Sample Student Essay


Homer defines excellence as a specific group of characteristics vital to heroism in his time. The ideal man, in Homer's eyes, must not fear the death of his men in battle and must have the courage to stand up to opposing forces. A strategic mind is essential for outwitting the enemy. The intelligent leader will also know when to let his guard down, and even let go of his pride at times to befriend others--philotes--which will strengthen his reputation in society. His actions must be so bold and extraordinary that his story will continue to be told long after he is deceased: kleos. Lastly, he is a motivating speaker that causes others to wish to stand beside him. Although Homer makes it difficult to find one person depicting each one of these qualities, there are a select few who only narrowly miss the mark.

Helen is the woman in the Iliad who particularly exemplifies excellence. It is clear that Helen is of importance to the men of society in that there was an entire war enduring ten years concerning who would be her husband. She demonstrates her loyalty to Menalaus by refusing to be content with Paris ("I wish I had been the wife of a better man." [Il. 6.15]) and also by questioning the orders of Aphrodite, a goddess, when told again to return to the role of wife of Paris. Helen seems to have much power in the way she stuns men with her beauty. Helen proves that she exhibits aidos in that she cares how society sees her: "The women of Troy would scorn me down the years" (Il. 3.77). Helen is the one woman who voices her opinion and truly refuses to be pushed around by any man or woman. She demonstrates this in the way she treats Paris when he no longer wishes to fight by claiming that Paris has "no steadiness in his spirit" (Il. 6.416). This scene also depicts Helen's ability to control others and her ability to entice them into doing what she wants them to do because Paris then goes back to fight with Hector. I agree with Homer's idea of excellence in Helen in that she is strong and fearless in speaking her mind. I also admire that there always seems to be reasoning behind what Helen fights for whereas many of the men are starting wars only out of fear of losing their pride or presenting themselves as a coward.

The man best portraying excellence in the Iliad is Glaucus, son of Hippochus and grandson of the great Bellerophon. Glaucus mostly portrays strength, courage and fighting ability, assuming that he would inherit these traits from his ancestors. He unquestionably has wisdom to deliver speeches. After Diomedes heard Glaucusí powerful speech, there was an immediate friendship between the two men. Diomedes' first words after the closing of Glaucus' speech were, "Splendid--you are my friend..." (Il. 6.258). This is another example of a leader knowing when to let go of anger and accept an offer of friendship. Glaucus will most likely achieve kleos due to the remarkable story of his ancestors. Until now, Glaucus has not taken a large role in the Iliad, yet Homer introduces him as a character of great significance.

Given that the lifestyle of Homer and that of mine are extremely different, our views of excellence are as well. I do tend to agree with Homer in that wisdom, courage and philotes are three characteristics that are very important in order for a person to achieve excellence. However, I do not agree with the fact that Homer considers kleos, war-power, and leadership to be vital to excellence. I am not able to pin-point one specific person in creating my own definition of excellence, but I realized that if I took one or two characteristics from a select few people in my life for whom I have high regard, I could create a person portraying true excellence. In Sarah Schleper, an olympic ski racer, lie the qualities of drive, motivation, and ultimate health and fitness. My cousin Stacey, a trauma surgeon, has the very important characteristics of hard work, dedication, and wisdom. Pure generosity and being a truly caring person are qualities of excellence in Lauren Estebanell. Claudia depicts the rare, but very important magnetic personality, that makes anyone and everyone cling to her and want to follow her example. I realize that it is not exactly realistic to demand each of these characterisics of one sole person, but it is the person that I aspire, and all should aspire, to be.

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Last updated 18 September 97