Homer’s Condemnation of War in Books 20-24 of the Iliad
Amongst many of Homer’s progressive reaching visions in his interpretation and writings of the oral tradition of the Iliad lay his disapproval and even criticism of war, one of the most dear facets of life to his ancestors and his contemporary Greeks. The final 5 books of the Iliad, in which the great Greek hero Achilles finally enters the war, especially illustrate this theme. Achilles, the main hero of the Iliad, takes on an especially menacing, beastly, and almost evil demeanor as he avenges the death of his fallen companion, Patrocles. Achilles’ war equipment is described as “grim,” and as Achilles threatens to destroy Aineias, the subject of innocence is brought into question – why does Aineias “guiltless, suffer his sorrows for no reason?” (Bk. 20, ln. 259-60; ln. 297-9). Though this question is not directly answered, Aineias’ sparing of death at the hands of Achilles with the help of the gods suggests that there is something negative to be considered in war with the harming of innocents. Further, in Books 21, Achilles’ ruthless battlefield tactics turn his “heart bent upon evil actions,” rather than upholding the glory of his friend (ln. 19-20). Thus the extremes of war drive honorable beings to insanity and cause them to act rashly and, more importantly, without honor, so dear to the Greeks. While these and many other examples illustrate Homer’s disapproval of war, it is Achilles’ disrespect of Hector’s body and Hector’s heart-wrenching funeral that best displays the immense evils of war. Achilles drags Hektor’s dead body around throughout books 23 and 24, attempting to cause it damage and dishonor, rather than burying the body to allow Hektor’s spirit to go to rest. This dishonorable action, caused by Achilles’ rage through the war, is frowned upon by the ultimate judges of what is right and wrong, the gods. However finally Achilles returns the body and Hektor’s funeral commences. Perhaps the greatest summarization of Homer’s view of war and its evil nature is seen in Andromache’s final remarks, in which she expressed fear and hopelessness for the future of herself and her son (ln. 725-745). The ultimate result of war is Andromache’s “bitterness and pain,” leaving little room for justification of “honor” through the mass amounts of death caused in the war (ln. 742-3). Thus Homer ultimately condemns the nature of war.
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