The Subtle Importance of Sarpedon: War and Character in the Iliad College

If the Iliad were a simple war narrative with a clear bias towards the protagonist's side, Sarpedon would be portrayed as a two-dimensional enemy soldier who dies during the action. However, the Iliad is no such story. Complex and intensely human ideals, morals and emotions are woven into the very fabric of the poem, and these themes are by no means limited to the Greek side. Sarpedon is a character who is deeply linked with the themes of heroism, family, death and loss throughout the narrative. This serves to distinguish him from other named Trojan leaders, and arguably affords him a similar status within the poem to more prominent characters such as Hector and Paris. While Achilles' rage and consequent moral dilemma forms the crux of the narrative, Sarpedon's character arc forms a foil that contextualises Achilles' paradox. Achilles rejects the heroic code; Sarpedon not only assumes but outlines and defends it in his famous speech to Glaukos. Achilles fears that the kleos given to a hero is not worth the price of death; Sarpedon comes closer to death than any other character in Book 5, yet still rises to fight a war that is not his. Perhaps more striking however, is his father Zeus' unwillingness to consign his son to death,...

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