Writing Assignment – Week 8

Upon awakening from his night with Hera, Zeus lays out the basic plot points for the rest of the epic (15.49-77). How does this narrative foretelling relate to Prof. Nagy’s argument about the importance, to the epic, of the will of Zeus? Further, in what ways is this sort of ‘spoiler’ a different narrative tactic from modern storytelling? Be sure to support your claims with specific citations from and references to the text (both in this scroll and others).

13 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 8”

  1. From the very opening lines of the Iliad the audience is made aware that the will of Zeus is vital to the story. The first sentence lays out for us what we are about to see; the plot is about the anger of Achilles, the suffering of the Achains, and the accomplishment of the will of Zeus (1.1-5). With this introduction to the epic and Prof. Nagy’s argument that the will of Zeus is the plot of the Iliad, Zeus’ spoken foretelling of the rest of the events that follow is not only important as a “spoiler” but it also indicates a sort of shift in the plot and the relationship between the mortals, deities, and Fate.

    Throughout most of the epic, Zeus has been depicted as the most powerful of all of the deities. However, in Book 14 we see Hera, with the help of Sleep, fool Zeus and give free reign to his brother, Poseidon. Here we might begin to question the relationship and hierarchy of the deities. Does the will of Zeus have power over every deity? If so, how? Why?

    In Book 15, Zeus awakens to see Poseidon involved in the battle and knows what Hera has done (15.4-15). His immediate reaction is to scold his wife, but after she deflects his rage he starts off on his plan to make things right (15.16-77). It is in this speech that we see his account of the future key points in the war. He zeroes in on the death of Patroklos by Hektor, the death of Hektor by Achilles, and the eventual success of the Achaians (15.65-71). My question is, is this the will of Zeus or is this Fate? Or is there any difference between the two? Early in his speech he refers to Hera and Poseidon, asserting that they must think as he does and follow his heart (15.50-52). This would indicate that his commands are of his own personal will – a will which he believes must be followed by all.

    What is particularly interesting about this foretelling is that it is not just thrown out there and the plot continues as it had been. Zeus’ actual spoken account of what is to come appears to give his will extra strength and assurance of really happening. What Zeus lets us know here is not something we were wholly unaware of, but it is something that we had not yet seen begin to happen. However, after speaking his will, we finally see the dominoes begin to fall. While it seems to have been fated all along, something in these words actually being verbalized changes the game – Zeus speaks his will and it is manifested in action.

    • Megan, I like how you questioned whether what happens is Fate or the will of Zeus. When Patroklos was killed in the end of book 16, he says he was killed by more than one person. He says he was first killed by divine intervention (16. 844-846) and the by “deadly destiny” (16.849). This makes me think they are different but can control one another somehow. Otherwise, the will of Zeus would just be words and no one would talk about the Fates. If Zeus can control someone or something like Fate, then it’s no wonder why he thinks his own personal will is something that needs to be followed by gods like Hera and Poseidon.

    • I’m very interested in this debate about Zeus’ will applying to the gods as well. You put it very clearly, Megan; Zeus believes his will applies to everything, including the gods. His children fear him (perhaps rightly so, as he threatens that his power is greater than theirs multiple times), but there are two other gods that seem to be up closer to Zeus’ level. When Zeus sends Iris to warn Poseidon to leave the battle, Poseidon remarks that he shares equal power with Zeus as well as Hades (15. 187-189). Because of this, Poseidon is not yet willing to follow Zeus’ orders. It’s only when Iris mentions the Furies and how they would side with Zeus on this occasion that Poseidon gives in (because they couldn’t kill Poseidon, and yet considering that they are an ancient form of justice that still have sway over Poseidon’s entity); it’s estimable that Poseidon only gives over to what Zeus wants because he doesn’t want to deal with the Furies (there could be many more interpretations, but I see them being close to this). My point is this: your post (and Nagy’s video) argues that Zeus’ words drive the story of the Iliad. I think that, while that’s true, it’s worth looking into Poseidon’s actions as one of the only possible actions thus far that has outright contradicted Zeus – remember that in 15. 213-217 Poseidon threatens that if Zeus ever acts “apart from me and Athene the spoiler, apart from Hera and Hermes and lord Hephaistos…there will be no more healing of our anger.” I think it’s worth looking at this as a strong instance of a contradiction to the will of Zeus, and what it means as a story-controlling device.

      • Michael, I like your point about Poseidon having equal power to Zeus, yet we only recognize Zeus’ will applying to the gods. I feel as though Zeus’ will is most powerful when it comes to the fate of the mortals and not the gods. It was back in Book 8 that he forbid the other gods from interfering in the war, yet in almost every book since then the gods have been interfering in one way or another. I feel that Poseidon’s frustration speaks for the other gods in that they all feel as though Zeus isn’t being fair and they’d rather defy him than continue to watch a rigged war. By him saying that “there will be no healing of our anger”, it shows that he understands that if the time came he could defend himself against Zeus.

    • Magan, I liked the last point you made. I feel that modern stories let you go from beginning, middle to end but this book of the Iliad gives spoilers to the rest of the book. Furthermore, as you stated, Zeus’s words and foretelling of the future shape the events it describes.Though Zeus tells that Hector will kill Patroklos and this intern will cause Achilles wrath, Zeus is still debating whether he should sacrifice his own son. This shows that the gods are only partially knowing of future events, having major influences, yet they do not fully control the future. I believe that the way the story is told, though not the same as modern standards, allows for the text to be dynamic yet follow a known structure.

      • Clara, you have an interesting point, one for sure that I hadn’t consider. However, I don’t think the gods are as clueless or as indecisive as you may be suggesting. In the case of Zeus talking about the death of his son, Sarpedon, I don’t think he was necessarily contemplating whether he should die or not but rather instead was simply feeling remorse that Sarpedon must die for his plan to work out. I agree with you partially on the fact that the other gods do not have a clue what the future holds, as we saw in the beginning of book 15 when Zeus fights with Hera for affecting his big plans and such. But I don’t think that is the case at all with Zeus. Going back to the big passage from book 15 on lines 49 to 77, I do believe that Zeus knows what exactly is going to happen and what exactly needs to be done to make it so.

    • I think in the Iliad, there is only the will of Zeus and the Fates are instead sort of shoved to the side. The entire war at Troy is a result of the gods’ actions and the events of the Iliad are the outcome of Thetis asking Zeus to help Achilleus’ honor again. While the Fates do play an important role all throughout Greek mythology, I think in the case of the Iliad there is only the will of Zeus, not both. After all, we only hear about the will of Zeus and the fates are hardly ever mentioned. As Megan has pointed out, the will of Zeus has been mentioned in the very beginning of the story and now, when the results of the will are actually occurring. In response to the concern of who is really in charge, Zeus or the fates, I think in the case of the Iliad there is only Zeus and his will.

  2. I like your point about the will of Zeus versus Fate, as I had the same question while reading it. Zeus tells Hera about future events as though they are predestined to happen, but he still involves himself in the war in order to make the events happen. He snaps the bowstring of Teucer, and decides in his own mind to kill Patroclus for his slaying of Sarpedon. It is possible that the Fates (who exist within typical Greek mythology) would’ve informed Zeus of what would happen, and with that info Zeus made the decision to help move Fate along. So while I think that it is Fate saying that these events are to unfold, the will of Zeus–which may be inspired by the words of Fate–is what will bring them about.

  3. Megan, I think the will of Zeus and fate coincide with each other almost entirely. We all know that Zeus was the king of the gods, the god of sky and weather, law, order and fate. So, with him being the all-knowing entity, every decision that he makes is ultimately premeditated. For example, in scroll 15 he basically foretells in a meticulous way, how the war will basically shift in the favor of the Achaeans, with Achilles defeating Hector in battle after he kills Patroclus. With that being said, this would indicate that his commands are of his own personal will – a will, which he believes, must be followed by all.

    • Melvin, I think you have a good point that Zeus rules according to his own personal will. I think it is important to point out that Zeus is not just someone who acts on will or who lets his own personal will make all of his decisions, however. As you pointed out Zeus is the god of law and order, and though he rules all, he is ruled by these obligations. Zeus states “until the desire of the son of Peleus be fulfilled, even as I promised at the first and bowed my head thereto, on the day when the goddess Thetis clasped my knees, beseeching me to do honour to Achilles, sacker of cities”. Through this we see Zeus maintaining order as he fufilles his honor to Thetis even though it goes against his own interest to save his son Sarpedon. In this way we see that though Zeus has much power, and may be able to influence fate, the will of Zeus is not the governing factor of the lives of the mortals. Zeus’s obligations as the king of the Gods and governer of order largly influences the events of the Iliad.

  4. I think Homer uses foreshadowing and Zeus’ will interchangeably just as an tool constantly reminding the reader of the fate of Troy, Achillies, Patroclus , and Hector. For example in book 15 when he wakes up and sees the mess that Hera and Poseidon made he lays out to her and the reader what the outcome of this epic is regardless of how outside forces try to “sway” it. I agree with Megan that throughout the whole epic Zeus has been portrayed as “all powerful” and that’s why this speech needed to come from him because it just makes the fate of this epic seem that much more final.

  5. I think also as far as modern fiction and ancient fiction goes they differ because in modern fiction the author doesn’t start out telling the reader the outcome.There are different levels that today’s literature travels through like the rising action,the climax, resolution and etc.. But in ancient fiction like The Iliad Homer started out telling us what was going to happen and reminds us every chance he gets. To me it makes this type of literature that much more fun and difficult to read because not only do I have to say interested and I already know the ending, but I also have to pay attention to the small details that make the ending make sense or come full circle. I don’t think one’s better than the other I just believe ancient fiction requires more of and analytically reader he has an eye for detail.

    • Rayon, I agree when you say that today’s literature has different levels that it travels through and I think that’s primarily to keep us interested. In today’s society we want to just know the outcome of things, so our literature is set up to slow us down and progressively take us through the story. I feel like most modern literature is set up like that because the stories aren’t that complex. Ancient fiction, like the Iliad, is usually so extensive that knowing the outcome in the beginning seems okay because so many things happen in the mean time to keep us interested.

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