Grief, longing, and anger: a study of emotions in the Iliad
Austin, Emily Parker
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Readers of Homer’s Iliad immediately confront the anger of Achilles; the first word of the poem, μῆνις, forefronts the hero’s godlike wrath. Yet little attention has been paid to the important relationship that exists between Achilles’ anger and his grief. In this dissertation I identify language in the poem unique to Achilles, linking his grief for Patroklos with a longing, ποθή. The most important interpretive consequence of this link between ποθή and grief, I argue, is the proper understanding of the insatiable roots of his subsequent anger. Achilles experiences the death of Patroklos as a rending of the fabric of his life. In this state of restless volatility, we see that Achilles’ anger is one more response to an underlying experience of rupture and thus is both aimless and fruitless. Although Achilles succeeds in ensuring the future sack of Troy by killing Hektor, his behavior remains insatiate, since his deeds of anger are motivated by a desire for what cannot be achieved, life shared with Patroklos. The persistence of his attempted vengeance beyond the slaying of Hektor reveals the futility of his underlying longing, such that, according to the poem, the only end he can make of his grief-driven anger, finally, is to let it go. The Trojans’ grief for Hektor is never described with the language of longing, and this surprising exclusion underscores the contrast between Achilles and Hektor. Where Achilles has a uniquely independent status, Hektor is continuously tied to the city as a whole and part of a rich network of close relations. Rather than exploring the rupture of a single, highly personal relationship, perhaps typical of a warrior far from home many years, with Hektor’s death the poem depicts the impending destruction of an entire civilization. Thus every expression of grief for this warrior refers not only to personal loss but to the multiple relationships that will be impacted by his death. The Trojans’ grief for their defender cannot linger on the sense of rupture in the present, but rather their grief is shaped by a forward-looking sense of doom.