In Homer’s Iliad, war is depicted as horrible, bloody, and fruitless. There are no clear
winners in The Iliad. Many people die in vain because of arrogant and emotional
decisions made by men. Achilles directly causes the death of his friend by first refusing to
fight, leaving the Greeks at a disadvantage, and then poorly advising his friend Patroclus
to join the other fighters. Even the initial cause of the war, Paris’ kidnapping of Helen, a
Greek woman, is a rash and selfish act.
The will of Zeus plays an important part in the events of The Iliad. Zeus’ will is infallible,
and so, in a way, the events that occur are all destined to happen. However, there is a
small amount of flexibility as to when the events will happen. This flexibility comes from
the intervention of the lesser gods, and the actions of mortal men. Apollo can send a
plague on the Greeks, and Aphrodite can rescue Paris from certain death when he is
fighting Menelaeus, but in the final outcome, the Greeks will sack Troy, and Paris will
When mortals interfere with the will of Zeus, the results are much more tragic. Because
they are mortal, their actions have direct influence on their comrades, and their lives.
Gods feel pity when they cannot save a favored mortal, but that pity cannot compare to
Achilles’ sorrow at the death of Patroclus.
Death and fighting is not depicted as glorious in The Iliad. Brave warriors receive fame,
gold, food, and women, and the younger Greek fighters thrive on this romantic notion.
However, a closer look at the text shows that Homer describes many deaths in violent,
anatomic detail. Most of these deaths are not important to the plot of the story, but they
serve the important purpose of showing the reader that no death is insignificant or easy.
These descriptions give The Iliad a Saving Private Ryan type of realism.
The Iliad focuses much on Achilles and his internal struggle with his personal will versus
the will of Zeus. However, in the middle of the book, he is almost entirely absent. This
gives Homer the opportunity to show other sides of the conflict, and dirty deeds done by
the Greeks and Trojans. In the time of the Trojan war, there was an unwritten code of
heroic conduct that the bravest warriors followed. Defeated warriors were not always
killed. They were sometimes taken prisoner and returned for ransoms of money or gifts.
However, in the Iliad, Homer shows that leniency rarely survives in war. Diomedes and
Odysseus, two respected Greek warriors, sneak into a sleeping Trojan camp and kill many
unarmed, dreaming Trojans. Paris ignores the conduct of a fair fight, and runs away every
chance he gets. And Achilles, after losing Patroclus by Hector’s sword, tortures Hector
before killing him and treats his body very poorly. Desecration of a dead body was
sacrilege to Greek and Trojan society, and it was a great insult.
Homer’s last comments on the futility of war come at the end of the Iliad, and in a
peaceful manner. Homer shows a little redemption for the horrible effects of war when
Priam begs Achilles for Hector’s body. Achilles and Priam share a moment of realization
of what has been lost to the long Trojan war. The final scene is a quiet, mournful funeral,
in which the Trojans bury Hector, who was a good man destroyed by the horror of war
and the will of Zeus.