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Essay on The Horrors of War Exposed in Homer's Iliad

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The Horrors of War Exposed in Homer’s Iliad

 

"There- Harpalion charged Menelaus - King Pylaemenes' son

Who'd followed his father into war at Troy

But he never reached his fatherland again.

He closed on Atrides, spear stabbing his shield

Right on the boss but the bronze could not drive through,

So back he drew to his ranks, dodging death, glancing

Left and right, fearing a lance would graze his flesh.

But Meriones caught him in full retreat, he let fly

With a bronze-tipped arrow, hitting his right buttock

Up under the pelvic bone so the lance pierced the bladder.

He sank on the spot, hunched in his dear companion's arms,

Gasping his life out as he writhed along the ground

Like an earthworm stretched out in death, blood pooling,

Soaking the earth dark red.  Hardy Paphlagonians,

Working over him, hoisting him onto a chariot,

Bore him back to the sacred walls of Troy...

Deep in grief while his father, weeping freely,

Walked beside them now.  No blood-price came his way.

Not for his son who breathed his last in battle." -Homer, The Iliad;  book 13, page 362, lines 742-760

 

 

            Homer, perhaps one of the greatest epic writers of all time, was a master in the art of manipulating the emotions of his audience using only the written word.  This passage, however, seems somewhat atypical of his writing style.  Strangely enough, he does not even once laud the beauty of war or the concept of kleos, which is a Greek term meaning glory and renown.  This is highly out of the ordinary for Homer, who seems to admire the manly feats of arms and courage that he perceives stem from war-like pur...


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...r, he is telling a truly epic tale.  Many elements hold constant throughout the poem, so much so that Homer has been said to use his "stock" tactics to the extent that his story becomes almost formulaic in nature.  In some cases, Homer strays from his normal style in favor of tangents that at times contradict his views on warfare, as in this case of young Harpalion.  These rare passages are enough to give one pause, and are certainly worthy of note in that they not only enliven the story but also serve to maintain the attention of the audience through sheer force of contrast.  This sad tale of a young man cut down in his prime might have been only a passing, fleeting glimpse into the horrors of war, but nevertheless it is a good reminder that war is not glorious as it is in the old tales...it is ugly and brutal, stomach-turning and heart-breaking.


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