Expression of Self-worth in Homer’s Iliad

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Expression of Self-worth in Homer’s Iliad

The story of the Trojan War as played out in the Iliad is perhaps most gripping for the focus on the role of the individual; the soul is struck by the very concept of a decade-long war and a city-state razed to the ground for one man’s crime and one woman’s beauty. As such, the dynamic between Helen, Paris, and the Trojan people they have doomed is a fascinating one. For while Prince Paris is hated by all of Troy, his right to keep Helen is challenged by none. This is seen mostly clearly in Book III, after Paris has been spirited away to safety by the goddess Aphrodite; the book ends with Trojans and Greeks alike united in scorn for Paris and his consort. In Book VII, however, at the war
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No more of your hot insistence—it repels me.
You must have something better than this to say.
But if you are serious, speaking from the heart, the gods themselves have blotted out your senses.
Now I say this to our stallion-breaking Trojans,
I say No, straight out—I won’t give up the woman!
But those treasures that I once hauled home from Argos,
I’ll return them all and add from my own stores." (7.408-418)

The importance of this speech lies less in the words than in the manner they are presented and received. Paris delivers his reply, not as a rogue prince, but as "fair-haired Helen’s lord" (7.409); before he has even spoken, Homer has reminded the reader of his claim. Paris is again "magnificent" (7.408), and yet the contrast in meaning between the usages here and in Book III is enormous. Where before the appellation carried a subtext of cutting mockery, here it is wholly sincere. Clearly, the prince’s course of action is foolish—the reader knows full well the fate of Troy—and yet there is something superhuman about Paris’ defiance now. He is magnificent in his self-worth, in his unwillingness to sacrifice his property, and thus his honor, no matter the price in blood. In placing Helen above the lives of his brothers and his people, he is refusing to subordinate his honor to anything.

In this linking of self to

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