Themes are overarching ideas and beliefs that the writers put into their work. Themes relate to universal human emotions, relations, and expressions. There are many themes in The Iliad by Homer. These themes are not only unique but also universal. Some of the major themes have been explained and analyzed below.
Themes in The Iliad
A war testing every character, their humanity, and finer feelings are in this epic. Although Achilles proves himself a hero, he seeks revenge and glory without a war. The others continue to fight for their lives on the battlefield, and violence goes on between two warring sides. It shows that war and peace have been parts of the social fabric of Homeric times. Hence, he made war resonate even with the names of the characters. Gods, too, have not been left immune to this poetic representation. They are fighting in that war, favoring one hero and going against the other, making deus ex machina an integral part of the poetry.
Homer did not glorify war. In fact, Hector rather seems to echo Homer when he says that life or death are returns of a war. Although it glorifies some, it shows some in bad light and others in poor light. On the other hand, it also makes heroes weep. The death of Patroclus, the wrath of Agamemnon, and the life of other characters show how war changes human beings.
Humanity means the demonstration of human passions, compassions, and finer feelings. Amid war brutality, characters such as Diomedes and Glaucus find themselves where their forefathers have been friends. The act of Achilles about the couriers of Agamemnon to take Briseis shows his humane behavior. However, the seamy side of his character emerges when he rages on the battlefield and treats Hector’s dead body mercilessly. At the same time, when Priam appears and appeals to his emotions to let him treat the same body with honor, he accepts his pleas. It shows that humanity has not lost amid the ravages of war.
Honor and Pride
Honor and pride are two other major themes of the epic as they get mixed up with each other at various places. Although honor is quite distinct from pride and glory, two negative things, if put into feelings, an honor for the Greeks was of supreme importance. There important warriors of the epic, Hector, Achilles, and Agamemnon, have honor in the sight when they are going to the battlefield. Hector and Achilles show that they prefer to honor and glory to a long life. However, when pride enters, it shows the real character of a man that does not deserve the honor. When Achilles and Agamemnon fight with each other, they do not show humility in treating each other. Agamemnon’s capture of the woman is a dishonor for Achilles. It hurts his pride.
In the same way, Agamemnon takes pride in his exploits and does not think to seek an apology for his lowly behavior. Achilles also goes too far to avenge Patroclus. Hence, Priam has to show humility to get his body back.
Though humans act as if they possess an unexpected power, gods determine the fates of different characters. Hence, fate always intervenes to help some and defeat others. For example, Athena intervenes and stops Achilles from murdering Agamemnon. At other times, they intervene to save their favorite heroes, such as in the case of Achilles. However, such choices and actions where gods do not directly intervene with the handiwork of the greater gods who do not favor anyone. Fate then depends on the choice that a person makes in his life. For example, Achilles acts in a way that he confronts fate, but then gods intervene and set the course right.
Battles are shown between soldiers to determine the morality of one against the other. A character, Glaucus, clearly states that the mortal lives of the generations are like leaves that fly away in the wind. Although gods sometimes give immortal powers to people like Hector and Diomedes, yet they do not bless them with ultimate immortality. Gods didn’t want humans to turn against them. The fragility of human life has been stressed. For example, Achilles was invincible but not immortal despite being a divine descendant. It happens that his mother leaves his heel that becomes famous for his vulnerability.
Love and Friendship
Every character shows these virtues in different ways. For example, Little Ajax becomes a hero when he meets Great Ajax on account of their love and friendship. The Trojan War erupts on account of Paris’ love for Helen and Helen’s choice to leave with Paris, rejecting Menelaus. The mutilation of Patroclus’s dead body by Achilles shows the unpleasant side of the Grecian hero. However, it gives rise to sympathy and love of Priam who appeals to Achilles to stop and hand him over his dead body. Even gods have a love for their children as in the case of Thetis who pleads the case of Achilles before Zeus.
Pursuit of Glory
The pursuit of glory is closely related to military honor or military exploits. The epic admires the families having demonstrated military exploits and feats in the wars. For example, Achilles, Hector, and other heroes are constantly mentioned as readying for a likely battle. Andromache appeals to Hector that he should not orphan his son and leave the battleground. However, Hector knows that he must honor his father’s name. However, Paris, who chose to say with Helen, does not seek glory. He is a pacifist without any military qualities, and hence he is not a seeker of glory.
Duty and sense of responsibility force Hector to make major decisions that lead to the war. He insults his brother Paris, who elopes with Helen, instead of fighting the invading enemy. He terms his responsibility for bringing devastation to the Trojan merely because he loves a woman. Although Hector does not hate the Grecians, he believes that their cause might be right. Yet he takes it as his responsibility to defend the city from the invading Greeks.
Glorification of War
War is glorified in the epic. Paris presents the unmanly character as he puts everyone in danger for love. On the other hand, Hector, Achilles, and Ajax believe in the war as a sense of duty. As they glorify war and hope to achieve respect, honor. They show wrath against the enemies. These qualities show a person having virtues even on the battlefield is considered a hero.
Vulnerability of Human Life
Fragility and vulnerability of human life is another minor theme. When Patroclus is killed, Agamemnon is filled with wrath and goes on a killing spree. He cannot bring back Patroclus. Similarly, Achilles, despite being a demi-god, dies during the war.