Homer and the Illiad What Term Paper

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The Guilt and Shame In Heroes

Sometimes, there is a misconception that heroes do not feel shame and guilt. For instance, in a movie, when heroes eliminate their adversaries, the viewers are happy because they just think of the good result that such action can bring to everyone. The viewers do not care of how the hero may have felt about his action of getting rid of the enemies and the viewers may think that the hero will feel happy and proud for what he did. However, in the Iliad of Homer, it is apparent that even heroes do feel shame and guilt. The best example of which are revealed in the characters of Achilles and Hector.

Achilles was a great Greek fighter. His passion was to fight and become well-known for his fighting skills. He was known to be the greatest fighter in Greece, thus despite Menelaus and Achilles do not agree with each other, Achilles was asked to fight for Greece against Troy during the quest of getting Helen back to Greece from Troy. Despite of Achilles greatness in fighting, his character still revealed that he is human who is able to feel guilt about all the lives that he took away. Similarly, Achilles demonstrated guilt when he felt responsible for the death of his foster brother Patroclus who was killed in the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans. Another instance when guilt in heroes was proven by Achilles was during the ransoming of Hector's body. Despite that he killed Hector for killing his foster brother, Achilles still felt guilt within because he knew that he killed an honorable man who did not intend to kill Patroclus. Jonathan Shay described Achilles as follows.

Achilles is portrayed as guilt ridden with survivor's syndrome, as bereft of his will to live and as feeling dead already.

Hector similarly felt guilt during the time that he killed Patroclus despite of the fact that he was not aware that it was Patroclus. For him, he killed a child a not a warrior. Moreover, as the first son of Priam and as a warrior leader, Hector felt guilty about the battle that the Trojans has to face because of his brother Paris.

The Iliad is an epic that is a depiction of the guilt and shame culture. This was explained by an article that can be found online, suggesting that The Iliad examines the excesses of an honor / shame culture. Both Agamemnon and Achilles are excessive in their devotion to honor. Agamemnon is excessively jealous of his honor in not returning Chryseis for ransom. Achilles is angry for too long at the affront to his honor. But Achilles forms a contrast with Agamemnon when he realizes that he is too extreme and accepts Priam's ransom. Achilles moderates his behavior when it becomes antisocial. A major Greek value is moderation; excessive attention to honor is hubris (pride), which is a vice.

From the characters of Iliad, it can be concluded that the Homeric society values shame and guilt culture. Achilles demonstrated that he was brought up in a shame culture. Thus, he may be found selfish in the epic because he only thinks of his honor in gloriously winning any fight or battle. The shame culture is predominant in his character as compared to the guilt culture.

Menelaus' character, on the other hand, depicted the shame culture. He went to start a battle against Troy to get Helen back, not because he loves her but because of the shame that he felt when Helen left her for another man. Thus, it is important that he puts up his honor and pride in a fight against the Trojans.


Homer, The Iliad. http://www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/cr/1.htm#Homer,%20The%20Iliad

Homer and the Oral Tradition. http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/ckostopo/GreeceY&T/Homer.rtf

Olesker, Katie. The Conflicting Views of Helen. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/classes/KOp.html

Shay, Jonathan. Review of Achilles in Vietnam.

Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture 1994: Vol 2 (5), pp 122-124.[continue]

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