Book Review Essay Iliad by Homer
In Homer’s book the “Iliad”, the story follows the fighting between the Greeks and the Trojans. The battles are not always with the enemies though but also within the characters themselves and the idea of shame. Shame is defined as one feeling humiliated by one's action or actions. Shame often influences one's behavior as it leads to anger in oneself. The two main heroes, Hector and Achilles, both endure moments of shame which causes them to act in irrational and or unthoughtful ways that would lead to unforeseen consequences that would not have happened if they were not ashamed.
The start of this can be seen in the beginning of the story when conflicts emerge between Agamemnon and Achilles regarding a prize that was acquired after a won battle. Achilles calls out Agamemnon on returning his prize so the gods will not continue to be upset with them and in the end Agamemnon is forced to return Chryseis to her father (Homer 1.116-128). In return for giving up his prize Agamemnon ends up taking Achilles prize to prove how much stronger he was than him. This caused Achilles to go into a fit of rage and led him to nearly draw his sword to strike and kill Agamemnon (1.199-206).
The reason for Achilles to act in this manner is the way he was treated by Agamemnon. The prize that Agamemnon was taking was given to Achilles out of respect for him from the army. He was a valiant warrior and was loved by the entire army and and for that reason he obtained this gift. Agamemnon completely humiliates Achilles by taking away his prize and the shame that comes with it is what puts him into his fit of rage that nearly causes him to kill Agamemnon. As a result of this Achilles goes on “strike” because Agamemnon “failed to honor the best Greek of all” (1.259). Later as Achilles continues to sit out the war and denying any attempt to persuade him to return to the battle his best friend ends up getting killed by Hector (9.320-321) (16.895-896). Achilles was distraught at hearing about this event. He believed that he was the cause of Patroclus’s death as he was waiting out the war and not fighting with him and the Greeks in battle. The shame that emerged from this was so immense that he wished to return to battle and avenge his best friend. At this point, Achilles knows the fate that he is to die at a young age and going out to kill Hector will ultimately mean the death of him (18.122-129). He completely ignores this and continues to his own downfall.
The actions that Achilles took throughout the “Iliad” proved to be a direct response to the shame that he felt due to the circumstances. Whether or not his actions were justified or not they were still influenced by the idea of shame. In the beginning his main fit of rage was due to Agamemnon dishonoring and shaming him by taking away his prize. Achilles considered himself to be the greatest warrior and the treatment he was getting from Agamemnon humiliated him. This in forth caused him to sit out the fighting with the Trojans leading to the death of his best friend. He believed that it was all his fault for not protecting Patroclus and was ashamed of himself. The shame and guilt that came with that led him to rejoin the war efforts and decide on fighting and killing Hector the Prince of Troy.
These such events could have been avoided if Achilles would not have felt ashamed for these events. If Achilles never sat out the war due to Agamemnon insults and the taking of his prize the events such as Patroclus dying and the death of all the other Greeks that died due to the restraint of Achilles aid. Achilles would have been able to protect Patroclus and end the war much quicker if he stayed fighting the Trojans.
Hector the greatest of all the Trojans and the Prince of Troy also has to deal with influences of shame when it comes to how he takes action during the war. He has to deal with the realization that he can potentially die out in battle and how it will affect his family. He believes that he has to stay out and fight with the men as he would feel like a coward if he stayed back (6.464-469). Although if he died Troy would be completely defenseless and would not have a military leader, he still refuses to stay behind the walls and continuously throws himself into battle all because of shame. Later in a faceoff between Achilles and Hector his parents advise him to get inside of the walls to fight another day (22.66-96). He continued to ignore what they are saying as he “destroyed half the army through [his] recklessness” (22.118-119). He was devastated after the battle which led to the death of a good majority of the army and he could not go back and face the city after that. Hector was so ashamed after what happened that he would rather die fighting Achilles then face them. When they both finally faced off against each other Hector tried to get Achilles to come to an agreement that they would not defile each other corpses but instead return them to each other's families. But, Achilles refused to as he is still furious and ashamed about the death of his dearest friend (22.287-299). In the end, Hector was defeated by Achilles all due to him not wanting to face the people of the city because he was ashamed.
Hectors actions were all related to honor and how he never wanted to be considered a coward and shamed. He would have rathered died that be considered anything else but honorable and glorious. Knowing that he could die any time he went into battle and leaving his city without their best fighter showed a lot of how shame plays into his character and decisions. Also in the events such as the fight between him and Achilles shows how he would have died before being ashamed. Hector easily could have walked back inside the city allowing himself another day to fight but the shame was too great for him to handle that he would have rather stayed and fight.
In the end both Hector and Achilles made costly mistakes ending in unforeseen consequences that would have been avoided if they were not shameful about certain actions and events. Achilles actions such as sitting out of the war led to the death of his best friend and many Greeks that would have been avoided if he was not shamed by Agamemnon. He would have been able to protect his friend and end the war earlier. The same goes with Hectors actions. If the shame of running away into the city did not get in the way of him he would have retreated and survived.