World Lit 340
October 3, 2013
Word count: 1831
The Handicap of Mortality When immortal gods intervene in a battle of mortal men, the impacts of their actions are going to be much greater than those of the mortals’. In the case of Robert Fagles’1990 translation of Homer’s The Iliad, this statement could not be any more accurate. An ancient Greek epic poem, passed through generations by word of mouth, The Iliad is one of the most famous Greek works of literature in history, depicting the story of the battle of Troy and social customs and traditions respected amongst people of the time. A main theme observed in The Iliad is the mortality of man and his creations. The epic’s clear juxtaposition of the gods’ power, especially Zeus’, with the power of men, shows that even the strongest men can be of no comparison to the gods. Fagles’ translation of The Iliad (1990) is a timeless representation of the complex relationship between the human spirit and divine intervention. It exemplifies this relationship’s complexity through the uses of foreshadowing as well as direct dialogue and interaction between gods and men. In this paper, I will elaborate as to why although one may think that a man’s will can change his fate, it is ultimately up to powers beyond his control to decide his destiny. As the Trojan War rages on, the fates of both Greeks and Trojans are perpetually in the hands of the gods who are watching them from the top of Mount Olympus. Zeus, in particular, has a specific outcome for the battle that he has already decided. Regardless of who fights, who dies, and who wins in the day-to-day battles, their efforts are revealed to be arbitrary as the reader is reminded numerous times of Zeus’ plan to have the Trojans lose their city to the Greeks at the end of the epic. In line 1008 of book 5, the god Ares proclaims to Zeus, “Father Zeus, aren’t you incensed to see such violent brutal work? We everlasting gods… ah what chilling wind blows we suffer, thanks to our own conflicting wills- whenever we show these mortal men some kindness.” (Homer 193). This longing tone from Ares depicts the feelings that some of the lesser gods feel towards their own interaction in the mortal world. While the gods may have some sort of longing and desire to do “kindness” towards men, it is often at the expense of another group of men that this kindness ensues. For example, as Paris fights Menelaus in book 3, he is clearly moments from defeat at the hands of a stronger warrior. As Menelaus drags Paris through the dirt by his helmet, Aphrodite intervenes and breaks the strap of Paris’ helmet so that Menelaus loses him. Then, Aphrodite goes even further: “Back at his man he sprang, enraged with brazen spear, mad for the kill but Aphrodite snatched Paris away, easy work for a god, wrapped him in swirls of mist and set him down in his bedroom…”.(Homer, 141). This exemplifies perfectly the power of a god as compared to even the strongest of men. Menelaus is a very skilled warrior and a brute of a man, but was trumped in an instant simply by the will of a goddess whose power is incomparable to his. Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, is not a god nearly as powerful as gods like Apollo or Athena, and especially not Zeus. Yet, even though a mild-mannered and often compassionate goddess, Aphrodite has a large effect on the direction of the plot of the epic. As stated earlier, this act of “kindness” towards one man has a negative effect on another man. Although Aphrodite helps Paris, whom she favors, she leaves Menelaus to despair without the satisfaction of defeating the man who stole his wife. Had Menelaus slayed Paris, the war would seemingly have no meaning, seeing as the war was being fought over their own personal quarrel by two armies instead of two individuals. Menelaus is only one of a vast list of characters in the poem that face despair and loss at the hand of the gods.
Foreshadowing in The Iliad plays a