their fate, adds to one’s honour, but it is most important to be courageous and show excellence through great deeds, especially military victory.

Work Cited

Homer. The Iliad of Homer. Trans. Richard Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.
—. The Odyssey of Homer. Trans. Richard Lattimore. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.
Virgil. The Aeneid. Trans. David West. London: Penguin, 2003.
Lattimore, Richard. Introduction. The Iliad of Homer. New York: University of Chicago Press. 1961. 7–55.

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