Quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon
The squabble between Achilles and king Agamemnon is of great significance as it marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Trojan War. Prior to the argument, the Greeks and the Trojans had been in war for around ten years (Pope, 7). After the argument, the war lasted less than a year. This argument precipitated events that played a major role in the changing the focus and reason for the war. Its significance is attested by the fact that even though the true cause of the greater war is not clearly highlighted by Homer, but the poet attributes the end of the war to the argument and the ensuing events.
The quarrel is also significant in the sense that it changed the dimension of the war. Before it, the war had been fought majorly between mortals with little interference by the deities. However, after it the gods became more involved in the war to an extent that they were split into two groups; those in favor of the Trojans and those favoring the Greeks.
Achilles is enraged by the dishonorable conduct of King Agamemnon. This anger is caused by two factors; one, the King’s actions are to blame for the plague that causes the death of many Greek soldiers; and two, the King further worsens the situation by insisting on taking Achilles’ spoil; Briseis.
This anger shows that Achilles values personal honor and has a sense of pride. He expects the King to act honorably and return Chryseis to her father as ransom has been offered (Murray, 01.121). Further that Agamemnon should be honorable to the soldiers by not allowing them to suffer for his actions. Similarly, Achilles feels that he would rather guard what rightfully belongs to him (Briseis) rather than resolve the state of affairs.
Rage as the major theme
Rage forms the major theme in the poem as the story is told in light of Achilles’ rage. The events of the poem revolve around the nature and effect of this rage. Even from the fact that the story begins with the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles it is obvious that the central point would be rage. Again the story of majority of the characters is told with an emphasis on their rage.
The rage of Achilles begins when King Agamemnon demands from him Briseis in return for the surrender of Chryses. This infuriates Achilles as Briseis to him is trophy for his exploits in war. She is a representation of his might and glory in battle. Essentially then in asking for Briseis, King Agamemnon is indirectly stripping Achilles of his pride and glory. To a Greek soldier and especially of Achilles’ stature, this was a great insult which would infuriate any soldier.
Again Achilles is also angered by the king’s reluctance to bring to an end the plague that is killing the soldiers. Considering that it was Achilles who cared enough to enquire the cause of the death, the fact that the king is unperturbed really angers him. This makes Achilles threaten withdrawing his contingent, the Myrmidons, from the war to go back home. To this Agamemnon responds that he will go to Achilles’ tent himself and take Briseis.
This infuriates Achilles to the point of reaching for his sword to kill Agamemnon. It is only the timely intervention of the goddess Athena that culms him down. The words of Nestor also assist in cooling the situation. Even so Achilles rage is not extinguished and later on he not only withdraws from battle but also prays to the gods to punish the Achaeans.
This rage towards Agamemnon characterizes his actions for some time at some point causing scene when Agamemnon sends an entourage to entice him to return to war. The rage is however redirected to Hector after the latter kills Patroclus, Achilles’ closest companion. Achilles forgets his quarrel with Agamemnon and even goes back to war to avenge the death of his companion. He even is unmoved by the presents offered by the king for his return to war (Murray, 19.145).
Role of the gods
The Greek gods play a big role in the poem to the extent that they may be regarded as characters (Redfield, 287). They are so involved in the activities of the mortals that the poem cannot be effectively told without them. One major role they play is causation; it can be argued that were it not for the involvement of gods, the Trojan War would have taken the cause it did. From the start of the plague which was caused by Apollo to Zeus’ intervention in fulfilling Achilles’ prayer. These events greatly shape the course of the war.
The gods also play a role in directing events towards fate. Their constant interventions appear at times to be geared at shaping fate. For instance when Achilles re enters the battle field, he slaughter many Trojans to the extent that Zeus is worried that he may capture Troy earlier than expected. In order to set fate back on track, Zeus allows the gods to get involved in the war.
Even though they are immortal, the gods are portrayed as very similar to mortals; they experience and depict human traits. For example, Zeus is reluctant to assist the Trojans so as not to anger his wife. By possessing traits similar to mortals, their behavior too is mortal-like. They are manipulative, use trickery, take sides among other behaviors. For instance, Hera manipulates Zeus to help the Greeks. Similarly Athena tricks Hector to stop running thereby facing Achilles who kills him.
Role of prophecy
Prophecy plays a central role in the poem. It is intertwined with the fate of the characters and also determines the final turn of events. The importance of prophecy is highlighted in the fact that it binds the mortals and the gods alike. Such as so both the mortals and the gods revere it, accepting that it only does shape fate. In fact the gods’ interference is somehow justified by the fact that they do so so that prophecy comes to pass.
As already stated, prophecy is revered in the poem to the extent that it has to be fulfilled no matter what. Even the gods abide by it even though they appear able to change it. This is seen where Zeus wants to change the fate of his mortal son, Sarpedon, who is destined to be killed by Patroclus. Accordingly, none of the characters can change their fate; they in fact all accept their fate without questioning it. This is evident from Book 16 at the scene where Hector is about to kill Patroclus, both men have already resigned to what prophecy has set for them.
The body of dead soldiers
The Greeks believed that the sooner the burial of the dead the sooner the dead entered in to the world of the dead; the house of Hades. This is evidenced by Patroclus’ request to Achilles to bury his body immediately. The Greeks believed that so long as a body remained unburied, its spirit was not at peace and would wander around. The spirit would further be tormented if the body was being desecrated. This torment would be worse if the body was left to rot and thus become prey to animals and birds. Soldiers thus were concerned that their bodies be buried so that they could go to the house of Hades and be at peace.
Additionally, the burial ceremony for a dead soldier cemented the soldier’s glory and legacy in battle. It was during such ceremony that the living paid their final respects to the dead soldier. This not only gave honor to the dead soldier but also to his family, especially if he had a surviving son.
When it came to war, Greeks treated their enemies as barbarians to who respect could not be had (Ophir, 257). To such, the cultural respect for bodies did not apply. They had a culture of desecrating and plundering the corpses of their enemies. This was meant to humiliate not only the dead soldier but also the surviving enemy soldiers. Such humiliation demonstrated the might of the army or soldier and boosted the morale of the soldiers while at the same time disheartening the enemy soldiers.
This culture was also adopted by the non-Greeks who wanted to give the Greeks a taste of their own medicine. This is why Hector wants to desecrate the body of Patroclus. Additionally, since Patroclus is wearing Achilles’ armor, Hector thinks that it is Achilles. Hector knows that the Achaeans are rejuvenated in battle because they think Achilles has joined the war thus if he is killed dishonorably, they will be dismayed at which point the Trojans will prevail over them. When he finds out that the person he has wounded is not Achilles he feels enraged and considers Patroclus a coward, undeserving of the honor of a soldier.
On the other hand, Achilles desecrates the corpse of Hector mainly because of rage and self centeredness. The only reason Achilles re-enters the battle is to avenge the death of Patroclus; vowing that his killer will die a more disrespectful than Patroclus did. Owing to his self centeredness, Achilles is determined to carry out his vow at all costs even ignoring the dying wishes of Hector to be accorded a respectful burial. Additionally, Achilles wants to humiliate the Trojans who are watching the entire event. Again, the poem indicates that the desecration is a habit that Achilles does to his enemies.
The shield of Achilles is part of his new armor made by the god Hephaestus. The armor is made on request by Achilles’ mother, Thetis, who is a goddess. The shield resembles that which Hephaestus had made for Heracles, the greatest Greek hero. This shield is in fact more complex than the previous one. From this it can be concluded that even the gods acknowledge Achilles’ greatness and might; even being ranked with the gods.
One key significance of the shield is that it highlights the involvement of immortals in the affairs of the mortals. It is even made in the world of the immortals. This shows that the gods have taken a key interest in the war; its events and the outcome. The shield further shows that the immortal Hephaestus favors the Achaeans more than the Trojans. It also further highlights the immortals’ contribution to fulfillment of prophecy.
The shield is made of bronze and tin with a silver strap. On it is inscribed the sun, the moon, the stars and the earth and the ocean. This represents the entire world; the world of the immortals and that of the mortals. The shield also has inscribed on it two cities. In one city there is a ceremony in which there are dancers and singers. There are also two men in market place in what is depicted be an argument. The men are surrounded by elders who seem to be listening or adjudicating on the argument.
In the other city there are two armies fighting. The battle seems to be between mortals but there are some immortals involved. There is a goddess who is carrying three soldiers; one unhurt, one wounded and the other is dead. The shield also has scenes depicting everyday life; farmers in the farms, herdsmen in the field, children playing, acrobats and dancers who seem to be involved in a song. This shows that the Greeks also had other aspects of life apart from warfare (Pack, 16), i.e. political, economical and social. The shield illustrates that to Greeks war is only a single aspect of life and that there other equally glorious and respectable if not more desirable aspects of life.
Murray, T.A. Homer: Iliad. Revised by Wyatt, W.F. Massachusetts, Harvard University Press,
Ophir, A. Plato’s Invisible Cities: Discourse and Power in the Republic. London, Routledge,
Pack, R. The Long View: Essays on the Discipline of Hope and Poetic Craft. Massachusetts,
Pope, A. The Iliad of Homer, Volume I. London, T. Johnson, 1773. Print.
Redfield, J. M. Nature and Culture in the Iliad: The Tragedy of Hector. North Carolina, Duke