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Sarpedon as a Symbol of a strong character in the Iliad

If the Iliad were a basic war narrative with a clear bias towards the protagonist’s side, Sarpedon would be portrayed as a two-dimensional enemy soldier who dies during the action. Nevertheless, the Iliad is no such story. Complex and intensely human ideals, morals and feelings are woven into the really fabric of the poem, and these themes are by no indicates limited to the Greek side. Sarpedon is a character who is deeply linked with the themes of heroism, loved ones, death and loss all through the narrative. This serves to distinguish him from other named Trojan leaders, and arguably affords him a comparable status within the poem to a lot more prominent characters such as Hector and Paris. While Achilles’ rage and consequent moral dilemma types the crux of the narrative, Sarpedon’s character arc forms a foil that contextualises Achilles’ paradox. Achilles rejects the heroic code Sarpedon not only assumes but outlines and defends it in his well-known speech to Glaukos. Achilles fears that the kleos provided to a hero is not worth the cost of death Sarpedon comes closer to death than any other character in Book five, yet nonetheless rises to fight a war that is not his. Perhaps far more striking nonetheless, is his father Zeus’ unwillingness to consign his son to death, regardless of the fact that Sarpedon’s end fits inside the dios boule as a whole. This episode brings up concerns about Zeus’ accurate power, and the objective of the epic. All of this combines to create a single, difficult character of several, fighting a war of a lot of motives.

The Iliad is full of heroes on both sides of the war. In concentrating on the major players, it is easy to minimise the function the lesser heroes play within the narrative. Upon 1st glance, Sarpedon does seem to be a lesser hero. He seems sporadically all through the poem, always inside the context of war and never for any elongated period of time. His prowess in war is never ever dwelt on as is Hector’s, or Patroclus’, and he is even practically removed from the action in Book five when he is gravely wounded. Even so, it is arguably this really episode that initially cements his status as an critical character within the narrative. The formulaic nature of the oral composition has resulted in the association of certain language with particular outcomes for example, the idea of a hero’s spirit leaving him although a “mist” descends has virtually usually been used to signify death. When Sarpedon is wounded by the spear of Tleptolemus, the poet explicitly makes use of these very phrases to describe Sarpedon’s state. “…his spirit left him-a mist poured down his eyes…” (Il, five.799) translates Fagles, and others have created this thought even a lot more explicit. Lattimore’s 1951 translation states: “he lost his life”. And yet, Sarpedon right here does not die. “A gust of the North Wind… carried back the life breath/he had gasped away in pain.” (Il five.800-1). There is far more than one way to interpret this use of language: either the poet accidentally ‘killed’ off Sarpedon as well early and had to invent some way to bring him back (which appears unlikely), or the poet is deliberately using language to single out and distinguish the son of Zeus from other heroes. As stated by Barker, the use of this specific phrasing is utilized to describe dying heroes in practically each and every case but two right here, with Sarpedon, and in book 22 when Andromache learns of her husband’s death. “…she fainted, falling backwards/gasping away her life breath…” (Il, 22.548-49), however as Sarpedon does, she recovers her “life breath” and returns to the living. This serves to highlight the significance of Hector to Andromache, and distinguishes them from all other lovers inside the narrative their intensely bittersweet interaction in book six throughout his brief return to Troy is probably the most human moment in the poem. If this is the case, then the very same notion can be applied in book 5 to Sarpedon. The poet’s revolutionary use of language, the break from the norm, all point to the idea that Sarpedon is each unique and considerable. This, in turn, sets up his importance in later events.

Sarpedon’s brush with death and subsequent distinction puts him in a exclusive position with regards to Achilles’ rage. By virtually experiencing death, however rising to fight as soon as far more, Sarpedon has somewhat knowledgeable Achilles’ final worry and still chooses to fight for kleos. In Book 9, Achilles informs the embassy of his new stance on the heroic life: death is as well higher a cost for the poor compensation he receives whilst living, especially when compounded with Agamemnon’s slights. In contrast, Sarpedon in Book 12 delivers his well-known speech to Glaukos in the heat of battle supporting the hero’s trade. Soon after steeling himself to charge the Greek wall, he outlines their duty to charge in the front lines since of the time they obtain at house: “… they hold us each in honor, initial by far/with pride of place, option meats and brimming cups” (Il 12.360-61). The life Achilles is rejecting is here getting wholeheartedly embraced. Classicists have usually pointed to this passage as a clear outlining of the heroic excellent, the motivation behind heroism all through the Iliad: trading effort for timê, gera and kleos. Nonetheless, there is ambiguity present in the second part of Sarpedon’s speech. Following outlining the prizes of a heroic life, Sarpedon then contrasts it with the concept of being immortal: if he and Glaukos could only “live forever”, he would “never fight on the front lines again”. However, given that they are not, they should fight, to “give our enemy glory or win it for ourselves!”. Study in context, it appears that Sarpedon implies to insist that the life of a king is so great, it is second only to the unobtainable immortal life. However, there is a second interpretation achievable: the life of a king is very good, but absolutely nothing near the joys of eternal existence. This second interpretation is the believed approach behind Achilles’ rebuttal of book 9’s embassy and yet, it is important to note that these two interpretations do not contradict 1 an additional. There is a tendency to claim that Achilles denounces the heroic life complete, when in truth he basically rejects it. The guarantee of kleos is deemed basically not worth an early death, and so Achilles begins to turn from war. Sarpedon’s delineation of the heroic life furthers the understanding of Achilles’ plight by providing a contrast – a man who rejects the idea and a man who embraces it. This in turn serves the vital humanity of the poem when Achilles sooner or later returns to war: in contrast to Sarpedon who is quite forthcoming about his aspirations for kleos, Achilles is motivated not by individual obtain, but by loss and revenge.

Despite all this, it would be incorrect to assert that kleos and timê had been the sole reasons for guys like Sarpedon going to war. Other than the initial conflict amongst Menelaus and Paris and the query of the honour lost in between them, the poem states again and again that heroes fought to safeguard their families. Hector’s goodbye to his son and wife, as well as his conviction that he is “the a single man robust adequate/to fight off your day of slavery” (Il six.552-53) is a clear instance of the motivation of family in war. Sarpedon also discusses his wife and son on several occasions, most prominently when taunting Hector to fight in book 5 (“… command the rest/to brace and defend their wives.”, Il five.558-59) and upon his virtually death (“… not my fate… to bring some joy to my dear wife, my infant son”, Il 5.787-89). These numerous references to a domestic world in the heat of battle draw the poem away from the glory of war and into the themes of life and loss. Yet for Sarpedon and Hector, these considerations do not outweigh the glory of war. Sarpedon seems reconciled to the concept that he will not “journey residence once again to the fatherland I love” (Il five.788), and continues to fight. Hector rejects Andromache’s suggestion that he “take [his] stand on the rampart here” (Il 6.511), as in undertaking so he would “die of shame” (Il six.523) for not fighting in the front-lines. Both guys fight to defend their wives from the marauding Greeks as Sarpedon emphasises in book 5, but their zeal for the heroic life does appear to somewhat outweigh these considerations. In contrast, when faced with Book 9’s embassy. Achilles dwells upon the life he could have when he returns house, and places a higher worth on domestic felicity and longevity than heroism. Hence, both Hector and Sarpedon act as a foil to Achilles. Achilles’ longing for life at residence becomes more understandable, specifically to modern day audiences, when contrasted with the Trojan men’s practically lack of care.

Death, then, is understood as only temporarily avoidable this theme drives the action for the latter part of the poem. The death of Patroclus outweighs all Achilles’ considerations for life and sends him back into battle. In contrast, Sarpedon’s death expands upon this theme of loss and fate in a distinctive way. He is lamented not just by his mortal companions, but by his immortal father Zeus. Despite Zeus’ creation of the dios boule and his manage more than the war, Zeus is virtually powerless to intervene in his son’s death. An fascinating paradox is presented – Zeus, who set the dios boule as an extension of his will can't willfully act against it. This begs the question is the supposed ‘will of Zeus’ then truly the will of Zeus? The heroes continually kowtow to the will of the Gods, yet the gods prove that even they cannot shield their favourites. Zeus’ singular pain in sacrificing his son is evident in the image the poet presents of the god, showering “tears of blood that drenched the earth” (Il 16.546), so it is clearly not a easy matter of lack of care. Saperdon’s death is the a single that produces the most consternation. Why then have to Sarpedon die?

A feasible answer to this lies perhaps not in the will of the gods, or the will of fate, but rather the tradition of the poem. The effective attempts of gods to safeguard heroes in prior books have all served some goal: for instance, Aphrodite’s abduction of Paris in Book four stops the premature ending of the poem, even though Poseidon and Aphrodite’s respective rescues of Aeneas guarantee that he survives to be the protagonist of the Aeneid. If the poet were to intervene, poetic tradition would be disrupted and this would in turn give license to other poets to modify the narrative, and the epic would be distorted. Sarpedon’s fate, then, must submit to Achilles’. In this manner, the will of Zeus becomes one particular with the will of the poet both functioning to the identical end, in spite of the pain of losing favoured heroes. Achilles’ fate is unavoidable, and this defines the fate of all those about him.

Sarpedon’s character helps expand upon prominent themes in the Iliad. His outlining and embodiment of the heroic trade juxtaposes Achilles’ rejection of it. He is distinguished by both the poet and by his father Zeus in a variety of methods, linking him to the inherent themes of the Iliad. A lot more than this, Sarpedon is a Trojan fighter who is portrayed with a great deal of feeling and sympathy, as are Hector, Andromache, Paris, Helen and Priam. This negates the notion of the Iliad as a easy war poem if this were the case, the Trojan Sarpedon would not have been the one particular to exemplify the heroic life in the way that he did, and his death would not have been dwelt on with so considerably pathos. Although he by no means straight interacts with Achilles, Sarpedon’s character is linked with the themes the poem is concerned with, and types a foil which sheds light upon Achilles’ consternation. All this belies the thought that Sarpedon is a lesser hero or a dismissable character, but areas him squarely amongst the greater heroes as he deserves.


Fagles, Robert, trans. The Iliad. United States of America: Penguin Books, 1991.

Barker, Elton T. E. “The Iliad’s Huge Swoon: A Case of Innovation within the Epic Tradition?” Trends in Classics three.1 (2011), 1-7

Lattimore, Richmond, trans. The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951.

Claus, David B. “Aidôs in the Language of Achilles.” Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974), vol. 105, 1975, 13–28

Wolfe, Jessica. “The Razor’s Edge: Homer, Milton, and the Difficulty of Deliberation.” in Homer and the Query of Strife from Erasmus to Hobbes, University of Toronto Press, 2015, 305–374

Wilson, Joe. “Homer and the Will of Zeus.” College Literature, vol. 34, no. two, 2007, 150–173
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