Theme AnalysisIn Homer’s Iliad, war is depicted as horrible, bloody, and fruitless. There are no clearwinners in The Iliad. Many people die in vain because of arrogant and emotionaldecisions made by men. Achilles directly causes the death of his friend by first refusing tofight, leaving the Greeks at a disadvantage, and then poorly advising his friend Patroclusto join the other fighters. Even the initial cause of the war, Paris’ kidnapping of Helen, aGreek 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 asmall amount of flexibility as to when the events will happen. This flexibility comes fromthe intervention of the lesser gods, and the actions of mortal men. Apollo can send aplague on the Greeks, and Aphrodite can rescue Paris from certain death when he isfighting Menelaeus, but in the final outcome, the Greeks will sack Troy, and Paris willdie. When mortals interfere with the will of Zeus, the results are much more tragic.
Becausethey 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 toAchilles’ 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 theyserve 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 versusthe will of Zeus. However, in the middle of the book, he is almost entirely absent. Thisgives Homer the opportunity to show other sides of the conflict, and dirty deeds done bythe Greeks and Trojans. In the time of the Trojan war, there was an unwritten code ofheroic conduct that the bravest warriors followed. Defeated warriors were not alwayskilled.
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 andOdysseus, two respected Greek warriors, sneak into a sleeping Trojan camp and kill manyunarmed, dreaming Trojans. Paris ignores the conduct of a fair fight, and runs away everychance he gets. And Achilles, after losing Patroclus by Hector’s sword, tortures Hectorbefore killing him and treats his body very poorly.
Desecration of a dead body wassacrilege 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 apeaceful manner. Homer shows a little redemption for the horrible effects of war whenPriam begs Achilles for Hector’s body. Achilles and Priam share a moment of realizationof 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 warand the will of Zeus.