In Homer’s Iliad, a warrior can only attain heroism and immortality by embracing an early death. Jean-Pierre Vernant describes this paradox in his essay, “A ‘Beautiful Death’ and the Disfigured Corpse in Homeric Epic.” According to Vernant, heroes accept the fact that life is short and “devote themselves completely and single-mindedly to war, adventure, glory, and death” (53). 1 Curiously, this is because heroes overcome death only when they embrace it (57). The importance of death stems from the fact that the individual is defined by his reputation and esteem among others, as Vernant points out when he argues that
. . . real death lies in amnesia, silence, demeaning obscurity, the absence of fame. By contrast, real existence—for the living or the dead—comes from being recognized, valued, and honored. Above all, it comes from being glorified as the central figure in a song of praise, a story that endlessly tells and retells a destiny admired by all. (57)
He made on it a great vineyard heavy with clusters,
lovely and in gold, but the grapes upon it were darkened
and the vines themselves stood out through poles of silver. About them
he made a field-ditch of dark metal, and drove all around this
a fence of tin; and there was only one path to the vineyard,
and along it ran the grape-bearers for the vineyard’s stripping.
Young girls and young men, in all their light-hearted innocence,
carried the kind, sweet fruit away in
their woven baskets,
and in their midst a youth with a singing lyre played charmingly
upon it for them, and sang the beautiful song for Linos
in a light voice, and they followed him, and with singing and whistling
and light dance-steps of their f...
... middle of paper ...
...g death —and this is what makes a hero. Perhaps the final proof of this heroic immortality lies in the fact that the exploits of Achilleus and the other heroes of the Trojan War remain to this day the subject of passion and controversy. In this way, they have purchased a measure of fame and glory beyond anything they could have imagined. Truly, these heroes are immortal.
1 Jean-Pierre Vernant, “A ‘Beautiful Death’ and the Disfigured Corpse in Homeric Epic,” in Mortals
and Immortals: Collected Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).
2 Homer, Iliad, trans. Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951), .
3 Homer, Odyssey, trans. Richard Lattimore (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1965).
4 Homer, Iliad.
5 Edith Hamilton, Mythology (New York: Mentor, 1969), 294.
6 Homer, Iliad.
7 Vernant, 60.
8 Homer, Iliad.
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