The Iliad by Homer

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Many years ago in ancient Greece, Plato initiated a debate about the usefulness of literature by declaring that poetry had no place in the ideal society, mainly because it was full of lies and because it evoked undesirable emotions. His pupil Aristotle, however, took the opposing side of this dispute and argued that literature was, in fact, useful. Aristotle agreed with Plato that literature induces undesirable emotions, but he stated that it only does so in an attempt to purge us of these harmful sentiments, a process which he termed “catharsis”. The events in Homer’s Iliad, while used by both Plato and Aristotle to defend their theories about literature, lend themselves to the defense of Aristotle’s ideas more so than Plato’s. Specifically, the juxtaposition of Achilleus’s intense lamentation with the portrayal of Hephaistos’s shield, the description of Hektor’s increasing pride, and the account of Patroklos’s impulsive nature in battle all perfectly exemplify Aristotle’s idea of catharsis and demonstrate the true worth of literature. In book 18 of the Iliad, Homer masterfully juxtaposes the very specific, emotional, and individualized scene of Achilleus’s grief with the creation of the all-encompassing image which Hehpaistos forges on his shield. Towards the beginning of the book, when Achilleus learns of Patroklos’s death from Nestor’s son Antiolchos, Homer depicts an intense scene of sorrow as he writes, “The black cloud of sorrow closed on Achilleus. In both hands he caught up the grimy dust, and poured it over his head and face, and fouled his handsome countenance. And he himself, mightily in his might, in the dust lay at length, and took and tore at his hair with his hands, and defiled it” (Iliad book 18 lines 2... ... middle of paper ... ...r’s Iliad to defend his ideas about the eradication of literature, the Iliad contains countless powerful and cathartic passages which essentially invalidate Plato’s theories on poetry. After a study of the Iliad, the reader has trained his emotions. He has felt pity for the characters and fears that if he acts in the same manner and lets the same emotions which proved to be the bane of the characters’ existence in the work overwhelm him, then the same fate awaits him. Thus, by reading the Iliad, or any other good work of literature for that matter, we train our rational nature to overpower our sentimental nature. In this sense, literature is the highest form of study one can undertake, since we are constantly flooded by a sea of emotions. The most effective way to ensure we act rationally in response to these emotions is to read as much literature as possible.

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