Home > Iliad, The > Why Men Do Stupid Things

Why Men Do Stupid Things

In the Back to the Future movies, Marty McFly can be made to do anything anybody wants him to do simply by calling him ‘chicken’. This same principle is also at work in The Iliad, and gives rise to the major turning point of the the entire work.

In Book 17, Glaucus basically calls Hector a big chicken for letting Patroclus kill Sarpedon and running away from Ajax before he could take his body for proper burial. In true Marty McFly fashion, Hector responds by ‘proving’ his bravery to Glaucus: He strips Achilles’ armor from the dead body of Patroclus and puts it on himself.

This is a stupid idea. When Achilles hears about this outrage and desecration, he finally decides to fight. Specifically, he wants Hector dead.

Here again, Homer hammers away the fact that pride ruins us. He even has Zeus himself lament Hector’s brash decision. Not only has pride turned Achilles into a selfish monster, pride has now also destroyed Hector, Achilles’ polar opposite. No one is safe from it.

The fight which follows is a microcosm of the entire Trojan War:

Both sides battle over the body of Patroclus. Countless men are lost to this skirmish. In the pursuit to capture a single dead body, heaps of other dead bodies pile on top of each other. The futility of it all is a telling illustration of war in general.

At the bottom of it, each side is merely putting up a front for the benefit of others. Just as Glaucus gets Hector to continue in his slaughter, on the Argive side, Menelaus is similarly spurring Ajax on. Neither warrior is acting of his own accord, they are only doing it because they’re trying to prove something to somebody else.

I find this to be the general way in which people (men in particular) find themselves doing dumb things. Left on their own, most people would hardly think or even desire to put themselves at risk to bolster their pride. Ninety percent of all stupid behavior is caused by somebody convincing somebody else that ‘something needs to be done’. If you secretly desire to do something, but would never actually act upon that desire for fear of the consequences, an easy and pain-free solution is to just pressure someone else into doing it.

It’s only when our pride is on the line that people are capable of truly horrific behavior. If you ever want to control a man, large groups of people, or even entire countries, simply threaten their pride.

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