Compassion in The Iliad and The Aeneid
Both Homer’s The Iliad, and Virgil’s The Aeneid, recount the many grave occurrences, and key heroes and gods and goddesses of the tumultuous Trojan War. The Trojans and Greeks are for the most part evenly matched; however, the Greek’s triumph after ten years of restless war comes about because of many factors. The people of Troy suffer to a greater extent than the Greeks, because of Hector’s unwise actions, Paris’s gluttonous decision, and the gods’ involvement in the war.
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Hector’s hubris and imprudent decisions result in massive losses in Trojan life. Although a leader and hero of the Trojan forces, Hector makes a colossal mistake by slaying Achilles’ closest friend, Patroclus, “just as a mountain lion overpowers a mighty boar” (64). Hector also “removed Achilles’ shining armour from Patroclus and took it for himself,” (64) to demonstrate superiority. However, this arrogant act, only further enrages godlike Achilles, and compels him to reenlist in the Greek army, and wreak havoc upon the Trojans. Another absurd decision that Hector makes, is when he refuses to heed wise Polydamas’ advice, and fortifies the soldiers behind the walls of Troy. Instead of listening to the wise man’s words, Hector’s hubris gets the best of him, and he orders his forces to commence with an attack upon Greek ships, even though Achilles’ anger runs high from the death of Patroclus. This full-throttle attack, called on by Hector, causes “the black earth to swim with Trojan blood” (66).
The judgment, and unthinkable act that Paris makes, ultimately leads to the downfall of Troy. When Paris is given the opportunity to evaluate and judge who the fairest goddess is, he chooses Aphrodite, instead of Athena or Hera. For this decision, Aphrodite rewards Paris with the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, the wife of Menelaus. Shortly after this judgment, Paris, with the help of Aphrodite manages to send a fleet of ships, break into Menelaus’ palace in Greece, and abduct Helen. This abduction entices Helen’s husband Menelaus as well as her former suitors, who took a vow to protect her, to lead an assault upon the city of Troy. In one instance, Hector, the brother of Paris and son of Priam, scolds Paris for his lack of courage during battle, telling him, “The Trojan people must share your cowardice, or they would have stoned you to death long before this, for all the evils you have brought upon them” (54). This cruel, but truthful accusation, clearly demonstrates the troubles that Paris has brought upon the people of Troy.
The major contributor to the Trojan people’s misfortune is the intrusiveness of the gods. The gods and goddesses, continually play with the fate of the Trojan people, as though they are playing a game of chess. Throughout the war, Athena and Hera, distort the thoughts and actions of the Trojans, in order to cause confusion and destruction amongst them. Hector’s refusal to accept Polydamas’ instruction to fortify the Trojan soldiers behind the city walls, is foolishly supported by his countrymen, “for bright-eyed Athena robbed them of their good judgment,” (66) thus causing another Trojan massacre. In another instance, Athena paralyzes the backbone of the Trojan fleet, by cajoling the Trojan leader into his demise. While Hector runs for his life from Achilles, Athena alters her form to that of Deiphobus, Hector’s brother, and tricks “godlike Hector into confronting his fate” (68). Poseidon also shares a deep hatred against the Trojans because they never paid him for helping them to build their city.
He, therefore, supports the Greeks and omits to suffer upon the Trojans. When the men of Troy gain control of the Trojan horse, they quickly believe it is nothing more than an offering to the goddess Minerva, on account of Sinon’s astute deceptiveness. Laocoon, however, challenges Sinon’s words, claiming that the horse is nothing more than a ruse by the Greeks, which will be the downfall of the Trojans, and throws his spear into the belly of the monstrous creation. Soon after Laocoon spears the Trojan horse, “two giant sea-snakes swam over the calm waters from Tenedos,” (57) and “…they seized Laocoon,” (57) and killed him. The Trojan people infer the snake attacks as an omen that they must pacify Minerva, so they wheel the horse into the city of Troy. This action consequently results in the inevitable downfall of the city.
The people of Troy induce a multitude of sympathy, far greater than that of the Grecians. Throughout the Trojan War, the Trojans are continually victimized. The ruin of Troy is brought about by Hector’s bad leadership, Paris’s rash judgment, and most importantly because of the unremitting intrusion of the gods.
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