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Men and Fate

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Halfway through Book 9 of the Iliad, Achilles gets a choice that not many (perhaps none) have ever become privy to. Achilles is set up in his camp, still refusing to fight, when Phoenix, Odysseus, and Ajax come to try and persuade him to help his friends and family by joining the battle.

Ultimately their plans are unsuccessful. Perhaps Achilles’ rage is so great that nothing will lead him back into the fray, or perhaps a stunning prophecy from his mother has something to do with it. Achilles’ mother, the goddess Thetis, had apparently earlier told him exactly how he will die. More specifically, she told him exactly how he will die depending on which path he chooses. Recounts Achilles:

… Two fates bear me on to the day of death.

If I hold out here and 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.

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Gods and Fate

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

In classic Greek Mythology, the fates are depicted as three goddesses: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. And all of these ‘moirae’ are answerable, in one way or another, to Zeus. Homer however, doesn’t paint this picture. He not only never mentions the three goddesses, he doesn’t speak of fate as being personified by a god at all. In fact, whenever fate is mentioned, it plays a role that even Zeus is unable to control.

The first major mention of this strange relationship between gods and fate comes in Book 8. Zeus turns the tide of battle in favor of the Trojans, but before he does, he first consults his scales. He does this by placing the individual fates of Troy and Achaea on each side. It is only after Achaea’s fate falls that Zeus acts to help the Trojans. One wonders what Zeus would have done had Troy’s fate fallen instead.

We get an idea perhaps, later on in Book 16. Halfway through the book, Zeus is watching the war from the heights of Mount Ida and sees one of his (many) sons vainly fighting against Patroclus, who is dressed in Achilles own armor. Zeus knows that his son Sarpedon doesn’t stand a chance against Patroclus and wonders out loud if he should snatch him from the fight and set him down safely somewhere else in order to save him.

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