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.
Honor and Glory ThemeTracker
Honor and Glory Quotes in The Iliad
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.
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!
Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men.
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.
I say no wealth is worth my life...a man’s life breath cannot come back again.
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.
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!
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.