Exploring the World within The Iliad

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Reading this for the third time, I am struck by all the things I missed by reading in haste and without enthusiasm. Talking about it with our class furthered my curiosity and showed the value of the text in a way I had not considered. Our discussion explored the roles of Agamemnon and Achilles, the oaths made between various characters, the crucial role that woman do play, and the way in which the Greek gods interact with each other and mortals. In only three chapters there is so much to cover. I would like to focus on women’s roles, Agamemnon as a ruler, and the role anger of the gods has in affecting change. Power dynamics between certain characters is also something I want to explore.

Using the information we have so far, we saw how important women are in this text despite constantly being referred in a demeaning way and as “prizes”. There are obvious things that can be pointed out. Helen caused an entire war by being captured, and when she finally does speak she blames herself. This is an odd statement as it was not her fault. She wishes she had died, but as was pointed out in class her voice besides that one passage (and the one with Aphrodite) is largely missing. We get accounts from the author about her terrible beauty, but seeing the world through her eyes is difficult, and it feels passed over. It was suggested that a text from Helen’s point of view would show the other side, but we have other important women figures presented to us. Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera all have roles they care out that influence the story in varying degrees.  For example, despite Zeus being the leader of the gods he fears Hera which is funny considering how he speaks to her. Moving away from women’s role in the text, Agamemnon is presented as the lord of men. Is his leadership truly great and well planned or is he merely an arrogant jerk?

We discussed Agamemnon’s bizarre strategies, the way he treats his warriors, and his deep arrogance. He has strange tactics that seem counterintuitive to a successful outcome, such as asking everyone to flee, that we pointed out don’t sound like sound strategies. His strength as a great warrior is certainly true, but it is the great men among him such as Odysseus that make him successful. He gets good advice to have everyone in his army to fight by clan but I feel if he was a great leader he would have already known that himself. Agamemnon’s character flaw is his deep arrogance and inability to listen to reason. By taking the daughter of a priest he angers Apollo who unleashes a plague upon his army. He walks around wondering, why are these bad things happening, which is laughable since he caused them. When it is strongly suggested he return her in exchange for three to four times to the gift, he refuses. Is Agamemnon doomed (I mean he is cursed) to be simply a huge jerk or as the story develops will we see him develop as a character? I feel he will stay a jerk (to put it nicely) but although he is angry, his anger and that of other mortals is small compared to that of the gods.

On the very first page, the rage of Achilles is brought up. The anger of mortals, but also gods or God is crucial to the development of plots in The Iliad as well as the Bible. As a class we considered God’s motivation in the Old Testament, the Sumerian gods in Inanna, and the Greek gods we become familiar with in The Iliad. I see anger or rage playing a huge role for both the mortals and the gods within the Iliad. Anger is an important emotion that the various gods have because it creates action. When God is content, the Old Testament isn’t very dynamic. But when God is angry or in a scheming mood, many things happen and evolve in the mortal world. In the world of the Greek gods, because there are many of them they can anger each other. Their relationship with different mortals complicates things further. For example, when things are working out for some of the gods, another god, Aphrodite rescues Paris. This disrupts things for mortals, while demonstrating that the Greek gods take sides. It’s also notable that everyone hates Paris, even his own brother. Thus, having one God disrupting things is difficult for the people of the Old Testament. But having many gods with scheming, self-serving agendas and relationships with mortals is an entirely different situation. Anger turns the plot in The Iliad in remarkable directions, while contentment amongst the gods brings a stop to action. Contentment brings boredom to the Greek gods. Then the cycle of scheming and doing something to cause rage stirs the pot further potentially starting or making current wars worse in the mortal world.  The concept of violence and war is prevalent in The Iliad. It is a warlike atmosphere and it is seen as glorious to fight, judging by the language Homer uses. It is discussed in The Iliad to kill Agamemnon very early on but then it is decided to not do that. Is it about glory and honor that war is seen in a positive light? Or is the anger of mortals and gods an excuse for wars and much bloodshed?

Another man of war, Achilles who is doomed to have the shortest life span is also examined. We discussed how Achilles’ father was almost Zeus, so his “rage” and behavior may correspond with the fact of missed potential. There is not a question that Achilles is a great warrior and as a result he and Agamemnon have a huge verbal fight where Achilles says he isn’t going to take orders from Agamemnon anymore. There is a power struggle because Achilles must give up his prize, a woman, to Agamemnon. It’s interesting that within the same side (in terms of the war) such differences appear. I see Achilles as blinded by rage, but then weeping after giving up his prize. Why doesn’t Achilles just keep the prize? This seems to show that although he said he is not obeying Agamemnon, he must still listen to him. This power struggle is fascinating, and it is interesting to compare that to the power struggle between Helen and Aphrodite.

After Aphrodite snatches Paris from death, she goes to find Helen and wants her to surrender herself to Paris. Helen does not want this, because being captured was enough and she refuses to have sex with Paris ever again. Aphrodite threatens her with intense words and she submits herself. In this scene, Helen loses the agency she had and it will be interesting as the story unfolds to see how Helen behaves in the future.  The power struggle here is different because Aphrodite is a goddess, but Helen has such terrible beauty that a war started over her. Perhaps Aphrodite wishes to knock Helen down since Helen is receiving so much attention. Through all the power struggles in the text, it will be interesting to see how the progression of the characters continues, and how the gods interfering cause the course of events to shift even more.

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