Running head: Iliad and Medea
Published 17 Oct 2017
Pride is known to be a double-edged concept, it could be either good or bad for us. The former is something that one should uphold, while the former is just a glorified form of stubbornness. There are people who should take pride in the way they are living, and there are people who should swallow their pride. Although pride is a common term, it has remained an abstraction and definitions seem to lack full grasp of the concept. Fortunately, humanity was endowed with the gift of mythology. Mythologies are fabled to posses the capability to tell us about our humanity. The texts at hand, Homer’s “Iliad” and Euripides’ “Medea,” both have protagonists oozing with pride. And since they are considered heroes, they are expected to step-up a notch from the average. Both the protagonist of Iliad and Medea had exemplified pride in its most highest form, personal honor.
Both the plots of Iliad and Medea centers on the theme of pride. Moreover, both epics have protagonists that prioritizes personal honor. Achilles is probably the greatest warrior known in literary history. It shows in his characterization that he savors his gained reputation, he takes pride in it. One of the most rousing points of Iliad was when Achilles realizes the immense glory that he would gain if he would set forth and conquer troy (Lines 410-415). Achilles also took pride in his impressive collection of highly-prized items like the wheel of Hebe’s chariot, the house of Hephaistos, the house of Poseidon, the scepter of Agamemnon, and even the throne of Zeus. It would require tremendous willpower to remain humble when one has such possessions.
During the initial part of the story, Achilles had shown his pride when he denied participation in the war, a war that he did not start in the first place. But Achilles’ personal honor had only shone when Patroclus was slain by Hector. Achilles had been pushed to fight for something more valuable than his reputation. At first glance it would seem that Achilles was fighting with the motivation of blind vengeance. What readers may overlook is that he was fighting for the honor of his fallen friend. This exhibition of honor is probably the most commendable of all the heroic acts of Achilles. It was almost a selfless act and yet both his own and his friend’s honor were upheld.
Of course the other characters of Iliad also exemplified overflowing pride. Paris shown much pride in his abduction of Helen which ignited the war. He wanted a beautiful woman from high society, a woman with a face (and reputation) to launch a thousand ships (320). The excessive pride of Paris had led him to snatch a wife of another man even though he is aware that his actions would cause a bloody war with thousands of deaths.
Both the Greeks and the Trojans both defended their honor by besting each other in the battlefield. It is notable that even though the Greeks had launched a thousand ships and the Trojans also had an impressive fleet, no battle at the sea was mentioned in the text. This shows an admirable display of honor by the Greeks, because even though they have the advantage at the sea, they did not took the easy way out. In other words, the Greeks did not dishonored themselves as brave warriors. Instead they had fought in melee combat, man-to-man, to uphold the infamous Greek honor.
As for Euripides’ Medea, personal honor was expressed through the voice of a woman. Medea was unmistakably a woman of immense pride. She wanted a man with an admirable reputation and capability to achieve the extraordinary. It was a requirement for her marriage that Jason would first have to acquire the Golden Fleece, which demands undergoing life-threatening ordeals (Line 480).
Medea’s husband, Jason, was also a man of great honor. However, Jason did not honor his marriage with Medea, a seen on the latter portion of the narrative. By having another wife, Jason could have intended to feed the fire of his pride with a more combustible fuel: a new younger and likely a more attractive wife. This betrayal was the pivotal act for the protagonist. Medea had given up everything, including herself and her family, just to be married to Jason. She helped Jason overcome the ordeals of acquiring the Golden Fleece, even at the expense of her own pride and honor.
Medea could have inherited the trait of prioritizing honor from her own father. During Jason’s tale, the hero had to escape from Medea’s father. To buy Jason time to escape, Medea killed her own brother and scattered the body around the island. She was aware that her father valued honor, that he would prioritize the recovery of her brothers body than search for Jason.
When Medea learned of of Jason’s betrayal, she gave us a hint as to what is running at the back of her mind “my husband is chief of villains… I am dishonored” (690-696). Even supporting characters, like the Nurse, had shown they even the non-royalty could be honorable. When she and the attendant learned of what befell their master. She took honor in being a loyal servant by remaining silent to not worsen the already troublesome situation, “I’ll keep silence, if need be, on all” (66). The Nurse was almost constantly present at Medea’s side to supress her masters depression and later on her fury. The Nurse seemed to be a person who is very knowledgeable about pride. She was certain of what would transpire after Jason’s betrayal when she said “when one is stirred to his wrath / Dowers greater curse on the house” (130).
Achilles and Medea had a similar approach to recovering one’s lost honor. Both of them was furious with vengeance, which could also be treated as recovery of one’s lost honor through stripping the trespassers with theirs. Achilles took the “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” approach. When he had slain Hector, he tied the corpse to the back of his chariot. And as a way of expressing his wrath, he dragged the dead body all the way back to camp and defiled his body for days. As if he was still unable to honor the death of his fallen comrade. His immense pride was not satisfied by taking away Hector’s honor and the honor of all of Troy. He wanted to humiliate Hector even in the afterlife. Being desperate, king Priam fetched his dead son’s body, as if with the thinking that if he could retrieved his son’s body, somehow he had regained Hector’s honor.
On the other hand, Medea conjured a plan for revenge that even crime fiction writers of today would envy. Medea had sent Glauce a poisoned garment and a coronet. Glauce could have thought that she could take pride in wearing such a beautiful dress and a valuable piece of jewelry. She was not aware that her own vanity would lead to her own death. On a personal interpretation, it was like saying “here is my shame that shrouds my once glorious honor, wear it for me, take it away to Hades along with my infidel husband. After that she stabbed to death hers and Jason’s two sons. She was aware that sons are their father’s pride. She learned this from her father during Jason’s tale.
These classic Greek texts had shown that they are truly a thinking civilization. Both the “Iliad” and “Medea” had exemplified the Greeks rich understanding of pride and honor. As opposed to contemporary notions of pride that it is something purely sinful, the Greeks recognized that pride was the source of both glory and shame. During the climactic portion of “Iliad,” Achilles wanted nothing more but to uphold his fallen comrade’s honor by killing the perpetuator. He subjected himself to the clash of hundred of swords and a storm of uncountable arrows. Even though he exuded fighting prowess no mortal ever shown, the gods favored his enemies, he died for he was still a mere mortal. On the other hand, Medea was a woman of power, both literally and figuratively. Her pride had shone during the times when she was stripped of her honor as a wife.
For both Homer and Euripides, honor is something to be treasured as something valuable as the golden fleece. As seen in the epics, the lack of honor resulted to the immediate fall of the supporting characters. Through the lives lead by the protagonists, we see that that pride is recognized as a necessary element for greatness. However, it is also the spark that sets the soul on fire with corruption. The Greeks knew that personal honor was a heroic trait. But if one’s honor is stepped upon, the trespassers should be ready for a war. Both the authors expressed that the only way to recover lost honor is at the expense of the honor of their adversaries.
- Euripides. (1950). Medea. ON: Penguin Group
- Homer. (2007). The Iliad. NJ: Princeton University Press