Pride in the Iliad: The Subject of Pride in Ancient Greek Society

Pride in the iliad why is it importantPride in the Iliad, written by Homer, was about the heroic achievements of warriors on the battlefield and how they would be remembered in years to come. However, in ancient Greek society, pride was thought of as an admirable quality, and people who displayed excessive humility were viewed as weak.

Keep reading as this article would discuss the theme of pride and examine examples of the character trait in Homer’s epic poem.

What Is Pride in the Iliad?

Pride in the Iliad refers to the one character trait that spurs almost all the male characters into action. Pride, when controlled, is admirable but excessive pride can lead to one’s downfall as demonstrated in the Iliad. Hector, Odysseus, Protesilaus, and Achilles displayed pride which are negative in today’s society.

The Subject of Pride in Ancient Greek Society

As discussed earlier, the ancient Greeks viewed pride as a positive character trait because it was a warring society and as such pride was the impetus for every warrior. It was the force that drove every warrior to give all or nothing on the battlefield in defense of their city-state.

Pride went along with glory and honor that was why many of the major characters placed it above their very lives. Although it was a positive character trait, too much of it caused the destruction of most of the major characters in the poem.

Excessive pride was known as hubris and was defined as defying the gods due to one’s belief in his own abilities. A prime example was when Athena endowed Diomedes with superhuman strength but warned him not to use it against the gods except Aphrodite.

Diomedes’ newfound strength helped him to defeat all mortals he encountered on the battlefield and he felt proud of his achievements. He even fought the goddess Aphrodite and was successful but his pride led him to fight Apollo despite the warning.

He almost lost his life save for the mercy of Apollo who only used a few words to render the prideful Diomedes powerless. Though the god of prophecy showed Diomedes mercy and spared his life, not all characters in the poem enjoyed such clemency.

At the same time, characters like Protesilaus, Achilleus, and Hector suffered death as a result of their extreme pride. Thus, the Greeks believed that pride was good as it fueled one’s ego and brought out the best but too much pride was frowned upon.

Achilles’ Pride in the Iliad

There are several examples of Achilles’ pride in the Iliad which is essential to his role as the protagonist and the strongest warrior in the Greek army. The Trojans feared Achilleus and his presence alone was enough to turn the tide of the war in the favor of the Greeks.

No wonder when the Greeks were losing the war, Patroclus asked Achilleus for his armor just to strike fear into the hearts of the Trojans. His plan worked to perfection as the Trojans started losing the war once they saw Achilles’ armor, thinking it was Achilleus himself.

The first example is encountered in Book One where Achilles’ anger in the Iliad is revealed through his feud with his leader, Agamemnon, over his prized asset, which was a slave girl. According to the story, the Greeks had just sacked a town close to Troy and had plundered several of their properties including slaves. Agamemnon took a slave girl called Chryseis, the daughter of the priest of the town, Chryses. Achilleus, on the other hand, ended up with Briseis another slave girl.

However, Agamemnon had to return Chryseis to her father to stop the plague that had befallen the Greek army as a result of him taking Chryseis. Agamemnon, therefore, took Achilleus’ war prize as a replacement which angered Achilleus.

Achilleus reluctantly gave his prized asset to his leader, Agamemnon, but vowed never to fight for the Greeks against the Trojans. As one of the quotes about Achilles’ pride in the Iliad reads, “And now my prize you threaten in person to strip from me…I am minded no longer to stay here dishonored and pile up your wealth and your luxury..”

He viewed the slave girl as a monument of his success in the previous campaign and saw her as his pride and glory. True to his words, Achilleus did not fight the Trojans and the Greek army suffered heavy casualties. Several pleas including an envoy of prominent warriors such as Odysseus and Ajax the Great were refused by Achilleus. It only took the death of his best friend and the return of his pride for him to return to the battlefield.

Protesilaus’ Pride

Protesilaus’ was a minor character who died in the early part of the war due to his pride. At the start of the war, all the Greek warriors refused to disembark from their ships because of a prophecy; the prophecy claimed that the first to set foot on Trojan soil would die.

Protesilaus considered his life worth nothing and believed that his death would leave his name in the annals of Greek history. Therefore, with pride, Protesilaus jumped from the ship, killed a few Trojans, and died at the hands of the greatest Trojan warrior, Hector.

Protesilaus’ actions earned him a place in Greek mythology and religion as several cults in Greece developed around him. He had temples to his name and religious festivals are done in his honor which would bring him much pride.

Hector’s Pride

Hector was the strongest Trojan in the poem and just like his nemesis Achilleus, he had his honor to defend. It is said that with great power comes great responsibility and therefore bearing the title of the “greatest Trojan warrior” Hector’s reputation was at stake.

Thus, he felt pride in leading his troops in the battle for he knew that glory awaited him at the end of the war. Though his wife and his son tried to talk him out of fighting, Hector’s pride spurred him on.

Even when he learned that he would be killed by Achilleus, Hektor knew no retreat nor surrender. He preferred to die on the battlefield than in the comfort of his home where there was no honor. Hector slew several Greek warriors including Protesilaus and only fell to the strongest warrior of both sides, Achilleus. For him, the afterlife in the Iliad was of more importance than the present life.

Menelaus’ Pride

The ignition of the entire war was the wounded pride of Menelaus, Helen of Troy. Helen was known as the most beautiful woman in all of Greece and was the pride of King Menelaus of Sparta. As we’ve already encountered, women were seen as properties and owning one, especially the most beautiful, was a man’s honor. Thus, when Helen was abducted by Paris, Menelaus assembled a huge army just to retrieve her and restore his pride.

Though the war lingered for 10 years, Menelaus never gave up as he wanted nothing short of restoring his honor. He was willing to sacrifice huge resources and the life of his men to get Helen back. Eventually, Menelaus had his pride restored as Helen was returned to him. Without Menelaus’ pride the story of the Iliad probably would not have occurred.

FAQ

Was There Friendship in the Iliad?

Yes, though pride drove the warriors to fight, there were circumstances where they put away hostilities and extended a hand of friendship. A case in point was the scene between Hector and Ajax the Great. When the two great warriors faced off, there was no conclusive outcome as both were equally matched. Thus, instead of fighting for their pride, Ajax and Hektor swallowed it and became friends.

The two warriors even exchanged gifts as a sign of their rapport which was in stark contrast to the hatred between the two sides. The hate in the Iliad was temporarily assuaged in this scene as both sides took time off the battlefield.

Conclusion

This Iliad essay has explored the theme of pride and has given various illustrations of pride in Homer’s epic poem. Here is a summary of all that has been discussed in this article:Pride in the iliad what is the role of pride

  • Pride is the heroic accomplishments of warriors on the battlefield and how they would be remembered.
  • Ancient Greek society viewed pride as an admirable character trait but frowned on hubris which was excessive pride.
  • The major male characters in the poem exhibited pride which also served as fuel for the plot of the Iliad.
  • Though pride runs through all of the Greek warriors, some of them swallowed it for the sake of friendship.

Pride was like religion in the Iliad with honor and glory as the deities. Though today’s society views pride as a vice, it was a virtue in the warring days of the Greeks that every warrior possessed.

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