Kleos in the Iliad: Theme of Fame and Glory in the Poem
Kleos in the Iliad explores the theme of prestige and honor that drove major characters in Homer’s epic poem. The setting of the poem provides a rich background for expounding glory for it was the hope of all the warriors that their deeds would be remembered for generations.
Even after the war ended, poets and bards continued telling the stories of these legends thus they also helped to enhance the fame of the characters. Keep reading to know all about kleos and how it is both the glory achieved by the main characters as well as the stories told about them.
What Is Kleos in the Iliad?
Kleos in the Iliad and kleos in the Odyssey describe the great deeds of some characters which have won them eternal praise and admiration.Kleos, also known as kleos aphthiton, meaning glory, is the ancient Greek that indicates honor and it describes the fame and renown that heroes receive for their monumental achievements.
Examples of Kleos in the Iliad
Homer’s Iliad is replete with examples of glory because the story itself kleos. This means the Iliad is all about telling the great deeds of heroes like Achilles, Priam, Nestor, Hector, Ajax, Protelisaus and the rest.
The Glory of Achilles
The story of the Greek hero Achilles is one of the major kleos examples in the Iliad. He was the greatest Greek warrior and served as both a role model and an inspiration for all the warriors of Greece. Achilles was faced with two choices; to choose long life, peace and prosperity with no honor or a short life that’ll end in glory. Of course, Achilles chose the latter and it is the reason why his name is still mentioned today.
In Book Nine, the Achaean army was downhearted as they lost many battles against the Trojans. Many spoke of deserting the battle and returning including Agamemnon but Diomedes insisted on staying to fight. Nestor encouraged Agamemnon and Odysseus to go and beg Achilles to return to the battlefield after his prized asset, the slave girl, Briseis. Odysseus and his entourage went with a stockpile of gifts but Achilles, who felt his pride or glory (Briseis) had been taken from him, refused their plea.
Achilles told Odysseus, the King of the island of Ithaca, about the choice he had to make. According to him, his mother Thetis, the sea nymph, had informed him that if he fights with them, he is fated to die.
Achilles did not immediately join the fight and rather temporarily opted for the “long life and peace” because he was robbed of his glory, the slave girl, Briseis. However, he changed his mind and chose “the short life with honor” when Patroclus died and his pride, Briseis, was returned.
The Glory of Hector
Hector, a prince of Troy and the greatest warrior in the land also put glory and fame ahead of his life. He was fated to die at the hands of Achilles and he knew it but he still joined the fight. Even the pleas of his wife and the cry of his son, Astyanax, did little to dissuade Hector from achieving glory. In one of Hector’s he claimed that if he killed the enemy, he would hang their armor in the temple of Apollo and establish a monument.
Thus, anyone who passes and cites the armor and monument would know that the mighty Hector killed the enemy and his name would live on forever. Hector did not have to fight as he was the heir-apparent to the throne of Troy but glory and honor drove him to join the battle. Even Paris whose actions started the war, at a point, decided to sit out of the battle until he was scolded by his brother Hector. Hector became an inspiration to his men as he led them on several counterattacks dealing heavy blows to the rank and file of the Achaeans.
When Hector met up with Achilles in their final duel, his strength and valor failed and resorted to running. He ran thrice around the city of Troy with Achilles in hot pursuit because Hector had, at the time, abandoned his own pursuit of glory. He knew he would not escape death (known as nostos in the Iliad) for his end had come. However, he quickly recovered his posture and reminded himself of the glory that awaited him when he died at the hands of the mightiest warrior of the war.
Hector Glory Quote Kleos Quotes in the Iliad
“I would die of shame to face the men of Troy and the Trojan women trailing their long robes if I would shrink from battle now, a coward.”
The Glory of Protesilaus
Protesilaus was a leader of the Phylacians and the first to set foot on the shores of Troy. Before setting for Troy, it was prophesied that the first to step on the soil of Troy would die. When the troops got to Troy, all the warriors were afraid to land and stayed on their ships, afraid to die. Though Protesilaus knew the prophecy too well, his quest for prestige clouded his desire to live, thus he sacrificed himself for the Greeks.
His landing paved the way for the Greek states to attack the people of Troy, therefore, he was given the name ‘Protesilaus’ to celebrate his glorious act (his real name was Iolaus). Protesilaus’ deed resonates today – for no one remembers the second person to land as much as Protesiluas.
Another character whose story is a perfect example of glory is Odysseus. He was born to Laertes, the King of the Cephalleans and Anticlea, the queen of Ithaca. Odysseus did not have to go to the war but he considered the fame and prestige he would enjoy if he returned a hero. Even a prophecy that stated that he would have an arduous journey on his way home was not enough to dissuade him.
Odysseus set out with Agamemnon and Menelaus to retrieve a woman who was not his wife. Eventually, he drew the plan that would ensure victory for the Greeks and the return of Helen – the Trojan horse. He also played a major role in reconciling Agamemnon and Achilles who helped to beat back the Trojans are they invaded the Greek ships. Odysseus also helped in developing the plan that would thwart the Thracians led by their hero, Rhesus.
The Greeks learned that Rhesus was a great warrior who could decimate them with his fine horses and well-drilled soldiers. Thus, Odysseus and Diomedes decided to raid their camp while there were sleeping and take them by surprise. The plan worked and Rhesus died in his tent without engaging in th war. This event enhanced Odysseus’ reputation in the rank and file of the Greek army and resulted in his kleos.
Kleos and Time in the Iliad
Time (not to be confused with the English word) is an ancient Greek word that symbolizes the honor and glory reserved for the gods and heroes. This honor either takes the form of rituals, sacrifices or games to commemorate the deities or heroes. The difference between Kleos (also known as kleos aphthiton) and Time is: Kleos refers to the heroic acts by the individuals that result in glory. In contrast, Time refers to the rewards that the hero expects to win after they achieve kleos.
An example of Time in the Iliad is when Achilles and Agamemnon take some slave girls (Briseis and Chryseis respectively) after sacking their towns. However, Achilles becomes vexed when Agamemnon decided to take his time (also known as geras in the Iliad) and vows not to join the war in Troy.
So far, we’ve studied the meaning of Kleos as explored in the Iliad and have examined some instances in the Iliad where kleos was portrayed. Here is a recap of all that we have discovered:
- Kleos refers to the glory that awaits a hero after they have chalked a spectacular milestone.
- In the Iliad essay, we come across several instances where characters like Achilleus, Odysseus and Hector, through heroic actions, achieved Kleos.
- Achilleus chose death and glory when he was presented with two choices; choose long life and peace with no glory or a short life of war that would end in eternal glory.
- Hector also did the same when he fought in the war that he could have just sat out; he chose to die gloriously than to live under servitude.
- Protesilaus did not consider his life when he jumped from the ship to pave the way for the Greeks to invade Troy because he knew his glory would never cease.
Throughout the Iliad, Kleos was the driving force behind the actions of the major characters as each wanted to be glorified throughout history.