Kleos, in Greek Poetry

Kleos is a Greek term associated with glory and fame and it can only be achieved during a heroic battle or war.  In Greek literature, the concept of kleos is fully emphasized by the Greek warrior Achilles in the epic, The Iliad, but kleos is also emphasized in some of the early Greek poetry.  Either there must have been a familiarity in this concept as influenced by the Homeric epic tradition or the concept of kleos is just considered to be a valuable asset in the Greek culture for it to be apparent in their poetry.  The poet Callinus exemplifies kleos as a greater reward for a man – one of his poems rouses his fellow Greek citizens to stand and fight (“…when will you find some courage / you young men? Have you no shame of what others cities will say?”).  The kind of persuasion and the sense of immediacy in pursuit of kleos is evident in the later part of the poem when he writes: “…a man who has fled from flight/ …/ such a man is not loved or missed for long by his people /… / for the high-hearted warrior / after his death; while he lives, he is treated as almost divine.”

Qualities associated with this concept include bravery and an overt display of masculinity.  In the earliest Greek poetry, framed against the context of Greek war culture, it is emphasized that warriors are roused to be strong and never show any kind of weakness.  In the poems of Archilochus this is evident: “Tomorrow it will be others who grieve, not we.  From now on / act like a man, and put away this feminine tears” or “Stand fast among the beamlike spears / Give no ground.”  Another poet Tyrtaeus says that “…no man ever proves himself a good man in war / unless he can endure to face the blood and the slaughter / go close against the enemy – and fight with his hands” and according to him when that man died “…his tomb is pointed to with pride, and so are his children / … / his shining glory is never forgotten, his name is remembered / and he becomes immortal.” In another poem entitled To the Soldiers, after a Defeat Tyrtaeus addresses the young men and warriors never to lose hope and stand together in fighting the enemies, and never walk away “For once a man reverses and runs in the terror of battle / he offers his back, a tempting mark to spear from behind / and it is a shameful sight…”

Glory is given to those who have the courage to fight without any flinch of fear and hesitation, and some of the Greek poetry celebrates this noble quality.  Greek poetry, with its high style language in the art of persuasion, successfully able to express this idea.

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