Themes in The Iliad

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  • 0:04 Background
  • 0:28 Love and Friendship
  • 1:39 Fate and Free Will
  • 2:46 Honor
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Dive into several of the most prominent themes in Homer's epic poem 'The Iliad.' This lesson explores the themes of love and friendship, fate and free will, and honor with concrete details so you can explore the subtext of the poem.


Homer's epic poem The Iliad begins in the ninth year of the Trojan War, a conflict between the Achaeans and the city of Troy. The fight begins when Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, returns to Troy with Priam's son Paris. To get her back, Achaean King Menelaus takes an army to Troy. Themes such as love and friendship, fate and free will, and honor surface throughout the epic poem.

Love and Friendship

The power of love and friendship is explored throughout The Iliad and is a main source of many conflicts. Romantic love, parental love, and friendship between warriors are the most common forms of love and friendship shown in the poem.

The kinship between warriors is incredibly powerful, as witnessed between Achilles and Patroclus. The brotherly love between Achilles and Patroclus is more intense than any other warrior relationship exhibited in the poem, as demonstrated by the following quote spoken by Patroclus to Achilles:

'But one thing more. A last request - grant it, please.

Never bury my bones apart from yours, Achilles,

let them lie together …

just as we grew up together in your house.'

The two men are so close that Patroclus wants to be buried along with Achilles in the same way as family would be buried together. Friendship between warriors is necessary to maintain morale during wartime, but it also extends beyond the battlefield. This brotherly friendship is what sparks Achilles' decision to avenge Patroclus's death by killing Hector. After killing Hector, Priam comes to claim his son's body, and it is the understanding of love and friendship that convinces Achilles to let Priam have his son's body.

Fate and Free Will

Greek literature and mythology rely heavily on the theme of fate and free will. Homer's The Iliad is no exception. The fates of Achilles and Hector are brought up throughout the poem. More importantly, the poem seems to rest on the notion that man does not have a choice in how his life will turn out because it has already been chosen for him. For example, in Book 1, Thetis, Achilles' mother, laments the birth of her son, alluding to his coming death during the Trojan War. Thetis behaves as if there is no escaping what has been decided by fate.

Furthermore, in the following quote in Book 9, Hector treats fate and free will in the same manner:

'Why so much grief for me?

No man will hurl me down to Death, against my fate.

And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it,

neither brave man nor coward, I tell you -

it's born with us the day that we are born.'

Hector makes it clear to his wife, Andromache, that there is nothing anybody can do to prevent his death should it be slated to happen. According to this perspective, men have no say in the direction of their lives because fate has already decided the outcome.

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