What role does war play in the Iliad? Is it presented as a good or bad thing? What are the worthwhile causes for fighting a war?
To compare the Iliad and the Odyssey is to see immediately that the former poem presents one very difficult problem for the poet. The Odyssey has inbuilt variety. Odysseus is constantly traveling to new places, encountering antagonists, meeting witches and princesses or outwitting monsters. The Iliad takes place in a single location. There is a great deal of talking and one principal activity to stop the speeches and provide some excitement and variety: war. Even in the tenth year of the war, the sides are evenly matched enough that the absence of Achilles makes a decisive difference. This is essential not only for the plot, but to ensure that war is an exciting spectator sport for the poem’s audience or reader, with characters such as Diomedes and Hector winning glory through their aristeias.
War is presented as the theater of courage, the principal virtue of the Homeric hero. The heroes are there to win glory (and, as a secondary consideration, wealth) for themselves, not to secure the...
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