Heroic Code in the Iliad and the Odyssey

Heroic Code in the Iliad and the Odyssey

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     In Webster’s Dictionary, a hero is defined as a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of purpose, especially if this individual has risked or sacrificed his life. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, the code which administers the conduct of the Homeric heroes is a straightforward idea. The aim of every hero is to achieve honor. Throughout the Iliad and the Odyssey, different characters take on the role of a hero. Honor is essential to the Homeric heroes, so much that life would be meaningless without it. Thus, honor is more important than life itself.

     Throughout the Iliad, heroic characters make decisions based on a specific set of principles, which are referred to as the “code of honor.” The heroic code that Homer presents to readers is easy to recognize because the heroic code is the cause for many of the events that take place, but many of the characters have different perceptions of how highly the code should be regarded. Hector, the greatest of the Trojan warriors, begins the poem as a model for a hero. His dedication and firm belief in the code of honor is described many times throughout the course of the Iliad. As a reward for heroic traits in battle, prizes were sometimes awarded to victors of war. In Book 1 Achilles receives Chryseis as a prize and a symbol of honor. Heroism had its rewards and its setbacks which ultimately was the backbone of the Illiad in the case of Achilles prize. Hector, arguably the greatest Trojan warrior or even the bravest of the Homeric heroes is very fierce and fights for what he believes is his destiny. In book VI Hector expresses his bravery when Andromache pleads with Hector not to fight when Hector says, “But I would die of shame to face the men of Troy and the Trojan woman trailing their long robes if I would shrink from battle now, a coward. Nor does the sprit urge me on that way. I’ve learned it all too well. To stand up bravely, always to fight in the front ranks of Trojan soldiers, winning my father great glory, glory for myself” (VI, 387).

Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors, is portrayed as a hero in some ways but, on the other hand, performs some controversial acts in the Iliad. Throughout the entire Trojan war, Achilles spent most of his time pouting in his tent after Agamemnon kidnapped his prized maiden, Chryseis.

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He also lets his best friend, Patroclus, go into battle alone only to die when Hector kills him with his spear. Achilles joins the war when he hears of Patrclus death, but it was not out of bravery; out of guilt, revenge and anger, when he hears of his friend’s death. When Achilles kills Hector, he binds his feet to his chariot and drags his body around the walls of Troy. In my opinion this was not an act of heroism. But in the Iliad the Greeks loved Achilles. Achilles was considered half mortal and half God. Achilles has all the characteristics of a heroic warrior on a grand scale, and he possesses more than a common measure of all the merits and all the faults of a hero (Bowra 193). All of Achilles traits and glory are won primarily in battle, which sets Achilles apart from Hector because Achilles knows little about home and family. He has no wife: his father he has not seen in years; his mother, even though she helps him but he cannot help her and she isn’t even a human being (Bowra 194).

     In the Odyssey, Odysseus is considered the heroic figure. Throughout both the Iliad and the Odyssey, Odysseus showed many acts of bravery, maybe more than Achilles showed. Both men, in the beginning, did try to make an attempt to avoid fighting in the Trojan War; however, neither succeeded. Odysseus later was tricked into serving the Greeks when he was sent to recruit Achilles who had not been fighting because of Agamemnon taking his prized maiden away. When Odysseus found Achilles, Achilles was dressed as a woman, hiding among the maidens, and persuaded Achilles into coming to the Greek camp and joining their army. This shows that Odysseus was smart and very cleaver. Another smart and cleaver event took place when Odysseus came up with the plot to defeat Troy, using the Trojan Horse.

     A certain fire that drives both Achilles and Odysseus is revenge. Revenge is what could be the driving force in a hero’s quest for total victory or could ultimately end in death. Achilles’ soul is full of anger, and the death of Patroclus gives Achilles a deep sense of guilt, which does not cure him of his anger (Bowra 20). As mentioned earlier Achilles is not content with just revenge, he takes his actions a step further and dishonor’s Hector’s body. When Odysseus kills the suitors Homer does not go into any detail if what he did was justified or not. “The true heroic note is sounded by Odysseus when he forbids rejoicing over the dead suitors” (Bowra 22).

     There are many different forms of heroes in the Iliad and the Odyssey. The one thing that each hero tries to achieve is honor from the people who have put trust in them to keep them safe and protect them from enemies. Without honor, their life would be meaningless, unless their destiny proves otherwise. For Achilles and Odysseus, their destiny was to lead and be great during battle which was proven in the books. This proves to be true that the highest honor can only be won in battle where they are needed most.

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