The Good Life in Epic Narratives

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The Good Life in Epic Narratives Classic literature juxtaposes two ways of life that illustrate the poles of true happiness: a life of adventure, exemplified by Odysseus (The Odyssey), and the life at home, which poets and farmers represent. In The Iliad, Achilleus chooses to live a short, glorious life, even though he could have chosen to live a long life in anonymity. Arguments have been put forth that the life of adventure is a living hell, as Achilleus testifies from Hades after his death - in hindsight, he would have settled for the life of a slave and given up his glory, if only he could have lived longer. Alternately, the life of the (metaphorical) farmer has been despised as simple and ordinary, when true immortality is only attained with great accomplishments, such as sacking Troy or surviving heroic adventures which are then recorded. In a modern day autobiography of the 1996 ascent of Mt. Everest (Sagarmatha to the Nepalis, or “goddess of the sky”), Jon Krakauer reveals the human motivation behind adventure and tells the story of the men and women who lived and died on the expeditions to the summit during that spring (Into Thin Air). With epic literature and a recent epic, I will illuminate the values of a reflective life as well as the life of adventure, and delve into the necessary components of the ‘good life.’ The Choice of Achilleus I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death. Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans, my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting; but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers, the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly. -Achilleus (Iliad, IX.411) The decision of Achilleus is a crucial moment in understanding how fate works in epic (Homerian) literature. Thetis tells Achilleus of his opportunity to win renown as the greatest warrior of all time, earning glory through his fearless acts in battle against a foe who is sure to overcome the Achaians. The fate of ten years of attack on Troy hinge upon the decision of Achilleus, who is given the choice to win glory for the Achaians and, more importantly, himself.

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