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Human Condition In The Iliad

The Human Condition of the Gods The gods of The Iliad are shown to have tremendous power beyond the realm of human ability. However, this power is not without its limits. In The Iliad, Homer depicts a pantheon of Greek gods with human-like limitations, both in their interactions with humans and each other, and in their dealings with fate. This serves to expose the human condition, by showing that the origin of life is not unlike life itself. Homer depicts the limitations of the gods with regards to human interaction in a number of ways. According to Emily Kearns in The Gods in Homeric Epics, Homer shows the gods as interacting with humans in ways that “seem less plausible, more fantastic, and which at the same time evoke Gods who are more…show more content…
However, because they sometimes know what fate has ordained, the gods have the ability to manipulate it, or use it for their own purposes. For example, Athena (as instructed by Hera) does not want Achilles to kill Agamemnon (1.220-230). Instead, she gives him instructions to back out of the war, tantalizing him with the promise of even greater riches (1.242-252). As Margo Kitts says in What’s Religious about the Iliad, “We, the audience, know the cruelty in her promise of three times the riches to come, given the sacrifice of Patroklos which ultimately will impel Achilles to fight, win those riches, and then face death” (228). Athena gets what she wants (Agamemnon alive and the fall of the Trojans at the hand of Achilles ), but the humans pay the price. However, even though the gods may be able to make use of fate to meet their desires, they cannot overrule it. This is clear when Zeus watches Sarpedon die, because it is fated to happen. Although he would prefer to save his son, in order to “avoid disturbing fate and unleashing a clash of meddling parent-gods, [Zeus] must settle for spiriting away the corpse and weeping down divine tears of blood” (Kitts 227). These limitations are similar to those that keep humans from changing fate. While mortal man may know what fate has ordained (through prophecy or revelation, perhaps), he cannot change it. He may, however, use it to his advantage. For…show more content…
By showing that humans and gods are not so different from each other, Homer is exposing the human condition and proving what truly differentiates men is the choices they make. The implication for modern readers is that Homer was on the cusp of a societal shift, from a focus on shame and honor to a focus on right and wrong. By showing what happens when gods mistreat others, fall into temptation, and try to manipulate fate, The Iliad asks readers to move beyond the human condition and choose what is right instead of what is selfish, to be like Zeus when he allows his son to die instead of like Hera when she seduces Zeus. Through these examples the reader can see that the human condition, although common to all, is only the base level, and humans can excel beyond

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