The Iliad

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Love and Friendship Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Iliad, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love and Friendship Theme Icon

Throughout the Iliad strong ties of love and friendship are central to the poem’s development. The friendship between soldiers can be a vital force that spurs them onward, whether in living friendship or out of revenge for the fallen. Two warriors, like Great and Little Ajax, can become a powerful fighting team because of their camaraderie. However, the desire to protect friends and loved ones extends beyond the battlefield. In some sense The Trojan War is a marital dispute over the beautiful Helen, who is caught between the desires of Paris and Menelaus.

Parental love is also an extremely important force, including the gods who watch over their mortal children in battle. It is Thetis’ love for her mortal son that causes her to ask Zeus for the favor of glorifying Achilles. Because she loves him and knows that his time on earth is short, she is moved to ask Zeus for the favor of driving the Achaeans back against the ships. Similarly, Hector’s passion to defend Troy is shown in Book VI, a tender moment in which he visits his wife and child, assuring them that he will return from battle safely.

Perhaps the most important relationship in the poem is the intense friendship between Achilles and his comrade Patroclus. More intense than a normal friendship, when Patroclus is killed, Achilles’ grief is deep enough to trigger a massive outpouring of fury on the battlefield. The intensity of his love for his friend is transformed into ruthlessness in combat, causing him to desecrate Hector’s corpse. Finally, when Priam comes in secret to the Achaean camp to ransom the body of Hector from Achilles, it is a risk he takes out of love for his son. Achilles recognizes Priam’s love for Hector and agrees to relinquish the body.

Love and Friendship ThemeTracker

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

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

O my son, my sorrow, why did I ever bear you?
All I bore was doom…
Doomed to a short life, you have so little time.

Related Characters: Thetis (speaker), Achilles
Page Number: 1.492.494
Explanation and Analysis:

Achilles (still seething from his argument with Agamemnon) approaches his mother, the sea goddess Thetis. Achilles asks Thetis to punish Agamemnon for his disrespect, and Thetis agrees to ask Zeus for help in punishing Agamemnon. And yet Thetis is saddened by Achilles's request. She knows that a prophecy was made long ago: Achilles will either die young and gloriously, or he'll live a long, peaceful, and forgettable life. In short, then, Achilles is asking Thetis to arrange for her own son to fight in battle and die.

Thetis is understandably upset that she's doomed to lose her son. And yet she doesn't dispute Achilles's wishes: she knows that the prophecy is set in stone, and she even seems to believe that Achilles is better off dead and glorious than he is alive and unknown.

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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 3 Quotes

Maddening one, my Goddess, oh what now?...
Well, go to him yourself—you hover beside him!
Abandon the gods’ high road and become a mortal!...
suffer for Paris, protect Paris, for eternity . . .
until he makes you his wedded wife—that or his slave.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker), Aphrodite, Paris
Page Number: 3.460-474
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Helen--the beautiful woman for whom the Trojan War was fought--looks down from the walls of Troy at the battle taking place between Menelaus and Paris: respectively, her Achaean husband and the Trojan prince who kidnapped her. As Helen watches the two men fight for "ownership" of her, Helen sees that Paris is losing, but that the gods won't let him die--he is the favorite of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Helen ruefully notes that Aphrodite is Paris's protector, and as long as she "debases" herself by coming to earth and saving him, she might as well become his slave, too.

Helen's speech suggests how she sees herself. Helen passively watches the men fight for her--she has no real agency of her own during the war. The best Helen can do is observe and comment on the action. Thus, she's insightful enough to make a comparison between Aphrodite and herself: the word "slave" suggests that Helen sees herself as the helpless captive of Paris (Paris has, after all, abducted Helen from her homeland).

Book 14 Quotes

With that the son of Cronus caught his wife in his arms
and under them now the holy earth burst with fresh green grass…
And so, deep in peace, the Father slept on Gargaron peak, conquered by Sleep
and strong assaults of Love.

Related Characters: Zeus
Page Number: 14.413-421
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the deity Sleep goes to Zeus and, following Zeus's lovemaking session with his wife Hera, makes Zeus fall into a deep slumber. Sleep is working on behalf of Poseidon: he's trying to get Zeus out of the picture so that Poseidon can meddle in the Trojan War. Now that Zeus is asleep, Poseidon is free to do whatever he wants.

It's often been pointed out that the gods and goddesses in the poem (and in Greek mythology in general) are often less noble and dignified than the human beings. Zeus and his relatives have to resort to lies and deception to control one another--it's not like they can fight each other, since they're immortal. Thus, the passage reminds us that human dignity reflects human mortality: the reason that courage and bravery matter in a human is that the human could die at any time. The passage also complicates the role of free will in the poem: the gods seem to be exercising free will as they deceive one another, suggesting that gods, and therefore humans, have more control over their own destinies than it might seem.

Book 16 Quotes

Do as you please, Zeus . . .
but none of the deathless gods will ever praise you…
if you send Sarpedon home, living still, beware!
Then surely some other god will want to sweep
his own son clear of the heavy fighting too.

Related Characters: Hera (speaker), Zeus, Sarpedon
Page Number: 16.526-531
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous scene, Zeus surveys the Trojan War and sees that his own son, Sarpedon, is about to be killed. Zeus contemplates saving his son from the danger, but decides against it after Hera encourages him to refrain from interfering. Hera's argument is interesting: she claims that Zeus's interference is a "slippery slope," and will encourage the other gods to meddle in human affairs excessively.

The passage conveys the complicated nature of free will in the poem. Zeus has the choice to interfere in human affairs, but he clearly doesn't want the gods to meddle in human affairs excessively--that's why he ultimately allows Sarpedon to die. Zeus's actions suggest that even gods have to bow before to the power of fate and destiny sometimes. Furthermore, the scene suggests that Zeus, just like Agamemnon, is a leader: he has to balance his own desires with his duties to the other gods in Olympus.

Book 23 Quotes

But one thing more. A last request—grant it, please.
Never bury my bones apart from yours, Achilles,
let them lie together…
just as we grew up together in your house.

Related Characters: Patroclus (speaker), Achilles
Page Number: 23.99-102
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the ghost of Patroclus, the beloved friend of Achilles, appears before Achilles and asks him to provide his body with a proper burial. Patroclus, who loved Achilles, wants to be buried next to his friend for the rest of history.

Patroclus's request to Achilles is important for a number of reasons. First, it emphasizes the importance of burial practices in the poem: such practices will become crucial to the plot in the final Book. Second, Patroclus's clear love and respect for Achilles raises questions about the exact nature of his "love." It's been suggested that Patroclus and Achilles enjoyed a same-sex love affair, of a kind that was relatively common in ancient Greece. Other scholars of Homer suggest that the relationship between the two men isn't meant to be sexual at all--it's just a deep, powerful friendship. In either case, the passage testifies to the importance of friendship and love to Achilles, even after he's passed into immortality.

Book 24 Quotes

Those words stirred within Achilles a deep desire
to grieve for his own father…And overpowered by memory
both men gave way to grief. Priam wept freely
for man-killing Hector, throbbing, crouching
before Achilles’ feet as Achilles wept himself,
now for his father, now for Patroclus once again,
and their sobbing rose and fell throughout the house.

Related Characters: Achilles, Hector, Patroclus, Priam
Page Number: 24.592-599
Explanation and Analysis:

In the climactic scene of the poem, Achilles confronts King Priam, the ruler of Troy and the father of Hector--the man Achilles has just killed on the battlefield. Priam only asks that Achilles surrender Hector's mangled body so that Priam can provide it with the proper funeral rites. Achilles initially refuses to turn over Hector's body: he's still so furious about the death of Patroclus that he wants to cause pain and grief to his enemies, the same grief that Achilles himself feels. And yet something happens in this scene: Priam touches Achilles' heart, reminding Achilles that Achilles' death will cause his own father (Peleus) tremendous sadness. Overcome with grief for his family and for himself, Achilles joins Priam in weeping. Immediately afterward, Achilles will agree to turn over Hector's body, recognizing that even his enemies deserve the chance to care for their dead family members.

At the end of the poem, the tone has moved from rage to compassion. Achilles is no longer hellbent on revenge for the death of Patroclus--rather, he seems to see the limits of revenge, cruelty, and brutality. By connecting with another man--ironically, the leader of his opponents on the battlefield--Achilles discovers the deep sadness and sympathy that unites him with all other human beings.