Analysis Of The Roles of Honor, Shame & Fate in Homer’s “The Iliad” & In The Movie “Chushingura” Essay

The Japanese epic and the Greek epic have very much in common. The themes of honor, shame and fate are highlighted in Homer’s The Iliad and in the Japanese movie Chushingura. Both the Iliad and Chushingura are national epic myths, which contribute to the understanding of national identity. Japanese and Greek warriors are represented as heroes because they serve their people and their country. However, there are some differences in interpretation of honor and shame in Homer’s The Iliad and in the Japanese drama Chushingura. Homer’s poem The Iliad dated to the 8-th century BCE interprets honor as human value related not only to an individual, but also to the whole society, while the Japanese myth Chushingura highlights honor as an individual human virtue, ignoring the rule of society. According to Eiko Ikegami, “the concepts of shame and honor helped to construct the collective identity of the samurai that differentiated this category of warriors from the rest of Japanese society” (1352). Both the Japanese samurai and the ancient Greek warriors were ready to protect their honor, risking their lives, but to samurai, shame was associated with pride and dignity. “shame meant more than a concern with the external of honorific status, it also implied a pride and dignity related to internal evaluation in the light of the group’s approved behavioral principles” (1352).

Thesis statement: The roles of honor and shame in heroic self-definition in Homer’s Iliad and the Japanese samurai drama Chushingura differ, while the role of fate can be interpreted in the same way in these literary works. The major goal of this essay is to analyze and compare the roles of honor, shame and fate in heroic self-definition in Homer’s Iliad and the Japanese samurai drama Chushingura. In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to place emphasis on the personal, social and cultural dimensions of self-definition in representative figures from these literary works.

Honor is highly valued both by ancient Greek warriors and by Japanese samurai. Homer’s The Iliad is focused on honor culture. The epic work places emphasis on the relationships between two Greek heroes Achilles and Agamemnon. Achilles makes a decision to withdraw from battle, because his beloved woman Briseis is taken from him by Agamemnon, the chief commander of the Greek army at Troy. As a result, Achilles is not honored as “the best of Achaeans” (1.412). Homer finds a relationship between heroic glory and honor that are preserved by Greek heroes. Achilles refers to his mother, telling her about his dishonor,

Mother, listen to me. Since you are a goddess,

Shurely Zeus owes me respect, especially since

My life span will be so short. But he has not shown me

Even the slightest honor. Now Agamemnon

has used his power to dishonor me;

he himself has taken my prize and robbed me of what is mine (1.356-361).

 

Without Achilles, the Greek army is nearly defeated by the enemies. However, Achilles makes a decision to join the fighting and save his people, when his friend Patroclus is killed by Hector, the prince of Troy. Achilles honors his people and he uses his skills and war strategy to kill Hector. Honor is a virtue to Greek warriors, but it is influenced by public opinion. In Homer’s the Iliad, all heroes want to protect their reputation in society. They are concerned about honor because it affects their status in ancient Greek society. Thus, Achilles does not want to be dishonored, when his beloved woman is taken from him. Moreover, he does not want to accept a gift from Agamemnon to remain a true hero.

However, in the Japanese epic Chushingura, honor is highly valued as a moral principle, which is associated with loyalty to lords and family. Honor and loyalty are important values of Japanese samurai that affect the Japanese identity and Japanese culture. In this epic, the true heroes are forty seven samurai who demonstrated their best traits of character, avenging the honor of their lord Asano Naganori. The Japanese samurai are not concerned about the public opinion. They honor their lord and want to demonstrate their loyalty to him. In other words, the warriors’ loyalty to their lord comes from their honor as the major value of Japanese samurai. Chushingura is aimed at honoring national heroes and their personal integrity. In fact, the moral duty of Japanese samurai disagrees with the established feudal laws and the accepted samurai code of conduct, the renowned samurai killed Kira to revenge for their lord’s death. Kira’s head was presented to their lord’s grave as a symbol of their loyalty to him. Actually, the decisions of the Japanese samurai demonstrate the significant role of their individual personalities. The Japanese honor differs from the Greek honor as it refers to the glory of the name and individuality of the heroic character. The Japanese warriors highly value honor as personal value, while the Greek warriors are concerned about the role of honor in social recognition. The Japanese samurai code of conduct is based on loyalty to their lords and families.

In addition, the role of shame in heroic self-definition in Homer’s the Iliad and that in the Japanese samurai drama Chushingura are different. Shame in the Greek society depends on other people’s opinions and their experience of passive emotions. David Konstan states that in ancient Greek society, there was no distinction between shame and guilt. In the Japanese society shame has a little bit different notion. According to Eiko Ikegami, “shame is a complex notion in any culture”(1351). In Japanese samurai culture, shame can be regarded as a powerful public concept rooted in an individual’s personality and dignity.  Thus, the Japanese concept of shame was “closely connected to the rise and transformation of the samurai elite and their political institutions” (Ikegami 1351). In ancient Greek society, shame was the major concern of people. In Homer’s the Iliad, the warriors are concerned about shame because it affects their behaviors and decisions. Homer’s heroes believe that shame is the sign of failure. Apollo criticizes Achilles’s decision to maltreat the dead body of the Troyan prince Hector, because he has no shame. He says, “Achilles has lost all pity, all sense of shame. No shame, shame that does great harm or drives men on to good! ” (24. 44-45).  James A. Arieti states that in Homer’s epic the reader has a chance to analyze “shame culture” which then transforms to “guilt culture” (194). Achilles is one of Homer’s major heroes who feel and understand the role of shame, but refuse to experience shameful treatment because he want to be a honored as a national hero. James A. Arieti believes that shame affects Achilles’s decisions and behaviors, providing “a different kind of heroism from that of the other Homeric heroes; he becomes the inventor of guilt, of private conscious” (203). According to Hektor Yan, “the warriors in the Iliad display a kind of morality because their behavior is guided by the heroic code of glory and shame”(15). In general, both the Japanese samurai and the ancient Greek heroes were focused on the defense of their honor, when they were risking their lives on the battle field, but to samurai, “shame meant more than a concern with the external of honorific status, it also implied a pride and dignity related to internal evaluation in the light of the group’s approved behavioral principles” (Arieti 1352). In Chushingura, Kaprei did not help his lord when he was in failure, and faced dishonor and shame (Chushingura: Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki).

Moreover, the theme of fate affects both the ancient Greek epic and the Japanese samurai epic. Homer’s epic helps readers to better understand and assess the role of fate in the ancient Greek tradition because it is the ideal of ancient Greek heroism. Homer makes readers to feel the tension that exists between the decision of the Greek warriors and their unavoidable consequences. Thus, the Trojan prince Hector argues that fate affects human life regardless of any consequences of human behavior. Achilles does not follow this principle as he struggles with fate through the sense of shame and guilt. Homer’s epic highlights the role of fate in human life. The same role is played by fate in the Japanese samurai drama Chushingura. The samurai know that fate is crucial in their lives because their honor culture is the basis of their fate. According to Confucian philosophy, fate is closely connected with the structure of the Japanese society. Karyn L. Lai states that “the well regulation society is one in which people carry out their responsibilities appropriately according to their particular places in the social structure” (253). The fate of the samurai from the national myth Chushingura is to serve the Japanese society and maintain the established moral principles. Their fate leads them to kill their lord’s enemy.

In conclusion, both the Japanese drama Chushingura and Homer’ epic the Iliad are national myths that highlight the role of honor, shame and fate in heroic self-definition. The roles of honor and shame in heroic self-definition in the Iliad and those in the Japanese samurai drama Chushingura differ, while the role of fate is interpreted in the same way. The Japanese samurai highly value honor as their personal value, while the ancient Greek heroes are concerned about the role of honor in their social recognition. The Japanese samurai code of conduct is based on loyalty to their lords and families. To the Japanese samurai, shame meant more than guilt, as it implied a pride and dignity. To ancient Greek warriors shame meant guilt. Fate in both works contributes to heroism.

 

Works Cited

Arieti, James A. “Achilles’ Guilt,” The Classical Journal, 80.3 (1985): 193-203.

Chushingura: Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki. Dir. Hiroshi Inagaki. Perf. Yûzô Kayama, Chûsha Ichikawa, Tatsuya Mihashi. Film. 1962.

Yan, Hektor K. “Morality and Virtue In Poetry and Philosophy: A Reading of Homer’s Iliad.”  Humanitas,16.1 (2003): 15-35.

Homer. The Iliad. Simon and Schuster, 2012. Print.

Ikegami, Eiko. “Shame and the Samurai: Institutions, Trusthworthiness, and Autonomy in the Elite Honor Culture.” Social Research, 70.4 (2003): 1351-1378.

Konstan, David. “Shame in Ancient Greece.” Social Research, 70.4 (2003): 1031-1060.

Lai, Karyn L. “Confucian Moral Thinking.” Philosophy East and West, 45.2(1995): 249-272.

 

 

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[Accessed: April 1, 2020]

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