Iliad is a Greek epic poem that has been attributed to Homer. The development of this epic poem dates back to the period of Classical antiquity. There are debates on the exact time when Homer composed the Greek epic poem Iliad. However, this 15,693 lines epic poem had a profound influence on the poets and writers of the successive generation.
The backdrop of Iliad is the Trojan War. The story depicts that the war continues for ten years and ends with the siege of the city of Troy by the Greek army Achaean. Chrysies and Briseis, the two daughters of the priest of God Apollo, are captured by the Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the Achaean army. While Chrysies is retained by Agamemnon, the leader of the Achaean army, Briseis is claimed by Achilles. Chrysies makes repeated attempts to free Chrysies from Agamemnon.
Quarrels break out between Achilles and Agamemnon too when Agamemnon loses Chrysies and wishes to take back Briseis from Achilles. Filled with vengeance Achilles wishes Agamemnon’s destruction. Greek God Zeus comes to aid the Trojans, but Achilles keeps himself out of the warfare. However, Hector, the greatest Trojan warrior defeats Agamemnon. The warfare is followed by postwar massacre. In the later parts of Iliad Hector kills Patroklos, the most favorite companion of Achilles. A war gets declared again where Achilles reconciles with Agamemnon, brutally slaughters the Trojans and kills Hector. The glory of warfare and brutality shown by Achilles gets transformed into grief and compassion when he meets Priam, the father of Hector and king of Troy.
Although Iliad is primarily a tale of warfare and murder, it is an anti-war poem which presents the horrors of war. This essay will focus on Iliad as anti-war poem with logical arguments and quotes from the Greek poem Iliad.
Warfare has been depicted as an inevitable part of human life in Iliad. However, the quotations that indicate war as the chief means to earn glory in this Greek epic are apparent. An in-depth analysis of the deep structure of Iliad will show that it is an anti-war poem. For instance, if the quotation “Meriones in turn killed Phereklos, son of Harmonides, the smith, who understood how to make with his hand all intricatethings, since above all others Pallas Athene had loved him (5.59-64)” is analyzed then it will be found that the quotation primarily talks about the murder of Phereklos in the war. But there is a subtle indication that the murdered person was highly creative. Thus, indirectly Iliad wanted to signify that the war brings death and permanent destruction of the creative mind. Moreover, the quotation also indicates that the people who belonged to the Achaean and the Trojan army had lives beyond the brutal killing of each other and warfare. Unfortunately, they brought their own bad luck by prioritizing war over other productive preoccupations. This is indicated in the lines “He it was who had built for Alexandros the balanced ships, the beginning of the evil, fatal to the other Trojans, and to him, since he knew nothing of the gods' plans (5.59-64).”
Iliad stresses on the notion of shared humanity by projecting upon the battle between the Trojans and Achaeans.
Thus, instead of emphasizing upon the feat of valor of any of the parties the quotation “They found it hard to recognize each individual dead man;but with water they washed away the blood that was on them and as they wept warm tears they lifted them on to the wagons (7.421-432).” Here the emphasis on shared humanity is distinct. Similarly the section that states that “Priam would not let them cry out; and in silence they piled the bodies upon the pyre” In the same way the quotation “on the other side the strong-greaved Achaians piled their own slain upon the pyre, with their hearts in sorrow, and burned them upon the fire (7.421-432)” shows that the rivalry of Achaeans and Trojans is on the apparent level only as both the parties are infringing pain upon humanity by declaring repeated warfare against each other. Although Priam represents the Trojans, his feeling at the brutal outcome of the warfare is same as that of the Achaeans who are the opponents of the Achaean army. Moreover, by hinting that the Trojan king even finds it difficult to segregate the dead body of the Trojan army in the battlefield from the Achaean corpse the lines from this Greek epic by Homer signify that those who are affected by warfare are first human beings and then Trojans or Achaeans. Hence, the anti-war theme of Iliad is clear here.
The major theme of Iliad is celebration of the grandeur of war. The degree of bravery and courage of the Trojan and Achaean warriors are measured by their performance and achievements in war. For instance, the decision of Achilles to reject the uneventful domestic life and pursue warfare again is indicated as winning back lost glory. However, it is only in the apparent level because the realities of warfare have never been ignored in Iliad. Rather, fruitlessness, bloodshed, and brutality of warfare suggested in Iliad make it an apt example of anti-war poem. In order to emphasize upon the hollowness of winning glory through war, this Greek epic poem gives examples of different characters and events. For instance, the character Achilles puts his friend to death at the hands of Trojan enemies due to his refusal to participate in the warfare. In the later chapters of Iliad, Achilles is again seen to make a blundered decision by insisting his friend Patroklos to join the war. The death of Patroklos at the battlefield establishes that war is always followed by inevitable death. Thus, horrors of the battle at the backdrop of war firmly place Iliad as an anti-war poem.
Homer. Iliad. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.