W.B. Gallie coined the term “essentially contested topic” at the 1956 meeting of the Aristotelian Society. Gallie believed that while words like justice have a positive connotation in society, they have no legitimate basis as a word. Freedom is one of these words. Freedom is traditionally defined as the ability to act, think, or speak without being restrained. However, freedom is much more than the definition humans have given to conceptualize the meaning within a Webster’s dictionary. Freedom as a majorly contested topic is made especially apparent throughout two of the most famous Western war stories of all time, The lliad and The Aeneid, where Homer and Virgil inadvertently show the stark contrast in what the word “freedom means” to each of them respectively, to other Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman writers, and between the Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman cultures as a whole.
The Iliad defines the essentially contested concept of freedom through interactions between humans and the gods. From a modern day perspective, it seems very possible that humanity within The Iliad has no “freedom” at all. But how would characters within The Iliad have seen things? From the first lines of Homer’s epic poem, Homer is begging the Muse to show “how the will of Zeus was accomplished” (Homer 1). This line is a consistent undertone throughout the entirety of the poem; freedom to Homer and subsequently to his characters is “freely” fulfilling the will of the gods as a human. Examples of this are apparent throughout all of The Iliad, including when Achilles decides to give Hector’s body back to Hector’s father, Priam after the gods express their anger with Achilles.
But this Achilles - first he slaughters Hector,
He rips away the noble prince's life
Then lashes him to his chariot, drags him round
His beloved comrade's tomb. But why, I ask you?
What good will it do him? What honor will he gain?
Let that man beware, or great and glorious as he is,
We mighty gods will wheel on him in anger - look,
He outrages the senseless clay in all his fury!
(Homer Book 24, lines 58-65)
Achilles acts not because of compassion for Priam and his son, but rather to appease the gods. Another example of this is when Achilles decides to refrain from killing Agamemnon when he speaks aloud, “Agamemnon—was it better for both of us, after all, for you and me to rage at each other, raked with anguish, consumed by heartsick strife, all for a young girl?” (Homer 490). Interestingly, Homer’s idea of freedom seems to be changed a bit when Achilles is given the ability to choose one of two fates.
Two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy
My journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
My pride, my glory dies...
True, but the life that's left me will be long,
The stroke of death will not come on me quickly.
(Homer Book 9, lines 499-505)
Though both paths Homer creates for...