The Ancient Greek Concept of Glory: The Iliad

I have heard that veterans’ groups and serving soldiers have seen Ancient Greek plays or read Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey and found echoes of their own situation. See the marvelous: ‘Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point’ by Elizabeth Samet, that I will devote a later post to.

Here is Wikipedia on the the concept of glory in the Iliad:

Kleos (κλέος — glory, fame) is the concept of glory earned in heroic battle; for most of the Greek invaders of Troy, notably Odysseus, kleos is earned in a victorious nostos(homecoming), yet not for Achilles, he must choose one reward, either nostos or kleos. In Book IX (IX.410–16), he poignantly tells Agamemnon’s envoys — Odysseus, Phoenix, Ajax — begging his reinstatement to battle about having to choose between two fates (διχθαδίας κήρας — 9.411).

The passage reads:

μήτηρ γάρ τέ μέ φησι θεὰ Θέτις ἀργυρόπεζα (410)
διχθαδίας κῆρας φερέμεν θανάτοιο τέλος δέ.
εἰ μέν κ’ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ’ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν (415)
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ’ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.[5]

Richard Lattimore translates:

For my mother Thetis the goddess of silver feet tells me
I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death. Either,
if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans,
my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting;
but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,
the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life
left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.

In foregoing his nostos, he will earn the greater reward of kleos aphthiton (κλέος ἄφθιτον — fame imperishable). And Homer in effect in the Iliad provides just this.

Achilles tending the wounded Patroclus:

Akhilleus Patroklos Antikensammlung Berlin F2278.jpg

The Odyssey in turn has resonance for the psychological problems of return to life after war. Odysseus is not without his problems.

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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2 Responses to The Ancient Greek Concept of Glory: The Iliad

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