Sample Essay

Humanities 1
December 1996

The Role of Honor

The ancient Greek culture during the time of the Trojan War was warrior based. Every man was expected to fight and to fight well. A man's honor depended on many things like how well he fought, how much material wealth he had, and his hospitality. A man must look strong at all times, and never appear to be weak. This warrior based characteristic of the Greek culture caused many problems and feuds among the people. The Iliad consists of many different situations where it can clearly be seen that honor played a major role in the outcome. Such situations are the argument among Agamemnon and Akhilleus, the conversation between Andromakhe and Hektor, and the fight between Akhilleus and Hektor.

Immediately the reader is introduced to a situation very much involving the personal honor of two men. Agamemnon, the great leader of the Akhaians, and Akhilleus, the greatest warrior of the Akhaians, are entailed in a fierce argument. Agamemnon has angered the gods by failing to return Khryses, the daughter of the priest, which he had claimed as a prize in a previous victory. Akhilleus discovers that this is the reason why the gods are angry and insists that Agamemnon return the priest's daughter. To save this army, Agamemnon agrees, but demands in return a prize of honor. Agamemnon feels that his honor is being compromised, and he is willing to give his reward up without receiving any compensation in return from his soldier's winnings. He is the leader of the Akhaians, and for him to lose his reward while all the other soldiers keep theirs is unacceptable. Akhilleus feels that this would be dishonoring the other troops, and does not think it is right to take their reward away. Agamemnon is angered and decides to take the young girl that was the prize of Akhilleus. In this situation the honor of Agamemnon is challenged and a dispute between him and Akhelleus results.

Another situation involving personal honor occurs during the conversation between Andromakhe and Hektor. The time has come for Hektor to leave his home and fight in battle. His wife, Anfromakhe, insists that he stay. She pleads with him explaining that the Anhaians have killed all of her family and that he is the only one left that she still loves. Taking this into consideration Hektor knows he must fight anyway because of his honor. Hejtor says, "But I should die of shame before our Trojan men and noblewomen if like a coward I avoided battle" (50).

Hektor will not allow himself to look like a coward in front of his own people. His honor will not allow him to do this. If Hektor dies, he must die fighting against the enemy to save his wife and his people. Hektor does not want to be alive to see the day his wife is taken captive. He must fight to protect her, and if he dies, he has died honorably. Hektor was raised to be brave and to fight for his honor. Hektor's personal honor causes him to leave his wife and home, and risk losing everything. Hektor is willing to lose everything to protect his honor.

Still another situation involving personal honor occurs when Hektor refuses to return inside the city wall and hide from Ankilleus. Hektor had refused earlier to withdrawal his troops when Ankilleus joined the battle. This strategic mistake caused the death of many Trojan warriors. Hektor was already ashamed to face hiw own people, and because of this he could not afford to back down to Akhilleus. Hektor says, "Better, when that time comes, that I appear as he who killed Akhilleus man to man or else that I went down before him honorably for the city's sake" (124). Hektor will either face his people as the one who killed Akhilleus, or die honorably trying. If Hektor defeats Akhilleus he will have gained the honor for killing the greatest Akhaian warriors, and if Hektor is defeated and killed by Akhilleus, he will have died with great honor for attempting to protect the city and his people. Hektor's honor costs him his life.

In all three of these situations personal honor helped to determine the outcome. Agamemnon and Akhilleus disputed because honor would not allow Agamemnon to give up his prize of honor and not be compensated for it. Honor caused Hektor to leave his wife and child behind and go to battle because he could not appear to be a coward in front of his own people. Honor caused Hektor to fight Akhilleus and to lose his life because he would be too ashamed to face his people if he had backed down. However, if Hejtor would fight Akhilleus and win he would receive great honor, and if he would die, his death would be honorable. As shown by The Iliad personal honor can cause many problems, not many which have good outcomes. Honor can cause us to act without thinking over the consequences. Honor can cause us to have disputes with out friends and family. It is meaningful for us to think about how important honor is to ourselves. Is honor really worth losing your friendships, our families, and our lives over?

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