In Homer’s Iliad, war is depicted as horrible, bloody, and fruitless. There are no clear winners in The Iliad. Many people die in vain because of arrogant and emotional decisions made by men. Achilles directly causes the death of his friend by first refusing to fight, leaving the Greeks at a disadvantage, and then poorly advising his friend Patroclus to join the other fighters. Even the initial cause of the war, Paris’ kidnapping of Helen, a Greek woman, is a rash and selfish act. The will of Zeus plays an important part in the events of The Iliad.
Zeus’ will is infallible, and so, in a way, the events that occur are all destined to happen. However, there is a small amount of flexibility as to when the events will happen. This flexibility comes from the intervention of the lesser gods, and the actions of mortal men. Apollo can send a plague on the Greeks, and Aphrodite can rescue Paris from certain death when he is fighting Menelaeus, but in the final outcome, the Greeks will sack Troy, and Paris will die. When mortals interfere with the will of Zeus, the results are much more tragic. Because hey are mortal, their actions have direct influence on their comrades, and their lives. Gods feel pity when they cannot save a favored mortal, but that pity cannot compare to Achilles’ sorrow at the death of Patroclus. Death and fighting is not depicted as glorious in The Iliad. Brave warriors receive fame, gold, food, and women, and the younger Greek fighters thrive on this romantic notion. However, a closer look at the text shows that Homer describes many deaths in violent, anatomic detail.
Most of these deaths are not important to the plot of the story, but they erve the important purpose of showing the reader that no death is insignificant or easy. These descriptions give The Iliad a Saving Private Ryan type of realism. The Iliad focuses much on Achilles and his internal struggle with his personal will versus the will of Zeus. However, in the middle of the book, he is almost entirely absent. This gives Homer the opportunity to show other sides of the conflict, and dirty deeds done by the Greeks and Trojans. In the time of the Trojan war, there was an unwritten code of heroic conduct that the bravest warriors followed.
Defeated warriors were not always killed. They were sometimes taken prisoner and returned for ransoms of money or gifts. However, in the Iliad, Homer shows that leniency rarely survives in war. Diomedes and Odysseus, two respected Greek warriors, sneak into a sleeping Trojan camp and kill many unarmed, dreaming Trojans. Paris ignores the conduct of a fair fight, and runs away every chance he gets. And Achilles, after losing Patroclus by Hector’s sword, tortures Hector before killing him and treats his body very poorly.
Desecration of a dead body was sacrilege to Greek and Trojan society, and it was a great insult. Homer’s last comments on the futility of war come at the end of the Iliad, and in a peaceful manner. Homer shows a little redemption for the horrible effects of war when Priam begs Achilles for Hector’s body. Achilles and Priam share a moment of realization of what has been lost to the long Trojan war. The final scene is a quiet, mournful funeral, in which the Trojans bury Hector, who was a good man destroyed by the horror of war and the will of Zeus.