Essay about The Iliad

Submitted By bmeade@harbornet.com
Words: 1654
Pages: 7

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The Iliad vs. The Bible: The Champions vs. the Slaves
Prompt #16

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Ben Meade
10-6-2014
Classical Political Theory


Deep within the complex structure of the human heart, beneath the material and the superficial, resides a longing for truth—a desire for purpose and explanation of life’s elusive mysteries. Unlike any other species on Earth, humankind does not settle for mindlessly fulfilling its most basic needs to survive. In the same way that it is ingrained in human nature to breathe, also prevails the perpetual yearning to question and interpret our existence. Why are we here and what should we value? Over the millennia, varying answers to these questions have formed and evolved, leaving us with a plethora of religions and philosophies to explain life. Two major texts,
The Hebrew Bible and Homer’s Iliad, attempt to characterize humankind’s relations with the world around them through vastly different lenses. Not only do the content and format differ greatly between these works, but also the basic assumptions held of the readers are completely polarized. Much of this difference stems from the contrasting expectations of humankind with respect to their shortcomings. While the Iliad does not leave humans with any room for imperfections, the Bible allows people to fail and still ultimately succeed.
One of the most blatant characteristics of the Iliad is its overt glorification of personal honor and overcoming other men through killing them. Through his extremely gory and brutal depictions of warfare, Homer worships the fighting and violence as a means to find one’s worth and purpose. When men are unable to exhibit purely honorable traits, they are met with the ultimate punishment of death. After cowering in the face of the mighty Agamemnon, Homer describes that “there was no one of the Trojans who could save these two from death, but they themselves were running in fear from the Argives” (Homer 11.120-121). These two Trojan warriors met their fate of death as a direct result of their dishonor and fear in the heat of battle.
With no room for redemption for their inadequacies, the characters in the brutal Trojan war face

the simple outcomes of life or death with no option in between. Life’s highest calling in the context of the Greek system of values is to assert one’s superiority in battle or to be killed by the better man. It is not as if these warriors are fighting for some noble cause of social injustice or major aggression in this war. In fact, the ten years of brutal fighting and battle are simply to reclaim the lovely Helen for the king. Although the willingness of these men to die on the battlefield could represent blind loyalty to their superiors, it actually stems from their natural desire for personal glory in battle. If they are to prove their worth, they must triumph in battle and if they are not worthy they will simply die.
In stark contrast to this mandated assertion of one’s honor through battle, the Bible approaches the values of human life from a much different angle. Although it does not shy away from blood and gore as seen in the wars fought by the Hebrews, these wars are not seen as the ultimate purpose for living. Instead of quarreling and spilling blood over a petty cause, as is the case in the Iliad, God’s people are fighting for deliverance to their promise land in accordance with their covenant with God. The Hebrew God encourages humans to follow him not to attain their own personal greatness, but instead to live for the glory of God which collectively benefits the whole of the group. Additionally, the Bible does not determine whether or not man prevails in battle or in life in general based on superficial qualities such as brute strength or power. Instead, the Hebrew people overcome the oppressive Egyptians through their blind devotion to God, requiring actions completely contrary to logic. When God…