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
Wartime Versus Peacetime Quotes in The Iliad
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.
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.
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.
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.