Offering a new, Plato-inspired reading of the Iliad and the Odyssey, this book traces the divergent consequences of love of honor and love of one’s own private life for human excellence, justice, and politics. Analyzing Homer’s intricate character portraits, Michelle M. Kundmeuller concludes that the poet shows that the excellence or virtue to which humans incline depends on what they love most. Ajax’s character demonstrates that human beings who seek honor strive, perhaps above all, to display their courage in battle, while Agamemnon’s shows that the love of honor ultimately undermines the potential for moderation, destabilizing political order. In contrast to these portraits, the excellence that Homer links to the love of one’s own, such as by Odysseus and his wife, Penelope, fosters moderation and employs speech to resolve conflict. It is Odysseus, rather than Achilles, who is the pinnacle of heroic excellence. Homer’s portrait of humanity reveals the value of love of one’s own as the better, albeit still incomplete, precursor to a just political order. Kundmueller brings her reading of Homer to bear on contemporary tensions between private life and the pursuit of public honor, arguing that individual desires continue to shape human excellence and our prospects for justice.
“A beautiful account of the Homeric hero, in all his complexity.” — Mary P. Nichols, author of Thucydides and the Pursuit of Freedom
Michelle M. Kundmueller is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Old Dominion University.