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Throughout book two in the Iliad, there is a struggle to gain respect from people or gods who may be more powerful than you. Also maintaining respect among people who are less powerful than you is outlined by actions of power. “Obey the commands of others, your superiors- you, you deserter, rank coward you count for nothing…How can all Achaeans be masters her in Troy?” (2.231) The hierarchy that Homer tries to create between the Achaeans, the Gods and Immortals, and the Trojans is very important. Not only between the groups but within the groups rank and roles are specific and critical to success. Rank is key in their world and in the winning of the war. Without ranks and leaders their is chaos but throughout the Iliad as characters learn where they stand it tends to cause conflict. Whether it be between people from the same side or group on group conflict there is always somebody who has more power then another. There is always somebody who has more power over an individual or a group of individuals where they can make them do something that they would not otherwise do.

One example of a power struggle is when Odysseus yells at Thersites for making crude comments to his people. Thersites was the ugliest who ever came upon Troy. “Bandy-legged he was, with one foot clubbed, both shoulders humped together, curving over his caved in chest, and bobbing able them his skull warped to a point, sprouting clumps of scraggly, woolly hair” (2.250). He taunted the kings with rash remarks and insults.

Thersites is hated by most including Achilles and Odysseus. He would abuse them by, “hollering out, taunting the king with strings of cutting insults” (2.255). The Achaeans were annoyed and put off by his remarks and when Odysseus launches into his speech about their rage Thersites was “stunned with pain” (2.313). In Odysseus’s speech he addressed the things that Thersites had been saying to Atreus, and Agamemnon who are marshal of the armies. He tells him, “you and your ranting slander- you’re the outrage” (2. 299). Odysseus threatens Thersites “if I catch you again, blithering on this way, let Odysseus’ head be wrenched off his shoulders” (2.305). Meaning that this is his warning and if Odysseus finds him acting this way again there will be no tolerance. After his speech Odysseus, “cracked the scepter across his back and shoulders. The rascal doubled over, tears streaking his face…he squatted low, cringing, stunned with pain, blinking like some idiot” (2.312). Here Odysseus uses his power to make Thersites stop doing something that none of the Achaeans like. Something that is disrespectful and unacceptable.

Zeus does the same thing when he sends the dream to Agamemnon. His goal was to disrupt the Achaeans. “How to exalt Achilles?- how to slaughter hordes of Achaeans pinned against their ships?…he would send a murderous dream to Agamemnon” (2. 8). As this dream is sent to him it wakes him up with a message from Zeus. “Zeus commands you to arm your long-haired Achaeans, to attack at once, full force- now you can take the broad street of Troy” (2.35). Here he uses his powers to make Agamemnon aware of what needs to be done and the responsibility that he holds.

The use of power is very important in the Iliad. Power can be manipulated to do many things whether it be to protect somebody’s group or to hurt another group. There are many ways that different situations can be approached either by a secret dream like Zeus and Agamemnon or and vicious lecture and beating like with Odysseus and Thersites. Power can be used to enforce respect or to get something done by somebody who is lower then you in the hierarchy. Power is a tool used by many but as we read we learn that power is  something that is earned like respect. Power is gained and respect is earned and they normally go hand in hand. Somebody who is respect by many normally has power over many. As we see in the different groups whether is be with the Gods or the Achaeans they have their own set of leaders who have gained respect and power and those who many people look up to for guidance and protection especially in this time of war.

20 Responses to “Courtney – Power and Its Use”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Courtney,

    This is a key theme in the Iliad. I especially like how you suggest that there is a hierarchy between gods and men but also among gods and among men. There are a lot of overlapping spheres of superiority and inferiority.

    Odysseus clearly shows his physical superiority over Thersites and beats him with the kingly scepter. In this scene, Odysseus has assumed the mantle of king. Does he rebut Thersites’ speech? That seems to me to be less clear. As you point out, Achilles and Odysseus hated the most, and not simply because he was ugly (though he was) but because he constantly berated and abused them (9.246-249). Maybe Odysseus is just levying out some just desserts, so to speak. Or is he instead retaliating unjustly? Does it matter, as long as the troops are appeased?

    I think the comparison with Zeus is interesting but could use a lot more fleshing out. For one thing, Zeus clearly is more powerful than the human beings and directs the war to various ends. But is the dream evidence of his power or of those very ends? I suppose one might ask whether the entire war is a demonstration of Zeus’ power. But why? That is not a straightforward of a question as it perhaps first appears. Why Helen? Why Achilles? Why any of it? What does Zeus have in mind? To what end does he direct his power?

    KH

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