The Role of Fate in Homer’s Iliad
Destiny has been a constant theme for authors, poets, dramatists and playwrights since time immemorial. The idea of destiny has been incorporated in many novels and plays. Human beings have always been intrigued by the power of moira and its ability to dominate the course of human action. It has always been a debatable topic as to who and what controls human lives. The soldiers in Homer’s Iliad know that their moira is unchangeable but their destiny, which is death, is inevitable. In fact, even Gods do not have direct control on moira (Brugger). They are the enforcers of moira. Men have free will to adhere to the rules of destiny or make their own choices. In Iliad, moira plays a significant role in deciding the ultimate outcome of man’s destiny. Thomas Hardy has called destiny as the “Immanent Will” that directs the lives of all men on the other hand Shakespeare has said in regarding to moira that men are the master of their own destiny.
The thread of moira binds the lives of the characters in Iliad. Nobody can escape from moira, neither dead or alive, “neither brave man or coward” (Homer&Butler). The mortals depend on the prophets who belief that the destiny of a person is pre-destined. Calchas, who is the greatest of all seers, predicts that the scared city of Troy is destined for impending doom. While many find providence to be a motivating factor to fight the war, others hope that they can outride their destiny by wisdom and courage. Regardless of what they believe in, everyone wants to live a life of honor and leave behind a legacy of valor (Beck). Zeus, the king of Gods, takes the sides of the Trojans and aids them. Even though he does everything possible in his power to help the Trojans, he cannot change the course of their moira. Zeus fails to save his own son, Sarpendon, from being killed by Patroclus. Whether or not Gods can alter moira no one knows but the Three Moirai decide the destiny of man is the long known truth (Homer&Butler). The Gods, in Iliad, are predisposed towards the characters in the epic, which makes them deceiving and immoral. They are involved in unscrupulous deeds like lying, raping, philandering and using innocent mortals as pawns for their entertainment. Hera, the wife of Zeus, is biased towards the Achaeans and along with her daughter, Athena plots against the Trojans whom she detests. Thus, the Gods try to manipulate the course of moira indirectly.
The Gods acts as the enablers and the enforcers of destiny (Mueller). On the other hand, mortals utilize their skills and qualities to meet their predestined moira. While some use it for escaping the results of their actions, some use it to seek revenge. After seeing the losses suffered by the Greeks, Agamemnon, instead of apologizing for his destructive anger blames moira and Zeus as the cause of all the upheaval and turmoil (Stanley). What he fails to understand is that though moira controls the lives of man, it can only impose its power if man surrenders to it willingly. Free will of humans might get restricted at times but it does not completely disappear. Every human can act according to his or her free will whether this goes for or against his destiny is difficult to understand. Similarly, Achilles is aware of his inescapable providence yet he chooses to do everything that will lead to his damnation. He has the option of retreating from the war front with his lost glory or die fighting with his honor intact (Beck). Achilles chooses to face his death with an indomitable spirit. It is the Greek philosophy and ideal to live their lives with honor.
They believe in the concept of astounding fame even after death. There is also a sense of personal honor that every Greek hero clings to. The Gods deliberately create pandemonium when they see that humans are going against the laws of destiny. Instead of allowing Achilles to kill Hector, Zeus and the demi Gods descend down to create more commotion in the battlefield. Zeus, instigated by fear and concern for Achilles, asks his brother and daughter to join the war to save the life of Achilles (Graziosi,Barbara andHaubold). Thus, even Gods cannot alter or control destiny. Neither the mortals nor the immortals have power over moira. The future is constantly changing. The warriors and the immortals worry about the future, plan for the future and try to predict the future (Jankulla). As if being certain about the future will somehow cushion the fatalistic blow. The entire poem is a destruction in progress. The inability of the mortals and the immortals to change their prescribed destiny is disconcerting (Butler). The characters in the poem suffer in the hands of moira. They learn to see things from a different perspective and it also affects their decision making. Homer relates death with moira. When Hector sees his damnation approaching him, he understands it is because the Gods wanted it to be so (Kundsen&Ahern). Even Zeus feels helpless when he sees his favorite man, his mortal son Sarpendon is about to die. The poet has treated death synonymous with destiny. Moira is seen as an active force present in all the affairs of life. Zeus, Moira and Erinys come together to spurn madness in Agamemnon’s heart (Stanley).
Gods acting in opposition to man’s free will and death looming large puts man in frenzy. Homer’s application of these two devices is to intensify the glory of man’s achievements. It is man’s will and determination to fight against destiny that makes all predicaments secondary. Man creates his own environment, achieves real ends (Jankulla). Man finds a new God, amidst the conflicting Gods, in the glory of living. Homer gives the eternal message of reality: man’s endeavor to strive and succeed against his own destiny. Thus, Homer’s world is an odd mixture of man and Divine (Slattery). The intervention of God is similar to moira, as he interferes in all the aspects of man’s life: birth, death, war, travel, relationships. Every character in Homer’s Iliad is subjected to moira. Not only the mortals, but the Olympian Gods and Zeus himself is directed by moira. The difference lies in the fact that the mortals blame the gods if they are condemned. The gods, on the other hand has no none to blame for their manipulating behavior. Secondly, men is subjected to death, whereas, gods are immortals so moira cannot affect them directly. Destiny is the ultimate strategist of the downfall of the city of Troy and the Trojan War. The Greek Gods acts as evil manipulators who try to twist the course of moira either to help man or bring his nemesis. They control men by subtle methods of divinity like dreams, impulses, anger, emotions and more. Though the Gods fail miserably and have to give in to the cosmic force that pervades the lives of men and Gods alike, they still try to annihilate man in every way possible. Thus, men are reduced to mere playthings of the immortals and destiny itself. Due to their sufferings and pre ordained destiny, men are at the mercy of gods and their own destiny. The only option they are left with is the choices that they make in life. These choices will either help them overcome their misery or obliterate them completely. Free will is therefore not eliminated and man with the use of knowledge and wisdom, can be the master of his own destiny.
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