Personal Honor

As a culture, the Achaeans were a violent people. They often raided against one another, stealing cattle, women, or treasure from one another. There are lots of examples of this type of raiding: When Heracles sacked Troy, Hesione was kidnapped and taken back to Greece where she became wife to King Telamon of Salamis. When Paris stole Helen from her husband Menelaus it triggered a devastating war between the Achaeans and the Trojans. And yet, for all of their violence, they still believed in having a sense of honor.
Greek gold funerary wreath, circa 4th-3rd century BC

In Bronze Age Greece, nothing means more to a person than personal honor. Honor represented the worthiness of a person as established by their peers, losing that honor meant that you were unimportant. Without honor you were a pitiful wretch. They were willing to do anything to protect it and will defend themselves if it is infringed upon. Honor to the Achaeans was a very real and tangible thing that resulted in wealth and power. Menelaus did not turn to his brothers and the suitors of Helen because he loved his wife. He did it because what Paris had done was an insult to him. It infringed on the idea of good conduct and made Menelaus look like a fool in front of the rest of the kings of Greece.

Among the Achaeans there was a tradition of treating a guest with respect, which was returned to the host. Heroes traveling through the different kingdoms of Bronze Age Greece should expect to be treated with the utmost respect, and they should treat their hosts the same way. They should be welcomed like family, and offered the protection of the king. Doing otherwise leads to punishment by the gods. The house of Atreus was cursed because of the crimes of Tantalus. He invited the gods to his dinner table, only to slay his son Pelops and feed him to the gods for dinner.

Piety among the Achaeans is essential, it is important to respect the gods. Anyone who denies the will of the gods will reap suffering. Meanwhile, anyone who accepts their will will be rewarded. When the gods send hail to flatten crops or disease to plague the people, they should not curse the gods. Instead, they should offer sacrifices to placate their anger.

Glory was similar to honor, and attained through great deeds of heroism. It was common for soldiers to duel in one on one combat as a sign of honor. During the Trojan War, Ajax of Salamis dueled Hector in front of the gates of Troy. The two of them fought all day, until finally they agreed to call it a draw. Neither one could best the other. As a sign of respect, Ajax gave Hector his belt. In exchange, Hector gave Ajax his sword.

Experienced role players should be familiar with this concept of honor, there are several role playing games that deal with the concept (like Legend of the Five Rings). It is easy to play a murder hobo who is only interested in how much XP they can earn by killing someone. As a GM, you should be willing to punish those who act dishonorably. If the players murder their host or steal from them, perhaps they receive no XP for the blood and treasure spilled. Or more specifically, they have probably angered one of the gods for their transgressions.

Take the example of Heracles. He waged war against King Pyraechmus of Euboea. When Heracles defeated him, the son of Zeus had Pyraechmus torn in two by colts and left the corpse exposed beside the river Heracleius. In response, Hera drove Heracles temporarily mad and his attacked his friends and family.

If the person the players have abused is connected with one of the Olympians, the players can expect that god to send retribution. This may take the form of a curse or monster, the wind may not blow through their sails, or  any other number of calamities may befall them. The only way to fix the problem is to seek forgiveness from the gods.


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