How does the Iliad contribute to the idea of civilization?

The Iliad contributes to civilization in several ways. For one, it helps define what Greek civilization was, in a way that transcends mere history. Because the poem humanizes the events of the Trojan War, the poem encourages us to connect empathetically with its characters and, in the process, to reflect on our own humanity.

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This depends on what your notion of "civilization" is. If you mean "civilization" as something like "nation" or "nationality," then the poem celebrates the Trojan War and the values that caused it, and, in so doing, it helps define Greek civilization. The historical accuracy of the poem in this sense means less than the artistry of it; the story of Hector and Achilles is a kind of artifact. By reading the poem, we learn something of what it meant to live in ancient Greece.

If, on the other hand, you mean "civilization" in the broader sense of being "civilized," or culturally sophisticated, the poem must be read in a different way. In this case, the barbarism of the battle scenes and the passions of individual characters—Agamemnon's lust for power, Achilles's pride, Hector's sense of duty—serve to humanize the events of the poem.

Because the poem dramatizes the internal conflicts these characters face while at the same time placing them in the context of the chaos of war and forcing them to make choices with real consequences, the story dramatizes what, for lack of a better term, one can call the "human condition." That is, because the poem humanizes these characters, as readers, we engage with their stories. In understanding the choices they make, we can evaluate our own choices and, with luck, make better ones. In short, the poem contributes to "civilization" by reminding us what it is to be human.

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