Why did Herodotus write his Histories? Herodotus tells us in his first paragraph, “so that human achievements may not be forgotten in time, and great and marvelous deeds, some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians, may not be without their glory; and especially to show why the two peoples fought with each other.” Just as in the Iliad, the Greek soldiers and sailors in the Histories of Herodotus fight for cleos, or glory, and warriors in these warrior societies are immortalized by their great and marvelous deeds on the battlefield. Herodotus is interested in recording any mighty deeds of both the Greeks and the Persians, although the glory was earned mostly by the Greeks. […]
The embassy to Achilles ends with them leaving not a warrior
but simply a bard strumming his lyre alone on the shores of the sea.
The battle lines sway back and forth, Odysseus and Ajax spy a Trojan spy,
and cut him down, then the Trojans in his advance camp.
The battle wages, many warriors fall, many warriors are wounded and healed,
as Professor Vandiver notes, they either or suffer minor injuries,
the heroes of the Iliad never suffer humiliating injuries. The Trojans fight their way to very walls of the Greek camps,
which was really a fortified fortress with palisades of sturdy timbers,
surrounded by a deep ditch dug to furnish earth for protection. […]
Zeus had agreed to give the Trojans their day of glory, the battle lines fall back closer and closer to the palisaded Greek camp, beyond the ditched palisades and the Greek camp lie the Greek wooden ships, moored close to the shore, floating tinderboxes. But Achilles still will not fight. […]
Hector is pissed. The duel between Romeo and Agamemnon was supposed to settle and finish this endless war that is just dragging on grinding thousands of soldiers in its maw. He asks himself, Where art thou, Romeo? Paris has disappeared from the battlefield. Aphrodite has magically carried his opponent Paris from the battlefield to the bed of Helen just as he was about to lose the duel and end this dreadful war. […]
Agamemnon did much more than rob from Achilles his concubine, that in his hubris he stripped from Achilles not his armor but worse, stripped from him his honor and his glory, making him lose face before his comrade. Indeed, gaining respect and avoiding shame is critical for warriors, and men in any age. […]
So, the Iliad begins with an enemy camp meeting that went badly, but ends with an enemy camp meeting that went well, reconciling Achilles both to Priam and the death of his best friend Patroclus. But in the middle there is an aborted enemy camp meeting that should have taken place but never did, sealing forever the fate of doomed Troy.
These warrior stories are captivating because they are stories about breaking conventions, when conventions are broken to increase virtue, fate unfolds favorably, but then conventions are broken and virtue decreases, fate takes a tragic turn.
Even in our modern culture we never totally escape the warrior ethos. That is why the Iliad is timeless. Men are not allowed to have problems, especially at work. When men look weak, they are toast. None of us want to walk and talk like Bernard Goetz on a New York subway; we don’t want to walk like a wimp, we don’t want to be thug bait, we strive to never show fear, and if we succeed we can conclude that the big city is really a safe place as we arrive home safe once more. We would rather be dirty Harry; me, Smith, and Wesson. […]
Before attacking Troy, the Greeks first attacked and sacked the cities of their allies surrounding Troy, and carried off many of their young maidens as newfound concubines, King Agamemnon won the young girl Chryseis, while King Achilles won the beauty Briseis. This sound to our ears so brutal, that these men would without a twinge of conscience kidnap young girls in the heat of battle, but yet when we let the poetry of the Iliad sink in we realize that Achilles does truly love Briseis, and when she is taken away he loses his heart for battle. Likewise, Agamemnon professes fondness for Chryseis, with as much fondness as the Iliad permits him, more fondness then for his wife, especially since his wife is home in Greece many fathoms and many years away. […]
Why should a Christian ponder the Iliad by Homer, the ancient saga of the Trojan War where Grecian and Trojan warriors fight with swords and arrows and shields, where the pagan gods of Mount Olympus support and fight with one side in the war, then the other? For three reasons, the first reason is the Iliad is a truly remarkable poem to experience. The second reason is the ancient world is not our modern world, the ancient world was a far more brutal world, the ancient world described in the Iliad is the same world described in the Old Testament, and to a certain extent the New Testament also. The third reason is every ancient state was a warrior state, and the Greek city-states were the most successful warrior states of their era. […]