Themes of Honor and Integrity in the Illiad
One of the major themes in the Iliad is the integrity of high social codes and the honor that the soldiers manifest in battle. For an ancient Greek, the fact that one was able to perform in battle was a single sign that showed that he was worthy.
The protagonist in the Iliad is Achilles and the story focuses on his anger against Agamemnon who has possessed a female he seized in battle. Achilles has two alternatives which are to either die young and honorably at Troy or to either depart back home and live a long but unworthy life. Achilles decides not to fight instead of accepting what he sees as Agamemnon’s dishonor. Later on, he rejoins the battle and kills Hector, the Trojans’ greatest warrior.
From an ancient Greek perspective, Achilles is seen as more honorable and more heroic because he is the greatest warrior on the battlefield. Honor was gained through many noble qualities but most of all, it was gained through heroism in battle. Social status was not fully determined in ancient Greece therefore honor was important to them. Social status did, however, correspond very closely to power. This compares to the Crito, in which a vital theme is that it is better to die than to live without honor. Plato acquires a critical lesson from his mentor Socrates that ‘The good life is better than life itself.’ He says that life is fundamentally a preparation for death and that this life will always have significance. The good life is one of comprehension, self-control and fair-mindedness. The battle between Ajax and Hector begins due to social codes. Hector moves toward the Achaean line and dares anyone who will brawl against him. Nine Achaeans step forward and a lottery is held in which Ajax wins. The duel begins by Hector and Ajax throwing their spears and ends with Ajax drawing Hector’s blood using his lance. Zeus then calls off the fight due to nightfall with neither hero gaining victory. The two heroes then exchange gifts after the battle which depicts a sign of respect, reverence and appreciation.
Towards the end of ‘The Apology’, Crito has come to bail Socrates out of prison. If Crito does not bail Socrates out, people will believe he is cheap. However, Socrates did not care about what the majority thinks because he did not want to escape. Socrates believed on acting on principles and that the only reason he would escape is for self-interest. He believes that the truth is higher than bodily desires. Socrates concludes that a good man has nothing to fear, not in this life nor the next. Socrates then is sentenced to death by the jury because he does not speak to them, but to the truth. Socrates always tries to be just and honest rather than to please himself, knowing that even if he irritates others, he is ultimately doing good to them by living justly. His last words are ‘Well, now it is time to be off, I to die and you live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.’
The idea of honor in the Iliad is essentially similar to the idea of honor in Socrates’ case. The Iliad is essentially about a critical choice Achilleus must make. He is contemplating on what kind of life is best for him. Achilleus is suggesting a radically new understanding of the good life, an understanding that may even sabotage the political foundations of Homeric society.
The Iliad is an ideal text to help readers think about philosophical and moral questions about the good life for human beings and the relation of these questions to morality of our society. In the Crito, Socrates argues that our lives will only have meaning or value if we strive to come to know and understand ourselves. If we do not question ourselves and the world, we will act without reason and will not be able to decipher between the good and the bad. The good life is one in which we make both ourselves and those around us happier and better off, and the only way to pursue that life is to pursue wisdom and self-knowledge.
In ‘The Apology’, Socrates stated that Crito should not be worried about what others thought of him. He insisted that he should not listen to the majority but instead listen to what is right. Socrates reasoning was relevant for a person that taught justice and honor. Although there are many reasons that prove that it would be in Socrates’ best interest to escape, he did not do so because he did not believe it was right. This definitely depicts his lesson to Plato ‘The Good Life is Better than Life Itself.
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