What role does war play in The Iliad?

Essay Two: Writing an Essay on The Iliad
A note about citing quotations and paraphrases: When you use a quotation or paraphrase from a source (including when the source is a piece of literature), you will need to cite the source. The Iliad is a poem, so cite it the same way you would a poem, but add the number of the book for clarity. Write the word “book” and in Roman numerals give the book number. Use a semicolon. Then write the word “line” or “line” and then in Arabic numerals give the line numbers. In your second citation, you may omit the words “book” and “line” or “lines.” Remember also to put a forward slash between the lines of a poem when you quote them. Below is an example. (Again, this example was taken from a different edition of the Iliad.”

After Calchas tells why Apollo is killing the Greek men, Agamemnon stands up to show what a grand prize Chryseis is, sexually and otherwise. As he does so, Agamemnon shouts to all the Greeks about Chryseis, “‘I rank her higher / than Clytemnestra, my wedded wife'” (book I; lines 132-133). Here, Agamemnon shows his power and might be stating that his grand prize is one that all men would want. Later, however, on a more conciliatory note, Agamemnon tells the Greeks that he will return Chryseis if they will “‘fetch [him] another prize'” ( I; 138), thereby showing to all, and especially to Achilles, that he should be honored but will not be a stumbling block to restoring things to rights with the great god Apollo.

If you decide to write about The Iliad, choose one of the following topics. Certainly, you may narrow down the topic, making it more specific. You should certainly use examples and quotations from the sections of The Iliad we read for this class. If, however, you wish to read other sections (in our text) and use them to help you develop your essay, you may do so.

1. Is Achilles’ anger more a virtue or a vice, as presented in The Iliad? Do we ultimately admire him for his capacity for anger, or do we approve of him less? Compare and contrast Achilles with other characters to help you formulate your ideas.

2. Consider the presentation of the gods in The Iliad. What is the gods’ role? Do they control humans? Do humans have free will? Are the gods simply fickle, or do they support some essential order? What does this presentation of the gods reveal about the ancient Greek understanding of the divine? And finally, if you can explore this without being preachy, you might explore how the Greek conception of the gods and free will compares or contrasts with your own.

3. What role does war play in The Iliad? Is it presented as a good thing or a bad thing? What understanding of war do the different characters have? What are the worthwhile causes for fighting a war? And finally, how does the Greek understanding of war, at least as presented in this epicixc, compare with your own?

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