Western Literature 101:Winning a Battle & Losing the War at the Phalanx of Homer's Retention of West


Western Literature 101 articles serve as one of the academic courses in the field of English Language and Literature. The course which is a fundamental guide within the scope of general knowledge compared to the technical knowledge of English literature also addresses the readership besides students. With this goal in mind, the author has opted to write the article in very plain and basic English to convey just the necessary understanding of Western literature by making the article merely an outline introduction.

Western Literature 101 is divided into seven chapters:

1. Western Literature 101: First Leader Who Tasted the Bitterness of Immortality

2. Western Literature 101: Genesis of All-Encompassings and Annihilation of Many Things

3. Western Literature 101: Winning a Battle & Losing the War at the Phalanx of Homer's Retention of West

4. Western Literature 101: Agony of Lost Desires Cries Silently on Poseidon's Hammock

5. Western Literature 101: Western Roots of Comedy: Greek Comedy

6. Western Literature 101: Western Roots of Tragedy: Greek Tragedy

7. Western Literature 101: Fall of Troy & Birth of Rome

Winning a Battle & Losing the War at the Phalanx of Homer's Retention of West

The subject of "Winning a Battle & Losing the War at the Phalanx of Homer's Retention of West" consists of a subject that has influenced many people's hearts and many more verses of literary works deeply, the famous Iliad itself. This epic is so deeply placed in the culture of modern western civilizations that, even in the 21st century, people re-write it, add fiction to it, and film it again and again. These many re-writes and filming of the Iliad show how important it is and tremendously it shakes the roots of the West from literature to new media's world sphere. This another essential western literature era literary work is crucial in terms of evaluating literary works over the history of Greek politics, social order, and the after-effects of some literary works overworld ground zero policy for future literary works, based on their specific qualities. To access the previous part of the 101 series:

A study Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres painted in preparation for the "Apotheosis of Homer."

What made Homer’s Iliad so definitive is that ne'er-do-well in all Greek nations dared to write such a long narrative at a time when most of the stories had been created orally. It was not a secret story that as a result of that the Iliad already existed in oral-literary works as such, but the way Homer re-wrote and re-established made the story an unforgettable masterpiece that kept its beauty and lasted for millenniums until today. What can be connected between the Iliad’s theme and Greek culture is a very excessive topic, which should be taken into special treatment in deep literary and historical works, but what one can get back to sunlight is that Greek culture was at dawn fall which is also known as The Last Great Bronze Age or Dark Age in which they lost most of their culture's traditional wisdom. Many more about their identity when all the philosophers and so-called bourgeoisie class of its era had been lost had disappeared. This leads to a place where a more primitive and warrior society was established which created a perfect background for the Iliad.

"La Mort de Priam" (The Death of Priam) by Jules Lefebvre, oil on canvas.

The Iliad’s subject is war; its characters are men in battle and women whose fate depend on the outcome of an unequal bloody war between two sides. The war is fought by the Achaeans against the Trojans for the recovery of Helen, who has been taken by force by Agamemnon. What makes this story very entertaining in its kind between 725-675 BC and still in the 21st century is the way that the combatants are heroes, who in their chariots engage in individual duels before the supporting lines of class, such as; infantry and archers. There is no sentimentality in Homer's descriptions of these battles. He describes the action in a bloody and dark, realistic way with terms ranging from medical to warfare. The scene in which the act of cutting one's limbs is meticulously accurately portrayed in elaborate words from beginning to end shows that Homer makes no attempt to suppress the ugliness of Thestor's death. The bare, careful narration creates the true nightmarish ambiance of the battle, in which men perform monstrous acts with the same matter-of-fact efficiency they display in their normal occupations. Homer puts all the reality in one book as realistically as it can be, while other lines are being flourished by poetic writing. A simile in lines can reproduce the grotesque appearance of violent death - the simple spear thrust takes away Thestor's dignity as a human being even before it takes his life as a mortal being. Something beautiful which shines on the lines that not many writers could achieve except for Homer is the comparison of Patroclus to an angler, which emphasizes another aspect of the battle: its excitement.

Homer's lines here combine two contrary emotions:
  • The human revulsion from the horror of violent death,

  • The human attraction to the excitement of violent action.

This passage is typical of the poem as a whole. Everywhere in it, as individuals who are conscious of these two poles, there is war's ugly brutality and its "terrible beauty." Homer accepts violence as a basic aspect of human life. He accepts it not without enquiring about it but without melodramatics, but as an equal way to accept the fact that melodramatics pretend balance of power in each other as if war is not ugly nor to pretend that it does not have its beauty.

"Fury of Achilles" by Charles-Antoine Coypel, oil on canvas.

Even though many millenniums passed over Homer’s great success over the Iliad, he is still one of the war's greatest interpreters. The Iliad’s main character and subject Achilles is being displayed at the events of a few weeks in the ten-year siege of Troy. The particular subject of the poem, as well as its first line, Achilles, is a man who comes to live by and for violence as his first look with anger would be his death. His anger cuts him off from his commander and his fellow princes due to the ego that came from his mother’s supernatural effects on him, being half immortal on the battlefield. However, he is brought back to the battlefield by the death of his closest friend, Patroclus; the consequences of his wrath and withdrawal fall heavily on the Achaeans but most heavily on himself. The great dilemma between honor and reward shows itself in the lines by Homer. The great champion of the Trojans, Hector, fights bravely for his people, but unenthusiastically. War, for him, is evil, and he thinks nostalgically of the peaceful past, though he has little hope of peace to come for all. His pre-eminence in peace is emphasized by the tenderness of his relations with his wife and child and also by his kindness to Helen. The cause of the war that he knows in his heart will bring his city to destruction by Achilles’ wrath. What can be seen in Hector and cannot be seen in Achilles, against the background of the patterns of the civilized life - the rich city with its temples and palaces, the continuity of the family due to Greek civilization fundamentals in that age. The duel between these two men is the inevitable crisis of the poem. Just as inevitable as Hector's defeat and following Hector's death, as everywhere in the poem, Homer's firm control of his material preserves the balance in which one's contrary emotions are held. Such examples as; pity for Hector does not entirely rob most of one's sympathy for Achilles but also for Achilles' brutal words to the dying Hector and the insults he inflicts on Hector's corpse are truly disrespectful in an unhuman way. Although the brutality of war has been accepted as best described in Homer's works, readers are never allowed to forget that this inflexible hatred is the expression of his love for Patroclus. In the final book of the poem it is seen that Achilles' iron heart is moved at last; he is touched by the sight of Hector's father Priam clasping in supplication to the terrible hands that have killed so many of his sons. Achilles' wrath did not only affect both sides with sadness but his anger and disrespect made even the Gods feel pity for Hector and they call it a stop.

"Achilles Slays Hector" by Peter Paul Rubens.

Achilles, Priam, gods, and people of the both sides of the war weep together under the death of a great man. Achilles rediscovers his human side through the actions that he caused after weeping and he does the only thing to compensate for his action which he gives Hector's body to Priam for an honorable burial. His anger has run its full course and been appeased. It has brought death, first to the Achaeans and then to the Trojans, to Patroclus and Hector, and so to Achilles himself, for his death is fated to come "soon after Hector's." As once said, "he who gets up in anger, sits down with a loss." This tragic action is at the center of the poem, but it is surrounded by scenes that remind people that the organized destruction of war, though an integral part of human life is still only a part of that. The lust for peace and creative desire to find new possibilities have never left their carnivorous and violent nature is never far beneath the surface.

Scenes that take place during the farewell between Hector and Andromache make it clear again that the Achaeans are sentient of what they have sacrificed. Two poles of the human condition-war and peace, with their corresponding aspects of human nature, the destructive and also creativeness are implicit in every statement of the poem, easy to recognize, and they are in symbolic forms, in the shield that the god Hephaestus makes for Achilles, with its scenes of human life in both peace and war. Whether these two sides of life can ever be integrated, or even reconciled, is a question that the Iliad raises but cannot answer.

Bibliographical References

MacK, M., & Lawall, S. N. (Eds.). (1999). Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: The Western Tradition, Vol. 1: Literature of Western Culture Through the Renaissance (7th ed., Vol. 1). W. W. Norton & Company. Smith, Z. R. (2019). ELIT 105 Introduction To Western Literature (First ed., Vol. 1). Yeditepe University. Hose, M., & Schenker, D. (2015). A Companion to Greek Literature. p. 445. John Wiley & Sons. de Romilly, J. (1985). A Short History of Greek Literature. p. 1. University of Chicago Press. Kullmann, W. (1985). Gods and Men in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 89, 1–23. https://doi.org/10.2307/311265 Lattimore, R. (2011). The Iliad of Homer. Book 1, line 155, p. 79. University of Chicago Press. The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization. (2010). Athome.harvard.edu. Archived from the original on 2010-04-21. Retrieved 2010-04-18.

Visual Sources

Ingres, J. A. D. (1864). Apotheosis of Homer [Painting]. http://websites.umich.edu/~homeros/Artgallerypages/apotheosisingres.htm Lefebvre, J. (1861). La Mort de Priam [Painting]. Beaux-Arts de Paris. https://art.rmngp.fr/fr/library/artworks/jules-joseph-lefebvre_la-mort-de-priam_huile-sur-toile_1861 Coypel, C. A. (1737). Fury of Achilles [Painting]. The State Hermitage Museum. https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/portal/hermitage/digital-collection/01.+paintings/37911 Rubens, P. P. (1630). Achilles Slays Hector [Painting]. Collections du musée des Beaux-Arts de Pau. http://mba-pau.opacweb.fr/fr/search-notice/detail/887-5-2-achille-66761

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Doğukan Ejder

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