Sample Student Essay  


In his epic poem the Iliad, Homer defines excellence in men and women. In men excellence is defined by succeeding in five areas. The first is to have time, honor. To have honor a man must be courageous in battle. Throughout the Iliad there are many stories about brave warriors fighting in great battles. Nestor spoke of great men in his speech to Agamemnon and Achilles (II, 1.306-19). All of book eleven tells of battles bravely fought between the Trojans and Achaeans. In order to have honor a man must also have geras, tangible honor., the prizes of war. This includes women and treasure taken from sacked enemy villages.

The second area is friendship. A man must open his home to others even if their leader is his enemy. Achilles shows this when he welcomes Talthybius and Eurybates even if their leader is his enemy. Achilles shows this when he welcomes Talthybius and Eurybates even though they were sent by Agamemnon to take Briseis (Il.1.392-7). A man must also be willing to gently tell his friends that they are making foolish mistakes. Nestor does this when he intervenes between Agamemnon and Achilles (Il.11.776-961).

The third area is strategy. A man must be able to make great plans that will further the cause of his people. Agamemnon makes plans to defeat the Trojans (Il.2.63-89).Paris, Hector, and Menelaus make plans to end the war (Il.3.104-14).The fourth area is speech. A man must be good with words and be able to use them wisely. Odysseus speaks wisely and well when he reassures the Achaeans about staying to fight the Trojans(Il.2.331-94). Nestor chooses wise words to give to Patroclus to tell Achilles (Il.11.776-961).

The final area is aidos, shame. A man must be moral, appropriate. He must show respect to society in everything he does. It was this aspect in particular that makes it so that Thesites is not excellent. He does not show respect to his leaders, he has no moral values, he does not even dress appropriately, he has no shame (Il.2.246-81).

For women excellence is different. It consists of only three parts. The first is that she must be wise. She must know what advice to give her husband. She should know how to argue with him and when to comfort him. Andromache exemplifies this when she talks with Hector in book six (Il.6.480-520, 576). The second is that she must be willing to sacrifice her wants for her husband. Helen shows this when she goes to bed with Paris even though she wants to be with Menelaus (Il.3.497-525). She shows her sacrificial nature again when she wishes that she had died at birth so that the war would never have happened (Il.6.406-13). The final part is that she must be beautiful. All the women that Homer mentions are women of great beauty. Helen is often referred to as the radiance of women (Il.3.2087).

I believe that Nestor exemplified excellence in men in Homer. He fulfills all the characteristics. He has honor. In his prime he was a great warrior. "There our Achaeans swung round from Buprasion, heading their high-strung horses back to Pylos where all gave glory to Zeus among the gods and among all men to Nestor (Il.11.904-7). He also has geras. "And well-kempt Hecamede mixed them a bracing drink, the woman that old King Nestor won from Tenedos when Achilles stormed it, proud Arsinous' daughter, the prize the Achaeans chose to give to Nestor because he excelled them all at battle tactics" (Il.11.735-9). He is also strong. "An average man would strain to lift it off the table when it was full, but Nestor, old as he was, could hoist it up with ease" (Il.11.752-3).

Nestor also is successful in friendship. He welcomes Patroclus into his tent warmly (Il.11.763-5). He also gently intervenes when his friends Agamemnon and Achilles are fighting (Il.289-333). He is successful in strategy. "because he was most skilled among them in battle tactics (Il.1.289-333).He is successful in strategy. "because he was the most skilled among them in battle tactics" (Il.11.739). Nestor is successful in speech. He always chooses good, wise words when speaking: "But Nester rose between them, the man of winning words, the clear speaker of Pylos" (Il.1.290-1).He shows this when he tells Patroclus what he should tell Achilles(Il.11.777-961). He also shows his wisdom in speech when he intervenes in the fight between Achilles and Agamemnon (Il.1.288-333). Finally, Nestor has aidos. He always shows his morality and appropriateness. He always speaks with great respect to others. "Sweeter than honey from his tongue the voice flowed on and on" (Il.1.292).

I believe that Helen exemplifies excellence in women in Homer. Helen is wise. She knows when it is all right to argue with her husband and when to obey him. She shows this when she first argues with Paris, and then follows him to bed (Il.3.497-525).She is also sacrificial. She shows this by wishing that she had died at birth rather than be the cause of the war. "Oh how I wish that first day my mother brought me into the light some black whirlwind had rushed me out to the mountains or into the surf where the raring breakers crash and drag and waves had swept me off before all this had happened (Il.6.409-13). Finally, she is beautiful. "And Helen the radiance of women" (Il.3.206). "And Helen in all her radiance" (Il.3.273).

Like Homer, I believe that excellence is characterized by honor, friendship, wisdom in speech, and respect for others. I, however, believe that this applies to both men and women and that honor is a personal trait which does not include geras. I believe that an excellent person is courageous although they do not have to fight in wars to prove it. They succeed with friendship and speak with helpful wisdom. They are also moral and show respect to all others. That is what excellence is to me.

I do not think that anyone in the Iliad exemplifies my definition of excellence. There is, however, a man in Colorado who does. His name is Erin Ahnfeldt and he is a teacher. I believe it takes great courage to stand in front of a class and teach. Especially since half the people there do not care to learn. He is a great success in friendship, making friends with most of the students who take the time to listen to him and always caring about even the ones that do not listen. He is also good with speech. He knows what to say to make the lessons he teaches interesting, how to grab people's attention. Finally, he shows respect to everyone, even those who do not show it to him in return. He is, in essence, my definition of excellence and he is the one that I model my life after.

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