This is my interpretation of the classic epic The Iliad and how it applies to me. I had to think a long time on this essay, and I hope it inspires your walk in life.
The concept of fate is quite simple really. Homer lays it out in plain terms. It’s a level which exists separate to our reality as it stands today. Fate, or whatever, whomever, might drive fate is not present in our dimension. We live by what we know. Our decisions, our actions, are influenced by the world we interact with. But it has always seemed like there is this disconnect between the desires of humans and the actual outcome of events. It’s been called luck, acts of God, miracles, and more recently complete and random chance. The Greek philosopher Homer neither denies nor endorses any explanation, and how could he? What it comes down to is a lack of knowledge. We have nothing to base these claims of fate off of. We must rely on our ever fleeting faith to decide. Either we have faith in fate, or faith in its non-existence. There is nothing unifying besides our own meandering doubt. In The Iliad, Homer manages to pin down some explanation of fate. He gives it a definition based upon the presumption of its existence. But, this uncertain definition is not what matters. Although knowledge of the concept of fate is quintessential, what matters is the way we live our lives, under the watchful eye of destiny or not. That answer Homer so eloquently described to us, using the epic battle for Troy and the plight of the glorious warrior Achilles.
Throughout the novel, the Achaean gods sit perched atop mount Olympus, moving their human pawns at their will. This realm that the Achaean Gods spend their days is repeatedly referred as separate from the world of humans, yet having ultimate effect. “Zeus knows, no doubt, and every immortal too, which fighter is doomed to end all this in death,” (139). Throughout the course of the battle, this separation between these all powerful Gods that drive fate and the world of humans manifests itself in uncertainty. The men of the Iliad cannot know what Zeus’s plan is for them, so they must rely on omens. “A fatal bird-sign flashed before their eyes, an eagle flying high on the left across their front and clutching a monstrous bloody serpent in both talons, still alive, still struggling—it had not lost its fight,” (331). However, omens, by their very subjective nature, are human creations in our attempt to understand where fate will take us. With them or without them, we remain ultimately in the dark. We can only believe. “All will end as the omen says, I do believe,” (332). We do not know our future because we can only live in the present.
That brings up the question of certain fate. Fate exists to the rest of the characters uncertain, but Achilles is the exception of the Iliad. He has known that he will die fighting in the war with the Trojans, yet does nothing to fight it. It is as if he either ignores his evident doom, or rather, meets it with acceptance and reverence. “Mother tells me, the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet, that two fates bear me on to the day of death. If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy, my journey home is gone but my glory never dies,” (265).
While the swirling violence of battle consumes the rest of the humans in the poem, Homer sets Achilles apart. While the tide of the battle sways back and forth, spurred on by omens or the presence of a God’s favor, Achilles remains constant. In all of his actions, he never lets his fate, or the will of the Gods, influence his decisions.
Homer makes Achilles the hero of the story in order to illustrate an example he hoped the world would live by. Achilles knew how he would die, yet he embraced his evident fate and fought only for what is important on the human level: glory, justification, loyalty, and above all, honor. He did not use his fate as an excuse for his actions, he let his search for honor and justification be his motivation. All of his actions were justified, never unreasonable or selfish. Even though he was a fearsome warrior who killed many along the way to glory, he stands as a metaphor for how we should live our lives. We must live in the moment, with acknowledgement of fate’s inevitable hand in our lives, but never letting it hinder us, or be our one and only focus, when we partake in our human endeavors. We cannot look to fate for justification, as the other warriors looked to the Gods, we can only find justification in what exists to us.
Our world and the world of fate. Different, individual strings, vibrating to a different tune, but fate bound with eternal influence over us. Homer’s representation of fate in the Iliad, and the way Achilles approaches it, has inspired my interpretation of modern human inquiry, to be best explained in musical terms.
Fate is the orchestrator to our reality’s symphony. Fate drives the start, middle, and end of the music. Fate ultimately decides. It controls the loudness and sincerity of the music. Fate waves it’s wand in rhythm and our world is summoned to its direction. Our plight is that of the musicians. As far as we are concerned, the sheet of music, our world, is all that matters while we live. All we know, or notice, is the instrument in our hands and the sheet music in front of us. The orchestrator ultimately guides the symphony, but we are slaves to the sheet music. We take cues from the conductor as to major shifts in the music, but we still have to follow the sheet or else there is no music, and the symphony falls apart. The goal of any symphony is to be harmonious, all musicians in sync with each other and the conductor. In order to live our lives in harmony, in the symphony of our reality, we must be like Achilles. We must accept fate and understand its ultimate control of our lives, but focus only on the world we know, the sheet of music in front of us. The music we decide to play, that which is sensible and just, flows in harmony with the entire universe. The world beats to fate’s rhythm, but without us each living in harmony, not blinded by excuses and false justification, there is no beat, and the symphony is consumed in the disorder of artificial certainty.