The commencement and ending of Homer’s epic poem the Iliad depict a rational existence of humans before and after the interference of the immortal beings respectively. The middle passages are different as they present a palpable yet gradual build up of human emotions that warrant an alliance with the gods and goddesses in the text. In turn, a paradox emerges in the depiction of the relationships between the mortals and the immortals in the Homeric poem: the gods are necessary for Homer’s presentation of the humans, but they are also to blame for the unstable attitudes and relationships among the latter group. In Book 1 of Homer’s the Iliad (Eighth century B.C.E.), readers witness the rapidly delivered climax of the poem in the form of the god-like warrior Achilles. The man’s anger against Agamemnon unleashes a humanistic/spiritual crisis upon the Trojans and the Achaeans as his emotions establish the grounds on which the mortals become susceptible to the whims of the deities. In the form of a ripple effect, Achilles’ emotional turmoil spreads and gains momentum as it affects both men and divinities and as a result, disrupts the normal course of events. It is after the Achaeans lose Patroclus, and the Trojans lose Hector, that relationships between the human beings return to normal, and the immortals retreat to their Mount Olympus abode.
The Immortals join the Trojan War
An analysis of the relationship between the infinite and infinite beings in Homer’s the Iliad is evident in one recent, yet necessary, investigation on the subject: the 2011 publication dubbed A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe. Co-authored by Christian Meier and Kurt Raaflaub, the Eleventh Chapter of the text is of particular interest as it focuses on Achilles and Agamemnon. After the section explores the relevance of the disparity between the king and the god-like warrior, it gives insight into the most plausible reason for the catastrophic outcome of their rift. Apparently, the disagreement between the two men propelled out of control and encouraged the gods’ involvement just because of their positions. While calling it a “polis,” Meier and Raaflaub insist that the two characters in the Iliad represent a political struggle that involved their respective levels of influence (21). On one hand, Agamemnon was king and commander in chief of the Achaean army; on the other, Achilles was a god-like warrior commanding powerful battalions that could sway the scales of war against any unfortunate enemy. Therefore, any problems between the two were not easily solvable especially when one considers their positions: to harm a king, a warrior would target his subjects, and for a king to teach his soldier a lesson, he would cripple his pride. Meanwhile, the situation changes when one of them can call on divine power for reinforcement.
In Chapter 12, Meier and Raaflaub support their claims by explaining the co-existence of the gods and the people in Greek compositions, including Homeric epic poems. The Greeks saw, and in other cases suspected, higher forces at work in all spheres of their lives and would, as a result, name and characterize the divinities before asking “for favors” (Meier and Raaflaub 101). Hence, it was normal for the humans to approach the gods when facing personal problems and they, in their infinite wisdom, would provide them with appropriate solutions. Therefore, why was the case of Achilles and Agamemnon different? In answer, Meier and Raaflaub insist that problems emerging in the Iliad did not stem from the humans’ approach of the immortals; rather, it was the fact that one of the scuffling individuals was part divinity (Meier and Raaflaub 82).
Extensively, Walter Donlan’s Character Structure in Homer's Iliad echoes similar views as he expounds on the Iliad being about the interplay of the “incompatible personalities” that Homer’s key characters possess (260). In Donlan’s perceptions, the main characters in the Homeric poem are not merely there as a means to create and develop a plot that satisfies the author’s agenda. On the contrary, Homer uses intricate details to explain the characters’ personalities and reactions to different phenomena in the poetic narrative. In the case of Achilles, the son of a mortal father and the sea nymph Thetis, the anger with which he responds to Agamemnon’s demand to have the maiden Briseis makes him the symbol of heroism as he represents the “heroic ideal pushed to its absolute outer limit” (Donlan 261). In other words, anger becomes the essence of the Achilles Homer creates and, unlike other Homeric heroes, the man does not conform to the expected idea of a hero and responds to Agamemnon as any proud Greek warrior would.
On the Disposition of Spoil in the Homeric Poems by A.T Murray elaborates on Achilles’ immediate anger, initial desire to kill Agamemnon, and the reason for his decision not to react with violence. Murray’s analysis supports Achilles’ reaction to Agamemnon’s demands by pointing out that he would have been blameless if he were to kill him and protect his bounty. After all, the king was responsible for all action taken during the dispositions of spoils from war, and that was subject to the efforts of each soldier on the battlefield (Murray 190). Since Achilles got Briseis as a prize, he was a worthy soldier, and the army was aware of the same. Consequently, when Achilles responds with a hand on “his sword-hilt,” he was not in the wrong, and if he were to slay the king on the grounds of treachery, he would still be faultless (Murray 186). Nonetheless, the goddess Athena interferes, bids Achilles to desist from murdering the king, and subsequently destroys the barrier that exists between the humans and divine beings.
An Explanation on the Role of Anger
With the given facts in mind, it is clear that although the immortals’ introduction to the plot of Homer’s poem revolved around anger, the person who wields the emotion and pushes the deities into action matters as well. In other words, the infinite beings do not blindly respond to the prayers and lamentations of the humans and instead, pick favorites and those they consider worthy of their attention. To that end, the book Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity by William V. Harris is a worthwhile reading on Homer’s representation of anger as the bridge between the deities and the humans in the Iliad. In agreement with the stand A.T Murray takes on the matter, Harris also holds the notion of anger being the human emotion that “permeates the divine sphere” in the Homeric poem (136). Accordingly, the angry feelings in the poetic text assume different forms based on their source and the unfortunate recipient. Foremost, there is the case of Chryses’ displeasure with Agamemnon for taking his daughter Chryseis as a war prize and his refusal to accept a ransom for the Maiden (Harris 131). In retaliation, Chryses uses his position as Apollo’s priest to have the Greek god place a curse on the Achaeans, and many of the king’s soldiers die of the resulting plague. As Harris explains, Chryses’ anger bore fruit because it not only targeted the enemy forces but also “maintained respect for religious practitioners” (6).
Simultaneously, the plague sustains the original perceptions the people about the gods and at the same time, conforms to the conditions Christian Meier and Kurt Raaflaub insist existed before the deities interfered with the mortals. Harris continues his case with a study of the passages in which Apollo’s retribution forces Agamemnon to give up his war prize and demands that of Achilles (132). As Homer later reveals, Agamemnon unknowingly set the path towards the humanistic/spiritual crisis mentioned in the introductory paragraph by igniting Achilles’ spite. The king’s actions initiate a second form of anger that uses the one’s allies as a substitute for the enemy group. Harris successfully captures the problem with Achilles’ anger by insisting that the Homer’s protagonist is “an emblem of the lack of cooperativeness and discipline” and his misplaced rage becomes a danger to his people (146). Subsequently, unlike in the case of Chryses, Achilles’ desire for personal honor plunge all the participants of the Trojan War in an arena that the deities control.
Zeus Petitioned to join the Trojan War
In Slatkin’s views, the relevance of Achilles’ actions was not in his decision to appeal to his mother; contrarily, his mention of a debt Zeus owed Thetis is the most important aspect of Achilles’ prayer. Apparently, Thetis had once rescued Zeus from “divine insurrection” and was in turn, at liberty to ask anything of the king of the gods. As part of Achilles’ plan, Thetis approached Zeus and used his debt to her to convince his hand in the ongoing Trojan War; however, it was for the Trojans as the vindictive warrior went against Agamemnon and his men. On that note, as the central theme in her analysis of the Iliad, Slatkin questions the grounds on which Homer declared Achilles the hero of his poem yet Zeus, the king of the gods, remained indebted to Thetis (18). After all were it not for the debt, Zeus would have never meddled with the mortals and their battles.
Other immortals join and both sides suffer
At this point, it is evident that unlike Apollo, Hera, and Athena, Zeus’ decision to punish Agamemnon’s army directly implied his position in matters concerning humans. Hera, through Athena, offered advice to mortals as Apollo sought to protect his priest and uphold the existing ideologies of the infinite beings in Homer’s work. Hence, none of the three acted beyond the boundaries of their positions as deities in the Iliad. Zeus destroyed that balance and initiated more immortals into following a similar suit. Alex Purves’ 2006 documentation of Falling into Time in Homer's Iliad concurs with the given assertions and explains the repercussions of the direct involvement of the immortals in human affairs. In Purves’ views, because the impeachment of the humanistic/spiritual barrier subjects the gods and goddesses of the Iliad to the same laws that govern the human world, it makes sense to argue that the gods were also subject to different emotions that clouded their decisions. For example, when the god Hephaestus falls at the end of Book 1, he assumes a “human posture on the ground” and at the same time, defies the understanding of deities as all-powerful beings with strength beyond human comprehension (Purves 198). Another god who assumes the weakness associated with the human body is Ares. Despite his prowess in warfare and rank as an Olympian, Ares is “almost destroyed” after spending time entrapped in a jar and just as in the case of Hephaestus shatters the ideas of divine powers (Purves 199). Based on the experiences of the two gods, Purves holds that without the barrier between humans and the divine beings, both groups suffered. Just as the mortals became pawns in the gods and goddesses’ battle of wits, the immortals left themselves vulnerable to the trifles of the humans, including death.
The deaths of Patroclus and Hector as a Solution
Naturally, a solution was necessary to the chaos human emotions, and the resulting involvement of the immortals unleashed upon the gods and the human populace in the Iliad. John A. Scott’s asserts that Patroclus’ death was necessary as a means to divert Achilles’ anger from Agamemnon to the Trojans and the reasons why are evident in Achilles and the Armor of Patroclus. Patroclus was Achilles’ companion in the Iliad, and since there is no hint of his active involvement as a warrior, it is acceptable that his death was powerful enough to portray Agamemnon as an ally again. According to Scott, Homeric poems depict a burial tradition in which, the living honor dead soldiers by burning their bodies and shields together. Thus, considering there was no armor "on the pyre of Patroclus,” the man was not part of the battalions and was merely present in the Trojan War because of Achilles (Scott 684). Naturally, Hector’s killing of Patroclus made him the new target of Achilles’ rage.
In another article, Paris and Hector in Tradition and in Homer, John A. Scott goes on to explore the death of Hector in the Iliad and what it meant to the Trojan War and the immortals. Scott argues that Homer loaned Hector to the enemy in “name, dress, [and] character” as a scapegoat to appease the anger of Achilles and handle Agamemnon’s pride; apparently, the fact that he was the King of Troy made him the best candidate (162). In Scott’s words, the “conception of Hector and Patroclus was the poet’s” idea of the necessary sacrifice that would make an ideal ending to his epic poem because both men held significant positions in their respective camps (170). On one hand, Patroclus was dear to the god-like Achilles and on the other hand, Hector was valuable to the Trojans. Additionally, the satisfaction of Achilles’ need for vengeance was the only way through which the gods could retreat from the mortal world, and Agamemnon was proving to be a worthy foe as, similar to Achilles, the king had the support of some deities (Scott 160). Thus, the killing of someone dear to Achilles and the subsequent revenge the man desired, diverted and quenched the warrior’s wrath. As a result, the death of Patroclus and Hector restored order and rebuilt the humanistic/spiritual barrier in Homer’s Iliad.
Summary and Conclusion
With the given information in mind, the sources revolve around Achilles’ disagreement with Agamemnon and the resulting chaos into which the two men plunge the armies fighting in the Trojan War. Initially, the people revered the gods and as evidenced by the second literature, they would only approach the deities with humility when asking for favors and other forms of assistance. Achilles’ status as a warrior and the son of an immortal being to whom Zeus owed a debt destroyed the peaceful co-existence and encouraged closer relations between the humans and the superior beings. Naturally, the gods are above the rules of man and with the help of their divinity powers, manipulate situations to fit their desires. Now, the importance of Zeus’ involvement in the matter stems from his status as king of the gods, if he could break the laws then the other immortals could do the same. In the end, because he initiated the chaos, Zeus provides a solution with the death of Patroclus and that of Hector (Homer 16.646-54).
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Harris, William V. Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2009 . Print.
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Murray, A. T. "On the Disposition of Spoil in the Homeric Poems." The American Journal of Philology 38.2 (1917): 186-193. JSTOR. Web. <http://www.jstor.org>.
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Raaflaub, Christian Meier and Kurt. A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, , 2011. Web.
Scott, John A. "Achilles and the Armor of Patroclus." The Classical Journal 13.9 (1918): 682-686. Web. JSTOR. <http://www.jstor.org>.
—. "Paris and Hector in Tradition and in Homer." Classical Philology 8.2 (1913): 160-171. JSTOR. Web. <http://www.jstor.org>.
Slatkin, Laura M. The Power of Thetis: Allusion and Interpretation in the Iliad. California: University of California Press, 1995. Print.