The Iliad
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
Motifs are devices or structures that are used by artists or authors to help in the development of a theme.

It is natural to think that a martial epic would include depictions of men in arms. However, armor in this poem is shown as an element that transcends the function of protection for the soldier. Indeed, Homer tends to portray armor as possessing its own special aura that is distinct from the person who wears it. In one of the epic’s more emotional scenes, Hector takes off his helmet to avoid its crest from scaring Astyanax, his son. When Achilles’ armor is worn by Patroclus to alarm the Trojans and push them from the ships, Hector and Apollo promptly recognize the disguise. Later, when Patroclus’s fallen body is fought over, the corpse is taken one way and the armor another. Hector puts on the armor, but one day it will betray him. The fact that Achilles is aware of its vulnerabilities makes it easier for him to kill Hector. By the time we reach this section of the story, Achilles wears another set of armor. It has been made by the god Hephaestus, and it appears to have its own life. While the mortal body of Achilles can be wounded, Homer depicts the armor as being divine and almost impervious to attack.


While it is true that all martial epics tend to deal with the subject of burial, The Iliad focuses on it especially strongly. Special attention is given to Hector’s burial, as it is a mark of the alleviation of Achilles’ rage. He is given a noble funeral that is accomplished only after the corpse is fought over in battle. The burial of Patroclus is also given a great deal of attention in the poem, as Homer spends an entire book describing the funeral and the games that are held in honor of the warrior. Additionally, the poem describes burials that are not connected to specific characters. An example of this is in Book 7, when both armies do massive burials of mostly unnamed soldiers. The Iliad’s focus on burial is a reflection of ancient Greek culture. In ancient Greece, proper burial was extremely important and was believed to be necessary for a soul to enjoy rest. Yet, it is also reflection of The Iliad’s preoccupation with death and fate.


Fire is an important image in the Iliad. It is frequently linked to internal passions such as rage or fury. It is also associated with rage and fury’s manifestations in the external world. Homer says that Achilles is “blazing” in Book 1. He depicts his shining armor as being like the sun. Additionally, the poem frequently compares the charge of a hero or an attack of troops to a fire spreading through a field. However, fire does not just appear metaphorically or allegorically. It is present in a material way, as well. The fires lit by the Trojans in Book 8 allow them to watch the Achaeans and stop it from getting way by night. They consistently threaten to set the Achaean ships on fire In fact, they successfully torch one of them. Therefore, fire has an important presence in this poem, both literally and metaphorically. Fire is powerful and destructive.

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