The Nature of Honour in Virgil and Homer

1709 Words Jun 20th, 2018 7 Pages
In the epics of both Homer and Virgil, the meaning and politics of honour play a significant role in the decisions and actions of the characters. Honour involves arbitrary set of rules, so just what is is and why did people need to maintain these rules at all? In these poems, honour is linked to a hero’s possessions, identity, and deed. All three are important, but one’s deeds seem to matter the most and without performing great deeds, honour cannot be had the other two ways.
Honour is often represented by possessions, and, in a way, the possessions are honour itself. Briseis, the girl that was taken from Achilleus, is honour because her movement from one possessor to another is always accompanied by and equal movement of honour.
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Fighting is not the only thing he is good at, and it does not even seem to be his favorite thing. When he sits in his tent he “delights his heart in a lyre” (Homer, Iliad 9.186), and he tells his mother, “It was I first of all urged then [Apollo’s] appeasement” (1.386). He was the first man to recognize that Apollo sent the plaque, and appeasing the gods is a king’s job, so this suggests that he enjoys art and is good at leading the people. This fits with the prophecy that he would make a good king if he went home, but he would not be great or glorious because that is not what he is best at, and, especially, not what he is better than others at. Agamemnon is supposed to be the kingliest of the Achaians (Lattimore, Iliad 49), but he did not recognize the signs from Apollo and was not willing to make him happy, so he was not behaving according to his identity. Agamemnon is unwilling to give up his prize for the good of the army, so he is failing to fulfill his place as the kingliest. If they lose the war because of his selfishness, then he will be shamed for not doing his duty as king.
Aeneas will also be a great king, but when he lives in Troy he is a warrior, so he must change and learn to be kingly. Fighting in the war will win him no honour. As Troy is being sacked, Hector visits him and says:
...You must save yourself from these flames.... You have given enough to
your
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