The other night I was watching a documentary on the Greeks. We're pretty deep into the Greeks for the first few months of the year. It can't hurt to have a broader understanding. Anyway, in the documentary, they made the point that Greek noblemen were brought up with heroic ideals. They would have looked towards the example of Achilles, et al, for guidance and direction.
As I mentioned last week, I thought Achilles was a bit of a jerk. If one of my sons told me they wanted to grow up to be like him, I'd be seriously taken back. But the guys who made the documentary certainly know more about the Greeks than I do, so I'll have to take them at their word.
On the other hand, maybe I'm selling Achilles short. He showed bravery and courage. He was strong and swift and a faithful friend, to Patroclus, at least. His lack of mercy, which loomed large to me, might have seemed more of a background thing then. If a Greek noblemen found courage and ambition in response to the Iliad, then I shouldn't look down at him.
But I wonder if there was some subversion going on too. One of the themes of the Iliad is that death comes to everyone, so you should face it open eyed and courageous. Virtually every time someone flees, they get a spear in the back. The idea that one must fight, and fight hard was an important one to the Greeks. They lived in a very dangerous age, when raiders could appear over the horizon at any time. Only by being willing to commit to arms at a moments notice, did they have any hope of being safe.
However, as the Iliad points out, losing a battle had very dire consequences. It meant death for the soldier, of course. But it also meant horrible death for their families. If they were lucky, they'd only be sold into slavery. And this would probably only happen after their wives were repeatedly defiled. Not good.
Here though, is what I wonder. Was there a lesson in the Iliad that man should avoid actually going to war? The Trojan war was kicked off when a prince named Paris stole off with a queen named Helen. The Greeks were honor bound to sail off and get her back. This process wasn't a simple one. It involved its own bloodshed and bad feelings. (We'll get to the story of Agamemnon next month!) Once they took off, they spent ten years attacking Troy. After they won, the survivors were scattered and killed.
Was it worth it? I can't imagine that anyone really thought so after it was all done.