The Iliad of Homer, Books 17-24
As individual volition in The Iliad motivated the last post, the remainder of the tome is taken up with more Achaian-Trojan conflict, and this post is motivated by the implications and climax of the engagements: Achilleus and Hektor locked in lengthy battle, their immediate fate to be decided. The fierce battle is marked by Achilleus’s overwhelming performance throughout, though when Hektor eventually makes a stand, Achilleus achieves victory because of his knowledge of a weakness in the Trojan’s armor.
Knowing that if he killed Hektor he was fated to die, Achilleus stood over his dead body after causing his death: “Die: and I will take my own death at whatever time / Zeus and the rest of the immortals choose to accomplish it,” (22.365-365). The Achaian has taken his revenge for the death of his beloved friend, and is fully prepared to suffer the fate that he knows will result in his own death. Again, then, the theme of fate arises in the story—even though he knows he will die if he kills Hektor, he completes the deed. Individual volition still has a place in the story, because even when one’s fate is known, they (and Achilleus) can act freely to hasten fate’s dawn.
For even as the rest of the Achaians cheer after the death of Hektor, finest of Trojan warriors, “only Achilleus / wept still as he remembered his beloved companion, nor did sleep / who subdues all come over him, but he tossed from one side to the other / in longing for Patroklos, for his manhood and his great strength / and all the actions he had seen to the end with him, and the hardships / he had suffered; the wars of men; hard crossing of the big waters,” (24.3-8). Achilleus’s love for Patroklos overpowered the knowledge that should he kill Hektor, he would die. In killing Hektor, he took life away, yet Achilleus also laid down his own life in the taking of Hektor’s.
Some themes that The Iliad imparts, then, are on the power of individual volition, religion as a force that shapes opinion, and the role of fate. Carrying these themes forward as Notable Tomes progresses and features more books is important. Knowing these themes existed in ancient writings will illuminate all subsequent writings, and perhaps tell us something about contemporary intellectual and popular thought.
Perhaps more important is determining if these ancient themes speak to us about ways to live life, and if they are not speaking to us, if they should be. It is also possible that they are speaking, but that they are in error on one or multiple points. Leave a comment on your thoughts, as we facilitate the discussion between these tomes and ourselves.