Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
One would naturally expect a martial epic to depict men in arms, but armor in The Iliad emerges as something more than merely a protective cover for a soldier’s body. In fact, Homer often portrays a hero’s armor as having an aura of its own, separate from its wearer. In one of the epic’s more tender scenes, Hector removes his helmet to keep its horsehair crest from frightening his son Astyanax. When Patroclus wears Achilles’ armor to scare the Trojans and drive them from the ships, Apollo and Hector quickly see through the disguise. Then, when a fight breaks out over Patroclus’s fallen body, the armor goes one way and the corpse another. Hector dons the armor, but it ends up betraying him, as it were, in favor of its former owner. Achilles’ knowledge of its vulnerabilities makes it easier for him to run Hector through with his sword. By this point in the story, Achilles has a new set of armor, fashioned by the god Hephaestus, which also seems to have a life of its own. While Achilles’ mortal body can be wounded—and indeed, the poem reminds us of Achilles’ impending death on many occasions—Homer describes the divine armor as virtually impervious to assault.
While martial epics naturally touch upon the subject of
burial, The Iliad lingers over it. The burial of
Hector is given particular attention, as it marks the melting of
Achilles’ crucial rage. The mighty Trojan receives a spectacular
funeral that comes only after an equally spectacular fight over
his corpse. Patroclus’s burial also receives much attention in the
text, as Homer devotes an entire book to the funeral and games in
the warrior’s honor. The poem also describes burials unconnected
to particular characters, such as in Book
Fire emerges as a recurrent image in The Iliad, often
associated with internal passions such as fury or rage, but also
with their external manifestations. Homer describes Achilles as
“blazing” in Book
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