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Homer's Iliad, the epic poem of warfare, honour and suffering that stands at the beginning of the Western tradition, has traditionally been read as 'pre-political' and hence neglected as a substantial work of political thought. This essay argues that a close reading of the opening scenes in the Iliad reveals an exchange of public speeches which, if taken together, constitute a field of genuine political activity wherein rival claims about justice and right, as well as honour, are intensely disputed and negotiated. Furthermore, this contest between 'the best of the Achaeans' is firmly situated within a framework of authority and legitimacy expressing in nascent form an essentially federal character. Thus the terms and ground of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles - - and of the crisis occasioned by their political rivalry -- invite and sustain theoretical reflection upon the inherent weaknesses and strengths of federalism itself as a political form.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA, 01610, USA., Email:

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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