The Role Of Human Excellence In The Iliad By Homer

Despite being vital to each other, the military and human government rarely see eye in eye. Homer’s Iliad showcases this struggle very well. It shows the tension between political power and military force. Each hero demands superior honor by using their respective excellencies. This causes friction. Agamemnon has political authority and Achilleus has martial excellence. The reader can see that both martial and political excellence are capable of surpassing each other in this battle for superior honor. Achilleus is more entitled to greater honor than Agamemnon because of Agamemnon’s injustices and because Achilleus’ fair use of prowess at the battlefield.

Agamemnon’s actions can be distinguished from Achilles’ by first defining justice in Achaian tradition. Justice means that a hero uses his talents and excellence to earn distinction amongst the common man in accordance to the wills of the gods. This agreement with God can be essentially defined by how the act is related to the fate of the subject/object of the action. Achilleus is furious that Agamemnon has taken Briseis as his war prize and dishonoured Achilleus. Athena descends from Mount Olympus instead to ask Achilleus not killing Agamemnon. Achilleus says: “Goddess, it’s necessary that I obey your two ‘… Words. He spoke and placed his heavy hands on the silver sword and thrust the great weapon back into the scabbard. 216-221 Agamemnon will not be killed by Achilleus or Achilleus. Agamemnon is to be executed in the manner that Achilleus would have. Achilleus should have killed Agamemnon. Agamemnon might not have been able confront his destiny with his wife if Achilleus had. Achilleus’ superiority on the battlefield shows that he is seeking distinction from the commoner by acting in accordance with the will Zeus. It is evident in his victories over smaller Troy heroes, but it is especially prominent in his victory over Hektor: “Die: And I will take my own life at whatever Zeus and other immortals decide to make it happen” (22). 365-366. This moment is when Achilleus can come to terms both with Patroclus’ death by vengeance against Hektor and his own tragic death. Hektor, Troy’s most well-known hero, is killed by Achilleus. Although this act has some retribution, it ultimately sets Achilleus apart from the average soldier. Hektor’s execution at Achilleus’ hands is also in line with the wills of the gods, as even the Trojan gods knew Hektor was dying. Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the just usage is Achilleus’s acceptance of Hektor’s impending death according to their terms.

Achilleus is a great martial artist, but Agamemnon abuses his political power in an inexcusable manner, which makes Achilleus not only a leading warrior, but also a leader. Agamemnon may have been given authority by the gods. However, his greed for the division of spoils led to the deaths of many of his own soldiers. Achilleus takes over the responsibility of leading the troops to correct Agamemnon. Agamemnon then violates Achaian tradition and takes what is rightfully his. Agamemnon is unable to exercise his authority when his simple pleasures are interfering with his ability as a ruler. Apollo is decimated by the Achaian army because Apollo interferes with his simple pleasures. 93-95). Because Agamemnon wouldn’t return Chryseis, the priest of Apollo, to her father Chryses again, the assembly is named. Agamemnon, who is supposed to be a ruler, fails to fulfill his duty and allows his people to die. Achilleus, however, takes the initiative and calls the assembly together to make sense of the situation. Achilleus then accepts Agamemnon’s apology and claims he will make it right for Apollo. Although it is possible that Achilleus was wrong in refusing to fight with his companions, Achilleus and his companions are not there to support Achilleus as he is dishonoured by Agamemnon. They watch as Agamemnon takes Achilleus’ war prize and honor. The gods will have the Achaians driven back to their ships. This is the right reason Achilleus couldn’t fight with Achaian armies.

Agamemnon’s abuse of excellence and Achilleus’s proper use of it are examples of how hard it can be for both human and just to achieve such a feat. A hero must adhere to the principles set forth by the judge of good or evil. This principle is just as important today as it was back in the Achaians’ days. In this instance, the gods act as judges of good or evil. The virtues they declare are in direct correlation to their will. Achilleus is honored by following the wills of the gods during battle. Agamemnon, on the other hand, is shamed for disobeying the wills of the gods. Homer’s Iliad has a unique representation of human nature in Achilleus’ and Agamemnon’s characters. This is why it is still relevant today. Although its religious significance is diminished, The Iliad’s representation of human nature through the characters is an important reason why epic poetry values it.


  • rosewebb

    Rose Webb is an educational blogger and volunteer who also studies for a degree in law. She loves to write about her experiences and share her knowledge with others, and is passionate about helping others to achieve their goals.

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