Adaptive Barbarism: Politics and Kinship in the Iliad, Part 2

Guillaume Durocher

Shield of Achilles

Part 1 of “Adaptive Barbarism”

Patriotism: For Family and Fatherland

An attractive feature of the Trojans, however, is their patriotism. The Achaeans fight for loot, honor, and the glory of their names and families. The Trojans’ allies fight for gold. But the soldiers of the city of Troy itself are fighting to save their families and fatherland from a grim fate. When exhorting his troops to abandon their doubts and drive the Achaeans in the sea and burn their ships, Hector cries: “Fight for your country — that is the best, the only omen!” (12.281). This famous line was often cited by Greeks in later ages as a splendid sentiment, inspiring them to defend their cities even against overwhelming odds.

Hector later urges his comrades to fight and die for family and fatherland:

So fight by the ships, all together. And that comrade who meets his death and destiny, speared or stabbed, let him die! He dies fighting for fatherland — no dishonor there! He’ll leave behind him wife and sons unscathed, his honor and estate unharmed — once these Argives sail for home, the fatherland they love. (15.496)

As the last line suggests, while the Achaeans are fighting for glory and plunder rather than patriotism, they too are moved by a deep love and longing for their country and kinsmen far away.

Elsewhere, the soldier Glaucus shames his Trojan allies for giving ground instead of taking the corpse of Patroclus, Achilles’ dearest friend, with them: “If the Trojans had that courage, that unswerving courage that fires men who fight for their own country, beating their enemies down in war and struggle, then we could drag Patroclus back to Troy at once” (17.155). A Trojan later goads Achilles: “We have fighting men by the hundreds still inside her, forming a wall before our loving parents, wives, and sons to defend Troy — where you rush to meet your doom” (21.585).

Among the Trojans, the fate of family and country are one. There is a famous and touching scene of Hector with his wife and infant son, before battle, knowing full well their fate hangs in the balance. Homer shows us the intertwined fates of King Priam’s city and family by showing us, in graphic detail, the painful deaths of many of his sons in battle.

Familial and patriotic sentiment are not unknown to the Achaeans either, although this is less apparent in this expedition. Wise Nestor, in council, faults those who foment civil conflict as failing both family and nation: “Lost to the clan, lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one who lusts for all the horrors of war with his own people” (9.65). Later, Nestor, “Achaea’s watch and ward,” sought to inspire the troops to fight by appealing to thoughts of their families:

Be men, my friends! Discipline fill your hearts, maintain your pride in the eyes of other men! Remember, each of you, sons, wives, wealth, parents — are mother and father dead or alive? No matter, I beg you for their sakes, loved ones far away — now stand and fight, no turning back, no panic. (15.660)

The War Community

The Iliad has immortalized a primordial vision of the community at war. The men must act as one, or perish. In war especially, the individual’s fate is bound up with the community with the full understanding that they share a common fate, no matter his personal inclination. As Homer says of good Axylus:

Diomedes killed off Axylus, Teuthras’ son who had lived in rock-built Arisbe, a man of means and a friend to all mankind, at his roadside house he’d warm all comers in. But who of his guests would greet his enemy now, meet him face-to-face and ward off grisly death? (4.12)

Both Troy and Achaea are shame cultures. The warriors are often gripped by fear and, when overpowered, pathetically beg for mercy from their enemies. Against this natural sentiment, the commanders frequently shame their comrades to fight, or threaten them with force. The Achaeans also require “a heavy fine” from those who refuse to serve (13.670).

The ideal is unity in combat, something the Achaeans excel at. Homer portrays the order and discipline of the archaic phalanx: “all his comrades came in a pack with one will, massing round him, bracing shields to shoulders” (13.490). Later Homer compares the soldiers to a stone wall, in a famous passage:

Hearing the king’s command the ranks pulled closer, tight as a mason packs a good stone wall, blocks on granite blocks for a storied house that fights the ripping winds — crammed so close the crested helmets, the war-shields bulging, jutting, buckler-to-buckler, helm-to-helm, man-to-man massed tight and the horsehair crests on glittering helmet horns brushed as they tossed their heads, as the battalions bulked so dense. (16.215)

Iliadic Politics: Kingship and the Good City

One may draw political insights from Homer’s ideal of kingship and his portrayal of the failures of the Achaean alliance and the city of Troy. Each king being sovereign, the Achaeans are divided whenever any king’s virtue fails. Agamemnon takes Achilles’ war-bride Briseis, failing to respect Achilles’ status as the best warrior, while Achilles’ pride and wrath drive him to let the Achaeans fall to the brink of oblivion. The Trojans, for their part, are paralyzed by a corrupt Council of Elders, which has failed to order Paris to return Helen. In both cases, there has been a failure to enforce what would be a fundamental principle of the Greek polis: the subordination of individual interests to those of the community.

There is no good kingship without an accepted hierarchy. Among the Achaeans, there is relative equality between kings — aristocratic egalitarianism — and each is meant to be treated according to his respective qualities. If anyone feels dishonored, there is strife. Subjects must respect their kings, under penalty of violence. When lowly and ugly Thersites mocks Agamemnon and the Achaeans, Odysseus beats him into silence with his scepter, prompting general laughter. Odysseus again describes best the Achaean aristocratic ideal of kingship:

Whenever Odysseus met some man of rank, a king, he’d halt and hold him back with winning words: “My friend — it’s wrong to threaten you like a coward, but you stand fast, you keep your men in check! . . . The rage of kings is strong, they’re nursed by the gods, their honor comes from Zeus — they’re dear to Zeus the god who rules the world.

When he caught some common soldier shouting out, he’d beat him with the scepter, dress him down: “You fool — sit still! Obey the commands of others, your superiors — you, you deserter, rank coward, you count for nothing, neither in war nor council. How can all the Achaeans be masters here in Troy? Too many kings can ruin an army — mob rule! Let there be one commander, one master only, endowed by the son of crooked-minded Cronus with kingly scepter and royal rights of custom: whatever one man needs to lead his people well.” (2.188-206)[1]

The kings however are not tyrants: they are expected to welcome legitimate criticism from their peers and even tolerate a good deal of backtalk. Diomedes counters Agamemnon’s proposal to flee Troy, saying: “I will be first to oppose you in your folly, here in assembly, King, where it’s the custom” (9.30). Nestor tells Agamemnon:

Great marshal Atrides [i.e. son of Atreus], lord of men Agamemnon . . . you hold sway over many warriors, vast armies, and Zeus has placed in your hands the royal scepter and time-honored laws, so you will advise them well. So you above all must speak your mind, and listen and carry out the next man’s counsel too, when his spirit leads him on to speak for the public good. Credit will go to you for whatever he proposes. (9.85)

Troy is evidently governed by similar values in this respect. Polydamas, a Trojan warrior, often contradicts Hector, saying on one occasion:

Hector, you always seem to attack me in assembly, despite my good advice. Never right, is it, for a common man to speak against you, King, never in open council, god forbid in war. Our part is always to magnify your power. Well, once again I am bound to say what I think best. (12.210)

There is in Homer an equation of piety with civility, and a sense of reciprocity between the king and his people. Achilles, Agamemnon, and Hector are all described as “shepherd of the people.” The place by the ships where the Achaeans “hand down their laws” is the same where they have “built their altars to the gods” (11.805). The impious, be they kings or not, are harshly punished by the gods. Homer speaks of terrible storms in which

Zeus flings down his pelting, punishing rains — up in arms, furious, storming against those men who brawl in the courts and render crooked judgments, men who throw all rights to the winds with no regard to the vengeful gods (16.385)

Amidst Achaean barbarism and Trojan relative decadence, there is the famous Shield of Achilles described at the end of Book 18, which the smith-god Hephaestus has forged for the hero. On this, Hephaestus has made the image of “two noble cities filled with mortal men” which seem to portray a political and social ideal beyond the war. The great elements of life and death are there. There are weddings and wedding feasts, and young boys and girls court each other with elaborate dancing and gifts, ensuring the renewal of generations. The king watches over from his palace, while people hunt or work in the fields, vineyards, and herds.

In the City at Peace, there is a quarrel in the marketplace between two men “over the blood-price of a kinsman just murdered. . . . The crowd cheer on both, they took both sides, but heralds held them back as the city elders sat on polished stone benches, forming the sacred circle.” Hence, the enmity of blood feuds and the passions of the mob are constrained by law. The City at War, however, is besieged by enemies, but “the people were not surrendering, not at all.” The citizens even organize a counter-raid, killing enemy shepherds. Thus the city is prepared to fight ruthlessly for its own survival, even if innocents must die.

After Achilles defeats Hector in battle, Priam enters the Achaean camp to recover his son’s corpse. The hero and the king meet and weep together, sharing in compassion in their common tragedy. Achilles’ empathy makes him rejoin the world of men, pride and wrath are met with empathy, and the Greek city may be born — a city no doubt destined one day to decay like Troy. The flawed heroes Achilles and Agamemnon, with their overweening pride, seem to give way to wiser and more moderate kings, Nestor and Odysseus, who find the words for social harmony.


The Iliad is thus a poem about the tragedy of vital barbarism and decadent civilization, ascending from one, falling from the other. This is a common enough interpretation. William Merritt Sale writes: “the poem is about the tragic growth of Achilles and the tragic death of Troy.”[2] Bernard Knox argues that Homer’s epic long resonated with the Greeks as a great warning:

The Trojan War was stamped indelibly on the consciousnesses of the Greeks throughout their history, immortalized in lyric poetry, in tragedy, on temple pediments and painted vases, to reinforce the stern lesson of Homer’s presentation of war: that no civilization, no matter how rich, no matter how refined, can long survive once it loses the power to meet force with equal or superior force.[3]

The Iliad embodies the primal values which enabled our Aryan ancestors, thousands of years ago, to conquer the European continent, replacing the native egalitarian hunter-gatherer cultures with ultimately stronger militaristic and aristocratic cultures. These cultures gave us not only the lights of ancient Greece, but also the power of the Romans and refounding of Europe by the Germans during the Middle Ages.

The values of the Iliad, as I hope to have shown, are highly adaptive, being focused on pride in one’s lineage, kinship as central to identity and entailing reciprocity and solidarity, subordination of individual interests to those of the community, the intertwined loves of family and fatherland, and finally the glorification of conquest and honor. These values, though often brutal, enable one’s people to triumph, and surely that is also part of the tragedy Homer was trying to tell. Certainly, the Iliad does not present a genuine group evolutionary strategy, as embodied by the racial purity laws of the Jewish Tanakh or the eugenic dreams of Plato. Homer’s epic reflects a more instinctive and atavistic psychology and way of life enabling the triumph of oneself and one’s kin.

The European patriot Dominique Venner considered the Homeric poems to be “the European Bible.” The lessons of the Iliad indeed are as relevant today as ever. Unfortunately, one can share Ricardo Duchesne’s pessimistic assessment that loss of manliness and ancestral values are part of a natural cycle of civilization, decadence, and collapse. Indeed, given our unprecedented degree of comfort and miseducation, Western men today are of an unbearable and unheard of effeminacy. As a natural result, our people is steadily declining and being physically replaced by other peoples, less gifted by the yardstick of civilization no doubt, but who have kept that instinctive barbarian vigor. This is a fatal encounter, for as Achilles tells Hector in rejecting a pact: “There are no binding oaths between men and lions — wolves and lambs can enjoy no meeting of the minds” (22.265). There may, inevitably, be hard times for the European peoples ahead, but, as the saying goes, hard times breed hard men.

[1] Socrates reportedly loved to quote this passage. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.2.

[2] William Merritt Sale, The Government of Troy (Washington University, 1994), p.74.

[3] Knox, “Introduction,” in op. cit., p. 37.

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14 Comments to "Adaptive Barbarism: Politics and Kinship in the Iliad, Part 2"

  1. Ritual's Gravatar Ritual
    April 11, 2017 - 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Nice article, thanks. Doesn’t shame culture depend on the other guy finding out about your weaknesses? So nobody finds out, no shame.

    I see guilt culture on the otherhand as self-monitoring, you fail due to your own weaknesses and its unavoidably, undeniably on you.

  2. April 12, 2017 - 4:25 am | Permalink

    I only recently realised that ‘Christianity’ was either a takeover of Greek beliefs by Jews, or invented by Jews for the Greek empire. The word for ‘golden’ is christos; the gospels were written in Greek; Greek was the language of the early church for centuries; Greek towns dotted the areas north of Palestine. The only reason Christianity is thought of as Roman is that Constantine, who was just a low grade adventurer, was lucky, and after the Latin ‘Vulgate’, Roman literature was extinguished forever. The original target of Christianity seems to have been Greece, and the Greek colonies in what’s now Turkey. The Greek tradition was more or less extinguished in its turn by Muslims. The simple-minded encouragement of brainless fighting and deaths isn’t much help in understanding the world.

    • Tudor's Gravatar Tudor
      April 12, 2017 - 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Conrad Malte-Brun (1775-1826), in Précis de Géographie Universelle ou Description de toutes les parties du monde, called the Greeks ”the others Jews” and the Russians ”very Jewish”.

      Les Valaques exportent à la vérité unde grande partie de leurs production, soit en Transylvanie à travers les montagnes, soit au port de Varna; mais les importations pour l’une et l’autre principautés se font par Galacz. Les Juifs circoncis et ces autres Juifs qui s’appellent Grecs, y apportent des draps de laine, des soieres, des peleteriés; mais le vrais enfant d’Israel se réserve les bijouteries. Le Russe, très-juif aussi sous une apparence un peu sauvages, y vent ses cuirs et ses tabacs.

      The same in english (online translation)

      The Valaques, indeed, export a great part of their produce, either to Transylvania through the mountains, or to the port of Varna; But imports for both principalities are made by Galacz. The circumcised Jews, and those other Jews who call themselves Greeks, bring woolen sheets, silk, and pearls; But the real child of Israel reserves the jewelry. The Russians, very Jewish also, under a somewhat wild appearance, vent their leathers and their tobacco.

    • Franklin Ryckaert's Gravatar Franklin Ryckaert
      April 12, 2017 - 4:46 pm | Permalink

      The Greek word Christos means “anointed”, which is a literal translation of the Hebrew Mashiach. “Golden” in Greek is chrysos.

      • April 14, 2017 - 5:48 am | Permalink

        Well, maybe. Do you see the point about Greek influence being (so to speak) next door to Jews? If Constantine had never existed, presuambly the target of Jews was old or new religions in Greece.

    • pterodactyl's Gravatar pterodactyl
      April 14, 2017 - 12:33 pm | Permalink

      “The simple-minded encouragement of brainless fighting and deaths isn’t much help in understanding the world.”

      – and can lead to pointless destruction eg Britain and Germany bombing each other’s cities for several years and then immediately shaking hands and becoming allies as if it was just a scrap that got out of hand. Then afterwards heaping all the blame on one man and the Germans out of penitence (not for War itself, but for ‘racism’ during the war) now inviting the third world over to conquer them.

      From The Odyssey:

      “When I had set sail thence the wind took me first to Ismarus, which is
      the city of the Cicons. There I sacked the town and put the people to
      the sword. We took their wives and also much booty, which we divided
      equitably amongst us, so that none might have reason to complain. I
      then said that we had better make off at once, but my men very foolishly
      would not obey me, so they staid there drinking much wine and killing
      great numbers of sheep and oxen on the sea shore.”

      This is hardly a lifestyle to be held up for admiration. The closest to it today is the African tribes at war with each other and the arabs always at war with each other at the tribal level.

      In fact the next paragraph to the one above is where the other side stages a retaliation and kills about six men from each ship:

      “Meanwhile the Cicons cried out for help to other Cicons who lived inland. These were more in
      number, and stronger, and they were more skilled in the art of war”

      So you could say the author was perhaps telling us that the consequence of the raping and pillaging was retaliation against themselves including heavy casualties.

      • Hugh Maguire's Gravatar Hugh Maguire
        April 18, 2017 - 11:30 am | Permalink

        I see your line of thinking often. If we see the rise and fall of civilization as cyclical, vital barbarism expanding and then solidifying into a civilization only to fall victim to civilizations inherent decadence then we cannot then criticize the vital barbarism of our enemies. The Arab and African hordes overrunning Europe are the vital barbarians, the Achaeans. Someday their poets will write of the conquest of Europa as Homer did of Troy. My point is that however distasteful you may find warfare, tribalism, violence, it is inevitable.

        The strong will embrace the values of a predator, strength, speed, cunning, guile.

        Those who are not willing to fight do not deserve to live.

  3. bob sykes's Gravatar bob sykes
    April 12, 2017 - 6:06 am | Permalink

    The native European hunter-gatherers had already been conquered thousands of years earlier by the Neolithic farmers from Anatolia. The Indo-Europeans conquered the farmers.

  4. E.'s Gravatar E.
    April 12, 2017 - 6:31 am | Permalink

    A pleasure as usual. Thank you Guillaume.

  5. Michael Adkins's Gravatar Michael Adkins
    April 12, 2017 - 7:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link to Ricardo Duchesne. I’ll quote part of his comment to Lillian Smith:

    “the majority of white men today are exhibiting a natural inability to sense the incredible threats that mass immigration poses for their entire race and culture; I am saying that this is not only a consequence of ideological control but of the fact that they are living easy going lives, an effeminate existence, in the way the ancients understood this term.”

    • pterodactyl's Gravatar pterodactyl
      April 14, 2017 - 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Michael Adkins – and no-one 100 years ago would have predicted this behaviour. The transformation from conqueror previously to now lying on the floor and begging to be trampled on by the third world is incredible.

      It is a good point you make that in times of plenty and peace and wealth the new environment has changed the way people think, and at present they perceive no threat. They assume the whole world is as non-racist or anti-racist or non-tribal in their thinking as they themselves are. The fact that the newcomers will stab their own teenage daugters in a family murder with brothers joining in for dishonouring the family – this shows that in their wiring (from their genes) they think differently as no family with Western genes has ever done this or would ever do it. But the people do not realise this yet, ie that the non-European immigrants think differently, as to even mention that they might be different is a banned Thought Crime. The Jews clearly have a level of tribalism that the indigenous do not, so they too think differently (otherwise they would have been absorbed by now), but they do not commit the honour killings.

      Another factor in the transformation of the West from conqueror to submissive is that a different (different genetically) subset of the (same) population has taken control. In times of hardship (ie the past centuries where land equals wealth) those who can keep land and lead men were in charge (Eg the House of Lords in Britain). Today the wealth is not taken in battle and then guarded, instead power and wealth are distributed by the state, and the state (apart from the military) favours a different type, a political type. The state favours (in job appointments eg in local government) those who think not those who can do, and those who think tend to think about political things like equality and sexism, not about fixing roads or reducing crime.

      These factors are more important (1. peace and wealth as you mention, and 2. factors change that determine which genetic subset gets power) than ‘ideology’ as you mention. Ideology is what the 15% think about, and the rest just go along with the prevailing ideology. In North Korea no-one is thinking about whether or not communism is a good ideology, and their loyalty to it comes from either (a) fear or (b) it gives individuals power over others.

  6. Jez Turner's Gravatar Jez Turner
    April 20, 2017 - 4:12 am | Permalink

    Inspiration is what our people need and The Iliad is above all an inspirational work. It inspired Alexander to become Great. It inspired him to overcome the taunts from his father that he was weak and effeminate. It inspired him to toughen up and emulate Achilles, whose tomb he visited, and to even copy his war cry. No doubt many of Alexander’s advisors were similarly inspired by Odysseus and the other wise men of the Achaean army. One can even be inspired by one’s enemies. Terence Rattigan’s ‘Adventure Story’ a play about Alexander the Great, (the highly recommended black & white, 1961 film version stars Sean Connery), has Bessus Satrap of Bactria, (self-proclaimed King Artaxerxes V), at his trial for his assassination of King Darius saying ”What I did, I did for my country and against my country’s invaders.” I look forward very much to the projected book on ethnopolitical thought in Ancient Greece and suggest a similar book should also be attempted for Ancient Rome.

    • Jez Turner's Gravatar Jez Turner
      April 21, 2017 - 6:31 am | Permalink

      An additional point on heroes and role models. The cleverest man on the Greek side was not Odysseus, but Palamedes. Odysseus initially did not want to take part in The Trojan War and when the envoys arrived in Ithaca to obtain his consent, he pretended to be mad in order to escape his obligation. Palamedes saw through his ruse and made him confess his sham. He never forgot his humiliation. Later during the Trojan campaign proper, partly through jealousy over the popularity enjoyed by Palamedes among the troops due to his inventions, and partly also to settle the old score, Odysseus had him executed on a false charge of treachery. The similarity between his fate and that of Philotas, (Commander of the Companion Cavalry), at the hands of Alexander the Great is striking. My point is that our mythology and history are full of inspirational figures, and that very often it is the unsung heroes and those not in the limelight that can richly repay our attention.

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