Is Homer's Iliad relevant today and why?

The Iliad is relevant today because it deals with universal themes of war, honor, compassion, and death. And the question: What is the significance of Achilles' choice to return shield to Agamemnon? In Homer's Iliad, Achilles gives his spear (his "snake") and shield (his strongest defense) to his mother Thetis before going into battle against Hector.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Iliad , like all great works of art, is of continued relevance because it deals with universal themes. The characters in the poem may have, what seem to us, strange names; their codes of honor and social conventions are completely alien to ours; and their belief in a pantheon...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The Iliad, like all great works of art, is of continued relevance because it deals with universal themes. The characters in the poem may have, what seem to us, strange names; their codes of honor and social conventions are completely alien to ours; and their belief in a pantheon of gods constantly intervening on behalf of mortals is something many of us find hard to accept. Nonetheless, if we strip away all the extrinsic detail, we are left with recognizably human concerns that still speak to us today.

The twenty-first century is considerably more brutal and mired in conflict than the Homeric world. Although people are perhaps more aware than ever before of the horrors of war, nonetheless wars do still break out with frightening regularity, and often over quite trivial matters.

As in Homer's time, the vast majority of war's victims are innocent civilians. After Achilles slays Hector, we are left in no doubt as to how the Trojan War will end. Every last Trojan male will be slaughtered, and their families taken as slaves. We like to think of ourselves as more civilized than our ancient Greek forbears, and yet, one cursory glance at the world today provides us with human suffering on a scale unimaginable to the people of Greece and Troy.

But the Iliad isn't just a catalog of endless slaughter; there are also traces of deep humanity. The wailing and lamentation of the Trojan women over the death of Hector; the quiet dignity of his father, Priam as he goes to the Achaean camp to request the return of his son's body for burial; the noble desire of Hector to spare the lives of as many of his men as possible, in stark contrast to Achilles's savage recklessness. Even in the midst of all this unspeakable carnage, we can still catch a glimpse of the universal qualities of humanity that transcend the contingencies of time and place to live on through the ages and into the present day.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Yes, it is absolutely relevant.
The details of the warfare have changed, and the political battles are different. However, to see how it is relevant, look at the things that haven't changed. Men still go to war, and still have to choose between safety and glory (Achilles' choice). Women still watch their men go off to war (and now men watch their women go too). Fathers still weep over lost sons, and friends over lost friends, and so on.

The motives and the emotions stay relevant, as well as the elements of fate and related to death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team