The Iliad was a masterpiece of a work, which entertained and gave a description of how the Greeks lived out their lives in battle and at peace. The Iliad, by Homer, is an epic classic set in Ancient Greece. The story ,in its own, contained the use of epic characteristics, which reveal further characteristics of the Greeks. A large influence on the book, was the Greek’s religious and mythological stance along with their strengths and weaknesses that were also displayed. The Greeks, with both their strengths and weaknesses, reveal the overall character in Homer’s tale..
The story of the Iliad takes place in ancient Greece, Troy to be precise. Where a small scuffle has escalated into a war, over the Trojan capture of Helan, a Greek princess, from her home in Sparta. The Greeks retaliate and soon set sail to attack Illion,or Troy, to get Helan back. Much to their dismay Zeus, the ruler of the gods, has taken sides with the Trojans, along with Phoebus Apollo(god of music and wisdom), Aphrodites(goddess of beauty), Mars(god of war) and many other lesser gods. However, the Greek receive help from Hera(wife to Zeus), Athene(goddess of war), Poseiden(god of sea), Volcan(blacksmith god), and Thetis(nymph god). Each side wars heavily upon one another and kills many of each. The Achaians(Greeks) warrior Achilles, is the strongest among all others among him in his army and in the Trojans. His mother was Thetis and guards him relentlessly for he is her only son and is destined to die far from his home. Hektor, second only to Achilles is the Trojans most valiant fighter. Most of the story involves detailed battles with the imminent death of Hector by Achilles, and the storming of Troy.
The Greeks contain epic traits and qualities in their way of life and living. An epic is a long narrative poem depiction against the background of the past the heroic or supernatural deeds of a hero who represents his race or his religion. Many Greeks have such matter in them, as like Achilles in the description, who was no mere mortal among his people. Zeus once predicted, “Achilles is a man of great power and thought, he will slay the brave Hektor and bring honor to his people….”(236) Achilles was a Greek, so forth he was to bring honor to his people.
There was much use of epic characteristics in the Iliad. The Iliad had enormous battles that were fought constantly between the two opponents. Homer writes in description to Hektor’s fighting, “Hektor in the huge pride of his strength rages irresistibly, reliant on Zeus, and gives way to no one neither god nor man…”(204). The characters fighting for the Greeks or Trojans all were eventually given some kind of supernatural ability to fight such incredible battles. The hero of the story, Achilles, contained superhuman strength beyond that of any other man. In description of his strength, “…and the door barred to his room took three men to open it, but Achilles himself alone could close it.”(488) The mother of Achilles was Thetis making him half god, half man. That enabled him to have such powers beyond mortal man.
Another epic characteristic was that of the sacking of Ilion. In the beginning of the adventure the Danaans set sail to attack the Trojans, but Troy was surrounded by a great wall. Although the book does not describe the ending of Troy, it foretells the fall of it to the Greeks. After all of the struggle against a powerful opposing force they still overcame, and were victorious in the end. When Achilles killed Hektor, that was another sign of epic, because he fulfilled his deed as representing his race and his religion. He fulfilled his race as showing that Greek’s conquer all, and he represented his religion in that he was predicted to defeat Hektor. Zeus declares,“I have weighed Achilles life along with Hektors, and unfortunately Hektors death is heavier, it is just the way of things.”(236)
Homer’s account revealed much from history, religion and mythology in one, which is connected to the epic. The history portion is the battle between Greece and Troy over Helan. Religion has to do with all the praying and constant surroundings by gods and the servants of gods. The mythology part would mostly include the gods and how they came to be. Many times Homer refers to Zeus as “the son of Kronos”, revealing the mythology of Zeus’s victory over his father to become king of the gods in the beginning.
Supernatural elements are key to a good epic. There are many recallings of supernatural beings and gods that seem to have had a part in the tale. One such example was the river beside Troy which struck out against Achilles. It seemingly took on a personification and lashed out against men fighting in the field. Another time one such god set a blaze to the land so fierce that the water in the river boiled. Homer explains, “And Hephaistos turned his flame in its shining into the river.”, Homer continues, “The river spoke out with voice, blazing with fire, and his lovely waters were seething as its strength was burning away.” One can see that a river with voice, and a god with flame are unnatural, even supernatural. Only such an epic could contain such qualities, and the epic thus refers to the portrayal of the Greeks in the story.
The religious beliefs of the Greeks effected the things they did and said in the Iliad. Most of the sway of the Greeks came from the gods themselves. Whenever a god told a Danaan(Greek) to do something they obeyed. For instance, Achilles had hold over Hektor’s body and was not going to relinquish it. However Zeus, whom being a god, sends him a message to give it way. Achilles response to this was, “So be it. He can bring the ransom and take off the body, if the Olympian himself(Zeus) so bids it.”(480) Therefore, Achilles the representative of the Greeks, up holds the truth that religion persuades him and his people. Another way of control was that of words by there gods. At one time, when they were preparing to set sail, a massive gust of wind emerged and kept them from taking off. The god Apollo was angry and said to the Achanians(Greek), “You have angered the gods, with your disregard. Sacrifice your daughter Agamemnon, so that we may be appeased.” Homer continues with, “So forth Agamemnon did this thing with haste even though he loved his daughter, knowing any Achanian would do so.”(71)
An additional way was through prayer or signs that were not so blatant, as was a god telling them directly to do something. One such sign was described by Homer, “Over the battle arose an eagle, and in it’s claws grasped a red covered snake. As was the eagle to take the snake to it’s nest, in that it’s offspring could feed. But the snake turned and lashed at the eagles claws, so forth the bird dropped the snake and no longer had it to take back to it’s nest.” he goes on, “The Trojans were frightened to see this, as they took it to be a sign from the gods…”(119) The thought of something as religious as a sign made the Greeks seek an interpreter, so that they could see what the gods wanted from them, or where foreshadowing. From time to time they would pray to their gods in hopes of getting what they wanted and if they didn’t get a response they would then know that something was not right.
The Greeks believed in certain guidelines of their gods, and guidelines that applied to, and along with affects from them. The Danaans believed that any immortal(god) is more power than the strongest and bravest of men. They also believed that fighting with the gods was unheard of and always resulted in swift death. Diomed(Greek) stated, “Lykourgos the powerful, did not live long; he who tried to fight with the gods of the bright sky”(156) , “The gods were angered with him and the son of Kronos struck him to blindness, nor did he live long afterwards, since he was hated by all the immortals.”(157) So one can see that the Greeks feared the gods as well as loved them. They also knew that there gods were much like them, in that they had emotions and pity. If they were to anger the gods in any way it could possibly mean their life. As above, fighting with the gods would then anger all of them, ending ones life very fast.
The Iliad revealed both the strengths and weaknesses of the Greeks. The tale tells how well the Greeks can fight all through it by emphasizing key moments where they are almost beaten back, but are not. “The Danaans come from behind and bent the Trojans back, and each of the princes killed his man.”(Homer,129) Another strength would have to be, being favored by the gods. They are constantly being given assistance from the gods, who at different times are pleased by the Achanians. One such notion was brought by Athene to Diomedes when she said, “Son of Tydeus, you who delight my hear, Diomedes no longer be thus afraid……” , “……thus a helper shall I be standing beside you.” (150)
Among the Greeks they had their weaknesses. As the story tells, the entire conflict is over a woman named Helan. She is the most beautiful of all the earthly women, but yet she is still just one woman, and the pride of the Greeks is blind to see this. The many live’s lost to this is a blatant display of their pride. Achilles replies in response to Agamemnon’s journey, “Zeus help the Trojans, and pin the Achaians back against the ships and the water, dying, so that Atreus’ son wide-ruling Agamemnon may recognize his madness, that he did no honor to the best of the Achaians.”(70)
The Greeks with both their great abilities and flaws reveal their overall traits in Homer’s Iliad. With the use of Epic characteristics, which bring out their common features. Their religion and beliefs greatly influenced them. In the sight of their strengths and weaknesses, further more of the Greeks themselves. The Iliad does an excellent job of portraying the all together make up of the Achanian’s vices and virtues. Therefore one can distinctly make the connection between the Danaan’s society and culture to Homer’s story, the Iliad. All is due in hopes that one could become interested in the Greek’s and their mythology. Although the Iliad is a fictional tale, it provides much insight to the way they lived their lives in peace and at war, however mostly war.