View Poll Results: Warriors of The Iliad -- Truly heroic or truly lucky?

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  • Truly Heroic

    3 20.00%
  • Truly Lucky

    3 20.00%
  • Other

    5 33.33%
  • Both

    4 26.67%
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Thread: Iliad Survey.

  1. #1
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    Iliad Survey.

    Hello, everyone.

    I am creating a survey about the question of heroism in The Iliad. Basically, I want to know about your opinions on the warriors of The Iliad - heroic or lucky? For example, we hear all about the talented archers and strong warriors but when the gods are against them they don't appear so talented or strong; in fact, they appear dead. If you want more information I will attach the rough draft of my essay in order to clarify my idea. Also, tell me why you chose your answer. Thank you in advance.

    -- Essay

    More Gods, More Problems

    Now and probably since the birth of religion, people have struggled with the thoughts of supernatural existence, divine presence, and similar ideas pertaining to their faith. Those who choose not to believe often base their decision off of a lack of empirical evidence or divinely-inspired symbols; on the other side, those who do believe can only put their faith into mere beliefs. However, imagine a world where those mere beliefs are true beliefs, not only because the gods abundantly show signs to their people, but they also have the ability to control every aspect of these peoples’ lives if they so pleased. From great events in history to trivial matters, and even including the precise details of one’s own life, the gods are in control. Such is the world of the inaptly titled heroes of The Odyssey and The Iliad, those men who are played like chess pieces and strung like puppets. Besides the limited free-will of humans, it’s evident that the gods are in control of the world. The funeral games of Patroclus show how the gods intervene in even the minutest of matters, favoring those who chose to respect them rather than those who possess true, innate ability. Also, the Trojan War illustrates how the gods can shape and mold history; Athena deceived Pandarus, one of innate ability and good choice, in order to revive the battle she sought. Lastly, the man of Odysseus, one devoid of choice and the ability or means to save himself, appears as a hero by the will of an admiring goddess. Humans may have a choice or say in such events, but the final say is always that of the gods.

    As previously stated, the funeral games show that one who prays well will conquer one that plays well. Funeral games are contests where humans test their skills against another in order to win rewards; however, it develops into a contest between who can kiss up the most to the powerful gods. The first example is shown during the chariot race, when Apollo caused Diomedes to drop his whip, giving Eumelus the lead. Athena, being angered at this, causes Eumelus’ chariot to break, throwing Eumelus into the dirt and granting victory to Diomedes. Shortly after the chariot race, the three runners: Odysseus, Ajax, and Antilochus took their marks. Ajax was the clear favorite of the people, but not of the goddess Athena. Subsequently, Ajax was tripped and lost to Athena’s precious Odysseus. Lastly, the great archer, Teucer, met the archery challenge against Meriones. Once again, the favorite of the men was not the favorite of the god. Teucer, the best archer in the army missed the target by Apollo’s bidding, angered due to Teucer’s forgetfulness of praying to him and offering him glorious sacrifices. On the contrary, Meriones promised Apollo a wealth of sacrifices, ensuring that his arrow would strike the target. It seems that even a man’s innate ability falls short to the will of the gods.

    In addition to the small matters of the world, the gods shape and mold the history of the world as well. A well-reinforced example of this is Athena’s deception during the 9th year of the Trojan War. The goddess Athena, who championed the Argives, would not remain a spectator while her favored men were whipped like a chariot team. In order to provoke the Argives and stir within them a rage that could match even Achilles’, Athena devised her deceptive ploy. Transforming to that of a Trojan spearman, Athena sought the expert archer of Lycoan, Pandarus. Arousing the ambitious archer with thoughts of fame, glory, and honor, his hand moved towards the bowstrings; his aim was fixed on Menelaus. However, even with good choice—following the counsel of a goddess—and innate ability—expert archery skills—Pandarus could not hit his mark. Athena deceived poor Pandarus and swept away his arrow along with his dreams and aspirations. The enraged Argives took up arms and the war was revived; this revival ultimately led to Pandarus’ death at the hands of Diomedes. Innate ability and good choice were not enough to save poor Pandarus from the will of the gods.

    Aside from the events of the world, the gods can control something even more important—your life. It is indeed true that Odysseus was a man of tactful thinking and honed combat skills; however, he was also a man of great fortune. The goddess Athena had favored him; subsequently, many blessings and similar benefits had come his way. As previously mentioned, Odysseus, at one point in his journey, became a man devoid of choice and the ability to save himself, contrarily to Pandarus. Ironically, as he frantically clung onto a wooden plank in the middle of the sea during a raging storm, Odysseus had no need to worry because his watcher Athena sought to rescue him. Not only did she drag Odysseus by the strings to the safety of the beach, but also she made him appear as a hero among men to Princess Nausicaa, thus ensuring him the means to finally journey homewards. Odysseus was raised in height, the build of his body firmed, and his face and body became shining. Even in times when one lacks ability and choice, a god’s favor can still make one a hero

    With such a god-influenced world it is hard to imagine that the humans are in control. As stated before, the gods decide the events of the world and how they unfold. Instead of the gods being the spectators, the humans are the ones watching while the gods play their game of life. They can not fight it and they can not escape it, they can only suffer it. Rather than calling one “swift runner” or “brilliant,” it may be wiser to just call them lucky or god-favored.

  2. #2
    Fingertips of Fury B-Mental's Avatar
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    I definitely have a hard time with the gods interfering in the heroism.
    "I am glad to learn my friend that you had not yet submitted yourself to any of the mouldy laws of Literature."
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    "My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends - It gives a lovely light"
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  3. #3
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    I think they are heroic for the most part. Gods interfere but there's no guarenttee they will do so or will always be on their side. There may be a god who helps a particuliar hero, but there are other gods who are against him as well.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

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    Gods and Heroes

    Hello Jer,
    I seems to me that you have some misconceptions about gods and heroes in the Iliad. The gods in the Iliad play the role of what we would call fate, luck, adverse or favorabe circumstances, meaning the things that happen BEYOND OUR CONTROL. In no situation in life do unexpected and uncontrollable events happen more often than in war, any war, ancient or modern.

    -snip- (Comment by Moderator: NO CURRENT POLITICS!)

    Did it seem logical that Napoleon, the best general in Europe, with the best european army of his time, the french Grand Armee, would fail miserably in his war against backwards and poorly armed Russia.
    Heroes never win or lose because of their merits alone. For heroes, as for all of us, fate is ever present, and very often in war as in life, the best come out worst.
    In the Iliad the gods are an artistic metaphor to show that we are never complete masters of our destiny, and that things have a way of happening differently as we supposed or planned.
    Voltaire said that for any man, chances and luck are responsable for more than half of what he gets in life, and his merits and virtues amount less than half.
    I hope this may help you understand the way the Iliad handles the question of heroism. The Iliad is a very deceptive book: below the sometimes irrational and chaotic descriprion of events, you will find a profound current of wisdom, if you search for it.
    Last edited by AimusSage; 07-05-2007 at 10:45 AM.

  5. #5
    A lot of ink has been spilled on the topic of the interaction between human agency and divine interference in the Iliad. For the general reader, there is an appendix on the subject in M.M. Willcock's A Companion to the Iliad that I would recommend (the rest of Willcock's Companion would also be very useful for anyone interested in the Iliad).

    The original question seems kind of vague. The warriors in the Iliad are heroes by definition, and there isn't really any mention of luck or chance in the Iliad. It sounds like the intended question is something along the lines of, "should the interference of the gods diminish the praise of the heroes in the Iliad?", or perhaps, "does the interference of the gods diminish the achievements of the heroes in the Iliad?"

    Certainly, there are many examples of characters in the Iliad using the interference of the gods to downplay their opponents' success. On the other hand, the assistance of the gods is often included in their boasts. In Homer's epic, as in real life, the division of innate ability from external advantage is not a simple matter, and often depends on point of view. A modern example illustrating this might be Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. Neil Armstrong will always be celebrated as the first man on the moon, even though Buzz Aldrin was probably just as capable of being the first one out of the lunar module, but I don't think anyone would dismiss Neil Armstrong as just lucky.


    Quote Originally Posted by Klaus Peter View Post
    In the Iliad the gods are an artistic metaphor to show that we are never complete masters of our destiny, and that things have a way of happening differently as we supposed or planned.
    Perhaps to a modern reader, but to the original audience of the Iliad, the gods were far more than an artistic metaphor. It's hard for us to identify with this belief in the gods, but I think one good analogy for many of us is our understanding of genetics. Most of us are not biologists, but we take it for granted that a good combination of genes caused Lance Armstrong (for example) to have an abnormally high VO2max which contributed significantly to his success in bicycle racing (whether or not he doped). We have never seen any genes ourselves, but we accept the descriptions that we receive from the experts. In the same way, someone might accept that Pindarus missed his target because Athena deflected his arrow.
    Last edited by bluevictim; 07-25-2007 at 04:46 PM.
    Optima dies ... prima fugit

  6. #6
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    Hello bluevictim

    The topic of the interaction between gods and humans in the Iliad is indeed very complex. Yes, Willcock states in Appendix C of his Companion to the Iliad that "Homer had no concept of chance or luck, everything that is not spontaneous is thought to be the work of a god". However that point is debatable, because in ancient Greece beliefs and faiths were not the same for everybody, some people believed devoutly in the gods while others were nonbelievers. In most of the Greek city-states disbelief was a crime, so open displays of atheism were rare, and even dangerous, not even Socrates, most probably a non believer, dared to deny the existence of the gods, however the Athenian religious establishment obviously did not believe his assurances on that matter, and condemned him to death for impiety, among other crimes.
    Let´s not forget that the Iliad is a work of fiction, and the author sagely uses the gods as a convenient literary tool, but mark this, the tragic, i.e. human, concept of the war drama is never absent.
    Here are a few examples.
    When Achilles decides to stop fighting because of his quarrel with Agamemnon, the war goes badly for the Greeks and favorable for the Trojans. This happens because the most heroic of the Greek warriors is no longer fighting, and the Trojans have now the advantage with their champion Hector. Achilles decisions, and the consequences are purely human, but in the ensuing battles the gods are ever present and even seem to direct the ebb and flow of the fighting. This is the typical Deus ex machina resource of ancient drama: the humans are responsible for the actions, and the Gods add a religious-cultural display, which the audience shared and easily understood.
    Take another example, in Book I. Achilles wants to kill Agamemnon, but "his heart was divided in counsel, whether he should draw his sharp sword from his side and break up the assembly and kill Agamemnon, or whether he should check his wrath and curb his spirit". Only now enters Athene, Dea ex machina, and we have a very creative scene between the goddess and the hero, counseling him not to kill Agamemnon. Athene did not stop Achilles from killing Agamemnon, it was Achilles himself who was in doubt of what course to follow, and when he finally decides to curb his spirit, it is made to appear as if it was because of the wise counsel of Athene; a smart ploy of the author with a gratifying effect for the audience.
    I hate to quote myself, but in the Iliad the gods are indeed a metaphor showing that not even heroes are masters of their destiny, and uncertainty is the rule of all human actions, more so in war. Remember Napoleon in Russia, and I mentioned an even better example, which sadly was censored.
    As I said before, the Iliad is a very deceptive book. What seems to happen on the surface is mostly not the real meaning, which lies below the surface, or between the lines if you prefer, but never so hidden that you cannot find it, if you take the trouble to look for it.
    I leave you with a question you may ponder: Do you think that the author of the Iliad as well as most Greeks really believed that the cause of the Trojan war was the rape of Helen??
    Good luck to you.

  7. #7
    Klaus Peter, thanks for your response.

    As you'll see below, I had some trouble following your argument, so hopefully you (or someone else -- the more people involved in the discussion the better!) can correct my misunderstandings and maybe even spell things out a little more.

    It seems that you take exception to my assertion that, "to the original audience of the Iliad, the gods were far more than an artistic metaphor." Since in classical studies everything is up for debate, maybe it was a little careless of me to just make this statement without offering some justification.

    I'll try to address three related issues that you raised: First, did the original audience believe in the gods? Second, in the Iliad itself, do the gods merely serve as literary tools for showing that humans are not masters of their destiny? Third, did the original audience consider the Iliad as a work of fiction?

    Did the original audience of the Iliad believe in the gods?

    The most concrete evidence I can think of that there was a prevailing belief in the gods are the numerous temples, sacrifices, and cult rituals dedicated to them.

    I have to admit that I'm having trouble figuring out what your point is in these sentences:
    Quote Originally Posted by Klaus Peter
    ...in ancient Greece beliefs and faiths were not the same for everybody, some people believed devoutly in the gods while others were nonbelievers. In most of the Greek city-states disbelief was a crime, so open displays of atheism were rare, and even dangerous, not even Socrates, most probably a non believer, dared to deny the existence of the gods, however the Athenian religious establishment obviously did not believe his assurances on that matter, and condemned him to death for impiety, among other crimes.
    You seem to be disputing the claim that this belief in the gods was widespread, but then you mention that disbelief was a crime, which seems to reinforce the dominance of belief in the gods. Of course I didn't mean to account for every single individual that lived around the 8th century (when the Iliad was likely composed), and your example of Socrates indicates that belief in the gods was still dominant even in the 5th century.

    I tried to be careful not to claim any particular mode of belief. As you said, there was no standard theology, and the religious experience certainly varied from region to region and individual to individual. Whatever mode that their belief in the gods took, it was strong enough to warrant lavish sacrifices, temples, and rituals, which I would find hard to believe they would undertake for mere artistic metaphors.

    Do the gods merely serve as literary tools for showing that humans are not masters of their destiny?

    Indeed, there are many examples where the gods can be read as symbols of forces outside of human control, just as Agamemnon can often be seen as a symbol of authority or Patrick Henry can be seen as a symbol of patriotism. However, the gods play a much bigger role than that in the Iliad. Homer spends many long passages depicting the lives of the Olympians amongst themselves, and takes great pains to draw their characters. I suppose that when (for example) Athena is interacting with her Olympian family, she can be seen as a literary tool to emphasize the mortality of men by contrasting it with the carefree lives of the immortals, and when she deflects Pandarus' arrow she can be seen as a literary tool to symbolize luck, and when she stops Achilles from killing Agamemnon she can be seen as a literary tool symbolizing wisdom, and this game can go on and on, but the only thing unifying all of these actions of Athena is the goddess Athena herself. To say that the gods are mere artistic metaphors would be to say that the heroes are mere artistic metaphors.

    Again, I'm not sure what you're trying to get at with your illustration of Napoleon. Certainly there are forces outside of man's control, and certainly these forces play a large part in war, and certainly this is a theme to be found in the Iliad, but what does Napoleon's experience have to do with whether or not the gods in the Iliad were more than mere literary devices to the original audience?

    Did the original audience consider the Iliad as a work of fiction?

    Your last question, about whether or not most Greeks really believed in their myths, is an interesting one, because it's all but impossible to know the answer. I suspect an 8th century audience would have regarded tales like the Iliad similarly to the way we regard tales like the first Thanksgiving (in America) or The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Basically, we suspect many of the details are probably invented, but it was based on true events, and in any case we don't care that much about it's veracity because it doesn't directly affect our day to day lives.

    I don't think the Iliad was originally received the way we receive the novels of Dickens or Hugo (for example), which we assume are entirely made up by the individual author. At the very least, Homer's characterizations and general sequence of events are consistent with those of other writers and performers, and the generally received notions of how the stories go, and the writer of the Iliad was not completely at liberty to make everything up.

    Whatever a member of the original audience thought of the veracity of the tales of the Trojan War, it's hard to believe that, upon hearing of the actions of Zeus in the Iliad, he wouldn't immediately bring to mind the Zeus he has heard of from other poets singing about Thebes, perhaps, or Heracles, or Jason, to whom he and his fellows made frequent sacrifices.
    Optima dies ... prima fugit

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    The sky and the Iliad

    This is mostly to answer bluevictim´s last post.
    I think it is pointless to discuss the details of the Iliad, which would take us forever, and probably we would never agree. Of course, every reader has the right to interpret the Iliad as he likes, but some facts have to be considered.
    First, the Iliad is a book of utmost sophistication on several levels, this is because the Iliad expresses its distinctive views on wars and warriors through a strictly traditional artistic medium. Readers usually stay at one level, depending on their knowledge or ability to understand literary works.
    Second, a classic like the Iliad needs some study and dedication if you want to reach the higher levels.
    I like to compare reading the Iliad with watching the night sky.
    A casual observer will probably recognize only the moon and perhaps one or two constellations. However if he gets a sky watchers guide, he will start to identify the planets, some stars and the seasons of the constellations. If he buys a telescope, and takes an interest in astronomy, he will discover a wonderful new world above him, light years away from what the casual observer sees. The same happens with literature in general and the Iliad in specific. By reading guides, reading the better essays (Simon Pulleyn, Simone Weil, etc) and maybe dabble a little in Homeric Greek, the reader will
    discover that the Iliad is a book of great wisdom and beauty, and he will understand the real messages which the author wanted to give us. A great literary experience sadly denied to the average reader. But that´s the way life and literature is.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Klaus Peter View Post
    I think it is pointless to discuss the details of the Iliad, which would take us forever, and probably we would never agree.
    Well, if you don't want to discuss the Iliad any further, that's fine, but it's kind of too bad since a detailed discussion of the Iliad is just what I was hoping for. As you can see, there isn't much activity in the Homer sub-forum, and it's rare to get enough interest to really get a thread going with substantive posts. Anyways, thanks for your posts!

    Is there anyone else out there interested in the Iliad? Is anyone else reading this thread? I really wonder what other people think about these things, and I would love to know. Post up!
    Optima dies ... prima fugit

  10. #10
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    Hello bluevictim
    I´m glad you want to discuss the Iliad further, even if we do not agree, we probably will learn something from each other. Dialectic discussions we might call it: I have a thesis, you an antithesis, and a higher synthesis is hopefully the result. So by all means lets keep the discussion going.
    One problem I´m trying to solve at this moment is when Achilles wants to kill Agamemnon, but "his heart was divided in counsel, whether he should draw his sharp sword from his side and break up the assembly and kill Agamemnon, or whether he should check his wrath and curb his spirit". Achilles is not the dubious, undecided Hamlet type, but a rather impetuous warrior. Why the sudden doubts? What is the message the author is trying to convey?
    What is your opinion? Please leave the gods are out of the problem.
    Good luck

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Klaus Peter View Post
    One problem I´m trying to solve at this moment is when Achilles wants to kill Agamemnon, but "his heart was divided in counsel, whether he should draw his sharp sword from his side and break up the assembly and kill Agamemnon, or whether he should check his wrath and curb his spirit". Achilles is not the dubious, undecided Hamlet type, but a rather impetuous warrior. Why the sudden doubts? What is the message the author is trying to convey?
    What is your opinion? Please leave the gods are out of the problem.
    Good luck
    Since this isn't related to the interaction of gods with men, I'll start a new thread for this question. Maybe some other lit-netters will join in.

    For what it's worth, I'm still interested in our discussion in this thread about the gods in the Iliad; as I said in my post, I'm not sure I even fully understood what you were trying to say.
    Optima dies ... prima fugit

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