‘Warriors in the Iliad are more concerned with the satisfaction of personal desires than with obligations to others’. Discuss.
Epic poetry is a commonly discussed topic with in the study of ancient history. The view that warriors in the Iliad are more concerned with the satisfaction of personal desires than with obligations to others is one that is often contemplated. Throughout this essay it will be argued for and against this statement.
The first place in which we see a Homeric hero putting his personal desires before his obligation to others is in the setting of the poem. When Paris took Helen from Menelaus it seems intuitive to assume that he knew that the attack of the Greeks on the Trojans was a possible consequence. However he still took her due to his personal desire for her with no regard to his obligation as a warrior to keep his city safe. Although to a modern audience the above seems apparent, an ancient audience would not have held Paris under any blame and would’ve instead blamed Helen. This is due to the sexist nature of society in the ancient world. We also see Paris putting his desires first in his general attitude throughout the Iliad. In book 6 Paris is seen to be living a life of luxury in his palace whilst the rest of the Trojans are fighting in battle. Generally Paris seems to satisfy his desire for extravagance before consideration of his obligations to others.
The next place in which we see a Homeric hero putting his personal desires first is in book 1 when Agamemnon takes Briseis from Achilles. Not only is Agamemnon putting his selfish desire for Achilles’ ‘possessions’ before his obligation to Achilles to show him timé but he is also willingly jeopardising the winning of the war for the Greeks by ruining the dynamics of the army and causing one of the best warriors to withdraw from the war thus relinquishing his responsibility to the Greeks to lead the army. This is further demonstrated by his refusal to apologise and refusal to return Briseis to Achilles. However this seems to be a hypocrisy on Achilles’ behalf as later, in book 23, Achilles does the same thing when he tries to strip the second-place charioteer, Antilochus, of his rightfully won prize. This demonstrates that not only do the Homeric heroes put their personal desires before their obligations to others but also before their moral values. For the modern audience this way of prioritising comes across as very immature. Although the ancient audience may have seen any characteristics that the heroes held as virtuous due to the time it was set in (Bronze Age Greece). This time was thought of as glorious and sublime and so perhaps the character traits from this time were thought of in the same way.
Due to Agamemnon’s insult Achilles refuses to go to battle against the Trojans (book 1). This gives the audience the idea that he cares more about proving a point to Agamemnon and expressing his ménin than about his obligation to the Greeks to fight. However it can be seen that Achilles did not have much of an obligation to the Greeks to fight as the only incentive he had to join the Greeks on their voyage to Troy in the first place was to gain riches. We see him express a self-centred attitude again on his return to battle in book 19. Achilles refuses to return to battle despite the fact that hundreds of Greeks men have been killed and are being killed. However as soon as Patrocolus is killed, someone whom Achilles is very close to, he returns to battle. This provides the idea that Achilles is not concerned with his obligation to protect the Greeks but only with his desire for vengeance. However this could also be seen as Achilles fulfilling his obligation to Patrocolus to provide him with justice.
We see a Homeric hero on the Trojan side put his personal desires above his obligation to others in book 22 when Hector decides to fight Achilles despite the fact that his father, Priam, has begged him (through supplication) not to. It…