The Honor Code of the Greek Hero

> The Aristocracy
It is important to note, from the beginning, that much of the Honor Code only applies to the wealthy. "The primary characters in the Homeric poems are aristocrats, who are expected to live up to a demanding code of values. The men are mainly warriors, like the incomparable Achilles of The Iliad." All of the heroes in Homer's epics were men of wealthy birth. This is because winning and keeping honor, a key value for the Greeks, took time and resources. "Aristocracy in this context does not mean what it often means in, for example, French or English history. That is, ancient Greece never had an aristocracy that was an officially recognized nobility, whose members inherited their status regardless of their wealth or other socio-economic characteristics. The term as used in ancient Greek history refers to the social elite, whose status depended on a combination of factors, of which wealth and public conduct were very important." (Martin) Below are the matter of "public conduct" most important to the Greek Honor Code.

> Heroic Honor
Any man of wealth and high breeding in Homer's epics had the ultimate goal of kleos: everlasting fame and glory. One could earn kleos mainly through success on the battlefield because “Honor is in action and self-risk” (Whitman 28). However, kleos is only realized in "what people say of one’s actions, over which one has oneself no control” (Adkins 44). In Homer's world, "what the world thinks of you is far more important than what you think of yourself. Indeed, it is what you think of yourself" (Gray). “Certain acts, especially those that risk or incur death, can achieve the glory that outlives finite life” (Toohey 22). Kleos was a way for a warrior to be remembered after his life ended, which was especially important in a culture that did not make much of the afterlife. If songs were sung about a warrior, his name would live on forever.

A more concrete goal for Greek warriors was timé: honor or recognition for accomplishment. This often came in the form of material possessions, such as the spoils won in battles. Timé could be lost or gained throughout one's life, depending on one's actions.

There is also the concept of arete, which is excellence or greatness. Arete "conveys in one word the combination of qualities for which a Homeric hero is admired: physical strength, courage, daring, and above all success in battle." After all, “bearing up bravely against adversity, being self-controlled or strong-willed in this sense, is demanded of Homeric man” (Adkins 44). If a warrior had arete, he would eventually receive timé for his success, which would one day translate into timeless kleos.

Dolos is trickery or cunning deceit. "Deceit enables physically weaker individuals and groups to defeat their physical superiors, and successful trickery is often a female-specific response to male provocation" (Rosenbloom 268). It was not considered a negative trait, though we might see it that way today. Instead, it was associated with intelligence and outsmarting one's opponent. Dolos was often seem as a way women could earn arete

The role of the bard, or singer, is extremely important when talking about honor and glory. Kleos, it has been stated, is based on others’ perceptions. These perceptions are preserved through song. “Fame, more widespread and more lasting, even beyond death, is the great demand of the Homeric hero. It is conferred chiefly by the bard, who celebrates and perpetuates the information… he creates the objectification of the hero’s personal survival in epic song, the ‘imperishable fame’ which lives among men and keeps alive the hero’s name” (Bloom 129-30). Because the bard is the keeper and transmitter of kleos, he holds a special place in Greek society. “The magic of the singer is necessary to call these deeds into being and give them their life” (Bloom 131). He is seen as a necessary component of society and is always treated with respect. In The Odyssey, where we hear from bards a number of times, “the songs of the bard are always esteemed more highly than the viands of the banquet” (Musial 109).




> The Shame Culture 
Aidos, or shame, was the worst fate to befall a warrior. "The warriors of the heroic caste were impelled to certain courses of action, or were restrained from others, by aidos: they were ashamed of ‘losing face’ among their equals or inferiors, and this fear of public indignation kept before the mind of the heroes where their duty lay" (Hooker 121). Not having arete, losing timé, and never gaining kleos could all lead to aidos. Therefore, it is apparent in the epics that "valor and the adherence to duty in the face of overwhelming odds were all important. Heroism is all the greater because a Greek will fight until the end [so that] he will not lose his honor" (Pre-Axial 4). Both the desire for glory and the fear of shame created a society that valued battle and success above all else. “Inherent in this code was a too-ready acceptance of bloodshed and carnage: without violent death there can be no kleos” (Toohey 22).

An important aspect of the Shame Culture is that "it makes no difference to the evaluation of the situation whether the failure results from cowardice, or from mistake: only the result is taken into account. Homeric society is a ‘results-culture’” (Adkins 29). This idea that society only focuses on results and ignores intention is much different from modern society. We often tell children, "Just try your best." The Greeks would say, "Just win." Simply put, “no quality has any value unless it leads to success” (Adkins 29).


> The Family
The people in Homer's epics "lived in a society of virtually autonomous small units termed oikoi (singular: oikos), noble households under the leadership of a male" head of household. He was responsible for “defending its members in war… and for ensuring his own prosperity and theirs” (Adkins 28). The oikos includes the nuclear family, but also slaves or laborers who depend on the head of the family for survival, as well as material possessions such as land, home, livestock, and equipment (Austin & Vidal-Naquet 41). 
The oikos was the most important group a person can be a part of, and the ultimate goal of any oikos was to be self-sufficient. Therefore, a man's timé is important to both him and his oikos. If a man did not have timé, he could not provide for his oikos as easily. Through timé he acquired many things: respect from his neighbors (and, therefore, a sense of safety against local intruders), materials goods from battle, and gifts exchanged with friends through xenia



> Hospitality
The practice of xenia, or hospitality, was particularly important to the Greeks. In a world before hotels and restaurants, the only way to survive while traveling was through the hospitality of friends or strangers. It was understood that if someone came to your door looking for food or a place to sleep, you would provide what you could for that person. Also, it didn't matter if you knew the person or not. Strangers and friends were treated equally. 

There were two reasons for the adherence to xenia by all men of honor. First, it was one of the few methods of trade for the widely-separated Greeks. A host was expected to provide a guest-gift for the guest when they depart. These gifts were important to the economy of Greece because “a gift creates the obligation of a counter-gift… By means of this institution exchanges could be organized and gaps in self-sufficiency filled" (Austin & Vidal-Naquet 43). Thus, materials and goods that were not available in one area could be introduced into the local economy. 

The second reason xenia was important was because "every stranger and beggar comes from Zeus" (Odyssey 14.64). The Greeks had a great fear of the gods and believed that they involved themselves in human affairs. They believed the gods might send a stranger to someone's house, or a god himself might come disguised as a beggar to test someone. If the god was not provided for correctly, there could be terrible consequences for the person and his entire family.

Because the Greeks felt so strongly about taking care of guests, any lapse in xenia could be grounds for a loss of honor or status in the community. The gifts exchanged with a guest were a form of timé, and being able to present great gifts was a public showing of arete


> Justice
Today, we have police, lawyers, and a formal court system to ensure justice in our society. In societies without formal legal systems, the honor code was what enforced justice, or 
dikê. The honor code allowed for vengeance (poine) as a way of acquiring justice, just as a lawsuit or criminal trial would seek to deliver justice today. While we often see revenge as unjust, "in the earliest mythological explanations, acts of vengeance are represented as the only ways to rectify structurally unequal situations of tyranny" (French 4). "Tyranny" here means more than just an unfair leader; it could apply to any situation where one person treats another unfairly. The honor code helped explain what was fair and unfair, as well as what one could do in the face of unfairness.

Because of the importance of the oikos in survival, "every man owed total allegiance to his family, and all of his kinsmen were affronted by any dishonor done to him." In fact, connection with the family was so strong that "it would have been shameful for the family if outsiders meddled, or claimed to be needed" (Visser 194). An injustice done to a family member was felt by every member of the oikos. “The family was a moral unit, the son’s life was a prolongation of his father’s, and he inherited his father’s moral debts exactly as he inherited his commercial ones" (Dodds 34). This means it was a son's duty to seek vengeance on someone who had wronged his father, or pay someone whom his father had wronged. 

War presents a complex scenario of justice. The desire for kleos arose from a society that saw war as a common, necessary occurrence. No proper Greek hero imagined a peaceful, war-free life because their society functioned on taking goods from others and defending their own goods. This goes back to the concept of the self-sufficient oikos: the family could function without the help of others, or they could take what they needed from less powerful groups. Thus, war was inevitable and constant. 

Today, if one person were to start a fight with another person without being provoked, we might see this as unfair. In Ancient Greece, one group challenging another in battle for property, goods, or just glory was completely justifiable. One convention often employed during of after battle was apoine, or paying a ransom to an opponent for something lost in battle, often a person who was taken as a captive. A father could offer apoine in the form of extremely valuable goods to get his son or daughter back, and often warriors took the ransom because it increased their timé. This results in a loss of timé for the father, but he regains something important to him: part of his oikos

On the other hand, a person who had lost something during battle might seek poine, or vengeance, which usually took the form of a life or lives as payment for what was lost (Visser 195). Of course, this could incite the need for more poine from the families of the victims, which is another reason war was so common for the Greeks.