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10th Grade Essay on The Iliad - Please give feedback?


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My 10th grader responded to the following essay question. I would really appreciate critical feedback. Thanks!


Is there a “heroic code†that guides the decisions of the characters in The Iliad? Discuss the values of the Homeric hero, paying particular attention to contrasting characters such as Achilles, Odysseus, Paris, and Hector. Does one character emerge as more heroic than the rest? Does one character emerge as less heroic?




The “Homeric Heroâ€





While most of the main characters in The Iliad kill a large amount of innocent (or not-so-innocent) people, make morally questionable decisions, and don’t have the best personalities, they are still considered heroes by others inside and outside of the poem. This is an interesting phenomenon, as by our modern standards, people like Achilles, Odysseus, Paris, and Hector aren’t actual heroes. In fact, they would appear to be closer to more murderous versions of the typical ‘90’s anti-hero. Which brings to light the question, what makes them heroes? And, who would be the most heroic out of the four of them?


The typical Homeric Hero seems to have several similar traits. First, they usually have a ridiculous amount of people they’ve killed in battle under their belt. Next, they are either related to the gods, or are extremely blessed by the gods, gifting them with a slightly unfair advantage against their opponents. Then, the hero would usually have a sense of honor that guides what they do and why they do it, especially battle-wise. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many more similar traits that have been seen in any type of Greek work, but these seem to be the most common.


So, imagine this: your king has just come home from war with most of his army intact, bearing stolen armor, women, and weapons from the opposing side. He boasts that he’s killed ‘this many people’, and the rest of the crowd is deafening the town with their cheers. Would you consider that man a hero? If you were from modern times then most likely not, but if you were born in Ancient Greece, a man like that would be revered. Achilles, who is considered one of the best warriors and leaders in the poem, kills twelve innocent Trojan soldiers (or not-so-innocent, considering they most likely killed people too) and sacrifices them to the gods, who are pleased with this. On the flip side, Paris, who doesn’t seem to do much fighting, is called out by his brother Hector (who the Trojans love, before and after he slaughters a sizable amount of the Achaean army) for not being a man and fighting (though this may have more to do with the fact that it was Paris’s fault the war even began). Odysseus, who emerges to be one of the most level-headed and clever fighters on the Achaean side, kills a sizable amount of people as well. This brings to question the authenticity of these so-called heroes. Barring the fact that it was Paris’s fault the fighting even began, why is it that he would be considered the least heroic by his peers in the poem, and yet Achilles and Hector, who lead mindless slaughter against each other, are shown to be the most heroic of the poem? This most likely stems from the fact that in Homer’s time, their close-held values and morals included being able to kill their enemies.


Homeric heroes (and Greek heroes in general), are usually somehow related to the gods. It usually gives them some sort of unfair advantage against their opponents. This trait may have something to do with the Ancient Greek attitude on the gods. A hero who is related to the gods is already put on a pedestal, so their merits don’t have to be as large. Achilles’ mother is Thetis, a sea goddess. Odysseus, because of his cleverness, is blessed by Athena, Paris is blessed by Aphrodite, and Hector is favored greatly by Zeus.


For Achilles, this means that his mother was able to dip him in the River Styx as a baby, making him invulnerable aside from a place of his ankle. Thetis is also an advantage when Achilles prays that the Achaean army will suffer great losses so they will realize how much they need him (On a side note: what kind of hero does that?!). Zeus owes her a favor, so he makes it happen in spite of his wife, Hera, who hates the Trojans.


In regards to Odysseus, he seems to already be very clever and a great tactician, which makes the fact that Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, is on his side an even bigger unfair advantage. When he was spying on the Trojan camp, she gave him vital information so that he would be able to make it out alive. In fact, she is the person who gave him the idea to use to use to wood from the Achaean ships to make the famous Trojan Horse. She even works with him after The Iliad is over, as in The Odyssey (Homer’s work after The Iliad, focusing on Odysseus’ journey home) she helps him so that his son (who by that time is twenty years old and has not seen his dad since he was a baby) would recognize him and give him aid.


With Paris, Aphrodite is the person who set him and Helen up together. She guided Helen to him, and she made Paris fall in love with her so that he wouldn’t give her back. When he was about to be killed in his one-on-one duel with Menelaus (which would have most likely ended the war), Aphrodite transports him back to his room just in the nick of time. She even forces Helen herself to go and attend to him.

Hector, for all intents and purposes, must have been a saint sometime before the story begins, as Zeus loves him like he was his own son. It was no skin off his back to tip the scale in favor of the Trojans when Thetis asks him to, and he was much more firm with Athena and Hera after they helped the Achaeans than with the other gods who helped the Trojans. He also ordered Apollo to help Hector out by renewing him whenever he felt tired or injured.


Lastly, Homeric heroes usually have a very specific code of honor. This usually dictates all of their actions, in everyday life or in battle. For example, Achilles’ code of honor allows him to wish ill upon his own side of the Trojan war because he feels slighted by Agamemnon. Paris’ code of honor allows him to kidnap someone’s wife and not give her back, even when he promised to do so after losing his duel. Hector’s code of honor allows him to seek vengeance on his enemies for killing his allies and stripping them of their armor, but he does the same exact thing after killing Patroclus. In each of these examples, it would seem that each hero has a specific code of honor that is actually favor hypocritical, and not very honorable at all. They usually allow for the character to do morally reprehensible things in for their so-called “honorâ€, and seems to have a lot of gray areas.


In conclusion, Homeric heroes would be considered murdering, selfish, warriors with friends in high places now, but in Ancient Greece they were the ideal type of man to be. Given that statement, in a group of Achilles, Odysseus, Hector, and Paris, is there really someone who emerges to be more heroic than the others? All of them have either stolen, murdered someone(s), or cheated someone out of self-interest, or have done all three. Because of that, I’ve concluded that none of them are more or less heroic than the other three.

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Interesting. I must be in an unusually good mood today, which is weird for an insomniac who has barely slept in the past few days. :tongue_smilie:


My first impression of your student's essay was not very negative - quite the contrary, I found much of the essay charming.


Unfortunately, I would have to fail it on academic grounds, for considerations identical or similar to those brought up by Regentrude. BUT, if you forgive me for derailing, I wish to put that aside for a moment first: I think your student has some skill. Granted, this is a different kind of writing - this would be acceptable as a free-style, personal response paper, slightly tongue in cheek, adequate for journalist and forum kind of writing, without the conceptual distinction - "popular" kind of writing rather than "academic", but being able to write in this fashion is actually quite a marketable skill, if honed first. The light, engaging tone, very good "thought transitions" (from one thought to another - even though the thoughts themselves here are academically problematic) and the development of one's thought, avoiding of all the classical mistakes of formulaic writing of high schoolers and going straight to the point... within its own category, as a different kind of writing, this is actually not bad for a high school student.

Now, it is a bad thing if these effects that I "read" are actually side effects of not being capable of writing an academic-style paper :lol:, but if your student is actually capable of producing such "engaging" writing at will, he or she has some potential there. The thoughts are problematic here from the point of view of their content, but how they are wrapped up and organized can be a legitimate form of writing on its own, and it happens to be quite marketable.


Unfortunately, yes, academically, it is totally unacceptable on several levels. Academic writing requires first and foremost a conceptual distinction and appreciation of what one writes about. It requires clarity, not relying on cliches, it requires explicit elaboration of the concepts one operates with (WHAT is a code of honor? WHAT is specific about Ancient Greek code of honor? HOW "ancient" - at what stage of development of the Greek society?), textual back-ups (concrete examples, quotes, compared and contrasted examples - this is too vague), FORMAL considerations (what FORM of a text is this? is it even a "text" or does it belong to the oral tradition? what is the relationship between the form and the content?), formality (his approach and style is light and informal), and IF he wants to spice it with irony, he must be very careful as to how to incorporate it in a way that it does not take away from credibility, "seriousness" and respectability of an academic approach (most college students I have worked with are very bad at this, by the way - which is why I typically suggest to them not to be "original" or "provocative", because most of them just cannot walk on that fragile line).


Here is what the student should do - the essay must be rewritten, it cannot be "quick fixed":


1. The question of what makes a hero a hero from the beginning is fine, but you need to word it differently, eliminate all of the subjective markers ("questionable decisions", "the best personalities", etc.), and I would personally forgo writing on two temporal levels - focus on antiquity, this particular point in antiquity, not the present day standards. Bringing up a present day reception of antiquity might be interesting (why are we still labeling and presenting these as "heroes" in a moral sense - if we are?), but I would eliminate that too. Comparisons on different temporal and cultural levels are a tough thing to handle well on high school level.


2. You need to clearly differentiate "hero" as a literary hero (the character in a work of fiction), and "hero" in a virtuous / moral sense. It would be highly recommendable to discuss, in brief, the "literary" aspect (what is oral and what is written in Homer? what are the takes of scholars on the 'genre' of Homeric epics?) - if they know about these things, find a way to incorporate them. Just a sentence or two, but it needs to be present.


3. Expand on the shared traits, with concrete examples (who, what, why) and do not bring up other "types of Greek work" (?) - stick to Homeric epics.


4. The "Homeric heroes (and Greek heroes in general) are usually somehow related to the gods" needs to be elaborated on specifically: what is the relationship between the human and the divine, where are the intersections, what is the concept of the "hero" (as an in-between person) in Greek mythology, etc. LOTS of potential there.


5. You cannot have expressions like "She works with him after The Iliad is over (...) Homer's work after The Iliad". The work is not 'over', do not assume Homer's personhood, be neutral with 'Homeric epics'.


6. Do not take for granted that in Ancient Greece Homeric heroes were "the ideal type of man to be". Be very, very cautious about extrapolating a literary reality into a historical reality - an extremely common problem amongst students of all ages. Focus on the literary and make it clear that you analyze a literary character, not a prototype of an ideal (ideal by whom? ideal in what sense?) Ancient Greek (how ancient, in what epoch, etc.? a problematic concept). Stick to the text, avoid dealing with the (assumed) context as though it were the text. There must be a very clear differentiation between the two and no confusion. Clarity is lacking.



(On a side note: does this student have any kind of a creative outlet for writing? A blog, working with some journal or something? That style, once polished, could be publishable if they apply it to something they know (where they will have no conceptual issues), but are capable of presenting in an engaging, light fashion with appropriate touches of irony. :tongue_smilie:)

Edited by Ester Maria
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I really appreciate the feedback! I didn't think her essay was was up to snuff academically, but I when I read it, I was entertained.


She just recently asked about blogging! Also, she's been been writing short stories, fan fiction, and journaling throughout her teen years.


Again, I appreciate the critical, but much appreciated feedback. I didn't get a chance to thank regentrude yet, her comment isn't available for some reason. :)

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