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Greek Concept of the “Therapon” in the “Iliad” by Homer


The Greek concept of “Therapon”, as one of the central in the Ancient Greek culture, plays an important historical and cultural role in the “Iliad” by Homer. On the whole, the Ancient Greece contributed greatly to the development of the world culture of today, and the above mentioned concept is one of the brightest examples of this contribution. Viewed in several possible senses, “therapon” was considered to be the vitally important concept to any kinds of the military conflicts. The use of such a concept in the “Iliad” by Homer proves once again that this work belongs to the masterpieces of the world literature and describes skillfully the culture of the Ancient Greece. Accordingly, this paper will consider the concept of “therapon” in its crucial importance for the plot development of the “Iliad”, for the intended audience of Homer, and for the further development of the Greek and world culture on the whole.

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Thus, the most impressive scene in the poem by Homer is the scene of the death of Patroklos. This brave warrior was considered to be the right hand of the Greek hero Achilles, and all his deeds were compared in their courage to the ones by Achilles. After his death, Patroklos became what was referred to as “therapon” of Achilles – he died for his master and thus became the religious substitute and the attendant of Ares at the same time:

There times he charged with the headlong speed of Ares,
Screaming his savage cry, three times he killed nine men,
Then at the fourth assault, Patroklos, like something superhuman –
… the end of life came blazing up before you,
yes, the lord Apollo met you there in the heart of battle,
the god, the terror!… shrouded in a thick mist
and on he came against him and looming up behind him now-
slammed his broad shoulders and back with the god’s flat hand
and his eyes spun as Apollo knocked the helmet off his head… (Homer, 785 – 793)

Drawing from these lines, one can attempt to identify the exact meaning of the concept of “therapon” as understood by the Ancient Greeks. “Therapon” was viewed as the person fulfilling several functions at the same time. He was a servant in the simplest sense of this word while living his earthly life and helping his master. However, after his death, “therapon” became firstly the religious substitute for his master, and secondly the attendant of Ares, the Ancient Greek god of war (Homer, 1997). Accordingly, the meaning of the concept of “therapon” changed with the status of the person considered to be one. This concept was also considered to be one of the noblest manifestations of human dedication, courage in the battlefield and loyalty to the basic values of the society. The “Iliad” by Homer exemplifies the concept of “therapon” considering the brave life and death of Patroklos, one of its main heroes. But to understand the essence of this concept better, it is necessary to recall the details of the “Iliad” as such.

The epic poem by Homer is the story about the 20-year long Trojan War that started because of the kidnapping of the Princess Helena. The war lasted with no obvious advantage for any of the conflicting parties, and Trojans resorted to the help of Gods in their struggle with Achaeans. Exactly this episode, i. e. the fight of Patroklos with Apollo, is described by Homer as one of the fiercest battles in history. And namely in this battle, Patroklos proved his right to be called “therapon” as far as he died for the sake of another hero – Achilles (Homer, 1997). However, it is necessary to clear out why Patroklos had to victimize his life for Achilles. To see this, let us consider their relations.

First of all, Achilles was a half-god creature, and his origin allowed him to have servants and attendants, especially in the battlefield. Patroklos was one of the attendants to Achilles, and the latter considered him to be the most devoted person among his entourage. Accordingly, to save the life of his master, Patroklos resorted to the brave deed – he put on the armor of Achilles and entered the battle with Apollo. Having died in that battle for the sake of his master’s safety, Patroklos demonstrated once again all the nobility of the concept of “therapon”.

Drawing from all the above said, it is obvious that the death of Patroklos in the Trojan War differed substantially from other deaths of soldiers and generals of both sides of the conflict. Patroklos died for the person he was devoted to, and by this he fulfilled his destination as a “therapon”. On the whole, the concept of “therapon” can be generally characterized as the readiness to die for another person. So, this noble nature of the death of Patroklos was what distinguished it from all other deaths in the Trojan War (Homer, 1997).

Moreover, this death, and especially its high goal, was rather important for the society contemporary to Homer. On the whole, the Greek society of the 9th – 8th centuries B. C. was a rather conservative phenomenon praising the beauty and the strength of the human body, and the courage and bravery of the people’s deeds. The glorious death was appreciated much more than a scornful life. Because of this fact, all men in that society developed their physical power and military skills in order to reach success as warriors and be respected in their society. It was this nature of the Ancient Greek society of Homer that provided for the formation and further development of the concept of “therapon” (Homer, 1997).

Accordingly, the “Iliad” by Homer reflects the reality of the epoch and celebrates the glorious death of an attendant for the sake of his master. Becoming “therapon” meant much more than simply dying and having posthumous respect of the society. It meant obtaining the glorious life after death. The person who died for the sake of another one was supposed to become the attendant of Ares. The society, which was considerably possessed by such believes, praised the concept of “therapon” and attempted to conform to it in daily life and in the battlefield.


Drawing from this, the “Iliad” by Homer is more than the masterpiece of literature. It serves as a practical guide for the audience to achieve the biggest possible success in their lives. Accordingly, the concept of “therapon” as the idea of unlimited courage for the sake of others is rather important in the “Iliad”, as well as in the Ancient Greek culture on the whole.

Works Cited

Homer. The Iliad. (trans. by Robert Fagles). THE FOLIO SOCIETY, 1997.


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