The Iliad was an epic poem written in the 8th century B.C. by Homer. The story follows the Achaeians in their siege of Troy following the kidnapping of Helen. It focuses primarily on the hero Achilleus as well as other monarchs on the Greek side such as Odysseus and Agamemnon. In the lecture “Herodotus, Oracle of Halicarnassus”, Meg Scharle discusses the differences in interpretation of prophetic visions between monarchs and assemblies of common people.
One of the elements of difference she emphasizes in the lecture is the way that signs are defined; a sign, in this case, being “...anything which is so determined by something else, called its Object, and so determines an effect upon a person, which effect I call its interpretant, that the later is thereby mediately determined by the former” (Peirce, EP2, 478). While monarchs would, as Objects, consistently try to create semiotic systems that would make it seem as if these premonitions were in their favor, the common people would discuss their multiple interpretations of signs that appeared. Similar to Herodotus’ message, the Iliad proves an example of the monarchical domination of Greek society that Homer lived in through the association of signs with those in power throughout the text. It demonstrates this control through the signification of naturalistic imagery to describe hierarchical group dynamics and the direct involvement of the gods in the actions and lives of monarchs. An abundance of signs in the Iliad are defined to make it seem as if monarchical power structures are inherent.
Firstly, the establishment of naturalistic imagery into signs is used to describe hierarchical group dynamics in the Iliad.
So he spoke and led the way departing from the council,
and the rest rose to their feet, the scattered kings, obeying
the shepherd of the people, and the army thronged behind them,
like the swarms of clustering bees that issue forever
in fresh bursts from the hollow in the stone, and hang like
bunched grapes as they hover beneath the flowers in springtime… (Homer, II.84-89)
So he spoke, and stirred up the passion in the breast of all those
who were within that multitude and listened to his counsel.
And the assembly was shaken as on the sea the big waves
in the main by Ikaria, when the south and south-east winds
driving down from the clouds of Zeus the father whip them.
As when the west wind moves across the grain deep standing,
boisterously, and shakes and sweeps it till the tassels lean, so
all of that assembly was shaken, and the men in tumult
swept to the ships, and underneath their feet the dust lifted
and rose high, and the men were all shouting to one another
to lay hold on the ships and drag them down to the bright sea. (Homer, II.142-152)
Body paragraph #2
the direct involvement of the gods in the actions and lives of monarchs
Now as he weighed in mind and spirit these two courses
and was drawing from its scabbard the great sword, Athene descended
from the sky. For Hera the goddess of the white arms sent her,
who loved both men equally in her heart and cared for them.
The goddess standing behind Peleus’ son caught him by the fair hair,
appearing to him only, for no man of the others saw her…
Then in answer the goddess grey-eyed Athene spoke to him:
‘...do not take your sword in your hand, keep clear of fighting,
though indeed with words you may abuse him, and it will be that way.
And this also will I tell you and it will be a thing accomplished.
Some day three times over such shining gifts shall be given you
by reason of this outrage. Hold your hand then, and obey us.’ (Homer, I.193-214)
‘Yes, we also know well how they hold your glorious armour.
But go to the ditch, and show yourself as you are to the Trojans,
if perhaps the Trojans might be frightened, and give way
from their attack, and the fighting sons of the Achaians get wind
again after hard work. There is little breathing space in the fighting.’
So speaking Iris of the swift feet went away from him;
but Achilleus, the beloved of Zeus, rose up, and Athene
swept about his powerful shoulders the fluttering aegis;
and she, the divine among goddesses, about his head circled
a golden cloud, and kindled from it a flame far-shining. (Homer, XVIII.197-206)
In the end, the Iliad demonstrates monarchical societal control through the signification of naturalistic imagery to describe hierarchical dynamics. It also does this through the direct involvement of the gods in the actions and lives of monarchs. Thus, an abundance of signs in the Iliad are defined to make it seem as if monarchical power structures are inherent.
Homer. The Iliad of Homer. Translated by Richmond Lattimore, The University of Chicago Press, 1951.
Lebrun, Andre. “A Heel, but Still a Hero ...” Getty Images, Getty Images, https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/feb/16/achilles-homer-iliad-brutal-vain-pitiless-hero.
Peirce, C. S. “76 Definitions of the Sign.” Edited by Robert Marty and Alfred Lang, Arisbe: the Peirce Gateway, 27 Apr. 2012, https://arisbe.sitehost.iu.edu/rsources/76DEFS/76defs.HTM.
Scharle, Meg. “Herodotus, Oracle of Halicarnassus.” Humanities 110: Introduction to the Humanities. 11 Nov. 2022, Portland, Reed College.