Time and Kleos - Honor and Reputation
"The reward for great honor and virtue is fame (kleos), which is what guarantees meaning and value to one's life. Dying without fame (akleos) is generally considered a disaster, and the warriors of the Homeric epics commit the most outrageous deeds to avoid dying in obscurity or infamy...."
< www.li.suu.edu/library/courses/hum101/homintro.htm > Homer And The Odyssey
Rumor has a forked tongue, but it will preserve your memory for posterity as surely as your children will carry your DNA -- if your deeds are noteworthy enough. You don't necessarily have to be upright and honorable to be remembered, but to have an epic written about you (or a few tragedies), there has to be something noble and heroic.
We're puzzled by the qualities the ancient Greeks looked for in their heroes:
- Agamemnon was honored and obeyed by those under him despite slaying his own daughter and seizing his second-in-command's prize.
- Said second-in-command, Achilles, tried to dodge the draft by the ruse of transvestitism. Even after he was drafted and his troops were mobilized, Achilles threw the world's biggest hissy-fit. Yet Achilles was the Greeks' mortal hero par excellence.
- After Achilles, the nearest contenders were Ajax and Odysseus, the former such a bad sport he tried to kill Odysseus when he bested him in the contest for Achilles' armor. Odysseus was a charming, womanizing, conniving strategist, who had, like Achilles, tried to avoid deployment in Troy by seeking a 4-F draft deferment.
There were qualities the Greeks looked for in their role models that didn't include obeying the Ten Commandments:
Looting and taking priests' daughters as war prizes was acceptable. No one, not even the god whose priest's daughter she was, would have batted an eye had Agamemnon simply taken Chriseis back home with him. Trouble came because he dishonored Apollo's priest, and by extension, Apollo himself when he refused the priest's generous ransom offer.
Even Achilles' pitiless sulking in his tent while the Trojans slaughtered the Achaean troops was not against the Greek ethic. But to die old and unsung would be a disgrace, as Odysseus remarks when he tries to persuade Achilles to rejoin the fray:
"... yet pity the rest of the Achaeans who are being harassed in all their host; they will honour you as a god, and you will earn great glory at their hands. "
Because of a prophecy, Achilles knows if he fights he will die young, but if he returns home he will live a long, unremarkable life. Definitely, not worth it:
"My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I shall not return alive but my name will live for ever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me."
What they shunned was anything that lessened their reputation.
Achilles was by far the greatest hero, even according to the ancient criteria since his reputation has been kept alive as the subject of one of (if not the) most famous works in the West, the primary subject of generations of Greek and Roman education, and the model for later literature -- The Iliad. After Achilles had died, Agamemnon awarded his armor to the next best man. When Odysseus was selected over Ajax, Ajax was defamed (akleos).
'Heros' in Homer
"In Homer heros is a word commonly applied to any of the princes and warriors who play a part in the action. The anger of Achilles, we are told in the opening lines of the Iliad, 'despatched to Hades many valiant souls of heroes (heroon)'. Not all are divinely descended, though many are. Not all are in high positions, though most are: the poet of the Odyssey uses the word of the whole free population of the Phaeacians.1 But all belong to an earlier and better age than that in which the poets and their audiences have the misfortune to live."
"Plutarch and the Antique Hero," by D. A. Russell; The Yearbook of English Studies (1982).
|More of This Feature|
|• Heroic Behavior Now
• Heroic Behavior Then
• The Iliad
|Elsewhere on the Web|
|• The Heroic World
Glory, arete, honor, shame, and hubris