The Iliad Ep 7: Mortality and Divinity

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Hi, my name is Alexandra, and I’m a
bibliophile. If you just watched my previous video, maybe you’re watching in
a playlist, you’ll be able to tell that I am filming this on the same day even
though I’m releasing it a week later. My puppy is still here, my overhead fan is
still going, my AC is still broken, and I’m wearing the same shirt. I don’t
change my outfit for you guys. I guess some booktubers do that, but I have like
I’m kind of doing like this minimalist wardrobe thing, so I have like four
shirts. So maybe I’m not filming on the same day and I’m just wearing the same shirt. Now you won’t be able to tell. Anyway, welcome back to A Lovely Jaunt
where we read better not more. You guys, you made it this is my last video in the
Iliad series. The final concept we will cover today is morality [mortality] and divinity. If you want to find any of the other videos, I’ve made about this. I will link the
playlist, and you can find it on my channel as well. Throughout this story we
meditate on what makes a life worth living, what makes a good life, and
there’s a strong argument to be made for gaining glory on the battlefield. It’s
the only way that mortals can gain immortality. It is the immortal
reputation, your name being remembered forever, and it’s ironic that the hero
for whom this ideal can be most easily achieved, the strongest fighter, the son
of a god, who struggles with this idea the most. Because for him the two options are laid out most explicitly, as I’ve talked about earlier in the sillies [series]. Achilles
meditates on the idea of whether it would be better for him to abandon the
fight and live out a long and peaceful life and be lost to obscurity. His
mother Thetis wants Achilles to have glory. She petitions for him to Zeus
because of that very reason and it’s all too clear that she just wants him to be
glorified as well. But there’s no conflict for the gods because they don’t
have to contend with the alternative, with the idea of a limited life. So, one,
they’re glorified by their divine nature. They’re necessarily objects of worship.
But they also don’t have to contend with the idea for of reputation
the gods are changeable because they have endless time in which to be
changeable. So they will not be fixed by memory because they’re ever-present living out their own choices and decisions in their immortality. They don’t have to
worry about being forgotten either. They don’t have to long for peace. If anything
they long for conflict in their endless lives, unlike humans. Well, although humans sometimes long for conflict, but humans do long for peace as well which we don’t
really see that God’s doing too much. So there was only one right answer from the
perspective of the gods: glory the Greeks. Also, they had this concept that a man was the plaything of the gods. It gets at this idea that were subject to forces that we can’t control. Some of them are outside of us like nature. So like Skamandros:
both we have the river, the force of nature. We have the God who is named
after the river, who is the god of the river, right? And then we also have the
God in and of the river. So we literally see Achilles fighting with this god /
river being creature later on in the Iliad, right? Other forces are within us
seemingly parts of our own nature but we can’t quite control them that is the
idea of the God within and without, right? And so Helen is a really good example of
this because she is so conflicted by her impulses. Yes she’s a very self-centered
character. Every one of her speeches it’s always worthwhile to highlight and
underline how many times she uses the word “I” or “me”.
She’s always talking about herself, but it’s also clear that she really admires
and respects Menelaos. She misses the respect and the self respect that she had
as his wife. And she respects Menelaus a lot more than she respects Paris. When
Aphrodite has saved Paris from the duel with Menelaus back in book three, she,
Aphrodite, then goes to Helen to bring her to the bedchamber, which is sort of
like reconcile these lovers together and we see a bit of what it might have been
like for Helen when she was first whisked away by Paris. She’s attracted to
him she wants to go to him. She wants him in and of herself. But she also
recognizes that, sort of like, the force of lust in her
the elemental essence of Aphrodite, if you will. And so that’s the Aphrodite
within, right, as well as this literal goddess taking on the appearance of
another person and sort of persuading her with arguments to come this way.
That’s the goddess without. So she resists this force within and without
her. So she has this impulse. She resists it. And then she tells Aphrodite – I forget
who she comes in the form of –, “No.” But Aphrodite commands she’s a goddess after all, and far more powerful than Helen. So, Helen goes, “Who is she to deny a goddess?”
Right? So is it Helen’s fault? How much can she be held accountable for leaving her
husband, for bringing war to the Trojans? I can understand why she walks around
saying, “Slut that I am.” She is one – partially by impulse, but partially by
circumstance, right? And when I say that I mean that within the context of the
moral framework of the book, not in me making any judgment on a person. And like Achilles, she has a power and a reputation: the most beautiful woman in
the world, the face that launched a thousand ships. Would it be better for
her to live a peaceful and faithful life as a wife in obscurity? But who can spurn
the gift of the Gods. This is… They come together part-and-parcel, right? There’s
also this sense that the mortals don’t really have the right to judge the gods.
Even when Agamemnon goes back and forth, believing to be favored by Zeus with a
secure victory or abandoned by him certain to die on the battlefield, he
never gets angry with Zeus, just despairing. Mortals may not like the
outcome. They may beseech the gods, contend with the gods, placate the gods,
but they don’t judge them. They don’t sort of like raise a fist in defiance to
the gods. Even when Diomedes chases the gods and strikes them down, it’s not out of rebellion or because of some, like, noble
injunction that he feels Apollo is wrong or something like that.
In fact the moral question of how life should be and how the gods behave, or how
life should conform to their expectations never comes up. I think we
think about this a lot, and sort of like… Moral philosophy, right? So we have this
question If God exists, how could He be so cruel
as to let tragedies happen in the world? And that has the sense of, like, casting
judgment upon how God chooses reality should be. And that type of questioning
just really doesn’t come up with the Greeks. So which is better? let’s talk
about Homer’s conclusion. How does he articulate it in this book: to live a
long life in obscurity or to die young and gain glory? There’s really not a
clear answer, especially if you take the perspective of the Odyssey into
consideration as well which will talk to what talk about when we get there. Also I
got a great question from a friend of mine EK Designer on Instagram,
sort of comparing the Iliad and the Odyssey.
EK, I haven’t forgotten your question but I’m gonna answer it at the end of the
Iliad or the Odyssey series so that we can look at both of these books side by
side. Anyway, so the ambiguity to this answer of which is better really would
just reflects the Greeks own conflict on this issue. It’s like what they’re trying
to work out, because on the one hand they’re actually pretty conservative.
For example, they have like this really strong idea of the oikos, the household.
They believe that having a secure and stable home means having a strong
society and country. And so then of course that means that you have
idealized roles for men and women: the idealized housewife at home industrious
faithful. She’s always sort of depicted sort of
spinning and weaving and that sort of thing, or preparing rule to be spun or
woven. Likewise, we sort of idealize the leadership and the loyalty of the
husband as well and the economic prosperity as a result of him running
his household well. It is his responsibility to bring to society. And yet they also
recognize that even a little bit of drama to make a good story. So unfaithful
help Helen gets a lot of attention and power, and by the end of the story
Achilles puts on his armor made by Hephaestus and charges into battle. But
neither of them to take any joy in these freedoms, in these bids for power and
glory. Achilles is angry and sorrowing. Helen is ashamed and conflicted. For the
Greeks following the prescribed path may put you on the road to happiness,
but even that can be destroyed because look at Odysseus: he’s
pretending madness to stay home with his family, right? Longing to be with his
faithful wife. In the Odyssey, traveling home to be with her, the ideal of Greek
society, and he’s still beset with troubles and just tragedy, right? So it
seems that the role of the gods are to make men miserable or taken from a more
pragmatic perspective the gods are there to explain the misery and tragedy of
life as we experience it. Of man were left to his own devices not a set by
these conflicting impulses within, impulses to do what is wrong, what is hurtful,
then there’s the sense that man might be able to figure it all out and achieve a
peaceful and happy society. But there’s also this sense that there’s almost no
point in thinking about it, because that’s just not how life is.
That’s not how human nature is, so we must contend with who we are, as we are:
which is to endlessly make mistakes and be led to make mistakes… Well I mean, it
is a tragedy. If you were looking for an uplifting last video, it’s not gonna
happen on this book. So, that’s all I have for you today. What do
you think of the tragic worldview as expressed in the Iliad? Is there a silver
lining that I’m missing? Until next time, I’m Alexandra and I’m still a
bibliophile.

 

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