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Iliad as a Dictate of the Father
The Lion Gate is gnarling down at anyone trying to advance past its massive guard. Inside the fortress, mighty shields and glistening swords await the visitor’s arrival. Skillfully carved armor decorations proclaim great battles and fierce hunts. The prevailing warrior ethos and his manly power are apparent in each Mycenaean artifact. It is this strong patriarchal culture that gave birth to the creation of the Iliad. The respect that the father receives as the head of the family is made obvious in the legendary epic.
Not only is the father the primary concern in the Iliad, but the heroic code is based on paternal injunction. That way the father determines the values and behavior of the heroes in the Iliad.
Throughout the Iliad the warriors are identified by their genealogy. The first line begins, “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus…” (1, 1). With the opening we see how important the father’s name is in describing the identity of the hero. The same occurs in the lines to follow, “…Atreus’ son the lord of men…” (1, 7). In this line the name Agamemnon is not even mentioned, even though it introduces the hero for the first time. The fact that he is the son of Atreus provides enough information for the audience. Genealogy has the power to cease battle between enemies. Such is the case when Diomedes, challenged by Glaukos on the battlefield, questions him of his descent. After Glaukos has given the full story of his ancestry, Diomedes realizes that their grandfathers have been friends and proposes a truce.
"See now, you are my guest friend from far in the time of our fathers./ Brilliant Oineus once was host to Bellerophontes/ the blameless, in his halls, and twenty days he detained him,/ and these two gave to each other fine gifts in token of friendship. /…Therefore I am your friend and host in the heart of Argos;/ you are mine in Lykia, when I come to your country./ Let us avoid each other’s spears, even in the close fighting./ …But let us exchange our armour, so that these others may know/ how we claim to be guests and friends from the days of our fathers" (6, 215-231).
Glaukos and Diomedes must continue the ties of friendship their forefathers once had, if they are to adhere to the heroic code.
The warrior comes after the king in the Dumezil social structure.
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The paternal injunction is addressed to the son, and consists of what the son has to live up to in order to please the wishes of his father. The son must be a great warrior, surpassing the strength and greatness of his father. He must always strive to be the best so that he does not shame the generations of his fathers. Paternal injunction is best illustrated when Hektor takes his baby boy in his arms and prays to the gods for the future of his child. “Zeus, and you other immortals grant that this boy, who is my son,/ may be as I am, pre-eminent among the Trojans,/ great in strength, as am I, and rule strongly over Ilion;/ and some day let them say of him: ‘He is better by far than his
father’,/ as he comes in from the fighting; and let him kill his enemy/ and bring home the bloodiest spoils, and delight the heart of his mother” (6, 476-481). This is strongly related to the heroic code in which a warrior must fight without fear of death. Fear of the agon cannot bring glory to any fighter, since he cannot win. Being faced with death but overcoming this fear and coming out as the victor of the battle brings honor to the father.
Being reminded of the paternal injunction and the greatness of their fathers urged many warriors into battle. Diomedes was forced into the battle by Agamemnon, who spoke to him these words, “Ah me, son of Tydeus, that daring breaker of horses,/ why are you skulking and spying out the outworks of battle?/ Such was never Tydeus’ way, to lurk in the background,/ but to fight the enemy far ahead of his own companions./…they say he surpassed all others./…yet he was father/ to a son worse than himself at fighting, better in conclave” (4, 370-400). Not fighting face to face with the enemy or using crafty, technologically advantageous ways to win is considered cowardly by the heroic code. Action is what is needed to win glory, not words that is why being “better in conclave” is considered a bad characteristic.
In order to satisfy the paternal injunction the warrior must enter into an agon and come out as the victor. Hektor is a powerful warrior who almost single handedly defeated the Achaian army. He explains why he cannot stay away from the fighting and does not forget to mention his father. “I have learned to be valiant/ and to fight always among the foremost ranks of the Trojans,/ winning for my own self great glory, and for my father” (6, 444-446).
Another important part of the heroic code is the rejection of nostos. The warrior must not be tempted to return home before the war is over, because then he cannot come out as the winner. If the warrior is not the victor he cannot bring honor to his father and is not living up to his generation’s history.
Achilleus’ withdrawal from the battle and his wish to return home might seem to be against the heroic code, and against paternal injunction, but a more careful examination of the facts shows otherwise. Agamemnon offends Achilleus by taking away his war prize. Achilleus’ only goal in life is to be recognized by his society. When his recognition is taken away, Achilleus purpose to life and battle vanishes. At this point Achilleus fails to fulfill the paternal injunction because he is not recognized for his deeds. The only way Achilleus can redeem himself, and live up to his father’s wishes, is through showing the Achaians that they cannot win without his help.
Toward the end of the Iliad we see what a strong impression the father can make. The aged Priam comes to offer Achilleus ransom for the return of Hektor’s body. Priam is able to appeal to Achilleus by evoking memories of Achilleus’ own father. “Honour then the gods, Achilleus, and take pity upon me/ remembering your father, yet I am still more pitiful;/…So he spoke, and stirred in the other a passion of grieving/ for his own father” (24, 503-508). Until now Achilleus has been merciless toward Hektor’s body and the Trojan people, but at the memory of his own father he is able to sympathize with Priam. This demonstrates that the father plays a major role in societal values.
Although the father figure influences most of the values and behavior of the men in the Iliad, Homer does show counter voices to the patriarchal position.
Thersites is a loud counter voice to the paternal injunction and to the heroic code. He urges the warriors to go home and not bother with war. “My good fools, poor abuses, you women, not men, of Achaia,/ let us go back home to our ships, and leave this man here/ by himself in Troy to mull his prizes of honour/ that he may find out whether or not we others are helping him” (4, 235-238). This statement defiles the heroic code because it is a call for nostos. Nostos is against paternal injunction because if the warriors left, they cannot win glory and honor, and cannot prove that they are better fighters than their fathers are. Homer paints a gruesome picture of Thersites. Since Thersites is against the code he is portrayed as a weak, handicapped coward. “This was the ugliest man who came beneath Ilion. He was/ bandy-legged and went lame of one foot, with shoulders/ stooped and drawn together over his chest, and above this / his skull went up to a point with the wool grown sparsely upon it./ Beyond all others Achilleus hated him, and Odysseus” (2, 216-220). Creating such an image of the counter-voice shows that Homer wanted to emphasize the importance and validity of the patriarchal position.
The other counter-voices are those of women. Naturally women will be opposed to the paternal injunction because it destroys the lives of sons and husbands. A strong female character in the Iliad is Andromache, the wife of Hektor. She begs her husband to stay home and not go to the war.
Andromache, stood close beside him, letting her tears fall,/ and clung to his hand and called him by name and spoke to him: “Dearest,/ your own great strength will be your death, and you have no pity/ on your little son, nor on me, ill-starred, who soon must be your widow;/ for presently the Achaians, gathering together,/ will set upon you and kill you;…/ Please take pity upon me then, stay here on the rampart,/ that you may not leave your child an orphan, your wife a widow”
The Iliadic women attempt to save the men from death by tempting them to stay at home. The heroic code calls for an overcoming of female temptations. If the warrior listens to the woman and stays home, he cannot enter an agon. Even though he is faced with death, the battlefield is the only place where a hero can gain his honor and immortality.
Hekabe and Helen are not true counter-voices to the paternal injunction. Hekabe, Hektor’s mother, tries to offer food and drink to Hektor, and Helen wants him to rest. Both women offer their services to Hektor so that he can be revived quicker and go back to the battle. “But stay while I bring you honey-sweet wine, to pour out/ a libation to father Zeus and the other immortals/ first, and afterwards if you will drink yourself, be strengthened./ In a tired man, wine will bring back his strength to its bigness,/ in a man tired as you are tired, defending your neighbours,” pleads Hekabe (6, 258-262). Hekabe is enforcing paternal injunction through her care for Hektor, because she wishes Hektor’s strength to be restored so that he can re-enter the agon.
The only other true counter-voice to the patriarchy is Aphrodite. Aphrodite attempts to save the life of every man she cares about. She is the goddess who helps Paris escape death in the agon with Menelaos. “But Aphrodite caught up Paris/ easily, since she was divine, and wrapped him in a thick mist/ and set him down again in his own perfumed bedchamber” (3, 379-382). Aphrodite lures Paris in all the pleasures not concerned with war. She also carries off her son, Aineias, out of the fighting. Aphrodite’s way of saving their lives destroys their reputation, and in the long run she has done them a greater wrong than if she let them die. Paris is seen as an anti-hero because of Aphrodite’s influence over him. He does not overcome female temptation and he is not ready to enter a battle and face death. Even when he is fighting, Paris uses the archery against his opponents. Archery is considered to be the cunning tool of the coward, who does not have the strength to come out and fight face to face. By saving their lives Aphrodite has taken away the men’s chance to prove themselves as warriors, and live up to the paternal injunction.
Although, Homer presents these characters which are opposing the heroic code, I believe that he is condemning their opposition. These counter-voices are only vehicles by which the heroic code and the making of the hero are solidified. Thersides is presented as an ugly coward, whom everyone mocks, and all of his views are condemned. Diomedes stabs Aphrodite as she is carrying her son out of the battle. With that action Homer shows that even the gods can be punished if they do not adhere to the paternal hierarchy. Female temptations have the potential to destroy the heroic code and condemn the hero. But it is my conviction that the role of the woman as a temptress is used as a tool with which heroic status is reached. Part of the heroic code is to overcome the female. Being able to defeat the obstacle of temptation increases the hero’s kleos.
Even the counter-voices to the paternal code are designed by Homer to enforce patriarchy. A great warrior walks off to face death followed by a trail of tears. Paternal injunction is one of the major themes in the Iliad, since it influences the heroic ethos. The paternal hierarchy is apparent through every action the heroes make. The wishes of the father overtake every value the heroes have. Paternal injunction is the cause of the readiness, and fearlessness before death, with which the warriors go to war. Identification with the father and the father’s name is the effect of the patriarchal society, which created the Iliadic epic.