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Critical analysis with interpretation: Homer - The Iliad

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ANALYSIS WITH INTERPRETATION

Homer-The Iliad

Iliad is a narrative poem and is a story of action. It is a wonderful Synthesis of the cherished values of Greeks Gods and Goddesses in Iliad. But the supernatural holo is always in the background. Human destiny always looms large. In spite of his helplessness man occupies the centre of the stage. The Iliad is a glowing picture of the heroic age.

It is still based on facts. The Iliad has a distant unity of its own. Homer has brought into sharp focus only one action. The sulking of Achilles in his tent. It is because of Achilles dissociation from the war that the Greeks despite divine assistance, suffered indescribable reverses and Hector proceeds almost unimpeded. But after the death of Patroclus at the hands of Hector, Achilles is seized with an insatiable spirit of revenge.

He kills Hector and there is a sudden drift in the course of events. The world described by Homer is strikingly royal. The kings of various city states who have joined the war are represented as infinitely superior to the common men. They are men of enormous physical strength and never fail to display their heroism in the battlefield. They are the flowers of society.

Their manhood is tried in battle, which is not only the field of heroic Endeavour but the ordeal which tests the full range of a man’s abilities, physical and moral. A few Trojans only a very few indeed, beg mercy of the captors and offer handsome ransoms but the heroes are men of indomitable courage and firm determination even in the face of death. They prefer death to dishonor.


The heroes of the Iliad are essentially lovers of life. They have the same Zest for lord, drink, sports and women as for war and heroism. When Odysseus and other Chiefs go to Achilles to request him to join the war, as national honor is at stake, Achilles arranges for a grand feast. The heroes are fierce in the battle, passionate in their love, warm in their hospitality and generous in their gifts.

The heroes at least some of them are also very impulsive. They were born at a time when they did not know the art of concealing their feelings. That explains why Achilles weeps bitterly not for Brisies, but for his honor, which he fears is at stake. Like child, he cries frantically to his mother. Again on hearing the news of the death of Patroclus, Achilles heaps dust upon his head.

Not a coward, Monclous shudders at his wound and almost faints away at the right of his own blood, although we know that injury is a minor one. Fame is the ruling passion of the heroes, Greek and Trojan. But to achieve that fame, they are not always ready for self-sacrifice. Patriotism was not their strong point. They are proud, confident and courageous but they do not think much of their country.

Odysseus, Ajax and Phoenix have not appealed to Achilles’ natural or patriotic sentiments. They simply appeal to him to forgive the repentant Agamemnon. Achilles doesn’t not feel worried when the Greeks are dying in their thousands. Personal ego is in him so strong that patriotic considerat.....[read full text]

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Homeric similes are elaborated point by point; comparisons are made explicitly and at length, giving an impression of magnificence. Such similes become descriptive poems and often seem to be decorative rather than functional; often does Homer digress from the main drift of the story while he seems to be spinning long similes.


A Homeric simile illustrates the character of an action by comparing it with something else which is on the surface quite different. It relives the tension of violent events by turning over minds for a moment to another of things and this order is often of a quieter, less exalted kind. These similes take us far away from the world of bloodshed and violence to the humble life of few similes relating to humble life may be cited.

A child makes a castle of sand, a driver dips into water for oysters, companies cut down a tree for building a ship, and a potter makes a pot on a wheel. Such similes can be multiplied and all of them are universal.

Homer is a master of imagery. The imagery was addressed to their imagination and filled them with delight. Homer is never tired of referring to the images about animals, which are endowed with the qualities of swiftness and ferocity and even wisdom. That is why whenever the heroes were fighting, the people thought of lions and bears.

When Hector was fighting vigorously, he was represented as a well fed horse, which had run away from the stable to graze. Lions, bears and horses figure very prominently. Hector while attacking Patroclus is compared to a lion attacking a bear. If somebody is swift footed, he is compared to a deer. The leonine qualities are essentially heroic qualities. The wolves have nothing heroic about them and therefore they represent basically animal qualities.

Clouds, fire and elements have also been freely drawn upon. Fire becomes a symbol of energy. To help Achilles Vulcan sent fire to burn the trees on the riverbank and dry up the water. Achilles’ fury is also curbed by the fire. Armies fight, even as destroying fire that falls upon a limitless forest and men fight together a body of burning fire.

HELEN

Thousands of poets have been inspired by the exquisite beauty to write poems and plays about her. She is the prize of victory. Two powerful nations are plunged into a terrible blood bath only for her. And yet the poet Homer says practically nothing about her irresistible physical charm. She was surrounded by the elders of the city of Troy.

As soon as they look at her, they stop talking. It was certainly not the first time that they had seen her. Her fatal and charming face must have been a familiar sight to the Trojans. Since she had been there for years, yet she always cas.....

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It is not Priam alone; it was Homer also who thought Helen to be a wretched creature, always at the mercy of Venus. Helen called herself a bringer of sorrow, a shameless woman.

HECTOR

Hector is the undisputed commander of the Trojan army. No other religion warrior approaches his courage and valor and he is also viewed as the future king of Troy. He has a better understanding of the world order (than Diomedes) and shows his concerns and responsibility towards the women and for the Trojan community. In this sense, he is a social hero.

His character is revealed first in the third book where he rebukes his brother, Paris, for running, with Helen, the most beautiful women and wife of Menelaus (Greek hero). He believes that a warrior and a prince should be one who does not think of his own comfort in respect to the comfort of his own people.

Also a warrior should be brave and lead people by example. According to him a prince is not a prince because he is born in a royal family rather he must show the qualities of his bravery and concern for others but Paris has not fulfilled any of the conditions and has japidise his family’s and kingdom’s safety just for the sake of his love for Helen, as Hector says

“…Achaians laugh, deeming that a prince

is our champion only because a goodly

favour is his; but in his heart is there no

Neither strength nor any courage.”(BOOK III)

Hector is not fighting the war for glory, power or ambitions but for the sake of his family and his city. He is forced to participate in the war as it is his social responsibility  to save his brother and also he cannot lit his father to go alone to the battlefield. But for him war remains “hateful”-an evil act in which he must take part.

He is aware of the fact that though the war is for Helen but the Greeks are also lead by their greed and will only get peace when they will destroy Troy. Thus he always remains true to his ethical duties as a king and as a warrior. The heroic code binds him into an uncomfortable, untenable position and his acceptance of the social responsibility marks him as the ideal Ho.....

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In Greek world women transgress to find a new identity, for example, lysistrata transgress the conventional space of Polis and finds her identity as ‘A dismisser of War.’ But Helen transgresses to lose the traditional identity of a woman-as a wife and mother and ends up being a slut.

Helen’s transgression is physical; from the private erotic domain of her home to the Parapet, ethical; from basic humility to pride. It is her pride which makes her seek fulfillment out of her marriage in search of a better man who would give her fulfillment. But instead of contentment all she gets is guilt and suffering. She says to Hector:

“My brother-brother of the bitch, slut that I

Am! How I wish that on that first day when

my mother bore me some vile storm had taken

Me and whirled me up to the mountain or

Into the swell of the surrounding sea, where

The waves would have washed me away,

Before all this could happen .”

It is this feeling of remorse and suffering that makes her empathize with both Greeks and Trojans. She stands at the Parapet, in the middle of innocent people fighting one another, bringing death to them as a result of her transgression. Her sufferings heighten when she finds Paris completely in conscious of any sense of guilt. She wishes that

“I had been the wife of a better man than this, one who had sense for men’s outrage

And all the shaming things they say,

But this one has no wits in his head now,

And never will in the future and I think

He will meet the reward for that.”

Helen realizes that she is yet as unfulfilled as before her transgression and desire of fulfillment beyond destiny only lead to sufferings, endless and infinite.


On other hand Andromache, wife of Hector, transgresses the private domain out of her love for their husband. On hearing the Trojans failing, she transgresses the physical boundaries of her home and gores to the Skalan Gates to meet her husband. She strengthens the loving wife, a caring mother and a humble woman. She cannot imagine a life without her husband which gets highlighted when she says:

“…you have no p.....

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Her transgression is guided by the poignant relationship she shares with her husband in order to save his life. Iliad is a great representation of the impact of women on society. Not only they are portrayed beautiful, but they also possess immense strength and endurance.


ROLE OF GOD

The divine intervention is a major variable in the equation of the Iliad. The gods are not only important to the over-all development of the wrath theme but also plays an intricate balancing role in many of the Iliad’s individual’s books, serving as a unifying force in the poem.

The Greek mythology consists of stories about the Greek gods and goddesses who are anthromorphic divinities. They have all human characteristics, except that they are not subject to permanent changes, including death which is above all; they are immortal. The Greeks regard direct involvement by the gods (unlike the Christian gods) as a daily, uncontrollable part of their lives.

Thus the divine background of the Iliad is of great significance. In the Greek world, gods and destiny are not synonymous. They are interpreters of destiny. Zeus is one which does this best and so is the king of gods.

The gods like humans are jealous and even fight with each other but the divine jealousy and anger can be pacified by prayers and sacrifices, as in Book one, Apollo, god of music and prophecy, helps his priest, Chryseis, to get his daughter back from Agamemnon by inflicting plague on the Achaian camp.

Agamemnon is forced to return Chryseis back to her father because then demands for Briseis. The war prize of Achilles which leads to a fight between the two and Achilles withdraws himself from the battle. At this point Thetis, a sea nymph and mother of Achilles persuades Zeus and takes a promise from him that Achilles wrong will be avenged on Ag.....

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Paris’s theft of Helen- the occasion of the Trojan War has been carried out with the help of Aphrodite as a reward of “judgment of Paris”. Thus gods have a major role to play in the cause of the Trojan War itself. As the episode reveals, the god’s superior power does not make them nobler than mortals or less passionate in the pursuit of their in.....

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