Character Analysis Nestor


Nestor's place in the Iliad is important because he is a wise counselor and because he motivates the plot. Some critics see him as a ridiculous figure, and it cannot be denied that he is at times a comic figure; but Nestor's digressive tales frequently motivate a character to perform some necessary action or reveal relevant cultural ideas. His tales are usually paradigmatic (showing parallels by examples) and serve as examples for present situations.

The modern reader may see Nestor as garrulous and unnecessary, or as a useless adjunct to the Achaian army; but the Greeks did not view him as such. He is the oldest man among the Achaians, and the Greeks saw advantages in old age. They believed that an elder man knew more, and here, the Achaians listen to the wisdom that old Nestor has gained through age. Consequently, Nestor's tales and advice serve to challenge younger men to live up to heroic ideals that he himself upheld in the past.

Nestor challenges the Achaians to fight Hektor by saying to them that if he were younger, he would fight Hektor. To prove his former prowess, he tells the story of his fight with Ereuthalion in the Pylian war, a circumstance similar to the present war. The tale prompts nine warriors to "stand forth" to fight Hektor. Here, again, the wisdom of Nestor is useful in that he has the men draw lots. The disorder caused by Hektor's challenge has become ordered through Nestor's example.

Nestor's stories always have a purpose, and the story he tells Patroklos is intended to bring Achilles back into the war. It is a story of disorder brought about by Herakles and restored by Nestor's efforts. The tale points out that the Achaians need a leader and that Achilles should return to battle to save the Achaians. While Nestor is unsuccessful in bringing Achilles back into the war, he convinces Patroklos that Achilles' Myrmidon troops are necessary for the Achaians' success.

However, Homer uses Nestor as more than a counselor, and he uses Nestor's tales as more than a means to encourage the warriors to action. Nestor's tales enrich the epic with stories of the past that connect the past to the present and reveal a continuity of Greek life and hence Greek literature. There are links to the Odyssey and the Iliad. Nestor becomes the transmitter of memory, which is critical for the immortality of their heroes.

In all of Nestor's speeches, his purpose is to motivate an individual or a group to action. He first attempts to settle the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon. Second, he advises the Achaians to build a wall, and afterward, to bury their dead. Third, he suggests the spy mission. Fourth, he advises Agamemnon to send goodwill ambassadors to Achilles with gifts. And fifth, he inspires Patroklos to persuade Achilles to return to battle. He proves to be a wise counselor, and most of those whom he counsels recognize his wisdom.

During the funeral games, Achilles presents a gift to Nestor in respect for his old age. In turn, Nestor prays that Achilles enjoys a similar happiness. One critic suggests that through his respect for Nestor, Achilles is later able to recognize the value of Priam, Hektor's father. Likewise, the early prowess of Nestor seems to parallel Achilles' prowess.

Nestor's ability to soothe hard feelings, to use praise as a means for motivation, and to make tactful suggestions to a king are all acquired through experience. Only Odysseus equals Nestor in his ability to bring order out of disorder.