Of all human values, honor may perhaps be the most important. Honor not only helps define one’s self image, but also the image that others see. Decency was particularly significant in the Homeric setting; the world of Homer’s heroic the Iliad is set. The notion of rectitude raises the query: which deserves supplementary honor, martial dexterity or political power? Two individuals represent each in Homer’s Iliad: Agamemnon and Achilles. In Book 1 of the Iliad, I assert that Achilles’ martial expertise deserves superior rectitude to Agamemnon’s political power. This therefore shows signs of supremacy battle between soldiers and leaders.
Even though presented in the text with distinctive Homeric obscurity, the proof is there. Not only is Achilles a superior warrior, but also a better man in that he is prepared to stand up to Agamemnon irrespective of the danger involved. A common saying, factual for all centuries, is “with inordinate power comes great duty.” Both Agamemnon and Achilles have been granted bizarre power from the divinities. Agamemnon has a scepter granting him authority over all others and making him the leader of the Achaean confederacy, while Achilles displays incredible combat abilities that make him the best warrior in the Trojan War.
The primary reasons that Achilles deserves honor is that he demonstrates both a higher respect for the limits of his power and a greater understanding of the implications and consequences of his actions. When Achilles is dishonored in front of the entire Achaean army, he desires to kill Agamemnon, something that could easily be accomplished with his skill. Listening to advice from Athena, however, he refrains from doing so, respecting the parameters of his power and showing he is more deserving of honor. He honors the gods’ powers that are superior to him, uttering the following line: “Goddess, it is essential that I follow the expression of the two of you, although I am angry in my heart. Therefore, it will be better.” (Homer and Monro,1.216).
Achilles understands his mortality and respects its limits. His honor stems from his actions not from inherited power like Agamemnon. Agamemnon, on the other hand, does shows neither respect for the gods or the limitations of his power. He drives away a priest of Apollo, bringing the rage of the god upon the Achaean army and causing much death and destruction. He oversteps the boundaries of his power and fails in his duty as a leader to protect his soldiers by refusing to give up his “prize” when it is quite obvious his actions are the cause of the plague striking the Achaeans. While Agamemnon does indeed have significant honor and authority by virtue of his office, it is abused when he puts his own interests over that of the army and of the war.
Even so, some of the Achaeans side with Agamemnon. Nestor of Pylos, one of the wisest Achaeans, claims that Agamemnon possesses more authority, saying “this man is superior, who is lord over more than you [Achilles] rule.” (Homer and Monro,1.282) Perhaps Nestor is overemphasizing the importance of political power. Nestor acknowledges the superiority of Achilles’ warrior capabilities, but still argues that Agamemnon deserves more honor. However, one must look at the actions rather than just position in order to clearly see who among the two deserves greater respect. Agamemnon simply uses his position to command more respect but a closer analysis of this work reveals that his characteristics disqualify him for this position.
Achilles’ responsibility in his actions and his respect for the consequences of his actions manifest why he is deserving of more honor. While he may have been subverting Agamemnon’s authority, Achilles stands up to Agamemnon and shows that he is more deserving of honor. The characters in Homer’s epic and the conflict they go through is still relevant even today. This is just one of the many themes that makes the Iliad a work of literature that can be visited again and again and still provide relevant and thought provoking insights. Though written long time ago, the Iliad lives beyond its period of audition and addresses issues that we experience in our daily lives in the community today. For instance, most of the army coups that have been witnessed in many countries in the world are a good example of the Iliad scenario.
In Homer’s Iliad, decisions are reached by consulting mediums and the gods of the land like Thetis and Zeus. In some circumstances, wise men like Nestor Pylos and Athena help in solving complicated problems involving the leaders and soldiers. Events in the Iliad alludes to many of the ancient Greek legends about war, gathering of fighters or warriors for war and related events. Disagreements between leaders and soldiers were also evident in the battles of the dark age Greek, coupled reliance on mediums and gods for guidance. Iliad can therefore be said to be an illusion of the dark ancient Greece lifestyle.
Pomeroy, S. B., Burstein, S. M., Donlan, W., Roberts, J. T., & Tandy, D. W. (2004). A brief history of ancient Greece: Politics, society, and culture. New York: Oxford University Press.