Nestor in The Iliad

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson will explore the character of Nestor in Homer's 'The Iliad.' He might seem like a silly old man who tells stories at first, but it turns out he is really important to both the story and the characters of 'The Iliad.'

Who is Nestor?

In Homer's The Iliad, Nestor is king of Gerenia, and he is fighting against Troy with the Greeks. He has a habit of telling long stories about his acts of heroism from back in the day. He gives advice to anyone who wants it (and some who don't want it), and he also gives rousing motivational speeches. While Nestor is too old to play a large part in battle, his character is essential to The Iliad because he helps to keep alive the history of his people, he advises and motivates the people around him, and he moves the plot of the story forward.

Maintaining History

Today we might be tempted to think that Nestor's stories of when he was a strapping young lad are just an old man's indulgences. We might assume that those around him are rolling their eyes at the silly old man's tales, like when he tells everyone, ''Iphiclus was a good runner, but I beat him, and threw farther with my spear than either Phyleus or Polydorus.'' It sounds to us like Nestor is bragging, but that's not actually how his stories would have been received at the time.

Nestor is part of a culture that relied on oral history. If no one told these stories, they would fade from the collective memory of the people. Even if he had told the same story ten times before, Nestor's recounting of these events plays an important part in the preservation of his culture's history. It also seems he is pretty good at telling stories as ''the words fell from his lips sweeter than honey,'' so maybe listening wasn't such a chore anyway.

Good Advice

At the same time Nestor keeps the history of his people healthy and alive, he also manages to give some pretty solid advice to the other leaders. One of the first times we see Nestor at work in The Iliad, he is trying to soothe the conflict between Menelaos and Achilles. Menelaos is trying to take Briseis, a female prisoner, away from Achilles, and Achilles is pretty mad about it. Nestor steps in and tries to convince Menelaos to leave Achilles alone. Menelaos doesn't listen, but if he had, it would have saved the Greeks a fair amount of trouble.

It seems Nestor might actually speak the truth when he says, ''I am older than you and I will tell you everything; therefore let no man, not even King Agamemnon, disregard my saying, for he that foments civil discord is a clanless, hearthless outlaw.'' Because of Menelaos's offense, Achilles refuses to fight for quite a while. He is hands down the best warrior the Greeks have, so this is a significant blow to their armies.

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