Writing Assignment – Week 12

Perhaps the most important scene in all of the Iliad is the encounter between Achilleus and Priam in scroll 24. Here we find a moment when both heroes gaze upon the other with a sense of wonder (24.629-632) that reveals a shared understanding of the other or empathy.

This empathy indicates an internal reckoning of many crucial themes in the poem. Using this encounter as a starting point choose one theme from the list below and a passage from the encounter between Priam and Achilleus that specifically engages with that concept. Using additional examples from the text to support your opinion articulate in what ways the epic as a whole revolves around that theme and how it relates to the concept of empathy.

For those writing responses: each response must cite a passage from the epic not employed in either the initial post or other responses.

Themes: Lament, Glory, Memory, Death, Loss, Mortality, Familial relationships, Competition, Gods and Men, Emotions

NB: Initial posts should be 350-400 words; each reply should be around 100 words.

13 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 12

  1. Teresa Plummer

    Hi All,

    I’m not the initial poster, but thought I would get us started. Here goes:

    I think this particular section of the Iliad is significant because for just a brief moment, both Achilleus and Priam put aside their animosity and desire for glory and revenge to mourn their losses. They share a certain camaraderie in understanding the great loss that they both feel (Priam for losing Hektor and all his sons and Achilleus for losing Patroklos and never returning home to his family). It’s as if time stands still for just a moment and the clarity of the entire war is revealed. “Such is the way the gods spun life for unfortunate mortals, that we live in unhappiness, but the gods themselves have no sorrows” (24.525-526). Throughout the Iliad, there is a common theme that mortals have no true control over their lives. Instead, they are at the mercy of the gods and their will. Hektor understood this when he told Andromache, “No man is going to hurl me to Hades, unless it is fated, but as for fate, I think that no man yet has escaped it once it has taken its first form, neither brave man nor coward” (6.487-489). Hektor knew that if the gods deemed it his destiny to die on the battlefield, then he would die with no escape from that destiny. Further proof that the mortals had little control over their own destinies is in Book 8 when Zeus uses his golden scales to determine which side should win the battle (8.68-77). At that particular time in the battle, the “Achaians’ death-day was heaviest” (8.72). Again, this gives me the impression that the gods are simply playing a game of war and the mortals are their pawns or toy soldiers, and for a brief moment in Book 24, both Priam and Achilleus understood this.

    1. Alicia Wooten

      Thanks for starting the discussion Teresa!

      I definitely agree that the gods played a large role in the events of the Iliad and in the heroes’ lives, but I am not sure that “mortals have no true control over their lives.” If this is true and the mortals know it, then why do the mortals sometimes try to fight the gods? For example, Diomedes was able to wound Aphrodite in Book 5. Even though he was given strength by Athene, if the gods were all powerful, they shouldn’t be able to be wounded by a mortal. Furthermore, Diomedes was able to disobey Athene and attack Apollo, therefore Diomedes must have had some control over his own decisions.

      1. Kendal Longmore

        I agree with Teresa that the mortals have no true control over their lives but I don’t think they know it. They simply use prayer to call on the Gods when needed but don’t necessarily know when a god is interfering with their lives. Sometimes it isn’t quit obvious that a god is present as they come done in mortal form usually in the body of someone who is the most trusted of the person they are trying to manipulate. Diomedes was able to wound Aphrodite because he was indeed given god like strength. With your example of Diomedes defying a god is shows that they can make there own decisions but ultimately the gods allowed for him to attack Apollo instead of whisking him.

        1. Alicia Wooten

          It can be argued that the events of the Iliad are all in line with the will of Zeus, and I agree with this. My question then is, didn’t Achilleus initiate these events and therefore influence the will of Zeus? Zeus was very hesitant to help Achilleus regain his glory. After Thetis had delivered Achilleus’s wishes to Zeus, Zeus spent a long while in silence then said to Thetis, “this is a disastrous matter when you set me in conflict with Hera” (1.518-519). He clearly did not want to be in opposition with his wife, so if Thetis had not asked Zeus to help Achilleus, Zeus never would have caused the events of the Iliad. By extension, if Achilleus had never asked his mother for Zeus’s help, the events of the Iliad would not have happened, therefore Achilleus had some influence over his fate.

          1. Paulina Horton

            I think you’re right. This story wouldn’t have taken place if Thetis hadn’t asked Zeus to help Achilles restore his honor, but I don’t necessarily believe it would have changed the outcome of the war. I think Troy was always destined to fall, but this just sped up the process. I don’t think Zeus’ intervention really changed that much. Zeus didn’t sabotage the Achaians he just didn’t let them win. It was the other gods like Apollo, Athena, and Poseidon that were really influenced the outcome of the war. Even though the will of Zeus ultimately prevailed I don’t think it was as well planned out as it seemed. I think he just went in with a general idea and influenced people just enough to get them to react a certain way. He outlined the situation, but he didn’t plan it out to the detail. This kind of explains why in Book 20 Zeus sends down the gods to fight in the war, because he knows he can’t control everything.

          2. Sheree Goffe

            I agree that regardless of what happened with Achilleus Troy would have fallen because it started with the judgment of Paris. The moment he chose Aphrodite is the moment he signed the fate of troy to doom hera and Athena plotted to destroy him. 24.25-30 “There this was pleasing to all the others, but never to Hera nor Poseidon, nor the girl of the grey eyes, who kept still their hatred for sacred Ilion as in the beginning, and for Priam and his people, because of the delusion of Paris who insulted the goddesses when they came to him in his courtyard and favoured her who supplied the lust that led to disaster.”

  2. Paulina Horton

    Hi Teresa!

    I agree that the gods played a huge role in the fate of men, but I don’t think they necessarily considered them to be just pawns in their game of war. Throughout the epic we see the gods going to save their favorite mortals from death and even mourning the ones they couldn’t save. A prime example would be Sarpedon’s death in Book 16. Zeus contemplates saving his son and cries “tears of blood” when he realizes he can’t save him (16.433-438 and 16.458-16.461). Another example would be Ares wanting to go avenge his son’s death in Book 15 (15.115-118). I think the over arching theme of the Iliad is lament. I think the Iliad itself is actually a lament for Achilles. We see our firs lament in Book 6 with Andromache and Hector. We see it again in Book 18 when Achilles finds out Patroklos has died, and we see it in Book 22 and Book 24 with Priam and the women of Troy. With all of these laments its safe to say that they play a big part of the epic. Each lament shows a new aspect of the characters personality as well as similarities between the opposing sides. In Priam’s lament in Book 24 he compares himself to Peleus. He shows Achilles that just like his father will mourn for him so Priam mourns for Hector (24.486-506). We see in the laments for Hector that he was a great warrior and a great man in general. So knowing that Achilles will soon die can’t we say that the Iliad is a lament for him? We see his greatness as a warrior, but also as a man through his compassion for Priam and other acts that we see. This is one of the greatest classical works of literature that is based on remembering the actions of Achilles (1.1-7).

    1. Sarah Lister

      I agree that the gods have the most power over the lives of mortals, but I’m not sure if I agree that men are completely powerless. It seems to me that the men have a lot of power with their decisions – like Achilleus deciding not to fight, or Patroclus deciding not to go back to Achilleus, and, as such, getting killed. While the large events, like the war, and the god’s protection of different mortals(Hector, for instance), are under the gods control, there are a lot of decisions that, if not made by the mortals, would have changed the tide of the battle and the story. Further more, I don’t believe that the gods are all powerful, either. Hera tricking Zeus so that she could help the opposite side, for instance, are not the actions of someone who has complete power – if she did, she wouldn’t have needed to put him to sleep. The entire story is sort of a give and take of power, to me(although, I’m not sure if that makes sense, honestly, I got about three hours of sleep today)

      1. Natasha Moore

        I agree with you that the various key players have power with the decisions that they make. All of the Iliad is based off of Achilles’ decision not to fight and to ask his mom to plead to Zeus for revenge. In addition to this, it seems as if the gods go to men who have potential on their own. Often times we see the gods helping characters like Diomedes and Hecotr. Even without the aid of the immortals, these men are forces to be reckoned with., warriors who can hold their own. The gods only act to make them even more destructive.

    2. Anisa Bailey

      Paulina, I like your idea of the Iliad being a lament to Achilles. Its interesting to think that this epic could be one giant lamentation; like this is just one of the great stories of a soon-to-be fallen hero. If there was “Book 25” where we would see the death of Achilles, the most epic lamentation would definitely take place. His presence throughout the Iliad was one of greatness. Even when he made a more selfish decision in the beginning to stay out of the war, the end result was him coming back to battle and showing what a great warrior, example and leader he was to the Achaians.

  3. Sheree Goffe

    i agree that the gods have a lot of control of what happens in the iliad but i also feel the mortals contribute to what happens. They call the gods when they need assistance. for example in book 5.111-5.128. when diomedes was injured and asked athene for help. The relationship the gods have contribute to every event that happened in the iliad. The gods aren’t just gods, they develop relationships with the mortals and have children with them. They have their own preferences based on the relationships they have with the mortals. They even fight each other over the mortals. I don’t believe the mortals know the full significance of what goes on between the gods and the relationships they have with them because the only time they fully interact with them is when they come in forms of people or animals or things. Or through prayers and sacrifice. Rarely does a mortal have a conversation with a god outright, so they never fully know whats going on.

    1. Avery Tucker

      The mortals do contribute to what happens in the Iliad but when Gods get involved things seem to get messy. It seems like for the majority of the poem the mortals are in control of what is happening then a deity decides to take a specific side in the war. The deity’s choices overpower the decisions of the mortals but it often does not stop here. The majority of the time one deity gets involved another deity joins in a to oppose the first deity’s involvement. So during the battle between the mortals we see a battle between dietys reflected by the warriors that they choose to aid in the war.


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