Kleos in The Iliad

Instructor: Rachel Noorda
This lesson defines the term kleos, or fame and glory, and discusses the importance of kleos in Homer's the Iliad through the examples of Achilles, Nestor, and Hector.

Defining Kleos

If someone were to write a story about you, what would they say? What would you want to be remembered for? The Greeks wanted the stories of their lives to be full of glory and fame, especially from being excellent in battle. This fame and glory is called kleos and was something that Greeks strived to achieve.

Kleos is especially important in the Iliad, an epic poem focused on war, because war was one of the key places for gaining kleos. Many years after these battles, bards or poets (such as Homer, the author of the Iliad) would tell the stories of these Greek warriors. Because the bards helped these stories of fame and glory survive, they were part of creating the kleos for the characters of their tales. Kleos is actually both the message as well as the way the message is told: through poems and stories. That means that there are characters in the Iliad who are working towards kleos but that the Iliad itself is also a type of kleos.

Examples of Kleos

There are many examples of kleos in Homer's the Iliad. Let's look at some examples from Achilles, Hector, and Nestor.

After Hector kills Patroclus, Achilles says that he is going to kill Hector. But he says that ''Till then I will win fame.'' In other words, Achilles is determined to kill Hector, but, in the meantime, he is going to perform well in battle and honor Patroclus by doing so. Achilles's kleos then extends to dead Patroclus because Achilles will use his own fame to bring kleos to his friend.

Achilles and Patroclus

Hector says that if he is killed, he hopes his enemy will take his armor but send his body home. But, if he kills the enemy, he will take his enemy's armor and hang it in the temple of Apollo and build the enemy a monument. Then passing people will say, ''This is the monument of one who died long since a champion who was slain by mighty Hector'', and Hector's fame will not be lost. That means that Hector's kleos lives on in the remembrance and monuments to the men he has killed in battle.

Nestor's shield symbolizes his kleos, and as such is a prized possession. Hector says, ''Haste in pursuit, that we may take the shield of Nestor, the fame of which ascends to heaven.'' Nestor's shield is made of solid gold. Nestor got his armor, including the shield, in a duel. The man he dueled with got the armor as a gift from someone else who got it from his enemy in war who originally got it from Ares, the god of war. So, the shield is originally from the gods. Nestor's shield represents his strength in battle and his reputation. Shields and other pieces of armor were viewed by the ancient Greeks as being an extension of the person who used or wore them. So, taking Nestor's shield is like taking a piece of him, including his kleos.

The Reach of Kleos

How far does kleos extend? Kleos does not only belong to the person who has it, but also to the family, particularly the father. It is a kind of honor and reputation that does not only influence the person, but their relatives as well. You may think of this as being similar to reputation today where what you do may impact how other people view your family.

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