Moral Lessons from The Iliad

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  • 0:03 Moral Lessons in ''The Iliad''
  • 0:37 Leaders Must Be…
  • 1:47 Accept an Apology
  • 2:39 Soldiers Have Families, Too
  • 3:26 Life Isn't Fair
  • 3:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

Homer's epic 'The Iliad' offers various moral lessons about family, respect, leadership, and other topics. This lesson looks at morality against the backdrop of key plot points and quotes.

Moral Lessons in The Iliad

The Iliad is mainly the story of the final period of the Trojan War, with a special focus on Achilles' experience of this time period. There are not many times in this epic that a lesson is explicitly explained, so it is left to the reader to determine what the moral universe of The Iliad looks like. Because of this, there is room for debate on precisely what the poem is telling us. That said, there are a few points that most people would agree can be seen as takeaways from the plot. We can look at these more or less in the order that they come up in the epic.

Leaders Must Be Respectful, Too

The central story of The Iliad is that of Achilles withdrawing from the war because he feels his honor has been insulted by Agamemnon. By way of a brief summary, Agamemnon stole Achilles' war prize, a woman named Briseis, to replace his own, whom he had been forced to return to her father. Agamemnon not only took someone away from Achilles but did so with no apology or acknowledgment that this might be unfair to Achilles.

It's a bit of an understatement to point out that this insult did not go over terribly well. Achilles decided to leave the war, taking his men with him. Moreover, he then asked his mother, the goddess Thetis, to ask Zeus, the king of the gods, to use his power to ensure that the Trojans would begin winning for as long as Achilles sat out the conflict. Needless to say, things start to go badly for the Greeks, and Agamemnon realizes that he needs to make amends. Agamemnon offers an apology to Achilles, understanding that, although Achilles is under his command, it's still important not to disrespect the soldiers who are fighting for him. Leaders need to command respect from their soldiers, but they also need to offer respect in return.

Accept an Apology

All might have started to go well at this point, except Achilles decides not to accept Agamemnon's apology and his offer of gifts. At this stage, the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles ceases to be Agamemnon's fault; the blame shifts to Achilles's shoulders because his pride prevents him from accepting the apology and moving on.

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