Explain how war and violence help to establish the environment for the development of its characters and plot, while neither are underlying themes in the Iliad.  

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The underlying themes of the Iliad are established through war and violence.  They become the backdrop through which the themes are displayed. For example, the theme of honor is displayed through the violence which is part of war.  Hector recognizes the need to defend his honor and the honor of Troy, even though a violent death through war awaits:

 Alas! the gods have lured me on to my destruction. I deemed that the hero Deiphobus was by my side, but he is within the wall, and Minerva has inveigled me; death is now indeed exceedingly near at hand and there is no way out of it—for so Jove and his son Apollo the far-darter have willed it, though heretofore they have been ever ready to protect me. My doom has come upon me; let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.

Hector does not retreat from a violent death or destruction that is predicated upon war.  For Hector, honor is something absolute.  It defines one's being.  Honor is shown to be a theme in the Iliad demonstrated through the violence intrinsic to war.  Achilles sees honor in the campaign against Troy, and although the violence in such a campaign is understood, Achilles embraces it. By the same logic, Paris is seen as dishonorable because he shies from the violence associated with war.  In this context, war and violence are the backdrop to which the theme of honor is evident.

Another theme seen in Homer's work is the intense level of pain and suffering that exists within the human predicament as a result of war and violence. In this context, war and violence help to evoke the suffering intrinsic to what it means to be human.  War and violence becomes the physical manifestation of emotional hurt. When Hector must bid farewell to wife and child, this pain is seen.  Both he and those he leaves behind experience hurt.  Andromache's suffering and pain is articulated so precisely because it is brought on by war:   "...Your valour will bring you to destruction; think on your infant son, and on my hapless self who ere long shall be your widow—for the Achaeans will set upon you in a body and kill you. It would be better for me, should I lose you, to lie dead and buried, for I shall have nothing left to comfort me when you are gone, save only sorrow."  In speaking these words to Hector, it becomes clear that her predicament is brought forth from the violence that war brings.  Hector responds to his wife's pain with his own description of being, one where suffering is the only constant.  Hector's words remind the reader that human suffering is evident when violent war subsumes consciousness:

Wife, I too have thought upon all this, but with what face should I look upon the Trojans, men or women, if I shirked battle like a coward?...  On this your tears will break forth anew for him who would have put away the day of captivity from you. May I lie dead under the barrow that is heaped over my body ere I hear your cry as they carry you into bondage.

War and violence are the backdrops where themes of honor and the suffering intrinsic to human consciousness are displayed.  Homer is able to write a "war poem" in which the pain of being human is on display.  War and violence establish the environment that illuminates the work's themes.

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