Social & Theological views in Homer

In this post we present and analyze a very interesting excerpt from Homer’s Iliad.

Omiros      Homer

Homer’s Iliad, Rhapsody Λ, Verses 783-793

In Ancient Greek: Πηλεὺς μὲν ᾧ παιδὶ γέρων ἐπέτελλ’ Ἀχιλῆϊ αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων·σοὶ δ’ αὖθ’ ὧδ’ ἐπέτελλε Μενοίτιος Ἄκτορος υἱός· τέκνον ἐμὸν γενεῇ μὲν ὑπέρτερός ἐστιν Ἀχιλλεύς, πρεσβύτερος δὲ σύ ἐσσι· βίῃ δ’ ὅ γε πολλὸν ἀμείνων. ἀλλ’ εὖ οἱ φάσθαι πυκινὸν ἔπος ἠδ’ ὑποθέσθαι καί οἱ σημαίνειν· ὃ δὲ πείσεται εἰς ἀγαθόν περ. ὣς ἐπέτελλ’ ὃ γέρων, σὺ δὲ λήθεαι· ἀλλ’ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ταῦτ’ εἴποις Ἀχιλῆϊ δαΐφρονι αἴ κε πίθηται. τίς δ’ οἶδ’ εἴ κέν οἱ σὺν δαίμονι θυμὸν ὀρίναις παρειπών; ἀγαθὴ δὲ παραίφασίς ἐστιν ἑταίρου.

(Source: Ιλιάς/Λ)

In English: Old Peleus bade his son Achilles ever be bravest, and pre-eminent above all, but to thee did Menoetius, son of Actor, thus give command: ‘My child, in birth is Achilles nobler than thou, but thou art the elder though in might he is the better far. Yet do thou speak to him well a word of wisdom and give him counsel, and direct him; and he will obey thee to his profit.’ Thus did the old man charge thee, but thou forgettest. Yet even now at the last do thou speak thus to wise-hearted Achilles, if so be he may hearken. Who knows but that heaven helping thou mightest rouse his spirit with thy persuading? A good thing is the persuasion of a friend.


Analysis: The word ‘bravest‘ in the translation is not correct/accurate. The words ‘ἀριστεύω‘ (verb), ‘ἀριστεῖα‘ (noun) have a much different meaning. Basically, it means ‘to excel‘ but Homer gives it a much broader meaning in his work. Actually, when he refers to someone being ‘ἄριστος‘ this means that the person described owns some specific characteristics: respect and deep faith to the Divine (‘θεοσέβεια‘ In Greek), Justice, Good inner will for things, a person who continuously cultivates mind, soul and spirit and, of course, the corresponding deeds. A person who is generally balanced/measured (‘Μέτρον‘ in Greek) and oriented towards every aspect of Good (‘Αγαθόν‘ in Greek).

So, here Peleus tells Achilles to excel and henceforth be superior to others. We notice that he doesn’t just tell him to be superior to others, as this can be achieved with fraudulent means, too. He insists on being ‘ἄριστοςfirst! Through your personal efforts to become ‘ἄριστος’ you will eventually reach the point of being ‘superior to others’. Next, he says that for the good of the other we must use dense arguments in our speech and convince him/her for his/her good. And to whoever might claim that this is a waste of time he adds: «who knows if, plus God* (with the help of God), you would move his soul by consulting him? The advice of the ‘ἑταῖρος’ (means ‘partner’, ‘friend’ and something wider and deeper than these, too) is good (it is a good act to counsel, advice your friends)»

*[In the English translation we read about ‘heaven‘ which is not accurate. Homer uses the words ‘συν δαίμονι‘ which translates to ‘plus daemon, with the help of daemon’. The word ‘daemon‘ in ancient Greek means ‘the wise, the all-knower’.

In the majority of ancient texts it is appointed to the Divine/Actual/True Being (or just ‘god’, in singular instead of ‘gods’), as the one and only wise Being (i.e., Wisdom is an idiom of the Divine Being. When referring to the Divine Being, Wisdom receives its absolute value). We can recall here as an example what Socrates said in his ‘Apology‘: ‘only god is wise, and that there is no wise human’]

Let us now examine if we can apply the above in Modern World problematics.

Taking a look around we notice that people in Modern Societies, as time moves on, tend to become increasingly selfish, greedy, evil, atheistic, deteriorated in spirit, less knowledgeable, less logical/reasonable. We can even talk about increasing stupidity among them. We seem to lack of enough people who try to become ‘ἄριστος’.

The majority of people appear to have a fervent desire to impose their authority over other people, to judge other people, to do bad to other people.

People who make serious efforts to promote their status as human beings appear to become fewer as time passes. ἀριστεῖα disappears fast, as a higher human aim, from our Societies.

Our Societies are not beautiful, nor just. They do not promote humanitarian values. On the contrary. More and more people become more beastial and less human as time flows. More and more people surrender/enslave themselves to the lowest insticts – becoming worse than animals.

Power, Fear, Greed and the like prevail.

Let’s compare now to the society Homer suggests (one could add ‘dreams’).

People there would put all their efforts in the direction of Good. They would try to be better all the time. They would compete one another in qualities, values, virtues.

If we could work in the direction of chasing this ‘dream’, then it is certain that, at some point, our Societies would eventually become better – of course, never ‘perfect’, but certainly ‘better’ than the present situation. If we do nothing, then the present sickness will unavoidably ‘lead the patient to death’.

We must do something, starting from our own selves:

Homer teaches that when we have disputes with people, or when we are trying to help people (the motive is very important and crucial, as very often people are just trying to show-off or take advantage of situations rather than truly help) we should never end up in any form of violence. On the contrary, we should use appropriately put words, dense arguments based on logic, true and deep knowledge, and justice. This is the only way to really help somebody.

Moreover, from this excerpt Homer’s deep belief in the Divine and Its possible interventions is revealed – yet again. Homer believes that the Divine intervenes in History and in the life of a single Man, too. He clearly claims that if Man follows a certain path in his life (the path of Good, as previously described) then he invites -we could even say ‘persuades‘ in a sense- the Divine to intervene.

achilles    Achilles

Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Angelos

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