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Having trouble developing a good thesis for The Iliad...

answers: 4
Oct 24, 2009, 09:27pm   #
I'm writing a 4 page paper in AP Humanities on The Iliad, and I'm stumped. I'm thinking of writing an essay about how Homer sees a greater value in life than glory and material possessions, which was contrary to the beliefs of the time of this Epic. I'm not sure if a thesis about this would be effective, though. I have also tried to create other theses, with no luck.

Help in either finalizing my essay, or guiding me through the development of a new thesis will be greatly appreciated!

Oct 26, 2009, 04:28am   #
"Homer sees a greater value in life than glory and material possessions, which runs contrary to the beliefs prevalent at the time he wrote his Epic."

Yep, that's a thesis, no doubt about it. As for being effective, that depends on whether or not you can marshal enough evidence from the text to make a good case for it. Why not write up the ideas you have in support of your statement so far and post a rough draft here for more detailed feedback?
Oct 26, 2009, 06:32pm   #
Thanks, Sean! My draft so far is quote disorganized right now, so I'll probably post it up tonight, or tomorrow if I'm not finished yet. I do have a handful of ideas though.
My supporting evidence are as followed:
  • Achilles shuns Agamemnon for refusing to give up his war prize, Briseis, as their soldiers are being massacred by Apollo.

  • The point above is paralleled as Hector, who is on the different side and also has some different values than Achilles, scowls at his brother Paris for cowering at his duel with Menelaeus, which was supposed to end the war. And because Paris will not surrender Helen, the war is prolonged, causing unnecessary Trojan deaths.

  • The above points conclude that the value of living is universal, as the two have different views, yet still values life.

  • Achilles, who is a product of their social culture which rewards valor, refuses Agamemnon's offering of material goods, which were to bring him back to the war effort. Achilles says that these goods can always be traded, but nothing can bring a man back to life.

The ones that follow I'm not too sure about:
  • It's seen that glory is very much for the individual himself. But people constantly grieve over the death of the soldiers.

  • Patroclus recklessly charges the Trojan lines although Achilles tells him not to. His decision was fueled by the glory he gains through battle by killing many Trojan soldiers, and it leads to his death. This causes the grief of the Achaean men, especially Achilles.

  • Another parallel with above. Hector's downfall caused by a reckless charge for glory. Achilles drives them back after Patroclus' death, and kills Hector. The people of Troy grieve for Hector.

  • The points above show that glory is important to the individual, but their lives have a significance to others.

  • Structurally places significance in the lives of people who are killed in the war. Many soldiers' deaths are told in a descriptive manner. Not only are they told specifically how they are killed, but also the person's name, lineage, accomplishment, and sometimes his motive to fight, which weren't always for glory.

Oct 28, 2009, 01:10am   #
My draft of the essay is this:

War! Armed conflicts have existed since the beginning of human civilization. There are many possible motives that explain why certain forces wage war. It may be to protect territory, or to gain territory. The purpose could be to prevent destruction on a large scale. It may be because they stole your wife. What is gained from war, however, may be more than getting your wife back. As a result of war, people gain glory and wealth. Warriors are able to become renowned and gain power through glory. However, is it worth it for them to risk their lives? In The Iliad, Homer sees a greater value in life than glory and material possessions, which runs contrary to the beliefs prevalent at the time this Epic took place.
Even the most glorious warrior in The Iliad, Achilles, rebels against a more powerful leader when lives are at stake. Achilles challenges King Agamemnon's selfish desires, because the Achaeans are punished by Apollo since the King refuses to give up his war prize, Chryseis. In retaliation, Agamemnon threatens Achilles' honor by telling him to "desert, by all means" (83). By saying that Achilles is deserting them, Agamemnon implies that he is betraying his allies. Achilles' honor is at stake, and he also loses the opportunity to gain glory and wealth if he does not participate in this war. But by doing so, Achilles protects his own life one which is fated to die if he continues to fight.
Hector has parallels to Achilles as he prioritizes people's lives over the rewards of warfare. When Paris halts his duel with Meneleaus, which would have ended the war, and makes love with Helen instead, Hector becomes furious. He insults Paris for cowering from battle. Hector does not scowl at Paris to blame him for destroying their glory and honor, but because "people [are] dying around the city, the steel walls, dying in arms and all for [Paris]". (206) Hector despises this "hateful war" due to the costs in many peoples' lives for Paris' possession of Helen, whom he refuses to give up.
In this Epic, Achilles and Hector, both being renowned warriors, represent different values of life. Achilles values personal worth. He felt his pride is at stake when Agamemnon takes away his war prize, he opposes him by refusing to participate in Agamemnon's war. Hector, on the other hand, continues to fight for honor. Hector fights to protect his family, but also because he has learned to "stand up bravely, always fight in the front ranks of Trojan soldiers, winning [his] father great glory, glory for [himself]"(210). Hector knows he is fated to die protecting Troy, yet he continues to fight. He continues to fight for glory. He continues to fight for honor. Although they are both products of their social hierarchal system which rewards valor, they question the benefits of war as the amount of deaths increase. Homer not only reveals that the value of life is greater than material possessions, but that the significance of living is universal to humans through the comparison of Achilles and Hector.
Parallels between Paris and Agamemnon exist to show their consequences of greed. Although Paris and Agamemnon are quite different people, Homer brings them together structurally. Because of the consequences of their selfish desires, the reader creates a disliking to the two of them, although Agamemnon is well respected in the story. The Epic makes the reader oppose the Paris and Agamemnon, and their values in material possessions by antagonizing the two of them.
Through Achilles, Homer shows that the value of material wealth is low due to the ease in obtaining it. In hopes of bringing Achilles back into the war effort, Agamemnon offers him an incredible amount of goods, including gold, cattle, and women. Achilles points out the flaw of this grandiose proposal as he says, "Cattle and fat sheep can all be had for the raiding, tripods all for the trading, and tawny-headed stallions. But a man's life breath cannot come back again no raiders in force, no trading brings it back..."(265). The fragility of life makes people cherish it. It is futile for warriors to fight for material possessions when it risks their lives. However, wealth is not the main reason many soldiers fight in The Iliad; to become glorious is what motivates them to battle.
The warrior's pursuit of kleos is much for the individual himself. They are motivated by the impermanence of their lives, and want to gain glory to have an everlasting recognition in society. They attempt to gain recognition by accomplishing incredible feats in war, in which they risk their lives. Yet, they prize lifeless glory to the extent where they will sacrifice their lives for it. Patroclus death was caused by his strive for glory. He recklessly charges into the Trojan lines, "blind in his fatal frenzy"(435), disobeying Achilles orders not to. Although glory is beneficial to the warrior himself, their death impacts many others. Achilles grieves for Patroclus, even after he avenges him, as "he longed for Patroclus' manhood"(588). Patroclus' life may be worth sacrificing for him, but it has much more significance to those dear to him. The Iliad not only demonstrates the value of life, but also challenges the warrior culture as it reveals that the desire for glory causes the downfall of Patroclus and many other warriors.
The way this Epic is told amplifies the significance of life. In The Iliad, the deaths of the many soldiers are told in a detailed structure. Alcathous is one of the many soldiers who were only mentioned once at the time of his death:
And here was a royal kill, the son of Aesyetes, the hero Alcathous, son-in-law to Anchises, wed to his eldest daughter, Hippodamia ... Her father and noble mother loved her dearly, the pride of their halls excelling all her age in beauty, works of the loom and good clear sense. So the bravest man in the broad realm of Troy took her hand in marriage, true, the very man Poseidon crushed at the hands of Idomeneus here... as [Idomeneus] stabbed him square in the chest and split the bronze plate that cased his ribs... (355)
Although Alcathous was not important to the plot of The Iliad, he as a person is notably described. The single paragraph that describes him consists of his name, lineage, exactly how he was killed and by whom, and how his death impact his death made. The depth given to soldiers such as Alcathous elicits the significance of human lives not only the protagonists that participated in this war.
The Iliad is a story that glorifies and justifies war. Yet, Homer's version of this Epic questions the motives of war through the nature of soldiers. The reason the argument of life is present is because of the time period this was told. Homer tells the story after the time of the Trojan War, at the philosophical era. Homer's society sought for knowledge of life, and questioned the previous ways of living such as the warrior culture. Even today, life is a heated subject. We see pro-life ads, yet abortion still exists; we see protests for war, yet it is prevalent at numerous areas of the world. Cultural views are always subject to change, but people will always value to be alive.
I have to warn you, the thing about stealing someone's wife can seem sexist. It is as if you are addressing only men... or as if wars only involve men... or something...

At the start, you are "stating the obvious." It is strange that in composition people think it's okay to state the obvious, even though it usually sounds silly. You might want to improve the beginning by saying only original, unique things and not stating that war has many causes.

Hey, nice job with the MLA citations... okay, I see that this is not about war in general, but rather, about Homer's work, so change that first paragraph to introduce what the essay is really about. And to make it perfect, refer back to what you said in the first paragraph when you write the conclusion.

Great observations about Homer's writings!! That last sentence of the intro paragraph is one to keep... refer back to it at the end.

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