Honor, Shame and Fate in “The Iliad” by Homer & in Chushingura Book Review


Chushingura is a national epic of Japan, while The Iliad by Homer is a Greek national epic. Warriors of Japan and warrior of the ancient Greece have very much in common. They are the true heroes of their countries and their people because they represent the universally accepted ideals of honesty and courage. The heroes represented in The Iliad by Homer and the heroes depicted in Chushingura use their skills and abilities to win the battles, testing their characters and overcoming the fear of death. Both the Iliad and Chushingura discuss the role of heroic outrage using the language of honor, shame and fate. The ancient Greek epic The Iliad is an example of the greatness of Greek worriers, but at the same time it condemns the improper effects of their pride, moral principles, hot temper, as well as their code of honor. Each hero in Homer’s Iliad has an opportunity to completely break the established and accepted pattern of shame and honor. In the play Chushingura, the reader is ready to evaluate the role of 47 retainers of the lord of Ako who remained loyal beyond death and pledged their honor to avenge the death of their lord. The myth of Chushingura is one of the most influential literary works in Japan as it promotes the idea of self-sacrifice and loyalty, evoking warrior’s virtues. Both Homer’s the Iliad and the Japanese national myth Chushingura were developed for civil society of the past to inspire people to heroism. The major goal of this paper is to analyze and compare the roles played by honor, shame and fate in heroic self-definition in Homer’s Illiad and the Japanese samurai drama Chushingura. Thesis statement: Honor, shame and fate serve similar roles in both literary works, The Iliad by Homer and in Chushingura, encouraging people to heroism, self-sacrificing and loyalty to one’s country.

Honor in in The Iliad by Homer and in Chushingura

Honor is one of the values cherished by ancient Greeks. The Iliad starts with the quarrel between two heroes, Achilles and Agamemnon, which leads to Achilles withdrawing from participating in the battle, while his compatriots are defeated. Achilles retreats because his woman is taken from him, and he is not paid honor as “the best of Achaeans” by Agamemnon and the society (1.412). In other words, honor depends on the opinion of others, and plays an important role in social recognition. In the Iliad, the notion of honor is discussed in many scenes. Actually, the honor of every character in Homer’s epic is important because Homer’s heroes protect their reputation up to the point of death. The major duty of Homer’s heroes was to fight against enemies. They could get glory and national recognition on the battlefield. Both personal honor and communal honor are important to Greek warriors’ status. Homer’s heroes cannot lose their honor because personal honor affects their status in the community. Achilles feels that he may lose his honor, when his woman is taken from him. He refuses to take a gift presented by Agamemnon because if he accepts it he will lose more personal honor. He chooses honor to follow his moral principles:

“My mother Thetis,

Tell me that there are two ways I might die: if I stay here

And keep on fighting around the city of Troy,

I can never go home, but my glory will live forever;

but if I return in my ships to my own dear country,

my glory will die, but my life will be long and peaceful (9. 412-17).

Homer places emphasis on the significance of honor and its impact on the decisions of Greek heroes.

In Chushingura, the moral principles, including honor, are the key values which demonstrate loyalty to lords and family members. These principles are important to the samurai of Tokugawa society. Chushingura contributed to the development of Japanese culture. 47 Asano ronin, the courageous and self-confident samurai, with Kuranosuke at the head, decided to raid Kira’s house in order to kill him, avenging the honor of their lord, Asano Naganori. The play is focused of dramatization of the warriors’ loyalty, making honor the key value of Japanese warriors. It is known that the play was used as an effective tool to highlight the significance of feudal values of revenge and honor. Although the moral obligations of Japanese samurai were in conflict with the established government mandates and the accepted codes of conduct, the notorious samurai killed Kira, taking a pledge to revenge for their lord. They presented the head of Kira to their lord’s grave. In general, the behavior of these samurai reflects their individual characters and contributes to the political status of Japanese society. In other words, the Japanese honor stands for the glory of the name, providing additional implication for heroic character. Japanese heroes have not only personal values, but also collective values that refer to their families and lords. Seppuku was the evidence of the 47 samurai’s honor and loyalty to their lord and families. The suicide of 47 warriors described in the play is a true example of Japanese honor as duty of the key aspects of the samurai code.

Shame in The Iliad by Homer and in Chushingura

A sense of shame is closely connected with the opinions of other people. According to David Konstan, “shame’s status as a moral emotion has been impugned by critics, who consider is a primitive precursor to guilt: shame responds to the judgments of others and is indifferent to ethical principles in themselves” (1031).  In Ancient Greece, people were more concerned with shame. In Homer’s epic, the heroes placed emphasis on the sense of shame, which prevented them to act in their own way. For Homer’s heroes, the life was the so-called competition, in which the highest prize was honor, while the failure was shame. In the Iliad, Apollo states that Achilles managed to ruin pity, maltreating the dead body of Hector, and has no shame (24. 45).  According to James A. Arieti, Homer represents the so-called “shame culture” which turns to “guilt culture” (194). Achilles feels shame or aidos, but he ignores shameful treatment to remain a hero. According to James A. Arieti, shame makes Achilles to achieve “a different kind of heroism from that of the other Homeric heroes; he becomes the inventor of guilt, of private conscious” (203).

Shame has always had negative connotation both in Greek culture and in Japanese culture. However, in pre-modern Japanese samurai culture, “the notion of shame can be a powerful public concept even while rooted in the innermost depth of an individual’s dignity”(Ikegami 1351). Both Greek epic heroes and Japanese epic heroes experience emotions that refer to shame, but the Japanese heroes’ sense of shame is a “criterion of honorific autonomy and trustworthiness of individual samurai as well as the inner source of their self-esteem” (Ikegami 1351). In Japanese samurai culture, shame is connected with pride and dignity because these values provide internal assessment of socially approved behavioral patterns. In the Act 5, the moral crisis of Kaprei is described. Kaprei failed to assist his lord when he needed his helping hand, and faced dishonor and shame (Chushingura).

 Fate in The Iliad by Homer and in Chushingura

Fate plays an important role in both literary works. The theme of fate has direct relation to the ancient Greek tradition. According to Kalliopi Nikolopoulou, Homer’s contribution to the readers’ understanding of the role of fate in the ancient Greek epic is not the “myth of glorified death”, but the “ideals of heroism and immortality” (190). Homer shows a tension between his heroes’ decisions and the inevitable consequences of their decisions. The role of fate in the epic is crucial. For example, Hector makes decisions without paying attention to the possible consequences. He believes that fate will do its work regardless of possible consequences of his actions. However, Achilles struggles with the sense of guilt, when he makes a poor decision that may lead to tragedy. Homer proves that there is no sense of guilt in his heroes if every action or decision depends on fate.  In Homer’s epic, fate and his heroes are in conflict, which may lead to the death of a hero (or heroes).

In Chushingura, the heroes are dependent on fate. In the act Act III, there is a unique scene, which refers to Hangan’s fate. Moronō was offended by Kaoyo, and he accuses Hangan of incompetence as he failed to perform his duties. However, Hangan cannot bear the insults of Morono anymore. He wants to kill Moronō, but Kakogawa Honzō restrains him from committing a crime. According to Ikegami, the samurai honor culture was “the core of the samurai collective identity”(1360). In the play Chushingura, the samurai honor culture lies in the fate of many heroes. Confucian philosophy is focused on the well-ordered society, in which all members recognize their roles. According to Karyn L. Lai, in Confucian philosophy, “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 samurai’s fate described in the play Chushingura is to serve society based on human virtues. According to the Confucian view, any human being should cultivate the accepted virtues, embracing various aspects of human virtues into life.


Thus, it is necessary to conclude that both the Japanese play and Homer’ epic are historical works, which glorify their heroes, demonstrating a conflict between fate and heroism. Both the Iliad by Homer and the Japanese play Chushingura discuss the significance of heroic outrage through the language of honor, shame and fate. The ancient Greek epic the Iliad and the play Chushingura are the examples of the greatness of worriers, who honor their country and their moral principles. The significance of the heroic code of honor is reflected in both literary works. In general, honor, shame and fate serve similar roles in The Iliad by Homer and in Chushingura, inspiring people to heroism and self-sacrificing.


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.

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.

Nikolopoulou, Kalliopi. “Feet, Fate, and Finitude: On Standing and Inertia in the Iliad.” College Literature, 34.2 (2007):174-194.


The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

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freeessays.club (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
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[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: October 27, 2021]
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