Analyzing Greek Mythology and Human Relationships
Using the Characters in Homer’s The Iliad
History books tell people about significant events happened in the past.
Moreover, they narrate the life of people who are responsible for those significant events to happen. However, aside from history books, works of literature are also a good source of information on history. Historical dates, places, events and people are often concealed in some of the books available today. Writers are also considered historians, as they are able to reflect in their works a specific period—a significant event in the past. Moreover, writers are also capable of capturing and inflicting into their works people’s culture. They are able to weave fictional characters and stories from reality. Because of this, writers often include bits of reality in their works—people’s religion, culture, society, and even relationships with other people. What they are writing are not purely fictional. In some parts of the books, readers will see some similarities with their reality.
Such scenario could be seen in one of the most-acclaimed works in the world of literature—Homer’s The Iliad. In this book, Homer included the Greek mythology and culture to be able to pull out a story that is being considered as one of the earliest and best stories of all time—a truly historical masterpiece.
In Homer’s The Iliad, the author narrates the story of how the Achaeans and the Trojans battle for honor. The main characters include mythological ones. However, though these characters are proven to be fictional ones, some scholars are still skeptic whether the Trojan War truly occurred. One example is Michael Wood who actually made a documentary film entitled “In Search of the Trojan War” in 1985. However, the objective of this paper is not to prove whether Trojan War really happened or not. What it can provide as of now is a comprehensive account of Homer and his book The Iliad.
Homer and the History of ‘The Iliad’
Homer is said to have lived during the 8th B. C. The Iliad, on the other hand, is said to be written by Homer between the 8th and 9th B.C., around two hundred years after the Trojan War happened (Vidal-Naquet 2000 p.19). Most historians believe that Homer is an Ionian, but others believe that Homer is not an actual person. Martin West (1999), for example, said that Homer is “not a historical poet, but a fictitious, constructed name”. Nevertheless, according to Alfred Heubeck (1988), most Greeks see and recognized the significance of Homer’s works in the whole development of Greek culture. In fact, most Greeks consider Homer as their instructor.
Homer wrote The Iliad in a poetic form, consisting of thousand of lines. Iliad in Latin means “pertaining to Ilios or the city proper”. It narrates the tenth and final year of siege between the people of Troy and Mycenae. In the poem, the battle was mainly occurred in the city of Ilion, or Troy. Today, this site is considered located at Turkey.
Although Homer did not elaborate much on the reason behind the battle, it was said that the war was started due to the beautiful Helen of Troy. King Agamemnon of Mycenae and Paris, younger brother of Prince Hektor of Troy, had a dispute over the woman.
The characters in The Iliad are mainly composed of mythological ones, such as Zeus, Hera, Athena, and Apollo. However, just like the debate on whether Trojan War was true or not, the existence of other characters in The Iliad, such as Achilles, is also being argued. Some historians argue that just like the Trojan War, Achilles truly lived.
The controversy on the historical aspect of the characters in The Iliad, however, is not the main concern of the paper. However, the paper will tackle how the activities of these characters affected the behaviors and actions of other characters that resulted such flow of events in the story. For this particular paper, the author would also analyze how The Iliad reflects Greek culture and mythology, as well as human relationships between Greeks.
The Greek Culture and Mythology
The Iliad by Homer offers plenty of information regarding Greek culture and mythology. Whether the story of the Trojan War was true or not, The Iliad provides a rich account of the Greek society during the said period, particularly its stand on religion.
The origin of Greek mythology is not clear. Various theories are available in order to explain it. One of this is the Scriptural Theory. According to Bulfinch, all narratives in the Greek mythology originated from the Scriptures. However, some deviations and alterations were already made with the real facts. Nevertheless, Greek mythology is undeniably one of the greatest influences of the Ancient Greeks in the whole world.
What makes Greek mythology interesting for Homer to include in his writings?
To answer the question, it should be noted that Greek mythology has no exact date of birth. Some scholars considered the works of Homer as the earliest account tackling about Greek mythology. Thus, it could be concluded that Greek mythology could be far older or as old as the works of Homer –The Iliad and The Odyssey. Because of this, the presence of Greek mythology in The Iliad clearly reflects the situation of the Ancient Greek societies during the time. It could be said that Ancient Greek societies deeply patronized their gods and goddesses. They regarded them very highly and recognized their powers. Aside form that, the Ancient Greek also saw their gods ad goddesses as part of their reality; they assumed that indeed, they could interact with their gods and vice versa. Furthermore, Greeks seem to regard their religion as one of their tradition. Homer was able to write The Iliad due to the oral passing of their tradition, their religion.
The Characters in ‘The Iliad’
The Greek gods in The Iliad played a vital role in the story. Without them, the flow of the story would not have been the same. Their favoritisms could be pointed as the main reason why the dispute between mortal characters grew bigger. Zeus, for example, who was in favor of the Trojans, should have let the Trojans fight without their help. Poseidon, on the other hand, who favors the Achaeans, should also not get himself involved in the war in the first place. Such meddling and intrusion with the affairs of the mortals prove to be one of the major causes why the siege lasts for so many years and ended up with the fall of Troy.
However, the intrusion of a god that could be considered as the most disastrous is the one done by Apollo to Patroklus. In The Iliad, Patroklus fought with Hektor but died in his hands due Apollo’s meddling and help (Book 16, Lines 985-1000). Patroklus even blamed Zeus for helping the Trojans.
Apollo’s intrusion in the fight between Hektor and Patroklus has affected the actions of the characters, which in turn altered the flow of events. For example, Achilles, at the time before Patroklus’ death, seems to be no longer interested to fight against the Trojans. However, right after the news reached him regarding the death of his beloved companion, everything changed as his rage against the Trojans, particularly on Hektor, intensified again.
From this situation, two main questions could be pulled out: First, why do Greek gods interfere with the affairs of humans? Second, why does Achilles feel such rage after Patroklus’ death? From these two main questions, another question could be raised: What does The Iliad say about the nature of Greek mythology and human relationship?
Answering the first question is like tracing the origin of Greek mythology. Since the origin of Greek mythology is not yet clear, finding an appropriate theory to answer why Greek gods like to interfere is very much suited. One of the available theories regarding this issue concerns with the purpose of the Greek gods in The Iliad. Some thinks that the Greek gods are like representation of something else (Strauss 2006).
The second question might be answered, on the other hand, by using some information about the Ancient Greek society, particularly about the relationship among Greek men. The relationship between Achilles and Patroklus, some scholars think, is an example of pederasty or an affair existing between an adult male and an adolescent male. Pederasty is a situation already present during the time of Homer (Fisher 2001).
Pederasty, in a wider sense, could be considered as an erotic relationship between males. The attraction of an adult man to an adolescent boy was just normal in Ancient Greek society, as long as this attraction is not more than that to a woman (Fisher 2001).
Pederasty is often associated to military training, gymnasia, and other athletic activities (Percy 2005 p.47). Thus, Achilles’ and Patroklus’ relationship with each other could be argued as pederastic. However, The Iliad suggests no sign or proof of such. But on the other hand, knowing that pederasty is an affair present and widely-accepted in Ancient Greece during Homer’s time, the idea of Achilles and Patroklus having pederastic affairs could not be denied as a possible answer why Achilles felt so much rage at the death of Patroklus.
To wrap it up, Ancient Greek literature such as Homer’s The Iliad offers the readers an opportunity to analyze and scrutinize not only the literary work itself, but also some concealed truths in the story regarding history, culture, and human relationship. The reader might decide which part of the book seems true but in the end, everything would useful and worth reading.
Bulfinch, T. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology. New York: Courier Dover Publications,
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Fisher, Nick. Aeschines: Against Timarchos. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, p.27
Heubeck, Alfred; West, Stephanie; Hainsworth, J. B. A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey.
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Homer. The Iliad.Transalted by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 1998
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Percy III, William Armstrong .”Reconsiderations about Greek Homosexualities,” in Same–Sex
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Binghamton, 2005, p47
West, Martin. “The Invention of Homer”. Classical Quarterly 49. 1999 p. 364.
Vidal-Naquet, Pierre. Le monde d’Homère. Perrin, 2000, p. 19.
Cite this Analyzing Greek Mythology and Human Relationships
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