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Homer's Iliad Is An Anthropocentric Epic

1573 words - 6 pages

 
    "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 will of fate and allows Sarpedon to meet his doom (bk.16, ln.543-44). Clearly, however, the gods have the power to intervene and undermine fate. Yet man too is demonstrated to have the power to tempt fate. Here the gods intervention is necessary to protect destiny. Patroclus, in book 16, assaults the walls of Troy four times. Because "It is not the will of fate / that the proud Trojans' citadel fall..." at the hands of Patroclus, Apollo is forced to physically defend Troy and shriek down "winging words of terror" in order to protect destiny from the "superhuman" assault (bk.16, ln. 816-29). In this case, without defense of the gods, destiny would have been undermined by the will of man.

 

Moreover, at least in the case of Achilles, Homer posits that fate is not without options. Through the goddess Thetis, his mother, Achilles learns that "two fates bear" on him concerning his death. If he remains and continues to lay siege on Troy, he will die before he is able to return home, but he will obtain imperishable honor and glory. Yet, if he returns to his homeland, then he will live a long life without honor (bk.9, ln.498-505). Though Achilles deliberates this dilemma through much of the book, his decision to remain...

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