In current undergraduate medical curricula, much emphasis is placed on learning the skills of communication. This paper looks at Homer’s Iliad and argues that from it we may learn that our skills can be mechanistic, shallow and simplistic. Homer was regarded in the Greek and Roman world as the father of rhetoric. This reputation rested greatly on book 9 of the Iliad, the embassy from the Greek leaders to the bitter, wrathful Achilles. The mission of the three emissaries is to persuade him to return to the ranks of the Greeks, who are being routed since his refusal to fight. We learn how the outcome of a conversation may be predetermined by the previous relationship of the speakers, and how a man beyond reason responds to reason; we should reflect that Homer’s audience heard the piece knowing the outcome, giving it a tragic inevitability. We, the audience, cannot analyse the discourse rationally, because in this, as in all communication, reason is disturbed by emotion.
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Competing interests: None declared.
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