What Did "Kleos" Mean for the Ancient Greeks?

How Did an Ancient Warrior's Kleos Live on After His Death?

Achilles Slaying an Amazon
Achilles Slaying an Amazon. Clipart.com

Kleos is a term used in Greek epic poetry that means immortal fame, but it can also mean rumor or renown. A very important theme in Homer's great epics The Iliad and The Odyssey, kleos often referred to having one's achievements venerated in poetry. As classicist Gregory Nagy notes in his book The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, a hero's glory was treasured in song and so, unlike the hero, the song would never die.

For example, in the Iliad Achilles discusses how his mother Thetis assured him his fame would be everlasting, that he would have a kleos that will be imperishable.

Kleos in Greek Mythology

A Greek soldier, like Achilles, could earn kleos through his own courage in battle, but he could also pass that kleos on to others. When Achilles's killed Hector in honor of Patroclus, he extended his own kleos to include Patroclus. A monument or proper burial could bring and reaffirm kleos, as can reports of one's offspring's virtuous deeds. The kleos of the mighty Hector survived his death, living on in the memory of his friends and the monuments built to honor him.

Although it was usually the bravest warriors who could achieve the long lasting fame of kleos, it was the poets who were responsible for making sure that their voices carried these tales far and wide and into the hands of future scholars.

Sources

  • Nagy G. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press.