Achilles' Honor in Homer's Iliad

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Achilles' Honor in Homer's Iliad

The Greeks placed great importance on personal honor. Why is this? Is it because to them man I nothing without honor. Or is it that the honor is more important than the man? "Honor to the Greeks is something that is won by a man's prowess, his ability to fight and be victorious on the battle field"(Schein 62). This is just one example of how honor is obtained. A second method of gaining honor is to be a great orator, one must posses the ability to speak in the assembly and express his ideas eloquently, and persuasively to the gathered body. A third way of achieving personal honor is to demonstrate athletic ability.

Achilles would be considered one of the latter; he is a proud and headstrong person who had to fight for everything he received. In The Iliad of Homer, one sees that Achilles initially achieved his first honor on the battle field. His prowess and ferocity in personal combat gives him the appearance of invincibility or i.e. super human, or god like abilities. He is also very short tempered, and takes offense very easily. He would respond with blistering indignation, especially when he thinks that his honor is being insulted.

He feels that his honor was besmirched when Agamemnon demands that Achilles relinquish his war prize, Brises "Are you ordering to give this girl back? Either the great hearted Achaians shall give me a new prize chosen according to my desires to atone for the girl loss, or else if they will not hive me I myself shall take her, your own prize?(Homer 1.134).

To Achilles this prize Brises represents something more than just a prize; she is a symbol of status, of acceptance. His way of obtaining honor which he (Achilles) has to figh...

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... his country; since the spirit within does not drive me to go on living and be among men, except on condition Hektor first be beaten down under my spear, lose his life and pay the price for striping Patroklos, the son of Menoitios? (Homer 18.88). "Here in lies the crux of Achilles' dilemma, honor is more important than the man"(Burgess 39).

Works Cited and Consulted:

Burgess, Jonathan. "Achilles' heel: the death of Achilles in ancient myth." Classical Antiquity. v. 14 (Oct. '95) p. 217- 43.

Homer: Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

Parry, Adam M. The Language of Achilles and Other Papers. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Schein, Seth L. The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer's Iliad. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Shive, David M. Naming Achilles. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
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