The Iliad

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Wartime Versus Peacetime 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.
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon

Although the Iliad is largely the tale of a brutal war, it contains many reflections of the peacetime life of the ancient Greek civilization. For the characters of the poem, war is something that is connected with the other parts of life, something that every man must undergo as he defends his city. The most important sign of the relationship between war and peace is found in Book 18, when the god Hephaestus forges the new shield of Achilles. On the shield is a magnificent picture of all of Greek life, including two cities, one at war and the other at peace. Killing enemies is part and parcel with harvests and weddings. Homer supports this idea with the images he uses in the poem, often describing battle scenes by comparing them to scenes of rural Greek life. The battalions of soldiers gathering, for instance, are compared to flies swarming around a pail of milk or shepherds defending their flocks from raging lions.

The Achaean soldiers frequently refer back to the lives they left at home, their wives, children, flocks, estates, and everything else left behind in order to go to war with the Trojans. Similarly, the Trojans sometimes refer to what life was like before the long siege of the war. However, war also shifts the importance of the arts practiced in peacetime. For instance, speechmaking and verbal ability are often scorned throughout the Iliad as the sign of someone who is not willing to simply act boldly. Similarly, the bonds of love and family felt by Hector are diminished by the pitiless nature of war, as he will not be strong enough to come home to his wife and child. Even Aphrodite is a lesser goddess within the context of the war, where the mortal Diomedes is able to wound her easily.

Wartime Versus Peacetime ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Iliad related to the theme of Wartime Versus Peacetime.
Book 9 Quotes

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.

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Book 13 Quotes

One man is a splendid fighter—a god has made him so—
one’s a dancer, another skilled at lyre and song,
and deep in the next man’s chest farseeing Zeus
plants the gift of judgment, good clear sense.

Related Characters: Zeus
Page Number: 13.844-847
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section of the poem, Zeus surveys the fighting between the Trojans and the Achaeans and praises the Trojans for their valor. Zeus decides to reward the Trojans with good sense and clever strategy.

It's important to keep in mind why Zeus is helping the Trojans in the war: he ultimately wants Achilles to achieve as much glory as possible, and therefore tries to make the Trojans the most dangerous enemies they can be. In short, Zeus's "methods" are rather hard to understand: even when he seems to favor one side, he really has the other side in mind.

The passage is also important because it shows the relationship between fate and free will in the poem. Zeus controls the fate of the universe, and yet Zeus himself seems to be influenced by the behavior of the Trojans and the Achaeans: their bravery encourages him to choose to alter the result of the battle. Furthermore, Zeus's observations suggest that the Trojans aren't just puppets, doing whatever Zeus tells them to do: Zeus is genuinely impressed with the Trojans' courage and talent. In short, the characters in the poem aren't just playing out their destinies: they're exercising free will, if only at times and within the larger designs of the gods and the Fates.

Book 18 Quotes

And first Hephaestus makes a great and massive shield…
There he made the earth and there the sky and the sea
and the inexhaustible blazing sun and the moon rounding full
and there the constellations…And he forged on the shield two noble cities filled
with mortal men. With weddings and wedding feasts in one…
But circling the other city camped a divided army
gleaming in battle-gear.

Related Characters: Hephaestus
Related Symbols: The Shield of Achilles
Page Number: 18.558-594
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Hephaestus, the god of the forge, fashions armor and a shield for Achilles in preparation for Achilles' return to the battlefield. The description of the shield of Achilles is one of the most famous passages in Western literature, so there's a lot to point out about it.

1) Notice that the shield is divided up into carefully composed sections. Perhaps the most important division in the shield is that between the city and the battlefield. One part of the shield shows happy families and merry parties, while the other half shows soldiers fighting. Neither half of the shield is "complete"--and yet when one puts together the two scenes, they depict the totality of human civilization. In this way, the shield conveys the duality of life: you can't have parties and weddings unless you have soldiers protecting you and keeping you safe. By the same token, soldiers would have nothing to fight for if not for the innocent civilians with whom they share a city.

2) Put another way, the two halves of the shield could reflect the duality of Achilles's own spirit. Achilles is trapped between mortality and immortality: between a long, happy, forgettable life, and a short, violent, glorious life that will be remembered forever. Achilles' dilemma is that he can't have glory and a long life: neither choice is perfect. In the end, though, Achilles chooses a life of valor: he chooses the fierce sun, not the quiet moon; the soldiers, not the weddings. The shield reminds us of the choice Achilles has made, and the dual nature of all human society.

Book 22 Quotes

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.