The Iliad

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Honor and Glory Theme Analysis

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Honor and Glory Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Iliad, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Honor and Glory Theme Icon

One of the central ideas of the Iliad is the honor that soldiers earn in combat. For an ancient Greek man, the ability to perform in battle is the single greatest source of worthiness. The glory earned by soldiers on the battlefield enabled them to live on in legend, becoming heroes who would be remembered long after death. The characters of the Iliad often make reference to the great heroes of past ages, such as Hercules and Theseus. For the ancient Greeks, the term “hero” meant something stricter than it does today: the hero’s military glory could make him nearly as important as a god.

The plot of the poem is centered on the “rage of Achilles” and the fulfillment of his glory on the battlefield. Achilles’s rage stems from feeling dishonored by Agamemnon, who takes away Briseis, a woman that Achilles has captured in combat. Achilles chooses not to fight rather than accept what he sees as Agamemnon’s dishonor. Later, when he rejoins the battle after the death of Patroclus, Achilles proves he is “the best of the Achaeans” by giving the greatest military performance of the war and finally killing Hector, the Trojans’ greatest warrior.

From a modern perspective, one might consider Hector to be a more sympathetic or even honorable character than Achilles. Hector cares for his wife, child, and city, and works tirelessly to save them from destruction. Achilles cares only for himself, and spends a large part of the poem sulking. However, from the ancient Greek perspective, Achilles is in some sense more heroic or honorable simply because he is the greatest warrior on the battlefield. Similarly, Paris is a handsome man and a good lover, but because he hangs back from battle he is largely the object of scorn, and is portrayed as a ridiculous figure throughout the poem.

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Honor and Glory ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Honor and Glory appears in each section of The Iliad. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Honor and Glory Quotes in The Iliad

Below you will find the important quotes in The Iliad related to the theme of Honor and Glory.
Book 1 Quotes

Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighter’ souls, but made their body carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

Related Characters: Achilles, Zeus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 1.1-8
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, at the beginning of the poem, Homer establishes the task ahead of him. Homer will describe the history of the great hero Achilles, who fought alongside his peers the Achaeans (in modern terms, the Greeks) against the Trojans, commanded by the great king Agamemnon.There's a lot to notice here. First, consider that the first word of the poem is "rage." The Iliad is a poem about the savagery and brutality of war, which could be considered the "rage" between different kingdoms. But the poem is also about the rage of individuals: great men like Achilles, who were inspired by their emotions to fight in battle, often achieving great glory in the process. Homer, it's been suggested, both approves of rage and questions what its purpose is. Rage, he says, results in one thing: death (the "carrion feasts"). Yet Achilles's rage also ensures that he'll be remembered forever--as evidenced by the Iliad itself. Finally, it's crucial to notice that Homer is asking the goddess (sometimes translated as "muse") of poetry for inspiration. Homer doesn't see himself as a writer in the modern sense of the word: he's not inventing a story to entertain his audience. Instead, Homer sees himself as merely transcribing the poetry of the gods--an epic, larger-than-life story about the greatest Greeks of history.


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Someday, I swear, a yearning for Achilles will strike
Achaea’s sons and all your armies!

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker)
Page Number: 1.281-282
Explanation and Analysis:

Achilles quarrels with Agamemnon, the king of the Achaeans. As a result of their quarrel, Achilles refuses to fight alongside his Achaean peers: he wants to humiliate Agamemnon in the upcoming battles with the Trojan enemy. In this scene, Achilles warns Agamemnon and the other Achaean soldiers that they're going to miss him while he's gone. The next time they're fighting the Trojans, he insists, they'll wish he was there to protect them.

Achilles's speech demonstrates his arrogance and "swagger"--he knows he's valuable to the Achaean war effort, and he doesn't shy away from saying it. And Homer also emphasizes Achilles's rage--the quality he began his poem discussing. It's because of Achilles's anger with Agamemnon that he refuses to fight: he's so concerned with individual honor and respect that any slight from the king is enough to discourage him from battle (and his sulking arguably causes hundreds of lives to be lost--those he could have saved).

Book 2 Quotes

I and Achilles…Ah if the two of us
could ever think as one, Troy could delay
her day of death no longer, not one moment.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Achilles
Page Number: 2.448-452
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Agamemnon expresses some regret for having argued with Achilles. Agamemnon knows that Achilles is enormously valuable to the Achaean war effort: the Acheans really can't win the war with Troy without him. Agamemnon makes an interesting point: if he and Achilles could just work together, the Trojan War would be over in a day.

Agamemnon makes an interesting point about leadership. The implication of the passage is that Greece isn't big enough for two giant egos: Agamemnon and Achilles are bound to fight because they're both proud, powerful men. (The critic Franco Moretti has argued that the disagreement between Achilles and Agamemnon symbolizes the divisions between soldiers and governors in all complex societies.) And notice also that Agamemnon isn't speaking to a big group--he's just talking to Odysseus (another hero with a big ego). Agamemnon knows that he can't apologize to Achilles: he's too proud and noble for that. The best he can do is express his regret privately.

Book 4 Quotes

We claim we are far, far greater than our fathers.
We are the ones who stormed the seven gates of Thebes,
heading a weaker force and facing stronger walls
but obeying the gods’ signs and backed by Zeus.
Our fathers? Fools. Their own bravado killed them.
Don’t tell me you rank our fathers with ourselves!

Related Characters: Sthenelus (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 4.471-476
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Agamemnon is trying his best to goad his troops into success on the battlefield that day. Agamemnon visits Diomedes, an important Achaean commander, and tries to convince him that he's failing to measure up to his ancestors' achievements. Diomedes doesn't respond, knowing full-well what Agamemnon's up to. But Diomedes' co-commander, Sthenelus, cries out that his troops are far greater than his ancestors in military prowess, and he lists his soldiers' achievements proudly.

Sthenelus's behavior suggests how easy it is to goad troops into action: in the society of the Iliad, everybody measures their greatness against that of their ancestors--and to be less than one's ancestors is the worst kind of failure. And yet Homer also implies that measuring oneself against one's ancestors is futile. In this scene, for example, Agamemnon isn't really trying to criticize Diomedes at all--he just wants his soldiers to succeed at all costs. Comparisons with ancestors, then, aren't accurate statements of fact so much as they are manipulative tactics designed to promise eternal glory and inspire greater achievement.

Book 5 Quotes

Then Pallas Athena granted Tydeus’ son Diomedes
strength and daring—so the fighter would shine forth
and tower over the Argives and win himself great glory.

Related Characters: Athena, Diomedes
Page Number: 5.1-3
Explanation and Analysis:

In this Book, the gods grant Diomedes the strength to succeed in battle. Diomedes is a great warrior, but it's suggested that it's only because of the grace of Athena that Diomedes does so well against the Trojans in this scene. In short, Diomedes prays for courage and talent, and he gets it from Athena.

The passage is interesting because it suggests the relationship between free will and divinity in the poem. Diomedes is a strong man, and yet he's dependent upon the gods for his emotions and his abilities. He is, one could say, not really a "free agent" in the way modern audiences would define the term: rather, he needs the help of gods and goddesses. In this way, the passage reinforces why religion and divine worship are so important in the poem: without the gods maneuvering them, the characters couldn't accomplish anything much.

Book 6 Quotes

Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men.

Related Characters: Glaucus (speaker)
Page Number: 6.171
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous scene, the warrior Glaucus fights with Diomedes. They're both great men and talented soldiers, and yet fate has conspired to place them on different sides of the battlefield. Here, Glaucus makes an interesting analogy: he compares human lives to the leaves on a tree. As soon as one "generation" of leaves dies, another one comes to replace it.

On a surface level, Glaucus's statement could be interpreted as machismo: he's trying to prove to Diomedes that he's not scared of dying. And yet Glaucus's words are deeper and more insightful--he genuinely thinks of human life as a "passing shadow." Glaucus's metaphor for life is both inspiring and terrifying: it's scary to think that life will be over so soon, and yet it's strangely satisfying to think that death is just one small part of a great natural process. In all, Glaucus's speech demonstrates the code of honor and respect between great soldiers on the battlefield: they think of war and death as the duties of their class.

Why so much grief for me?
No man will hurl me down to Death, against my fate.
And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it,
neither brave man nor coward, I tell you—
it’s born with us the day that we are born.

Related Characters: Hector (speaker), Andromache
Page Number: 6.580-584
Explanation and Analysis:

In this tender scene, Hector tries to comfort his wife, Andromache. Hector is about to go into battle, and Andromache is frightened that she'll never see him again: there's a good chance Hector will be killed in the line of duty. Hector tries to reassure Andromache by pointing out that everybody dies in the end. the best Hector can do, as a great soldier, is to fight bravely while he still has the energy and the talent. In short, Hector believes that everybody dies, so he might as well die with dignity and honor.

Hector's speech illustrates the strengths and the limitations of the warlike philosophy of the Trojans. Hector is incredibly brave and noble--he's genuinely willing to die for Paris, someone he clearly doesn't even like--and yet he's so focused on war and fighting that he's forced to neglect the other half of life: the life of love, happiness, tenderness, and family.

Book 7 Quotes

But about the dead, I’d never grudge their burning.
No holding back for the bodies of the fallen:
once they are gone, let fire soothe them quickly.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker)
Page Number: 7.471-473
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Agamemnon agrees to a temporary truce with the Trojans. During the neutral hours, the Trojans will be allowed to tend to their dead, giving the fallen soldiers a proper funeral (a funeral of fire, Agamemnon notes). Agamemnon's decision to allow the Trojans to take care of their dead is important, because many of Agamemnon's followers believe that they should press their advantage, denying the Trojans any break from the fight.

In general, then, the passage shows the unwritten code of honor and respect between the two sides of the war. Agamemnon is at war with King Priam, but he knows that all human beings deserve the opportunity to take care of their dead comrades. Agamemnon's speech alludes to common human nature, which he would be a fool to disrespect. The passage is also important because it alludes to 1) the climactic scene of the poem, in which Priam begs Achilles for the opportunity to tend to Hector's dead body, and 2) the events that follow Agamemnon's return from the war, as described in Aeschylus'sOresteia: in these stories, burying the dead will become vitally important.

Book 9 Quotes

I say no wealth is worth my life...a man’s life breath cannot come back again.

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker)
Page Number: 9.488-495
Explanation and Analysis:

Agamemnon has sent a team of negotiators to Achilles's tent, hoping to convince Achilles to fight with the Achaeans once again and help them defeat the Trojans for good. The team offers Achilles treasure and wealth in return for his military services, but Achilles ignores the treasure. He points out that treasure is useless if he's going to die in the Trojan War--which, according to prophecy, he will, if he chooses to fight.

In short, Achilles sums up the futility of war. Even though Achilles is speaking from the vantage point of immortality and heroism, his criticism of Agamemnon's negotiating techniques could apply to any soldier. No amount of money, Achilles argues, can convince a soldier to sacrifice his life for battle--life is the most valuable thing of all, and treasure is worthless when one is dead.

By modern standards, Achilles' words seem reasonable and even noble. By the standards of Homer's audience, however, they're very different. Achilles is expected to embrace danger and battle and die in the process, gaining immortality in the process--Homer's audiences expect Achilles to die gloriously, contrary to what Achilles says here. One of the major challenges of reading the Iliad is judging the poem according to a modern moral code while also recognizing that the poem's original audience would have interpreted it very differently.

Mother tells me,
the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet,
that two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,
my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
my pride, my glory dies . . .
true, but the life that’s left me will be long,
the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker), Thetis
Page Number: 9.497-505
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Achilles lays out the two options before him: he can either fight in the Trojan War and die young, gaining glory and immortality in the process, or he can sail back home and live a long happy life, and be forgotten by history.

Achilles's choice illustrates the differences between honor and happiness. Happiness is personally satisfying, but short-lived: Achilles could enjoy the rest of his life, but his enjoyment wouldn't help anyone else (except perhaps the people back home). On the other hand, honor is selfless and immortal: Achilles would make a great sacrifice by dying on the battlefield, and he would be rewarded for his sacrifice by being remembered forever. Ultimately, the Iliad sees honor as the more important value (although many modern readers of the poem might argue that happiness and peace are better than war and immortality). Also note that the "immortality" Achilles discusses is partly realized by the Iliad itself: thanks to Homer, we're still talking about Achilles thousands of years later.

Book 12 Quotes

Fight for your country—that is the best, the only omen!

Related Characters: Hector (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zeus’ Eagle
Page Number: 12.281
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Hector and his fellow Trojans see a sign from Zeus: an eagle carrying a bloody snake. The troops interpret the sign as proof that their assault on the Achaeans' camp will fail. But Hector disagrees: he encourages his peers to ignore the ambiguous sign and fight on, inspired by their love for Troy.

The passage is important for a number of reasons. First, Hector's emphasis on patriotism and group loyalty seems somewhat modern, as does his refusal to be swayed by superstition. Hector isn't saying that the Trojans should ignore the gods altogether; rather, he's saying that the Trojans shouldn't try to interpret signs from Zeus themselves (that's the job of the seers and soothsayers). By contemporary standards, Hector seems to be rejecting the strict determinism of ancient Greek religion and culture: he seems to be saying that the Trojans can choose their own destiny by fighting bravely. (And yet in the end, Hector's heroism is impressive precisely because it's futile: Hector has been fated to die, so his insistence that the Trojans should ignore all omens is poignant in its ignorance.)

Book 22 Quotes

Past the threshold of old age…
and Father Zeus will waste me with a hideous fate,
and after I’ve lived to look on so much horror!
My sons laid low, my daughters dragged away…
Ah for a young man
all looks fine and noble if he goes down in war,
hacked to pieces…When an old man’s killed
and the dogs go at the gray head and the gray beard…that is the cruelest sight
in all our wretched lives!

Related Characters: Priam (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 22.70-89
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Priam begs Hector, his eldest and favorite son, to refrain from fighting a duel with Achilles-- a duel that Hector knows he's bound to lose. Priam mourns the loss of his other children in the Trojan War--his implication being that he couldn't stand to lose another child, especially one as noble as Hector.

And yet Priam's speech is full of contradiction. He complains that an old man's death is not an honorable thing: dying as an old man is proof that you weren't brave enough in combat as a younger man. When a young man dies on the battlefield, his death is treated as something to celebrate: it's assumed that the young man was a hero and a leader to other soldiers. In short, Priam's speech both implores Hector to stay with his aging father and also admits that Hector's best chance for glory is to fight Achilles and die a hero's death. In a way, Priam is mourning the unfairness of life itself: there's no way for the king to be a proud father and have living sons.

Achilles went for him, fast, sure of his speed
as the wild mountain hawk, the quickest thing on wings,
launching smoothly, swooping down on a cringing dove
and the dove flits out from under, the hawk screaming...his fury
driving him down to beak and tear his kill—
so Achilles flew at him, breakneck on in fury
with Hector fleeing along the walls of Troy.

Related Characters: Achilles, Hector
Page Number: 22.165-172
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Achilles and Hector have prepared to fight one another. And yet when Hector catches sight of Achilles in all his glory, he loses his nerve and runs away. Achilles wins up chasing Hector around the walls of Troy, hoping to catch him and kill him.

Hector's behavior is at once cowardly by the standards of the ancient world, and entirely sympathetic. He knows for a fact that he can't beat Achilles, who is fated to kill him, and therefore has to accept the fact that he's going to die in battle. Hector has tried to come to terms with his own mortality, and yet he can't, at least not right now. He runs in this scene, but Hector then proves his valor by ultimately facing Achilles, and thus accepts his own glorious death.