Saturday, October 17, 2009

Iliad II: The End of the Iliad

Why does Homer chose to end The Iliad so abruptly? (Hint: what's the main focus or idea of the work?). How would you have concluded it?

The Illiad focuses on the choice that Achilles faces between a long, uneventful life and a short, glorious one. Achilles' rage is integral to the decisions he makes with respect to life and glory. Let's examine two instances of Achilles rage and how they affect his decisions. First, he refuses to fight for the Greeks after Agamemnon forces him to give up Briseis, his prize of honor. "'Yet now,' Achilles continued, 'you threaten to take away my prize of honor, which I earned and which the Greeks gave to me. Whenever I sack a town, my prize is my own. So now I will return to my homeland. I refuse to stay here, dishonored, on order to win greater wealth for you (129)!'" His rage indirectly causes the death of his friend Patroclus. Achilles' rage incites him to enter the battle to avenge Patroclus. "'I will go forth to slay Hector, who killed the man I loved. I will accept my fate whenever Zeus and the other immortals bring it upon me. Until then, may I win great fame and glory, and may every Trojan realize that the greatest of the Greeks no longer remains apart from battle'" (145). Ultimately, Achilles chooses to quench his thirst for revenge, defy fate, and garner glory in exchange for his life.

By telling the story of Achilles' rage, Homer adds to Achilles' glory by immortalizing him. Generations of people in the West have heard his story. By ending the Illiad abruptly, without a lengthy denouement, the listener is left with the memory of Achilles as a vengeful, conquering hero. This is Homer's tribute to a Greek among Greeks. As a modern, I would probably have ended the Illiad with the account of Achilles' death or the fall of Troy. While this ending might be more satisfying as a conclusion, it is less effective in glorifying the Greek ideal of a warrior.

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