Use specific elements in the text of the Iliad  to identify and explain its underlying theme in light of Book XXIV.  Explain if the ending provides or does not provide a resolution to the...

Use specific elements in the text of the Iliad  to identify and explain its underlying theme in light of Book XXIV.  Explain if the ending provides or does not provide a resolution to the underlying theme.

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

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The theme of honor amongst human beings is a significant throughout the work.  It is the basis for much of the characters' actions.  It becomes the reason why war is waged, why Agamemnon is the way he is, the justification for Hector's actions, and for Achillles' wrath.  Honor is a significant theme because every individual feels it.  Their movement towards a particular end is driven by honor.  

This theme is woven throughout the narrative.  It is evident at its beginning, in the middle of the epic, and is displayed in different forms in Book XXIV.  The act of Achilles dragging Hector's body in such a vile manner is an act of dishonoring the dead.  Achilles' rage is only triggered by his belief that Patroclus was dishonored by Hector's actions. The theme of honor is something that wends its way all the way to the immortals:  "..the blessed gods looked down in pity from heaven, and urged Mercury, slayer of Argus, to steal the body."  Those Olympians who did not share this understanding felt that Priam and his people had dishonored them.  The theme of honor is something that plays a vital role in the exposition of Book XXIV, helping to confirm its place as an essential theme in the narrative.

Honor is a theme that binds the last book of the epic.  The gods do not strike a vengeful tone with their response to Achilles.  Their response to Achilles's actions is an honorable one as they send Thetis to coax her son to release the body of the slain Trojan hero to his father, itself an act of honor amidst the dishonor of war.  It is with "honorable courtesy" that Iris relays to Priam the way he will retrieve his dead son, restoring honor to the regal house of Troy. When his wife opposes Priam going to Achilles, Priam responds with the honorable love of a father:  "If it be my fate to die at the ships of the Achaeans even so would I have it; let Achilles slay me, if I may but first have taken my son in my arms and mourned him to my heart's comforting.”  Priam would rather face death in the most honorable of ways as opposed to not mourn for his beloved son.  Priam asserts his honor amidst a setting of "shame and disgrace." The need for individuals to act with honor guides their actions even until the end of the narrative.

The moment where Priam and Achilles weep together is another instance where honor is demonstrated.  They honor the human spirit capable of much in way of redemption amidst the setting of war where so much of the worst is evident.  Honoring the human capacity for goodness is where both adversaries, display honor for one another. Priam's words speak to this spirit of honor, even amongst bitter opponents:

Since, then, you suffer me to bury my noble son with all due rites, do thus, Achilles, and I shall be grateful. You know how we are pent up within our city; it is far for us to fetch wood from the mountain, and the people live in fear. Nine days, therefore, will we mourn Hector in my house; on the tenth day we will bury him and there shall be a public feast in his honour; on the eleventh we will build a mound over his ashes, and on the twelfth, if there be need, we will fight.

The ending where Hector is honored, and Achilles is recognized for showing honor demonstrates the presence of the theme throughout the Iliad.

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