The Paradox of Heroism in Homer’s Iliad

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The Paradox of Heroism in Homer’s Iliad

The Iliad presents a full range of valorous warriors: the Achaians Diomedes, Odysseus, and the Aiantes; the Trojans Sarpedon, Aeneas, and Glaukos. These and many others are Homer’s models of virtue in arms. Excelling all of them, however, are the epic’s two central characters, Achilleus, the son of Peleus and, Hector, the son of Priam. In these two, one finds the physical strength, intense determination, and strenuous drive that give them first place within their respective armies. Further, in their inner struggles they together present a complete archetype of the hero. The Homeric vision of the hero presents Achilleus and Hektor resolving the paradox of embodying the ideals of their
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At last he is left alone to face Achilleus outside the walls of Troy, where he realizes the futility of his situation: either the Trojans will say, "Hektor believed in his own strength and ruined his people," or he will perish at the hand of Achilleus (22.107-10). The cycle of shifting motives is complete when Achilleus—who had previously thought the fighting unworthy of his energies—kills Hektor, who is finally more concerned for his own name than that of the city for which he had so bravely fought. One sees the heroes defining and defined by their allegiance either to their own glory or to the needs of others.

When the heroes choose Other before Self, and thus integration above alienation, they are able to demonstrate unmatched, charismatic leadership, although this too has dimensions of isolation and unity. Rather than moving from one end of a spectrum to the other, however, Hektor is united with his men throughout most of the battle (one with them), while Achilleus consistently distances himself from those he commands (one among them). Achilleus is never able to withdraw from the warrior’s stance, even as all his men rest from the fray: "Food and drink mean nothing to my heart / but blood does, and slaughter, and the groaning of men in the hard work" (19.213-14). Later, when the Achaians hold games in honor of Patroklos, Achilleus presides instead of participating (23.257-61). He acts with great solemnity in judging the

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