"So the immortals spun our lives that we, wretched men / live on to bear such torments...." (The Iliad bk.24, ln.613-614) This pessimistic explanation of the human condition was a tradition observed and preserved by the ancient Greeks through the composition of Homer's Iliad. This one statement, made by the godlike Achilles to King Priam in the last chapter of the work, provides the reader a contextual summary of what the Greeks believed was their role in the cosmos. Homer's Iliad, among many other themes contained in the poem, “is an anthropocentric epic exposing the ancient Greek's views about man and his relationships”(Clarke 129). Homer demonstrates both the pious and customary behaviors, as well as the impious and rebellious, to illustrate the amicable and adversarial relationships of man. Few relationships composed by Homer are exclusively one or the other. Through the composition, Homer muses the relationships between man and fate, man and the gods, and between man and his kind (dominate, subordinate and equal). All of these intricately woven relationships share one common thread; they bring to bear torment on man's life.
Man's bind with fate is not straight-forward according to Homer. Though destiny is never overridden in the poem, it is tempted many times, either by the gods wishing to intervene on behalf of their favorite mortals, or by man himself. Zeus contemplates tempting fate when the predestined death of his son Sarpedon arrives at the hands of Patroclus. Zeus mourns the "cruel fate" and laments, "My heart is torn in two....Shall I pluck him up, now, while he is still alive...? Or beat him down at Patroclus' hands at last?" (bk.16, ln.514-21). Because of the protestations of Hera, Zeus bows to the...
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...ods and their fellow man. And it was through these challenges that the torments bore on their lives. This was the fate of the human condition. "And fate? No man alive has ever escaped it" (bk.6, ln.582).
Works Cited and Consulted:
Bespaloff, Rachel. On the Iliad. Trans. Mary McCarthy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1947.
Clarke, Howard. Homer's Readers: A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey. Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1981.
Goodrich, Norma. Myths of the hero. New York: Orion Press, 1962.
Homer: Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
Richardson, Nicholas. The Iliad : A Commentary. Vol. VI: books 21-24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1993.
Willcock, Malcolm M. A Companion to the Iliad: Based on the Translation by Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976