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In the Iliad, the characters are to follow a heroic code. This code is a system of honor. The heroic code includes a goal. The goal of Homeric heroes is to achieve honor. Honor is essential if one wants to be a hero. That is why Achilles agrees to fight for the Greeks. He desires for his name to be honored and remembered by following generations.
No doubt, heroes value honor above life. They are willing to die for honor. They desire to be heroic in all of their endeavors. The heroes achieve honor through their engagement in in life-threatening activities (a hero cannot avoid threatening situations and maintain his honor).
The hero is determined honorable by various factors. The courage a hero displays is honorable. The difficulty of the test the hero faces determines the level of honor a hero receives. Of course, social status affects one's honor. The physical abilities a hero possesses determines one's honor. Also, the spoils of his victories earns a hero merit and honor.
While honor is the desire of the hero, there are other codes of honor that are highly revered. The laws of hospitality are part of the honorable code. When Paris visits Menelaus in Sparta, Paris breaks the heroic code or hospitality code.
Paris visits Menelaus in Sparta and abducts Helen, taking her back to Troy with him, seemingly with her active cooperation. Paris also takes a large part of Menelaus’ fortune. This was a serious breach of the laws of hospitality, which held that guests and hosts owed very specific obligations to each other. In particular, the male guest was obligated to respect the property and wife of his host as he would his own.
Paris and his dishonorable actions cause the war between the Trojans and the Greeks.
Sometimes the hero would allow his flaws to discredit his heroism. Achilles and his tragic flaw cause the Greeks to suffer great losses. Achilles is driven by his anger at Agamemnon for dishonoring him. Agamemnon takes Achilles' girl Briseis. This enrages Achilles. Part of being a hero is determined by the spoils of victorious battles. Achilles earned Briseis. Agamemnon insults Achilles by taking his prize. Achilles' pride and anger get in the way and cause Achilles to stop fighting:
While the anger of Achilles is justified, his reaction reveals his tragic flaw. Achilles shows not only anger, but excessive pride. He is certainly the best warrior among the Achaeans. His strength and bravery have been proven in many battles. In a society which places the highest value on these assets, Achilles can rightly claim great honor and deference.
Truly, the honorable Achilles allows his rage and anger to interfere with his desire to be a hero:
Achilles removes his forces from the battle; he takes his anger too far.
Following the heroic code meant being self controlled and wise. Achilles does not always follow the heroic code.
Nevertheless, Achilles will be remembered for his heroism for he dies an honorable death while fighting for his country.
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