Homers Iliad was a tragedy illustrating the despair and useless suffering associated with war. Homer’s Odyssey was an epic tale of long suffering resolving in triumph. Though there were a great many differences between the two works, there was an underlying theme of love which ran through both. Not just the physical manifestation of infatuation, but the kind of love that makes one willing to die for another The events portrayed in the Iliad were set in motion by love. Paris’ love for Helen and her love for Paris, resulting in Helen deserting Menelaus and leaving with Paris for Troy.
Helen, consumed by her love, leaves for Troy with “no thought for her child or husband. ” Menelaus’ love for Helen drives him to raise an army of thousands and lay siege to Troy to recover her. Thousands of young men from both sides of the struggle, Troy and Argos, died. The result was a ten year siege of Troy finally resulting in the plunder of the city, the women of troy being enslaved, and all of the men being slaughtered. Patroclus, Achilles, and Hector, all dead for the sake of Helen.
Achilles withdraws from battle because he loves Briseis, the favorite of all the women captured in battle, and refuses to return until she is recovered. Achilles returns to battle in order to revenge Patroclus, but not until after Briseis is returned to him in the same condition in which she was taken. It is apparent, I grant, that after the death of Patroclus, the motivations in the Iliad quickly turned to revenge as is demonstrated by Achilles proclamation to Hector – “Would to god my rage, my fury would drive me now to hack your flesh away and eat you raw…!
These are the words of a man driven by revenge, but isn’t revenge, in this case, motivated by love – Achilles love of Patroclus? While the events of the Odyssey were different from those of the Iliad, they were, none the less, driven by love. The suitors love for Penelope, Odysseus’ love for Penelope, and Odysseus’ love for his home, are all examples of the motivations in the Odyssey. Odysseus’ love for his wife, his home, and his son were so deep that he gave up becoming immortal to continue his quest for them.
Even the actions of the gods revolves around love. The most obvious display of love by any god in either book was Aphrodite’s betrayal of Hephaestus with Ares. Tempted by a physical love for Ares, Aphrodite breaks her vows of marriage and betrays Hephaestus in his own bed. Hephaestus, motivated by his anger and pain, constructed a trap of invisible chains and trapped the lovers, the put them on display for the gods amusement. Hephaestus’ reaction, of jealousy and a craving for revenge, motivated this elaborate revenge.
Yet, didn’t the jealousy and revenge come from his love for his Aphrodite. Other examples of the gods motivated by love are scattered throughout both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Consider Calypso; her love for Odysseus was so strong that she offered to bestow immortality upon him in exchange for his company, and delays his return home for seven years keeping him as her consort. Athene certainly has strong feelings for Odysseus, and intervenes in his behalf throughout the Odyssey. Her love for him seems to be almost like that of a mother for a child.
Circe also showed at least a strong physical love for Odysseus. The result of this love was the further delay of Odysseus’ returning home by more than a year. Thetis felt such strong feelings for her son Achilles that she convinced Zeus to swing the tide of the assault on Troy so that her son could win more glory. She begged and pleaded to other immortals for the sake of his glory, and even gave her mortal son divine armor. If love is the thread running through both Homers Iliad and Odyssey, then romantic love is the force that drives the plot.
Love is the motivation for the siege on Troy. The Iliad is, in its entirety, a documentation of the actions resulting from Helen’s love for Paris. Love is the force driving Odysseus home. The love for Penelope, Telemachus, and his home keep him striving for ten years to reach the shores of Ithaca. Its that same love that leaves Romeo and Juliet dead on the floor of a tomb in William Shakespeare’s play approximately two thousand years later. Its that same love that Snoop Doggy Dog sings about.
Its that love that one person feels for another that makes them realize that they would beg, steal, lie, kill, die, or do anything for that other person – any thing except live without them. That’s why the Acheans lay siege to Troy. That’s why Odysseus suffered all that he did and continued on his quest for home, why he gave up so much in his quest for Ithaca – riches, a life of ease, and immortality. Odysseus had kind of love that men and women still write and sing about twenty-five hundred years later.