has many scenes of supplication
, i.e. scenes in which one character begs or entreats another to grant a request. A formal supplication can involve gestures such as grasping someone's knees or touching their chin. There is usually an offer of gifts or favors, or a reminder of past gifts or favors, as well as arguments for granting the present request (Hansen).
In the strictest sense, "supplication" involves gestures such as those of Thetis toward Zeus in Book 1. But the Iliad has a range of scenes where a human or god is pleading with someone who has it in his/her power to grant or refuse a request.
Prayers to the gods are a form of supplication, as are requests made by mortals to mortals or gods to gods.
The person or god being supplicated is under no binding obligation to grant the request. It is instructive, therefore, to note why various supplications succeed or fail. It is interesting also to compare and contrast the details of different scenes of supplication.
Two scenes of supplication which may shed light more about whose side Homer is on are the scenes between Andromache and Hektor in book VI and the scene between The Achain leaders and Achilles in Book XIX.
In Book Six, Andromache pleads with Hektor not to go into battle.
in 6:431-432 Andromache says
"Please take pity on me then, stay here on the rampart,
that you may not leave your child an orphan, your wife a widow"
Hektor, of course refuses. There are two ways to look at this scene itself: historically speaking, Andromache is selfish and thinks nothing of honor but of her well-being and the well-being of her child, who she hopes to grow to be her protector if Hektor indeed does die. However, if we look at it through our modern eyes, Hektor is the one who is selfish in seeking glory without thinking of his family.
In Book 19 lines 304-305, Achilles is mourning the loss of Patroklos in battle. He refuses to eat or drink and the achaian leaders plead with him to eat. But why do they plead? Is it for his own health and well-being or is because they need him to continue this battle? Historically speaking, I think that This would indeed have been a selfless act on the part of the achaians because honor is everything and it would be dishonorable for Achilles to waste away from sorrow. This is bolstered by the fact that Zeus sends Athene to nourish him.
Again, historically speaking, Homer obviously favours the Achaians as the most honorable, however, Andromache's plea may not be a trait of Trojan weakness, but just the weakness of women, it's impossible to tell, as we see no Human Achaian women so far.
It's interesting how these two scenes can be interpreted differently depending on what eye you read them with. What is more fascinating is that even with a modern eye, there is so much to learn from these scenes.
Sources: The Iliad by Homer, translated by Richmond Lattimore
. (All line numbers refer to this edition).
Professor Hardy Hansen - Professor of Classics at CUNY-Brooklyn College