Essay on What Is Virtue for Homer?

Published: 2021/11/24
Number of words: 2012


The definition of virtue and its importance to humans is traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers. For instance, Homer is a great philosopher who expressed the meaning of virtue through his poems, Iliad and Odyssey. In western literature, the two writings are considered the classics. Notably, the Greeks thought about the good and virtue via literature. When they referred to the topic, they could use examples of virtuous people as opposed to a set of principles for the conduct. Such examples were expressed through poetry as described in Homer’s poems, whereby Odysseus and Achilles in the Odyssey and Iliad respectively are examples of virtuous individuals (Burgess, 2019). Such great characters play a significant role as far as virtuous conduct is concerned among the Greeks. In fact, they are prime examples of the meaning of a virtuous individual. In that regard, the Greeks never considered Homer’s works on virtue as literally masterpieces, but rather inspirations for their ethics, theology, as well as culture.Although Homer’s poems never favourably show gods, they later came to be the basis of Greeks’ religious thought. This is to say, most Greeks accepted Homer’s beliefs of gods and considered his poems to be divinely inspired. Nevertheless, Homer is depicted to invoke the muses, who were the Greek goddesses of art and poetry at the beginning of his poems. Therefore, irrespective Homer’s poems not limited to theology, they were virtuous in the sense that the Iliad and Odyssey were highly referred to as the Bible is in western civilization. The writings acted as the source of information concerning human conduct, divine, as well as the world in general.

Background Information

For Homer, the aspect of virtue was highly complex and entailed various righteous cultural values. In fact, calling such aspects virtues was misleading. The term virtue was formulated from a Latin word virtus also derived from vir, meaning a man. As such, virtus initially referred to a skilled Roman solder, despite its meaning diffusing to a non-military concept. In Greek, the term was equivalent to arête or excellence as depicted in Homer and Aristotle’s works. In Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, virtue is depicted in individuals who are excellent in their engagement, such as soldering or politicking. An excellent solder requires to be courageous and strong, whereas an excellent politician should master how to negotiate competitive interests. Notably, in Homer’s works, virtue is not restricted to men. For instance, female characters such as Penelope are depicted to be virtuous in the Odyssey whereby her good sense led to her to becoming virtuous (Homer, 2015). Despite excellence seeming to be a state of character, Homeric poems tend to relate it to efficacy. For instance, excellent soldiers use all their skills and talents to complete their respective missions. Arête is majorly about results because excellence can only be attained at the end. In fact, excellence entails fulfilling an individual’s potential, through becoming a model for a particular character in the society. For military forces, the guarantor for virtue was considered to be death while in war. For wives, virtue mainly entailed faithfulness forever. Equally, for businesspersons, it was the ability to offer high-quality goods. Therefore, virtue was measured in terms of the results of completing a given initiative.

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Virtues in Homer’s Poems


One of the key virtues that are depicted in his poems in courageousness. In Iliad, Hector and Achilles are virtuous by demonstrating a high level of courage in fulfilling their roles as soldiers. Part of the poem focuses on the Trojan War. Achilles’ wrath greatly influences the war. Notably, Achilles is the main character, and his withdrawal from the war is critical. Achilles is in command of the Greek army, whereas Hector leads the Trojan army. The two characters are heroic in their respective sides. Being the commander of the Trojan army, Hector is always in front of the troops, appealing to readers the essence of humanity. In the poem, Hector is always conscious of his responsibilities and the duty to protect his people. As such, his personal interests never interfere with his national duty of confronting the enemies. Hector is a true representation of the civilized ideas of life. He depicts courageousness by standing for hearth, city-state, and his home. He actually defends the principles of self-control alongside a constructive lifestyle.

Hector further depicts courage while in the war. At some point, he managed to push away the Greeks. With the aid of Apollo, he kills Patroclus, who came to protect the Greeks, with Achilles’ withdrawal. However, the incident provoked Achilles, who equivalently returns to the war with the aim of revenging for the death of Patroclus. It is during this incident that Achilles managed to kill Hector. He tries to go away with the body, but later Priam goes for it and offers him an honorary burial. Henceforth, Hector is worshipped and used as an example in society. The actions of the two characters undoubtedly depict courageousness, which is a key virtue in Homer’s writings. In the definition of virtue, Homer considers virtue to be an attribute that allows an individual to execute his role in both life and death. In the case of Hector, courage enabled him to confront the opponents during the Trojan War with the aim of fulfilling his role in life and death. Unfortunately, he died while pursuing his goals. On the other hand, Achilles also demonstrates courageousness while confronting Hector, especially after the death of Patroclus (Champagne, 2003). Notably, his courage led him to the attainment of excellence, represented by the death of Hector.


Honour is another key virtue that is depicted in Homer’s works. It entails acting in a manner that enables others to treat you with great respect. Notably, the major goal of Homeric heroes was to achieve honour in society. In fact, honour is an essential element if an individual seeks to become a hero. In both the Odyssey and Iliad, honour is attained through engagement in life-threatening activities. An individual who seeks to attain honour cannot avoid life-threatening incidents. This implies that for one to attain the virtue, he/she must be committed. A hero should ignore other people’s advice, particularly those warning him/her from various situations. For instance, Achilles warns Patroclus from attacking Troy, however, he ignores and pushes his agenda forward. Later, he dies trying to confront Hector and is regarded as a hero. Resultantly, he is honoured for depicting such a commitment towards protecting the Greeks. In another incident, Poulydamas urges Hector to lead the Trojans back to the city and launch attacks from there but he ignores such advice (“The Iliad–the Heroic Code,” n.d.). Therefore, the virtue of honour is attained through a commitment to achieve one’s goals, irrespective of the situation.

As per Homer, individuals who possess the virtue of honour value it more than their lives. This is clearly depicted in the Iliad, whereby Hector fights till death with the aim of maintaining his honour in society. As indicated in the poem, Hector had several options for dealing with his opponents. First, he could cover within the walls and experience Poulydamas’ censure. Second, he could face Achilles one on one and kill him. Finally, he could shed his armour and engage talks with Achilles with the aim of returning Helen and Alexandros’ spoils (Rutherford, 2019). However, the fact that he treasured the virtue of honour more than his life, he opted to maintain it by facing Achilles and leave his fate on gods’ hands. Hector ended up dying while trying to maintain his honour in society.

According to Homer, the virtue of honour is determined by various aspects. To begin with, he highly values one’s courageousness. One must act courageously in handling challenging situations to be honoured by society. Moreover, the challenging situation one faces also determines whether they attain honour. By dealing with the most challenging aspects such as battles, one attracts the highest honour. For instance, Hector’s decision to face Achilles and his eventual death was highly honoured in society. Besides, one’s physical abilities and social status also impact the honorary level. Most heroes who were highly honoured in Homer’s poems were physically fit to engage in the battles (Balloo, 2009). Finally, the possessions one acquires in his quest to fulfil his roles also determines the honour attained. For instance, Hector garnered a high level of honour by acquiring spoils from the opponents. Therefore, it is until one fulfils all these elements that he/she attains honour in the society as it was the case of Hector.

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Sacrifice is another virtue that is depicted in Homer’s works. In his poems, Homer tends to demonstrate the heroic feature in individuals. Notably, the heroes portrayed in his various readings are honoured. For one to be a hero, he/she must be honoured, and for one to attain honour, he/she must sacrifice other things and work towards the fulfilment of his/her roles. For instance, in the Iliad, Hector and Achilles sacrificed a lot for them to lead their respective groups towards war. In fact, the competition between Trojan and Greek heroes poses life-and-death circumstances whereby one must be ready to sacrifice his life. As far as pity and mercy are valued in Homer’s poem, Heroes should never be merciful to their opponents. Mercy is considered as an aftermath of a confrontation battle to be shown to survivors or in honouring the dead. The triumph of war is actually marked taking the dead opponents, defeated opponents’ armour, or other valued spoils. Therefore, once one agrees to be part of a given battle, they must have sacrificed their lives and must be ready for any result, including death. In Homer’s Iliad, Hector was determined to face Achilles and had sacrificed his life to protect his people. He had to leave aside his family for his role as the leader of the war. It is from such sacrifices that he was recognized as a hero and honoured despite dying during the war.


Overall, Homer considers virtue as an attribute which allows an individual to fulfil his/her role in the world. Courage, honour, and sacrifice enabled Homeric heroes to succeed in challenges such as those of the wars. These virtues are clearly depicted in Homer’s poems. For instance, in the Iliad, Hector depicted the three virtues in his quest to lead his group to the war. Even though he died in the war, Hector is still honoured among the Trojans. The people consider him as a hero and appreciate his efforts in protecting the people. Similarly, Achilles is considered to be a hero by Greeks. Equally, he demonstrated the key virtues, while leading the group against the Trojans. Although virtues were initially used to refer to military men, Homer broadened the term to include women and non-military heroes with the commitment to improve or save the lives of many. In that regard, Homer identifies virtues as attributes that lead an individual, either a man or woman towards excelling in his/her respective roles in society.


Balloo, Y. 2009. The Epic Entourage: Homeric Values of Heroism in the Modern Age and Setting. Spring.

Burgess, J.S., 2019. The Measure of Homer: The Ancient Reception of the Iliad and the Odyssey by Richard Hunter. Classical World112(2), pp.113-114.

Champagne, R, A. 2003. The Force of Achilles in the Iliad. Orbis Litterarum. 58(1), pp. 65-78

Homer, H., 2015. The odyssey. Xist Publishing.

Rutherford, R.B. ed., 2019. Homer: Iliad. Cambridge University Press.

The Iliad–the Heroic Code. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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