Death and Glory: Heroes in Search of Kleos

Death and Glory: Heroes in Search of Kleos

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By Van Bryan/ Classical Wisdom

It was the great philosopher, Woody Allen, who said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

While this might get a chuckle from a modern reader, such a sentiment would have been unthinkable to a classical age hero. In The Iliad , the classical hero Achilles is motivated to abstain from battle, and subsequently re-engage, in order to achieve his kleos aphthiton (eternal glory).

To understand the Greek hero and, more importantly, kleos, we must first understand the Greek song culture and the role that lyrical poetry, specifically Homeric poetry, played in the lives of classical men and women.

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‘Homer Singing with his Lyre’ attributed to Felix Boisselier.

Ancient Greek Hero Worship

Hero worship in ancient Greece was a cultural staple, and lyrical poetry was the medium through which stories of heroic myths were passed down through generations. The ancient Greeks would have understood the tales of Achilles, hero of The Iliad , or Odysseus, the namesake of The Odyssey , in the same way that the stories of Jesus Christ are known by much of Western civilization.

Epic poetry was told, retold, and passed through the generations in the days of ancient Greece. It became something of a common thread within the ancient Hellenic society. For while Greece shared a common land mass, language, and religion, it was not one country.

The tradition of reciting the Homeric epics and retelling the tales of Achilles, Agamemnon, and Odysseus would have been a shared cultural tradition through all of Greece-from Athens to Sparta, Crete to Corinth.

‘Achilles Receiving the Envoys of Agamemnon’ by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

The Importance of Kleos

However, becoming such a cornerstone of ancient Greek culture was no easy feat. The heroes of the Homeric epics first needed to achieve their kleos. The first thing we should recognize is that there is not an exact translation for kleos. It most closely translates to “glory” or, more specifically, “what people say about You”.

When it comes to heroic glory, kleos is actually the medium AND the message. Kleos was the glory that was achieved by Homeric heroes who died violent, dramatic deaths on the field of battle. However, kleos also referred to the poem or song that conveys this heroic glory.

The Iliad, therefore, is a type of kleos. It is the song of Achilles, the main hero of the epic who achieved eternal glory on the battlefields of Troy. Another name for the city of Troy was Ilium. This is where we get the name “Iliad”.

Walls of Troy. (CherryX/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

However, kleos is not just something that is handed to you. You must pursue it, often at great personal sacrifice. Achilles is quoted as saying…

“My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I will not return alive but my name will live forever (kleos): whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.” – Achilles (The Iliad)

The Crux

Here we get to a major crux of the Homeric epic. It is that all-important question for classical heroes. Do they die young and gloriously, and have their names live on forever? Or do they live long, humble lives, but die as anonymous old men?

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Heroes of The Iliad by Tischbein.

Achilles doesn’t truly decide which path he will take for most of the epic. It is only in book XVIII, when Achilles learns of the death of Patroclus at the hands of Hector, that he resolves to kill the prince of Troy. In doing so, he knowingly ushers in his own demise and achieves his kleos aphthiton.

The kleos of the classical heroes was an immortalizing element. The epics of Homer were not considered fiction. In the song culture of ancient Greece, they were thought to convey the ultimate truth-values of the classical age. Achilles would have viewed his kleos, his eternal place in history, as being just as “real”, perhaps more so, than his actual life.

By achieving kleos, the classical hero is ushered into the catalogues of human history. In essence, he achieves immortality and is nearer to the gods because of it.


There are 240, give or take, deaths in Homer’s Iliad. Physical death is a regular occurrence throughout the epic, but the culture surrounding death is not one of indifference. It seems as though many warriors fight to be remembered, with a secondary focus on surviving the war. Inspired by this idea in Homer’s epic, I created an original oil painting depicting a surreal depiction of a decapitated warrior. Kleos, the greek concept of glory, is a common theme in the course of events of the Iliad, and is often given as the reason for one to keep fighting. This attitude surrounding the pursuit of glory is the foundation of my painting. The figure, whose head levitates above his body, is depicted with a tranquil expression. Even though the figure has been physically beheaded, there is no blood, no anguish, and no pain. The figure is at peace with his death, because he has achieved posthumous glory. The limbo between life and death is also portrayed through the figure’s closed mouth. Ancient greek culture viewed the time of death as the moment where the spirit, or psyche, left the soul of the body through a small breath. The figure’s mouth is closed, indicating that he has not yet released his final breath. The figure possesses no distinguishing attire or characteristics that reveal a specific identity, rather, he represents the collective identity of the entire army. In the process of painting, I was careful to express the nuances of the greek culture surrounding death and glory without being completely overt. Like the Iliad, it is subtleties of the piece that reveal the most about the meaning of the work as a whole.

This poem was a private diary entry, and so perhaps only ever intended for Byron to explore his own private thoughts and inner psychology. However, as he was about to go into battle and expected to die and attain the status of a hero, it could also be said that he intended the poem to be found and published after his death.

This analysis is tailored towards IGCSE, GCSE, and A-Level students, but it’s useful for anyone studying the poem at any level (including the CIE / Cambridge, WJEC / Eduqas, Edexcel, OCR, and CCEA exam boards).

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On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year

January 22nd, 1824 Missolonghi (Greece)

’Tis time this heart should be unmoved,

Since others it hath ceased to move:

Yet though I cannot be beloved,

My days are in the yellow leaf

The flowers and fruits of Love are gone

The worm — the canker, and the grief

The fire that on my bosom preys

Is lone as some Volcanic Isle

No torch is kindled at its blaze

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,

The exalted portion of the pain

And power of Love I cannot share,

But ’tis not thus — and ’tis not here

Such thoughts should shake my Soul, nor now,

Where Glory decks the hero’s bier,

The Sword, the Banner, and the Field,

Glory and Greece around us see!

The Spartan borne upon his shield

Awake (not Greece — she is awake!)

Awake, my Spirit! Think through whom

Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake

Tread those reviving passions down

Unworthy Manhood — unto thee

Indifferent should the smile or frown

If thou regret’st thy Youth, why live?

The land of honourable Death

Is here: — up to the Field, and give

Seek out — less often sought than found —

A Soldier’s Grave, for thee the best

Then look around, and choose thy Ground,


’Tis — it is (colloquial, conversational)

Unmoved — not bothered, not emotionally disturbed

Ceased to move — been unable to affect / stopped affecting

Beloved — loved by someone

Canker — rot, disease

Bosom — chest, breast

Lone — alone, lonely

Isle — island

Kindled — set alight and encouraged to burn, as in with firewood

Funeral pile — a pile of wood that a corpse is burned on top of

Exalted — in a high position, high status, or extreme happiness

Thus — this way

Bier — a frame that coffins or corpses are placed on

Binds — wraps up tightly

Tread down — step heavily upon

Manhood — masculinity, the condition of being a man

Thou regret’st — you regret

Honourable — bringing or deserving honour

Unto thee — to you

Indifferent — not affected, not bothered


The speaker says that it’s time for his heart to stop being so emotional since it has failed to affect the hearts of others (either through love or by being inspirational). (Stanza 2) His days are in the season of Autumn, where the vibrancy of life is fading. He has lost the flowers and fruits of love, and now he only has the worm and rot to look forward to — images of death and decay. (Stanza 3) The fire that takes hold of his chest is lonely as if it were an isolated volcano on an island. No one goes to set light to a torch there, it is like a funeral pile that will burn only to destroy his own body. (Stanza 4) He feels a range of extreme emotions — hope, fear, jealousy that springs from caring, uplifting pain, powerful Love that he cannot share with anyone, but which he is bound by nonetheless. (Stanza 5) But it is not the right time for these kinds of thoughts to disturb the speaker’s soul, when Glory is going to be covering his coffin frame and across his forehead. (Stanza 6) The speaker reminds himself that he is in Greece, where great wars took place by heroes in ancient times — Spartans killed in battle who were brought back home on shields were as free as he is now because they died in glory. (Stanza 7) He commands his spirit to wake up, noting that Greece is already awake. He tells himself to think of his ancestors, who are Ancient Greek if you go back to Classical times — to the ‘parent lake’ of his bloodline, he asks it to be emotionally moved by this thought. (Stanza 8) He commands his spirit to stamp down upon the earlier intense emotions that he felt, otherwise his masculinity (‘manhood’) is not worthy of glory or respect — he should remain unbothered by the smiles and frowns of beauty. (Stanza 9) He asks himself: “If you regret your youth, why continue living?” The land of Death (war) stretches before him, he should step up to battle and willingly give his life. (Stanza 10) He tells his soul to look for a soldier’s grave — this is something more often found than actively looked for because soldiers usually don’t go into battle expecting or wishing to die. In the speaker’s case, he is happy to die and will choose his resting spot on the ground during the battle.


This is a personal poem, written by Byron in his journal in Missolonghi, Greece, just before he was about to lead a battle for Greek independence against the Ottomans (Turkish). It is likely intended only for himself, or perhaps close friends to read after his anticipated death. The speaker is therefore Byron himself, who explores a complex range of feelings before steeling himself and mentally preparing to die in battle. He resolves that he has not found love or happiness in life, so to die in battle may give a noble end to his wasted youth. There is a mixture of heroism and depression in his thoughts, and so the poem oscillates between a courageous and disconsolate tone, giving a disconcerting and uneasy feeling to the lines.


Synecdoche — ‘this heart should be unmoved’ — the poem opens with an image of the heart, which stands as a placeholder to represent Byron’s emotions and feelings.

Extended metaphor — ‘My days are in the yellow leaf / The flowers and fruits of Love are gone / The worm — the canker, and the grief/ Are mine alone!’ — the second stanza uses an extended metaphor, Byron visualizes his life as passing through seasons, as nature does, concluding that he is in ‘the yellow leaf’ at thirty-six years old — he is passing into the autumn of his life, past the times of Summer where Love was plenty. He only has the tripartite structure of ‘The worm- the canker, and the grief’ to look forward to, images of decay and misery.

Simile — ‘lone as some Volcanic isle’ — the ‘fire’ in the speaker’s heart is lonely, Byron uses both a metaphor and a simile here to demonstrate the idea that his emotions are passionate but they have nowhere to go, no outlet to pour into.

Listing- ‘The hope, the fear, the jealous care / The exalted portion of the pain/ and power of Love I cannot share’ — the poet uses a list of abstract nouns to exemplify the extreme range of positive and negative emotions he is feeling, including the oxymoron ‘jealous care’, which emphasizes how some of these emotions are contradictory. There is also a kind of truth in the fact that caring for someone or something can turn into jealousy when the situation is not reciprocated and the love is unreturned. The phrase ‘exalted portion of the pain’ is also contradictory, as the adjective ‘exalted’ can refer both to extreme happiness, or to a person in a high position. The double nature of this word is likely used deliberately, to suggest that Byron partly enjoys the state of sadness he’s in, as if it is comforting or comfortable to him, and it also implies that he idolizes his pain, placing it on a pedestal and allowing it to frequently consume his thoughts and dictate his actions.

Personification — certain abstract nouns are personified, such as ‘Love’ and ‘Glory’, to imply that they are high states of being to which we should always aspire. This is also a technique that is commonly used in Classical Greek and Roman literature, and as Byron is in Greece and feels indebted to Greek culture and history, it is fitting for him to use the same technique in his writing.

Tripartite structure — ‘The Sword, the Banner and the Field’ — Byron appears to be in front of a battlefield, envisioning the battle that is about to take place there — he perhaps feels as though he will be a significant figure in history by partaking in this battle. The tripartite structure is a rhetorical device that almost acts persuasively on himself as if he is trying to rouse himself from a state of introspection and depression into action and confidence.

Rhetorical question — ‘If thou regret’ st thy youth, why live?’ the question furthers the persuasive intent of the poem, using logic to build an argument against the idea of continuing to be miserable and in decline, Byron resolves that it is better to die for a noble cause than to continue living in a state of despair this seems to have a positively persuasive effect on his mind and encourages him to seek Glory in death if in life he is unable to find Love.


SubtitleJanuary 22nd, 1824 Missolonghi (Greece) — the subtitle of the poem gives it a documentary-style, historical and monumental feeling, as if the poem marks a significant turning point in Byron’s life, and perhaps history — as he was about to go to war with the Turkish Empire and fight for Greek independence. It also implies the epistolary form of the poem — the fact that it was a private journal entry, intended for Byron to express his thoughts and explore his own psyche, rather than to be read publicly by others. Although, on the other hand, Byron did know that he was famous and that there was a chance his private thoughts would have been published after his death, so he may also have been writing the poem as a preparation for those the public to commemorate him heroically after his death in battle.

Elegy — If we believe that Byron intended the poem to be found and published posthumously (after his death), then it could also be considered a kind of elegiac poem, one intended to commemorate the dead — curiously this would also make it Byron’s own elegy to himself, as elegies are typically written about other people. Tragically, Byron caught a fever and died before ever reaching battle, and so his death was not the one which he envisioned for himself — although he is still revered today as a hero in Greece, with a part of Athens being named after him (Vyronas).

ABAB rhyme scheme — the alternate rhyme of the poem perhaps implies an oscillation between the two conflicted states of Byron’s mind — he is torn between succumbing to his intense emotions and wallowing in a state of depression as he tries to carry on with his life, or actively seeking out death in battle and being remembered as a hero.

Iambic tetrameter / iambic dimeter — the first three lines of each stanza use iambic tetrameter — four feet per line, arranged in unstressed-stressed syllables. They get shorter towards the end of each stanza, ending in dimeter — two feet per line. This has the effect of each stanza feeling as though it’s cut short — perhaps to anticipate Byron’s life being cut short, or else his attempt to stop his intense emotions from taking over his mind by regaining some control over his thoughts. Furthermore, the use of half-rhyme indicates death/decay, for instance ‘move’ and ‘Love’, or ‘gone’ and ‘alone’ look the same visually, but phonetically have slight differences in pronunciation.

Volta — ‘But ’tis not thus’ — the stanza beginning with these lines signifies a volta — a turning point in the tone of the poem Byron’s thoughts turn from being self-destructively consumed by conflicting emotions into projecting outwards, convincing himself that he can use his feelings to fight for Glory and regain his honor and nobility. The use of italicizations thus, here, now —is also highly emphatic, they provide stress or emphasis on time and place, helping to enhance the argument that it is neither the time nor place to wallow in self-pity, as it is the time for action.

Parenthesis — ‘Awake(not Greece — she is awake)’ — the use of parenthesis here provides a comical interlude to a serious poem about life, death, and glory. Byron seems aware that the subject of his previous stanza was ‘Greece’ itself, and so the imperative verb ‘Awake’ reads at first as though it still refers to Greece. He offers the correction ‘Awake, my soul’ in the second line, which also serves as anaphora — a repetition of the word ‘Awake’ at the beginning of the line. This suggests a self-critical nature and that Byron is playfully as well as painfully aware of his shortcomings, as he is criticizing himself for unclear writing even as he writes the poem.


This was the final entry in Byron’s journal before he died (aged 36, which for the time was middle-aged for most people). He was in Missolonghi, Greece, waiting to receive battle orders for an attack that he had planned against the Ottoman army — at the time, Greek was under Turkish occupation, and so Byron was fighting for Greek independence and saw himself as an honorable savior of the Greek people. He was not directly Greek himself but trained extensively and very much influenced by Classical Greek literature and history, and so (as he acknowledges in his poem) he felt a kinship and solidarity with the people of Greece, some of whom returned his feelings of kinship and some who sought to exploit his wealth and generosity. Byron had exiled himself from England at this point in his life due to several scandals and figures in society who sought to ruin his name, and so he settled for a time in Greece and became involved in the politics there. He sold some of his property and amassed debts in order to fund the political campaign he orchestrated against the Ottomans. Though tragically Byron died of a fever before entering battle, the Greeks were successful in their war of Independence and to this day acknowledge Byron’s contribution to their successful campaign, naming a part of Athens ‘Vyronas’ in his honor.

Spartan borne upon his shield — dead Spartan soldiers were carried back home on their shields as a sign of honor it was common knowledge in Ancient Greece that Spartans (who had a warrior culture) never gave up their shields — they either returned to Sparta carrying their shields or if they died the other soldiers carried them back to Sparta on their shields as a sign of respect and honor.

Byronic hero — The concept of a ‘Byronic hero’ exists in literature and stories even today, and it stems from Byron and his crazy antics. A conflicted figure who once famously stated ‘I am such a strange mélange of good and evil that it would be difficult to describe me’. The antithetical extremes of good and evil, darkness and light were inherent in Byron’s nature, and they can be seen in this poem as motivating factors behind his actions and life decisions. He is torn between the ‘exalted’ pleasures and pains that the experiences in life, and the idea that in death he could give up his life for a cause greater than himself. He seems to view the decision as partially altruistic — for the greater good of the Greek people — and partially restorative — to regain his own honour after becoming infamous in England and self-imposing an exile.

The poem also explores the Classical Greek notions of heroism, most notably psuche — the Greek concept of the soul or ‘spirit’, and kleos — the type of fame and glory attained after dying on a battlefield.


It is a kind of weakness to be ruled by our emotions — Throughout the poem, there is a battle between the heart — emotions — and the mind — logic/reason and the poem progresses structurally from emotional outbursts to calm, logical and determined thinking. It also psychologically shifts from the internal to the external, from introspection and passivity to action.

Death can restore nobility that a person has lost in life — As mentioned in the context, the concept of kleos seems central to the poem — Byron feels that it is not too late to regain his honor and to be remembered as a positive figure in history, rather than a ruined and villainous one. At the time he had been involved in various scandals in England and was very unfavorably portrayed in the public eye (having been positively famous previously, he found this hard to take), he left England never to return alive and with this transition he also seems to have felt he could still gain the positive glory and fame that he always sought, though this time it would require a sacrifice of his own life in order to do so.

The stages of life are like seasons — it is common in the literature to portray a person’s life as occurring in seasons or various natural stages — spring is often childhood and early adulthood, summer is the prime of a person’s life, autumn a time for calming down and reflecting — perhaps teaching or passing on knowledge, and wintertime for rest, enjoyment and peace. Byron feels that he is past his prime, he is ‘in the yellow leaf’ stage of his life, but having not settled down or married (although he did have several children with different women and also adopted a Muslim girl whose parents had been killed in war), he is not at the typical point of an ‘autumn’ stage, so he resolves to choose a different ending for himself, as he chose an alternative and unusual path in life too.

All Western culture has its roots in Ancient Greek and Roman traditions — Byron pays hommage to Greek literature and history that he was educated in by living in Greece and fighting for the independence of modern Greek people from the Ottoman empire. He calls this the ‘parent lake’ of his bloodline, acknowledging that all Western culture in a sense comes from this Greek origin, as Athens was the creator of democracy on which modern politics and social structures are founded.


  • Emotion vs Logic
  • Love
  • Beauty
  • Death
  • Aging
  • Youth vs Maturity
  • Glory
  • Heroism
  • War
  • Western History
  • Nobility
  • Sacrifice
  • Fame

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Homeric kleos and the Western Film

Homeric kleos and the Western Film43 Martin M. Winkler I In The Idea of Epic J.B. Hainsworth observes that "at the beginning of Uterature, when heroic poetry reached society as a whole [,]. society listened in die twentieth century society views." He goes on to point out that "the modem heroic regard."1 In the American cinema the genre most closely linked to the heroicromantic tradition of European literature, especially in epic and tragedy, is the film par excellence."2 Although modem critics, particularly scholars in film studies and American studies, frequently refer the epic qualities of Westerns back to "the myth of the West," there has been little detailed examination to determine where in these films such features are actually to be found. The present paper, which medium is film, and not necessarily the productions that are held in highest critical Western. According to French film critic André Bazin the Western is "die American continues my earlier work on the subject, is intended partially to fill this gap. It focuses on the fundamental aspect of the traditional concept of heroism in myth and Uterature: the hero's everlasting fame even beyond death. My point of reference is, naturally, the earliest


Syllecta Classica &ndash Department of Classics @ the University of Iowa

Honor and Glory Theme Analysis

One of the central ideas of the Iliad is the honor that soldiers earn in combat. For an ancient Greek man, the ability to perform in battle is the single greatest source of worthiness. The glory earned by soldiers on the battlefield enabled them to live on in legend, becoming heroes who would be remembered long after death. The characters of the Iliad often make reference to the great heroes of past ages, such as Hercules and Theseus. For the ancient Greeks, the term “hero” meant something stricter than it does today: the hero’s military glory could make him nearly as important as a god.

The plot of the poem is centered on the “rage of Achilles ” and the fulfillment of his glory on the battlefield. Achilles’s rage stems from feeling dishonored by Agamemnon , who takes away Briseis , a woman that Achilles has captured in combat. Achilles chooses not to fight rather than accept what he sees as Agamemnon’s dishonor. Later, when he rejoins the battle after the death of Patroclus , Achilles proves he is “the best of the Achaeans” by giving the greatest military performance of the war and finally killing Hector , the Trojans’ greatest warrior.

From a modern perspective, one might consider Hector to be a more sympathetic or even honorable character than Achilles. Hector cares for his wife, child, and city, and works tirelessly to save them from destruction. Achilles cares only for himself, and spends a large part of the poem sulking. However, from the ancient Greek perspective, Achilles is in some sense more heroic or honorable simply because he is the greatest warrior on the battlefield. Similarly, Paris is a handsome man and a good lover, but because he hangs back from battle he is largely the object of scorn, and is portrayed as a ridiculous figure throughout the poem.

How much of the legend of Troy is real?

Mighty warriors, the world’s most beautiful woman, divine intervention and a giant wooden horse – the Trojan War is one of ancient history’s greatest stories but, writes Michael Scott in BBC History Revealed, how much of the legend is actually true? And were the key characters involved – Achilles, Helen, Paris – based on real people?

This competition is now closed

Achilles bound together the heels of the man he had just slain in single combat – Hector, hero of the Trojans – and tied the lifeless body to his chariot. He climbed aboard and encouraged his horses to move, dragging his fallen foe around and around the walls of Troy so that all inside could see the fate that had befallen their bravest and noblest of protectors. Following that humiliation, Achilles rode back to the Greek camp, where, for the next 12 days, he further desecrated Hector’s body by refusing the proper burial rituals. It required the intervention of the gods before Achilles returned Hector to his father for a funeral.

The account is one of the most chilling – not only for the death of a warrior in combat, but the disrespect shown to his body – in the text of Homer’s Iliad, an epic poem about the Greeks’ fateful attempts to besiege the city of Troy. The scene has everything that, for ancient Greeks and Trojans, was both best and worst about war. It offered Achilles the opportunity for eternal glory by defeating Troy’s greatest warrior, while showing how war could lead to humanity putting aside its most basic principles and risk becoming something less than human. The gods themselves are needed to remind Achilles of this.

Homer’s Iliad is a tale of bloodshed, conquest, struggle, loss, fate, heroism and glory, centred within the Greeks’ legendary 10-year campaign. It was a war waged supposedly because of one action: the Trojan prince Paris stealing away Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world and wife to Menelaus, King of Sparta. To right that wrong, Menelaus, aided by other Greek kings and warriors, including his brother Agamemnon, Odysseus, Ajax and Achilles, sailed with a huge force to Troy and went to war against Paris, his brother Hector, their father Priam, and the rest of the Trojan people.

Who was Homer? The poet and the enigma

The man named as the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey is as much a myth as the tales he told of warriors, gods and wooden horses. Early records claimed Homer was blind and hailed from the west coast of what is now Turkey, but any firm details are still unknown. Yet Homer became one of the greatest influences on Greek culture and education, and a main source on the Trojan War – despite being thought to have lived in the eighth or ninth century BC, some 500 years after the Trojan War is thought to have occurred.

“No fewer than seven cities claimed him as their own favourite son. When did he live, though, and for whom did he compose? Again, there was no agreement or certainty – mainly for lack of decisive evidence,” explains Paul Cartledge, former AG Leventis professor of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge.

Homer may have composed and performed his epics for royal courts and festivals. While he would have been one of many oral epic poets over many generations, he came to be regarded as the embodiment of the tradition. Not only did poets and reciters come to style themselves as ‘Homeridae’, or the ‘children of Homer’, but later generations ascribed much of oral epic poetry to him. In the sixth century BC, the Athenian tyrant Peisistratus paid for the best of these Homeridae to dictate the Homeric epics for his scribes to write down, helping turn them from an oral to a written art.

So while the real Homer built on a tradition of oral epic poetry that went back generations before him, he came to be seen as the forefather of that tradition.

Can we consider Homer’s epics historical documents?

“There are many reasons for us to be sceptical about the assertion that the Homeric epics are historical documents,” explains Paul Cartledge. “We should doubt the idea that they imply historically authentic backgrounds for the late Bronze Age Greek world – what scholars conventionally refer to as the ‘Mycenaean’ world after its most wealthy and powerful city.

“One example is the issue of slavery. Though the institution and importance of slavery are recognised in the Homeric epics, their author(s) had absolutely no idea of the scale of slaveholding that was practised in the great Mycenaean palace economies of the 14th or 13th centuries BC. They thought 50 was an appropriately sizeable holding for a great king, whereas in reality a Bronze Age Agamemnon could command the unfree labour of thousands. Such an error of scale suggests a major frailty in the account’s historical rigour.”

The infamous Trojan horse trick

How the war ended is the most famous element of the story. The Greeks, unable to gain a clear victory on the battlefield – even after Achilles killed Hector – turned instead to a cunning trick. They built a large wooden horse, hid some of their best fighters inside and left it as a ‘propitiatory gift’ for the Trojans, before packing up their camp and seemingly sailing away. Believing the war to be won, the Trojans moved the horse inside the city walls, intending to use it to honour the gods.

That night, the hidden Greeks climbed out, killed the guards and opened the city gates to allow the entire Greek force to swarm in. Priam, King of Troy, was slaughtered along with every Trojan male – adult and child – while the women and girls were enslaved. The Greeks burned Troy to the ground. As for Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, her husband Menelaus had insisted that he be the one to kill her, but became overwhelmed by her beauty once again and could not bring himself to do it.

The Trojan Horse trick signalled the end of the war and is remembered as one of history’s most infamous military manoeuvres. Yet it was not actually mentioned by Homer. The Iliad ends with Hector’s death and funeral, when the gods finally convinced Achilles to stop disrespecting the body and give it back to the Trojans for the proper funeral rituals.

A lot happened between that and the Greeks’ building of the wooden horse. Achilles himself had been killed by Paris after being shot by an arrow through the heel, the only vulnerable part of his body, hence the expression ‘Achilles heel’. In turn, Paris would also meet his end after being hit by an arrow, fired by a Greek warrior. Two other Greeks, Odysseus and Ajax, managed to retrieve Achilles’ body, but they ended up fighting over his armour and the loser, Ajax, went mad and committed suicide. All such accounts of what happened after the fall of Hector come from sources other than the Iliad.

In fact, the epic poem does not start at the beginning of the ten-year tale either, with Paris’s abduction of Helen. The entirety of the Iliad – 15,693 lines of verse – focuses on just a few weeks in the final year of the Trojan War.

Anger of Achilles

Homer’s epic tale begins with a disagreement in the Greek camp between the leaders. The demigod Achilles, strongest of them all, feels affronted as he believes he has not been given the degree of honour he deserves from his fellow Greeks, and as such has decided to withdraw from the fight against Troy. He sits on the beach weeping at the injustices done to him, and even prays to the gods that the Greeks will suffer at the hands of the Trojans without him, so that they will be forced to realise his worth. Zeus, king of the gods, agrees to Achilles’ demand, and the Greek forces are unable to make any progress against the Trojans.

The many gods of Olympus have all picked sides in the fight, with some supporting the Greeks and others on the side of Troy. As the battle rages, several gods intervene as they protect their side or harm the other. When Achilles withdraws, though, Zeus finally forbids the other gods to get involved and the Trojans, led by Hector, sweep down to the Greek encampment and are on the verge of setting fire to their ships. It is at this desperate point that the Greek leaders plead with Achilles to return to the fight. He still refuses, but he allows his closest companion, Patroclus, to wear his armour on the battlefield to inspire the men. But when Patroclus charges into the fray, he confronts Hector and is cut down.

The death sends a grief-stricken Achilles into a rage as he vows vengeance on Hector. With new armour made for him by the god Hephaestus, he rides in his chariot to the walls of Troy and faces the Trojan warrior. Hector ignores warnings from the gods and fights Achilles, during which he is stabbed through the neck and dies.

Gods at war: which Greek deities feature in the tale of Troy?

Far from just observing the Trojan War from Mount Olympus, the gods picked sides and got involved

In the story of the ‘Judgement of Paris’, the wife of Zeus was one of three claiming the golden apple for the most beautiful goddess. She offered Paris lordship of Asia, but lost. She supported the Greeks and often tried to help them behind Zeus’ back.

The son of Zeus was a key supporter of the Trojans. He sent plagues on the Greek army, helped Hector on the battlefield to kill Achilles’ companion Patroclus, and was one of the most vocal gods to complain to Zeus about Achilles’ treatment of Hector’s body, which led to Zeus forcing Achilles to allow Hector’s burial. Apollo may have also guided the arrow fired
by Paris that killed Achilles.

The goddess of love won the contest for the golden apple by offering Paris the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. She remained sympathetic to Paris and, despite not being associated with war, fought herself and was even wounded.

King of the gods and the ultimate arbiter in Homer’s tale, it was Zeus who heard and agreed to Achilles’ plea for the Greeks to suffer after he had been dishonoured. It was Zeus who allowed the other gods to intervene in human affairs or not, and it was Zeus who was the keeper of fate – from which neither gods nor humanity can escape.

The goddess of wisdom and cunning was one of the three contestants for the golden apple to bribe Paris of Troy. She offered him victory in battle and wisdom, but she did not win and so supported the Greeks in the war, often joining the battlefield and encouraging the Greek forces
to fight harder.

As the divine blacksmith, he made the weapons and tools of the gods, such as the winged helmet and sandals of the messenger god Hermes. During the Trojan War, Hephaestus designed new armour for Achilles when he finally decided to re-enter the conflict following the death of Patroclus. Hephaestus also intervened in the fighting on the Greek side.

The events of the rest of the war and indeed how the war came about is told not in Homer, but across a wider cycle of epic poems by other writers. It is from other sources that the ‘Judgement of Paris’ emerged, claiming that the Trojan prince did not suddenly decide to abduct Helen. The story really began when Eris, goddess of strife and discord, presented a golden apple to be given to the ‘fairest’ goddess. Three claimed the apple: Aphrodite, goddess of love Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Hera, wife of Zeus. It was put to Zeus to decide who should have the apple, but he instead put it to a human to choose: Paris of Troy.

All three goddesses attempt to bribe him. Athena promises victory in war and wisdom Hera with lordship of Asia and Aphrodite with the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. Paris awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite, who ensured Helen fell in love with him.

When Helen’s husband Menelaus, King of Sparta, found out, he called upon the other Greek kings to join him in winning her back. Hundreds of regions sent their warriors to the first great meeting of the army at Aulis, where they intended to sail for Troy. There, the soothsayers predicted the campaign would take ten years. Sailing for Troy, the fleet mistakenly attacked the wrong place and were beaten back all the way to Greece. It took years to reassemble another fleet at Aulis for a second campaign, but this time, the leader Agamemnon had to appease the goddess Artemis in return for favourable winds to sail to Troy. She demanded the King sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia.

Did you know?

In ancient Greece, an entire profession of rhapsodes (literally ‘stitchers of songs’) sprang up to perform ‘Homer’ in competition at festivals. It was considered an admirable personal feat to be able to learn and recite all Homer (a feat that would have taken several days), and it was among the first achievements of ancient Greek literary critics based at the great Library at Alexandria in Egypt to redact and re-present (on papyrus) a ‘standard’ scholarly text of both poems.

With the sacrifice made, the Greek forces sailed again and landed on the beaches near Troy. They did not spend a decade besieging the city, however. They raided up and down the coast and only really settled in to the all-out attack on Troy in the tenth year since they had first left Aulis, as the soothsayers had said. It is over just a few weeks in this final year of the campaign that the action of Homer’s Iliad takes place.

The plot thickens

There are two elements then to understand about the Iliad and the larger story of the Greek campaign against Troy. The first is that Homer was, in many ways, more interested in the human and divine interactions in and around the pressure-cooker of the battlefield at Troy than about the war itself. The first word of the Iliad is ‘anger’ – the anger of Achilles. The focus of much of Homer’s tale was on the havoc wreaked on the Greeks by Achilles’ bitter feeling that he had not been shown enough recognition.

On the Trojan side, Homer’s interest was on the personal relationships and responsibilities felt by the different warriors. Paris wanted to be heroic, but lacked courage to defend his siblings and city. Hector deeply loved his wife, child and city, but as a man of courage and honour could not ignore the call to defend his home to the death. All the warriors fought for their communities and their own personal glory – glory they hoped would be spoken about for all time. The Greeks used the word ‘kleos’ to encapsulate this sense of immortal renown.

At the same time, the gods were portrayed not as benevolent and just overlords, but as having human tendencies. They fought, they argued, they plotted, they felt jealousy, and they showed support to particular sides. The Iliad tells the tale of the painful and glorious overlapping of these divine and human worlds, leaving no character completely without fault – even the heroic Hector ignored clear warnings from the gods – and no character completely without our sympathy either. Readers of the Iliad are confronted with a rich, complex, difficult and murky world in which there is no clear right or wrong. It is this tension that makes the Iliad one of the greatest works of world literature.

Was there really a Trojan War?

The second element to understand is the extent to which Homer based his tale on fact. Was there really a Trojan War? Ancient writers in the centuries after the composition of Homer’s Iliad sought to sift fact and fiction, and most believed that the events did happen in large part. The legacy of the war certainly remained present in Greek lives. One region, Locris, continued throughout antiquity to send some of their women each year to act as priestesses of the Temple of Athena at Troy, supposedly to atone for a wrong done by their ancestors during the attacks to take the city. Even a millennium later, Alexander the Great made sure to visit the remains of Troy on his way to conquer Asia, and supposedly picked up Greek armour left there from the time of the war.

The Romans, too, were fascinated with the story. In their own epic tales, their progenitor was a surviving Trojan warrior named Aeneas who made his way to Italy. His legend became the focus for Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid.

When did the Trojan war take place?

“Dating the epics and their subject is a matter of debate,” explains Paul Cartledge, former AG Leventis professor of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge.

“The ancient Greeks, discussing the works of Homer from the sixth century BC onwards, held that the Trojan War was fought 1194–1184 BC – a dating broadly accepted by some modern scholars – and that ‘Homer’ lived around the late eighth century BC.”

Excavating a myth

Modern scholarship has, on the whole, been more sceptical. In the 19th century, the site of what is now believed to be Troy was discovered a the mound of Hisarlik in modern-day Turkey. The excavations, led by a German archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann, were purported to support the grandeur of Homer’s narrative, and Schliemann even claimed to have unearthed the jewellery of Helen and treasures of Priam.

Yet subsequent excavations and historical enquiry have shown that, while the site is almost definitely Troy, it is not of the size recounted by Homer. The city does show signs of destruction – although archaeological efforts were complicated by the existence of multiple settlements laying on top of one another – and clear signs of connection with the Mycenaean world of the Greeks.

In reality, what the site probably indicates is a raid by Mycenaean Greek states on the territory and citadel of Troy in the 13th century BC, which formed nothing more than part of the ongoing military to and fro of the ancient Mediterranean world at the time. This raid became, perhaps as it was one of the last great campaigns before the Mycenaean world started to collapse in on itself, a suitable foundation for oral poets in the following centuries wanting to compose a tale about the heroism and deeds of former battles.

From that process of oral composition and re-composition grew the fabulous and fantastical stories of the Trojan War, of which the Iliad is a crowning glory. It is followed by its sister narrative, Homer’s Odyssey, which tells the stories of the ten-year return of the Greek warrior Odysseus to his home. As such, the heroes of antiquity can be assured of one thing: they achieved their desire for immortal glory.

Michael Scott is professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Warwick, president of the largest regional branch of the Classical Association, and director and trustee of Classics for All


Baldwin, Stanley P. CliffsNotes on Homer’s The Odyssey. John Wiley and Sons, 2000.

Fizgerald, Robert. The Odyssey. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., 1998.

Maugh II, Thomas H. “Astronomers hit a homer with ‘Odyssey’.” Los Angeles Times. June 24, 2008. (accessed July 29, 2011).

Sandars, N. K. The Epic of Gilgamesh. New York: Penguin Classics, 1972.

Segal, Charles. Singers, heroes, and gods in the Odyssey. Cornell University Press, 2001.

Kleos: LeBron James, Cleveland, and Immortality

Editor’s Note: On the Second Anniversary of the greatest moment in Cleveland Sports History, please welcome James Michael Kenney-Prentiss to CtB as he takes us through ancient Greece, The Enlightenment, our greatest year, and all the way to the cold entropy death of the universe as he walks us through what sports, Kleos, LeBron James, and immortality means to all of us.

To be a Cavaliers fan is to be on a constant roller coaster of emotion. Tyronn Lue leaves us apoplectic. Draymond Green’s uncalled taunting even more so. J.R. Swish makes our hearts skip a beat with so many no-no-no-YES shots from distance. Kevin Love gives us pride – in knowing that he really is an All Star and leaves it all on the floor. Even the chants of “DE-LLY DE-LLY” that permeated the Q during his Cleveland tenure still echo the beats of my own Cleveland heart.

Yet, there is one man that stands above the rest. We are all Witness to his greatness. The bad and the good, the subtweets and game winning shots, his first Decision that laid waste a people’s collective hope, his Block that made all of us think, for a moment, that “wait – could this be happening – we might actually win this thing,” all of it coming from one LeBron Raymone James. Transcendent. MVP. GOAT. After so many moments that would define the entire careers of any other NBA player, he has elevated the entire city of Cleveland into the halls of history.

Being spoiled by his play and taking James for granted is not an option — it cannot be an option. What are the chances of a Cleveland sports team going to another four straight Finals? Or Super Bowls? Or World Series? He is our greatest star. He is our greatest warrior. He plays for us, for Cleveland. LeBron James, more than anyone else, has given all of us glory, everlasting and eternal.
“It’s Only a Game.”
Yet there are those who claim basketball is “only a game.” They dismiss it – cast it aside. In the wake of yet another Cavaliers loss in the Finals, many Ohioans brace themselves against the surging waves of misery and torment by using this dull phrase. A silly “game” that baptizes millionaires and pop culture icons from the people who dedicate their lives to something children play. And, the emotionally lazy point out, it’s especially silly to revere someone who wears their city’s jersey, even someone as transcendent as LeBron. Ball is a mere hobby — almost always promising a tsunami of rage, sorrow, and sadness crashing against our childlike-psyche and frivolous obsession about “only a game.” Even when the torrent lifts us towards the heavens, past our petty disagreements, past our daily stressors and ills, and into the throes of a conflagration of excitement, pride, and sublime ecstasy, we are reminded that this is only temporary, a fun distraction from the “real” things in life — and we quickly find ourselves on a calm and tranquil sea, our boats gently rocking against the diminished wind after the wake of triumph or tribulation passes, and we tell ourselves, “it’s only a game.”

Games are for children. The “serious” among us are quick to point out, in their dull and condescending way, that “real” things like politics, economics, and solving global crises are where we rubes should focus our stunted attention. For others that preach “it’s only a game,” the perfunctory nature of sports is often contrasted with the importance of family and friends, as if these things are mutually exclusive, or in a zero-sum competition for our limited attention that pits the full experience of raising your begotten children against a dozen empty jerseys with “CAVALIERS” strewn across their fronts, like a bundle of rattling, shiny keys shaken in front of the easily distracted.

But it’s all wrong. Every single bit of it.

Sports do matter. Cleveland sports matter. LeBron James matters.

The reverence of sports goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. It permeates our competing senses of culture and gives our lives greater meaning. It allows us to stand up, to shout, that it really is “Ohio Against The World!” Our reverence for where we live, our shared cultural identity, our need for glory and to believe in a cause greater than ourselves is as old as stories themselves.

In Ancient Greece, it mattered where you lived. The polis, or city-state, defined you, and you, in turn, had a duty to your polis. The relationship between citizen and polis was also religious — many great political decisions were made by consulting the gods, and many individuals prayed to the gods for themselves and their people. As a citizen in democratic Athens, civic identity revolved around the agora to trade and talk politics, the ecclesia (the general assembly) to resolve political issues, and participation in the army as a hoplite. As a Spartan citizen, your central identity was that of a warrior as part of a syssitiai, a military mess (literally “common meal”), whose duty was so great that, when going off to battle, soldiers were told by their wives and mothers to “come back with your shield, or on it.”

The centrality of the polis also explains why ostracism, the forced exile of an Athenian citizen for a period of ten years, was seldom used, often condemned, yet hugely important. Being ostracized as an Athenian was, in a very important way, akin to death. If ostracized, you suffered civic death and lost a central part of your identity. And for those of you that think “I would just go somewhere else, I’d be fine,” note that those that changed their loyalty from polis to polis were vilified and seen as untrustworthy by the Greeks — like Alcibiades, who changed his alliances between the Athenians, Spartans, and Persians during the Peloponnesian War.
But what was it all for?

Passion for one’s place and bonds to the community around a person led to strife: fighting, suffering, and sacrifice. Why did ancient man spill so much blood and toil for one’s polis? It wasn’t for the sake of any benefits in the afterlife. For the Ancient Greeks, the afterlife was grim, if it existed at all. For instance, in Homer’s Odyssey, the afterlife in Hades is a dim affair, filled with the wandering souls of the dead that have forgotten their identities and are deprived of their vitality.

Nor was it for wealth. Although some in Ancient Greece got wealthy, wealth itself was seen as fleeting. The Athenian Solon, who laid the foundation for democracy, wrote in a poem:

Many evil men are rich, and many good men are poor

But we will not exchange our virtue

For their wealth, since virtue lasts forever:

Whereas wealth belongs now to one man, now to another.

What the Greeks actually cared about was kleos — glory. Glory everlasting. Kleos, related to the word meaning, “to hear,” and involves what others hear about you, and not just in the present. No — kleos lasts for as long as people have the breath to tell tales about the great deeds of the glorious. In fact, it was the only way that someone could have a chance at living beyond their death. Since death was permanent and wealth was temporary, kleos was the only way to safeguard one’s place beyond their own mortality.

And how did one gain kleos? By performing great deeds. For the heroes in the Iliad, this meant killing other great heroes in battle. Patroclus kills the son of Zeus, Sarpedon. Hector kills Patroclus. Achilles kills Hector. In fact, it was often the case that before a duel between a Greek and a Trojan, the two men would sit down and introduce themselves so as to indicate how much kleos they would attain by winning the duel. And duel they must. The Trojan warrior Sarpedon, son of Zeus, spoke to his friend Glaucus about fighting, of facing a possible gruesome death at the hands of the enemy, and how they must fight nonetheless, because either they would kill other warriors and gain kleos, or die themselves and give kleos to others:

And bravely on, till they, or we, or all,

A common sacrifice to glory (kleos) fall.

How would you know someone had attained kleos in this world? By their timê, the honor paid to them by others. In the Iliad, timê involves gold, slaves, captured women, captured enemy armor, and other fruits of battle.

Now we get to immortal Achilles — immortal because we still speak of his glory today. Achilles was the greatest warrior in the Trojan War, fighting on the side of the Greeks, and the main character of the Iliad. Achilles is given a choice in the Iliad — to fight the Trojans and die a hero, attaining immortal kleos or to go home and live a long and happy life, assigning himself to historic obscurity.

And what has happened since? The victors and the vanquished of the Trojan War are long since dead, some from gruesome wounds and others after long and prosperous lives. The Trojan kingdom was destroyed, and soon too was the empire of the Mycenaean Greeks. All the love, joy, heartache, the greatest triumphs and most painful tribulations of a people long ago — all gone. Mostly forgotten. Except for a seldom few. And one name rises above the rest like a siren’s song from the depths of history — Godlike Achilles, made immortal through the stories we still tell of his great deeds.

What does that have to do with sports? In modern warfare, heroes are generally no longer made by killing large numbers of enemy combatants. We’re in theory more civilized than that, yet, even the Ancient Greeks did not recognize kleos only for those great in battle. In fact, it was the people who excelled in great athletic competitions — the Olympians — that also live on through history.

For the Ancient Greek Olympian — he competed not only for his personal kleos, but also for the kleos of his polis. Leonidas of Rhodes won 12 Olympic victories for himself and the city of Rhodes. A quick survey of other notable athletes indicate that their names are always associated with the city for which they competed. Milo of Croton. Arrichion of Phigalia. Chionis of Sparta. Achilles won glory for himself and for all of the Greeks. Demetrios won glory for himself and the city of Salamis. And so to with Achilles, all are dead and gone — their names only remembered because they were victorious over others in a competition that pitted man against man, skill against skill, and people against people.

It is easy to make the connection between the Olympics and modern sports. Instead of the sport of wrestling that pitted an Athenian against a Spartan, we now have basketball that pits the city of Cleveland against the rest of the NBA. But, one may say that the Ancient Greek veneration of athletes is an antiquated notion — that we are far more modern, more sensible, and more serious to pay attention to such frivolities. Au Contraire.
The World Needs Sports
The modern world is, by many empirical accounts, appears to be better, healthier, safer, and happier than ever before. Steven Pinker’s latest book Enlightenment Now shows us that the amount of death, disease, and violence are at the lowest levels in history. This includes rates in life expectancy, famine, extreme poverty, child mortality, maternal mortality, violent crimes, death from war, and much more. We also have more knowledge, and greater access to it, than ever before. Just think for a moment — each smartphone with Internet access is a portal into the sum of all human knowledge.

And yet, despite all of this progress, many modern Americans feel alienated, isolated, and lonely. Even Steven Pinker points out that Americans “punch below their wealth in happiness” and their average levels of happiness have been stagnant despite the global trends of increasing average happiness.

Part of the reason might be due to social isolation. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam shows that participation in face-to-face voluntary organizations has significantly declined in the latter half of the 20th century, such as religious congregations, social clubs, fraternal organizations, and yes — bowling leagues. As Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describe the phenomenon in The Rise of Victimhood Culture: “social atomization, where people act as autonomous individuals with little involvement in stable and solitary groups.”

Think to your own life for a second. Compare what you do in your free time to stories from your grandparents’ era. We watch a ton of television by ourselves (thanks Game of Thrones), log lots of hours into solitary video games (thanks Elder Scrolls), and stare at a computer screen for hours and hours (thanks Netflix). What did your grandparents do when they were in their teens? Twenties? Thirties? How many of us know who are neighbors are two houses down?

We might feel more connected than ever before — given the advent of social media and the Internet more generally. Yet, as Susan Pinker explains in the Village Effect, face-to-face contact provides us with huge benefits not found in impersonal digital relationships. Further exacerbating the problem is our culture.

Social scientists generally break cultures into two large types — honor culture and dignity culture. Honor culture puts an emphasis on individual reputation, personal bravery, and the adjudication of slights to be handled by the offender and the offended. Honor cultures run amuck have historically perpetrated terrible abuses, from honor killings to blood feuds. Due to its sometime horrific consequences and historic baggage of perpetuating violence and inequality, honor culture is usually dismissed as antiquated and contrary to living in the modern world.

Thanks to the Enlightenment, most of the world now participates in dignity culture. Dignity culture, on the other hand, emphasizes the inherent value, worth, and equality of every individual, encourages self-reliance, and supports the adjudication of disputes by impartial third parties. The arc of history truly has bent towards justice, and as Paul Bloom explains in Against Empathy, the increasing circle of people who we consider like ourselves has led to increasing the equality for those historically marginalized and oppressed.

In traditional hunter-gatherer societies, Jared Diamond explains in The World Until Yesterday, when you came upon a stranger in the woods, you assumed the person was dangerous and you might either flee or drive off and kill them. And, those that you were aware of in a neighboring village, but were not part of your people, were subhuman, sorcerers, evil, bad, and treacherous. By contrast, modern dignity culture sees all people, regardless of race, sex, gender, sexuality, and country of origin, as fundamentally equal.

And yet, dignity culture has helped exacerbate the atomization and isolation in modern America. Many who champion “universal equality” balk at ideas of community that, by definition, exclude outsiders, like nationalism and patriotism. Tamler Sommers writes in Why Honor Matters, “[t]he polices and social structure of dignity cultures place all the moral emphasis on the individual, which, along with the depersonalizing forces of industrialization, has left many people feeling lost, alienated, humiliated, and seething with resentment.” Sommers connects dignity culture with our cultural cowardice, shamelessness, and lack of solidarity.

Honor, properly constrained, can give people a sense of solidarity, respect for tradition, connectedness, and focus on the common good. Personal responsibility is a must, as is the willingness to “stand up for yourself and your principles even in the face of risks to your safety and material interests.” As Sommers explains, “people in honor cultures seem to have a strong sense of purpose and meaning — there’s less existential angst, and the people know what they’re living for, what’s important, and why.”

In short, a properly restrained honor culture in an otherwise dignity-centric world offers meaningful benefits for individuals and communities — for happiness, meaning, and connectedness.
“CLEVELAND! This is for you!”

Sports — specifically Cleveland sports — lay at the crossroads between Ancient Greek ideals of kleos, timê, and civic duty, as well as the solidarity and connectedness in an honor culture in an otherwise dignity-centric world.

Our sports teams are more than just a “game children play” but rather are the vehicles in which we, a community, share in the glory of triumph and the humiliation of defeat. In fact, they are one of the most effective ways in which all of us in Northeast Ohio can come together as one people.

I believe with every fiber of my being: Ohio is the greatest place in the history of the world, and Cleveland is the greatest city in the history of the world. We have the best people, with our Midwest hospitality, our shared focus on the contents of someone’s character rather than how much money they have (like New York City culture) or how close to power they are (like Washington D.C. or Los Angeles culture). We have four seasons, everything a big city offers (a world class orchestra, art museum, and theater district, great food, and the Great Lakes Brewing Company) and everything the country offers (horseback riding, hiking, hunting, and Cuyahoga Valley National Park). We have more Presidents, more astronauts, the best beer, the best museums, the best generals, the best universities, the best sports teams, and much, much more.

Honor culture allows us to say this. For someone wholly aligned with dignity culture, it would be heresy to claim that Ohio is better than everywhere else on earth, or that Ohioans are better than everyone else on earth — especially those slack-jawed, mouth-breathing yokels from Pittsburg and Michigan. It also allows us to revel in the joy of revenge by beating our rivals at sports and seeing those fail that have slighted our community. Every time Isaiah Thomas misses a shot, every time Draymond Green gets ejected, and every time Joakim Noah is a DNP-CD should give us all sublime moments of collective happiness.

Cleveland sports also allow us to have something akin to the Ancient Greek conception of civic duty and identity. As the Greeks conflated politics and religion, sports fandom is, in a way, quasi-religious. We owe support to our Cleveland polis, even in the face of a championship draught that lasted from 1964 to 2016. Our identity as Clevelanders comes prepackaged with ideas, such as die-hard fandom, a hatred for Art Modell and Jose Mesa, and sad, shared moments like The Shot, The Drive, and The Fumble.

Honor culture and civic duty helps explain why we feel so betrayed by the obnoxious contrarian that was born in Ohio yet just happens to be a Golden State fan (or worse yet, a Pittsburg or Michigan fan). They are not only a bunch of open-mouth-chewing, bad-driving sycophants, but they also are traitors to our collective identity as a people. They feel wrong — and we shouldn’t feel ashamed for feeling that way. Ever since ancient times, those that switched allegiances or didn’t have the community’s interests at heart were traitors and seen as untrustworthy, like Alcibiades in Ancient Greece. So if you’re an Ohio citizen and a Golden State fan— from the bottom of my heart — please go find another state to fog a mirror.

As Clevelanders, we don’t have armies to go vanquish opposing cities, but we do have sports teams. Just like the Ancient Greeks had their conquering army, so to do we have our conquering army in the form of the Cleveland Cavaliers. And what did our Cavaliers do in 2016?

We won a championship. We vanquished the Golden State Warriors, a 72 win team that had a 3-1 lead in the Finals, a modern-day Goliath against our Cavalier David. The whole world was against us. Nobody thought we would come back from such a deficit. But we believed, almost religiously, that we could. And the Cavaliers did win.

It wasn’t just the Cavaliers themselves that won — it was the entire city of Cleveland. Much like the Ancient Olympians, like Leonidas of Rhodes, the Cavaliers of Cleveland ended the day victorious.

With that victory came the timê of the championship trophy, the rings, and the parade. The entire world recognized our city for its temporary perch atop the NBA.

We also couldn’t have done it without our own version of Achilles — LeBron James. Before Achilles rejoined the fighting, the Greeks suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the Trojans. Before LeBron James rejoined the Cavaliers, the team suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the rest of the NBA. But then history happened.

And Cleveland won its first championship since 1964.

Do you remember the ecstasy we felt when the final seconds passed in Game Seven? First it was disbelief – we always find a way to lose, this can’t be real. Then, the entire city took a collective breath, stunned in wonder and amazement, then let out a cry of pure happiness. The curse had been lifted. We won. We were champions.

I will never forget that night. I was downtown, wearing my Dellavedova jersey, watching the game on a big screen from a parking garage. The celebration that followed had been like nothing I had ever experienced before. High fives. Hugs. An entire city brought together for one moment. Love and appreciation and camaraderie poured out of every bit of my being towards everyone single other person in the city. We had done it. We had won. We had reached the mountaintop of greatness for this brief and temporary moment in time.

Yet it was only temporary. Just like everything else in life.

For the Ancient Greeks, death was certain and wealth was fleeting. For our own time, even if we build a civilization that lasts for millennia, it will be but a passing shadow in the 14 billion year history of the Universe. In five billion years, the sun will explode, destroying life as we know it. We might not even have to wait that long, because the consequences of climate change, nuclear war, superbugs, and general artificial intelligence might kill us all sooner rather than later.

Given enough time, even the glories of Achilles might be lost forever.

And yet, something happened on that night of Game Seven that was greater than ourselves. We attained kleos. The same kind of kleos that Achilles and Leonidas and others in Ancient Greece strove for.

Immortal kleos — to last as long as we have breath to tell the tale— Cleveland set its mark in history. In our lifetimes, we will tell stories to each other, our children, and grandchildren about The Block, The Shot, and The Defense in that fateful Game Seven. It will bring us closer together. It will fight back against the atomization and the isolation of modern society. It will give us a reason to come together as a community.

Even after generations of Clevelanders have come and gone, nothing shall extinguish or diminish our triumph in that fateful clash of titans. Future generations may not know how we felt that day, nor will they have the same awe and appreciation in the victory that brought a championship-starved people to the promised land. Such is with all history. But, historic achievement matters. The modern Greeks do not have access to the same feelings of the 300 that fought the Persians at Thermopylae, but the immortal words still resonate with many today “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie.” Such will be the pride to future Clevelanders when they read in the history books “Cleveland Cavaliers: 2016 NBA Champions.”

In that moment we achieved kleos. LeBron James, our Achilles, achieved the most kleos of any Clevelander since Jim Brown.

LeBron Raymone James. The greatest basketball player of all time. One of our own from Northeast Ohio. Drafted by the Cavaliers. Won a Championship for the Cavaliers.

And that is why he should stay in Cleveland.

Nowhere else can LeBron win as much kleos as he would in Cleveland. Fighting for his hometown, he competes in the same arena as all the Olympians and all of the warriors in the Trojan War. He fights for his own kleos and for the kleos of an entire people. His people. Every single one of us.

Think for a second of Kevin Durant — a modern Alcibiades, the untrustworthy Greek changed his allegiance between the Athenians, Spartans, and Persians. Durant was born in Washington D.C., and has played for Seattle, Oklahoma City, and Golden State. He now has two championship rings and is the best player on his team. Yet, ask yourself — who will actually remember Kevin Durant in 50 years? 100? Who will be proud to tell their grandkids about that-time-Kevin-Durant-won-a-title? More importantly, whom does he play for? Himself. Just himself. So ask yourself – in the annals of NBA history, who will build statutes and sing the praises of the selfish Kevin Durant?

And now think of LeBron’s time in Miami. Four straight Finals appearances were great, but it was Dwyane Wade’s team. With Chris Bosh. The Finals victories brought LeBron glory — but only for himself. Fifty years from now, who in Miami will build a statue for LeBron Raymone James?

James has a choice. He could chase titles and rise in the record books. He could play for Philadelphia, or Los Angeles, or Houston. He could gain wealth and win title after title. But what will it really mean? Playing for another group of fans that leave early during a Finals game? Another people whose championship parade will only number in the thousands? LeBron James would be in the record books, but no group of people will sing his praises and honor him so long as people have voices to sing.

The title in 2016 meant more for the people of Cleveland than the titles won by LeBron in Miami and the titles won by Kevin Durant in California. When LeBron James won in 2016, he won it for all of Cleveland. We will sing his praises. We will tell our children and our grandchildren about what that fateful Game Seven was like. And just like I will speak of the greatness of Jim Brown, after hearing about him from my grandparents, so too will my grandchildren sing the praises of LeBron James to their own grandchildren. Only in Cleveland can he win the highest kleos. Only in Cleveland will he get closest to immortality. He is our Achilles. There is so much more fighting to be done, and so much more kleos to win, for himself and for his people.

I hope he stays. We all do. But even if he leaves, he still brought us a championship in 2016. He won kleos for all of us. And for that, we are all eternally grateful.

When I travel, I meet others from Ohio and an instant connection is formed. Regardless of party, of race, of sex, of gender, of income, or anything else, other Ohioans are my kin, my people, my brothers and sisters.

That’s what this article is ultimately about. It’s about the shared identity of everyone from Ohio that roots for the Cavaliers. It’s about the instant camaraderie that I feel with an entire group of relative strangers on a website dedicated solely to writing about and supporting my home team. It’s about sharing in the same civic duty that has existed since Ancient Greece (and beyond). It’s about saying it’s ok to love your city, your state, and your people more than anyone else on the planet. It’s a way to fight against the atomization, loneliness, and alienation of modern society.

It’s a way to say sports matter. That being from Cleveland matters. That it really is Ohio Against The World. That when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. We are one people, one team, one community.

Death and Glory: Heroes in Search of Kleos - History

Kleos is the ancient Greek term that means, “fame or glory attained through good deeds and hard work.” This is what the heroes in ancient Greek tragedy were striving for. But Kleos also captures the essence of the product, Kleos Masticha spirit, and the passion behind the process of its maker, Effie Panagatopoulos, entrepreneur extraordinaire. She is the first Greek woman in history to start a liquor brand from scratch. For Panagatopoulos, it has been a labor of love almost a decade in the making. But since last summer since launching in posh lounges on Mykonos, Kleos the masticha liquor is bound to be Greece’s first luxury spirit brand and the world’s first super premium mastiha spirit.

The Process Behind the Passion

The story of its maker to bring it to life scintillates with the great Hellenic values: meraki, philotimo, pursuit of excellence, and drive. Yes, plenty of drive. The story starts with Panagatopoulos’ involvement as the National Brand Ambassador and sole distributor of Metaxa brand in the US. She has had 15 years of experience in the liquor industry having worked for Bacardi. Her work takes her to Mykonos for the summer of 2008. While sipping drinks at Nammas, her friend music producer Easy Coutiel, hands her a tumbler of mastiha cocktail and says, “This is what you should introduce to America.”

“That first sip,” she explains, “sparked a love affair with mastiha that would end with Kleos as the next big global spirit product.”

She did plenty of homework. She concocted 17 different formulas from six different distilleries and 20 different cocktail mixes for the product.

She put together an advisory group of celebrity mixologists and chefs including Michael Psilakis, MP Taverna chef who incidentally introduced mastiha as an ingredient on Iron Chef, 2010 Allan Katz, portfolio mixologist of Southern Wine and Spirits, and Joaquin Simo, head bartender of Death and Co, the first bar in NY to introduce mastiha.

She organized taste tests with American audiences. (Amazingly, 9 out of 10 Americans hated ouzo yet the same ratio loved mastiha).

She went through three years of sourcing design before arriving at the alluring blue eye version, distinctive and beautiful.

She built trust with the Mastiha Growers’ Cooperative in Chios, a very tightly knit group, that does not allow outsiders in.

She tested and tested the product with the head of research and development of the Mastiha Ennosi.

She learned about mastiha history and its medicinal uses.

She found a wealthy investor who helped her draft a business plan and put down $1.5 million in capital. And then she lost the seed funding when the Eurocrisis tanked the Greek stock markets in 2010.

She went back to square one–more than once.

She hustled to find investors. She did stand-up comedy to boost her confidence to stand up in front of investors to pitch her brand.

She sent over 159 pitch emails just to get eight on board.

She even trained in body building competitions gathering her earnings to raise capital for the product.

She persevered. And here she is: the first Greek woman in history to start a liquor brand.

Kleos launched officially last year on the island of Mykonos in some of the most jet-setting venues, including at luxe hotels like Cavo Tagoo, Bill and Coo, and Kouros in Mykonos, as well as the most exclusive beach bars SantAnna, and Jackie O, and restaurants like Interni and Ling Ling

“The road to get to market as a woman in a male dominated industry made me determined to uphold my own value,” Panagopoulos explains.

The Kleos formula also happens to be made by Greece’s only female distiller, Maroussa Tsaxaki, at the famed distillery Isidoros Arvanitis in Lesvos.

By June of this year, it will be available in the duty free shops of three Greek airports-Athens, Crete, and Rhodes. It has soft launched in Massachusetts, Panagopoulos’ home state and is available in select bars in New York City. (If you really need to take a swig, head over to Omega Liquors, the one store in Astoria that carries Kleos.)

Why Mastiha?

“Mastiha is Greece’s best kept secret,” she explains. “It is a superfood.”

While most Greeks know its distinct taste from the “ipobrichio” the submarine, sugary dollops of mastiha, the gooey desert served on a long spoon in a tall glass of cold water, it is not well-known outside Hellenic borders.

The trees that mastiha is harvested from is called the skinos. It only grows in the perfecture in Chios historically the place of martyrdom of St. Isidore. The tree miraculously shed tears in response to the suffering of the saint who blessed them as a means of healing the world.

Even so, mastiha has been used as a medicinal herb from Hippocrates’ time and makes various appearances in the historical record in the writings of Herodotus and Dioscurides, the Greek father of pharmacology, whose “De Materia Medica praised the therapeutic properties of mastiha on the same page he praised cannabis.

Although she has no family connections to Chios, the one place in the world where masticha is harvested, she states, “My soul lived there in a former life.” Panagopoulos’ felt an immediate connection to the land and the trees from which it is harvested. “I cried the first time I harvested it,” she narrates.

Her passionate belief in the product has transformed her purpose: to become the ambassador for mastiha to the world.

The Person Behind the Product

Effie Panagotopoulos grew up in and around Boston, Massachusettes. Her parents, heralding from Sparta and Tripoli/Megalopoli, carried the same immigrant narrative: they came off the boat with $20 in their pocket looking for a better life. “Part of my drive comes from this, that my parents came from poor little villages. I grew up a teen knowing we did not have what others did. I wanted to do better than my parents.”

Effie Panagotopoulos stopped at nothing to bring Kleos to market, even competing in body building championships to raise funds for her brand.

The fact that she could achieve her ambitions as a woman speaks to the power of growing up American. “The system in Greece is a mess, whether female or male,” she confesses. “It is extremely difficult to be an entrepreneur in Greece. But for a woman, it is like going back 50 years.” The distributors could not believe she was the owner of the brand, but kept referring her as the sales associate.

Part of the problem Panagotopoulos’ decries is the lack of role models in business for women in Greece. “Young Greek girls do not have much to aspire to except in media or entertainment,” she explains, “fake blondes with fake boobs.” They feel comfortable taking on traditionally feminine professions such as teaching. They are too afraid to venture out and take risks, a mandatory element for most entrepreneurs.

The bi-cultural perspective allows the opportunity to exhibit her ambitions. Not without a struggle. She remembers to be taken seriously by venture capitalists who kept passing over her brand, she had to organize an entire advisory board of recognized (majority male) restauranteurs and bartenders.

Quotes On Success

“Money is power. Men make more money, so for women to be in positions of power, we need more money.”

“In order to make it, you have to be gutsy. Leave fear at the door. Only until you put balls to the wall, only when you make very bold moves can you finally make it.”

“Modern day Greece has had a fall from it’s ancient Glory, and with KLEOS Mastiha Spirit, I hope to in my own way restore a piece of Greece’s long lost glory with a beautiful product for the global market, that we can call a luxury brand.

If along the way, I can inspire my fellow Greek women, and young Greek entrepreneurs to look back into our roots and the best our country has to offer, to reverse what previous generations have done, and spur the economy, I will have had success.”

The signature cocktail—The “KLEO-Patra”

Kleo-Patra, signature cocktail made with mastiha liquor

2 parts KLEOS Mastiha Spirit

1/2 part fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients vigorously.

Strain over fresh crushed ice in a highball.

Garnish with a lemon wheel and basil leaf.

Adapted from the modern classic cocktail “The Med” created by the Greek demigod of the modern age of cocktails, Michael Menegos.

Like Plato and Socrates, you can find him in Athens’ best watering holes waxing poetic on government, philosophy, food and drink.

Mastiha Trivia:

-The US has become a large purchaser of mastiha. Hospitals are buying it for bandages for wound healing, and US supplement companies have started selling it in pill form. A serving here of Jarrow Mastic is 2 pills, 1000mg, for stomach health.

-Ancient Romans spiced wine with Mastiha

-Mastiha is used to manufacture surgical thread. Stitches made with this thread are absorbed by the body, do not require cutting, and have an anti-inflammatory effect

-Also used by American hospitals to make bandages for wounds

-Mastiha appears in the famous pre-Prohibition cocktail book by Robert Vermiere that references mastiha as a classic cocktail

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