Pride in the Iliad
For the reader to better understand the character flaw of “pride” in Homer’s Iliad, it must first be emphasized that during the time of the story “Iliad”, both the Greek and Trojan people were still a warrior society. This is not a peculiar characteristic among the Greeks and Trojans because almost all societies first started as a warrior society until it evolved to a more mature and civilized society that would avoid war.
Being a warrior society, the Greeks and Trojan’s value system revolved on the virtues of a good warrior such as the primacy of honor, glory and legacy. While these value systems are not bad by themselves, they could prove to be destructive when taken to the extreme because it would lead to “pride”. True enough, pride was almost the sole cause of the downfall of almost all of the main protagonists in the Iliad that caused them their lives and those troops they are in command.
Pride was prominent between the three main characters of Homer’s Iliad which caused the Trojan War. First, it was with King Menelaus of Sparta who was outraged when Paris seduced his wife Helen who eloped with him. True, King Menelaus of Sparta had every right to be mad against Paris with the taking of his wife, but it is not enough reason to wage war on another country that would kill soldiers and civilians alike who has nothing to do with his quarrel not to mention the destruction that his waging of war will bring. But being a cuckold King, Menelaus pride was slighted so he called on his brother Agamemnon to help him wage war with the Trojans and so the Trojan War was set in motion killing fine men and women and even heroes in the process.
Agamemnon on his part was also full of pride. When his war bride Chryseis was returned to her father Chryses, the Priest of Apollo to pacify the god Apollo and end the plagued that pestered his army, he coveted another man’s wife. Of all people, it was the bride of his best warrior undermining their war efforts against the Trojans. Agamemnon was quoted;
“Still I am willing to give her back, if such is the best way.
I myself desire that my people be safe, not perish.
Find me then some prize that shall be my own, lest I only
among the Argives go without, since that were unfitting.”
He spoke of a woman as if it was a trophy to bolster his pride and when it was taken away from him, he coveted the woman whom he thought to be the next best prize which is Briseis, the war bride of Achilles. To the modern mind, this is very ridiculous because it would surely create an internal conflict within the Greek army that would weaken their force when they attack the Trojans. But never mind the consequences as long as Agamemnon’s pride is fed by having the second best wife around.
Achilles, being a great warrior is also prone to pride. When his war bride was taken away from him, he sulked like a child and withdrew his Myrmidon army from the war and beseeched his mother Thetis to ask Zeus for the Greek army to reach a breaking point so that Agammemnon will become desperate and will realize the wrong he has done to him quoting as
“And now my prize you threaten in person to strip from me,
for whom I labored much, the gift of the sons of the Achaians.
Never, when the Achaians sack some well-founded citadel
of the Trojans, do I have a prize that is equal to your prize. […]
Now I am returning to Phthia, since it is much better
to go home again with my curved ships, and I am minded no longer
to stay here dishonoured and pile up your wealth and your luxury.”
Achilles pride was not only confined to being slighted and withdrawing from the war when his war bride was taken away from him. Even as he withdrew from the Trojan War giving the impression that he is no longer interested to fight, he still wanted to salvage the glory of defeating the Trojans when sent his cousin Patroclus to fight. He cautioned Patroclus not to pursue the Trojans not because he feared of his safety but because Patroclus might robbed him of the glory of defeating the Trojans.
Patroclus, despite of him being a lesser warrior, is not also immune from the lure of pride which is common among Greeks’ great warriors. When he successfully routed the Trojans away from their ships, he got overzealous and pursued the Trojans to prove himself as a great warrior. Upon reaching the gates of Troy, he was killed by Hector which set Achilles in a rampaging fury.
Hector was eventually slain by Achilles to avenge Patroclus. But Achilles would not had the opportunity to slay him had Hector stayed within the walls of Troy. Hector was already admonished that he will be killed by Achilles but pride lured him to confront Achilles which the latter desecrated his body after killing him.
Homer’s Iliad is not really about the story of the bravery of heroes but how they fell because of pride.