Good Essay About The Iliad
One of the prevalent elements in Homer’s “The Iliad” is the notion of honor. This virtue seems to be greatly emphasized in the Homeric culture. Homer depicts the Greeks as individuals whose main aim in life was to maintain a high reputation and not be disgraced. In fact, throughout “The Iliad”, a majority of the characters are at one time another embroiled in a struggle to either gain honor or to avoid public shame. Some of the characters go to great lengths to gain honor and others go to great lengths to avoid public shame and for those who are shamed, their ultimate aim is to gain back their former reputation and status in the society. However, Homer seems to be championing for a shame society over the honor culture in this literary piece. In a shame society, the main tool for social control is the installation of shame and the constant threat of social rejection if one is shamed. This is as opposed to an honor culture where individuals aim to gain honor from the society members.
In ‘The Iliad”, Homer seems to orient towards the shame society side where most of his characters put great emphasis on not being publicly disgraced. In the culture envisioned in his book, he shows a majority of the characters conforming to its norms for the fear of being publicly disgraced.
There are various examples in ‘The Illiad” that depict the emphasis of shame society. One of the scenarios where this culture is brilliantly exhibited occurs in the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon. When Agamemnon refuses to return Chryseis, the Greeks are befallen by a great plague that devastates them. Because of this act, Agamemnon is publicly rebuked, and he suffers from great shame. In fact, his prize woman is taken away from him, an act which is greatly shameful for a leader and a ruler. From there, his only determination is to rise from the shame and regain his reputation with the first move being to obtain a replacement woman because being an Argive, the longer he goes on without one, the longer his shame and disgrace stands. Achilles adds more salt to injury when he insults Agamemnon. He calls him greedy and in response; Agamemnon takes his woman, Briseis.
Here, Achilles is shamed publicly. Simply put, the two engage in a game of tit for tat in publicly shaming one another, Achilles had in fact insulted Agamemnon in front of a whole assembly and Agamemnon reciprocates the action by shaming Achilles publicly. Achilles cries foul to the gods asking them to restore the honor that has been taken away from him. This dishonoring of Achilles, in fact, plays a significant part in his refusal to go to battle. He requests the gods to make the Greeks lose the war so that they will realize just how he is important as a warrior. If they lose, the Greeks will realize Achilles’ massive potential and prowess and consequently, his shame and his disgrace will be lifted.
Once again, this is a perfect exemplification by Homer of a shame society or culture. Without Achilles, the Greeks will be humiliated and shamed and, therefore, they will have no option or choice but to beg Achilles to fight. Therefore, the Greeks will forced by the shame to return to their olden ways where they were led to battle by Achilles and through this; they were guaranteed of success. However, Achilles is secretly fearful that the Greeks might actually win the battle without him. In case, this happens; then he will only undergo further shame and disgrace as the Greeks will not view him as an important warrior
The scenario described above is a perfect exemplification of how Homer champions for a shame society over an honor culture. If Homer was championing of honor culture, he would have elected Achilles to go to war in the first place, where he would fight fiercely and, therefore, gain great honor and public admiration. Here, the motivation for engaging in such action would have been to gain honor from others. However, he chooses to use the shame society as the instigator of abidance to norms. Rather than regain his honor by going to war, Achilles chooses to remain at home so that the Greeks will be shamed in battle, and his own shame will be lifted.
Hector’s case is quite the opposite to that of Achilles although both perpetuate the characteristics of a shame society. Rather than fight for honor, Hector is prompted to go to war for fear of being shamed. He is forced to subscribe to his culture’s norm of fighting in order to avoid public shame. His case is quite different from Achilles because, unlike Achilles, his fighting prowess and recognition is not like that of Achilles who the people already know as a good fighter. Therefore, Hector going battle is not an act of him seeking honor but is rather an act of him trying to avoid shame. His resolve to fight is accentuated when Sarpedon shouts against his honor, and he fears that he might be shamed even further if he does not disapprove Sarpedon by going to war.
Homer’s championing of the shame society is further depicted through the Greek gods. It appears that the Greek gods place more emphasis on shame than even on honor. If someone does something that appears to shame the gods, they are very first to act and wreak havoc to the Greeks. Anything that appears to be insulting to the gods and that might, therefore, lead to their shaming is quickly acted upon, and the person who has instigated such action is immediately ashamed. This is once again exhibited in the case with Agamemnon, who the gods are very first to shame publicly for his actions. Therefore, the individuals in the Iliad place more emphasis on committing actions that do not shame the gods than even on actions that seem to place great honor on the gods. The gods also manipulate each other into battle as a way of avoiding shame. This happens with Ares and Apollo. To avoid shame, Ares is manipulated by Apollo into battling with Diomedes. Therefore, just like Hector, he is forced to subscribe to the social and cultural norm of fighting in order avoid shame.
In a nutshell, Homer appears to champion the shame society over the honor culture in “The Iliad”. Homer seems to believe that one is better than the other because one results in more action. It this case it is the fear of being shamed. Throughout the novel, he provides proof of this by depicting individuals and even gods who are forced to commit certain acts simply because they fear being shamed. The fear of being shamed is viewed by Homer as a better motivator when it comes to abiding by social norms than the desire for recognition and honor.