Gods, Fate, And Human Agency In The Works Of Homer, Herodotus And Plato

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Gods, Fate, and Human Agency interrelate and play very large roles in many of the works we have read, including, The Iliad by Homer, On the War for Greek Freedom by Herodotus, and The Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato. Within the epic poem The Iliad, Homer illustrates how the gods have so much power and influence on the lives of human beings. Fate is one of the plot’s driving factors in the accounts that Herodotus tells in On the War for Greek Freedom. Throughout The Trials and Death of Socrates, Socrates’ philosophical views on death portray an excellent example of human agency, and how the life humans live prior to the evitable fate that is death, affects their afterlife. Within these three works, it is shown that the gods do not have direct control over fate, but instead, listen to it and guide humans to follow their fate to keep things in control.

The ancient Greek gods play a very important role in Greek history, culture, and literature. The gods have many human-like qualities to them. They are filled with emotions, whether it is love, anger, happiness and more. They loved and fought with each other, as do humans. The gods are very similar to humans, the difference being that they are more powerful, wiser and that they had a great deal of control over every aspect of the lives of human beings. Each god had its own characteristic or thing that they had control over. For example, a very well-known god and is prominent in Greek literature is Zeus, who is the king of all gods and is the god of weather, law, and fate. The gods did not ultimately decide the fate or the outcome of the humans.

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In The Iliad, the reader can see that when the gods have been angered by a human, they enjoy manipulating the outcomes of situations and plotting against them. Their hatred for such individuals drives them to stir battles between humans and enrich the plot of the epic poem. As previously mentioned, Zeus is a prime example of a god who plays a very large role in The Iliad. Being the “king” of the gods, he has a great amount of power and influence over the lives of humans and other gods as well. Being one of the few gods who tries to remain neutral in the conflicts between human beings, he does not try to influence the fate of humans as much as other gods. Zeus also tries to prevent other gods from intervening with the human fate and in the mortal conflicts. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of fate is “the will or principle or determining cause by which things, in general, are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do.”

Throughout the epic poem The Iliad by Homer, the reader is constantly being reminded of how it is almost impossible to change or escape the fate that one has been given. Within the novel, it is noted that the gods do not have control over fate, but they guide individuals to continue in fate’s path to keep things in control. As noted before, the gods tend to seal the fate of humans when they are either in favor of them or when that human has wronged a certain god. In The Iliad, there are many instances in which the gods, fate, and human agency interrelate. As previously mentioned, Zeus is a prime example of a god who plays a very large role in the epic poem. Being the “king” of the gods, he has a great amount of power and influence over the lives of humans and other gods as well. In book 16, Zeus is questioning whether he should tamper with fate and try to save Sarpedon. He says the following, “My cruel fate... / my Sarpedon, the man I love the most, my own son --- / doomed to die at the hands of Menoetius’ son Patroclus. / My heart is torn in two as I try to weigh all this. / Shall I pluck him up now, while he's still alive / and set him down in the rich green land of Lycia, / far from the war at Troy and all its tears? / or beat down at Patroclus’ hands at last?” This shows that the gods do in fact have a strong desire to try and change the fate of human being with whom they have a connection with, but they are aware of the turmoil they can cause. Zeus ultimately decides that it would not be appropriate to interfere with Sarpedon’s fate. Another example in which the gods, fate, and human agency interrelate, is in book one, when Achilles prays to his mother, Thetis. Achilles is asking her to ask Zeus to punish the Achaeans. During this interaction, Thetis reveals Achilles fate. She says the following, “O my son, my sorrow, why did I ever bear you? / All I bore was doom... / Would to god you could linger by your ships / without grief in the world, without a torment! / Doomed to a short life, you have so little time. / And not only short, now, but filled with heartbreak too, / more than all other men alive – doomed twice over.” Thetis questions why she ever gave birth to Achilles because she knows that she has a tragic fate, and would live a very short life, that is filled with heartbreak. Later on in the poem, the reader sees Achilles’ fate come true when suffering from heartbreak when his very good friend Patroclus was murdered by Hector, a Trojan warrior. The death of Patroclus took a very large toll on Achilles, causing him to no longer have the desire to continue fighting against the Trojans in the war.

In Herodotus’ accounts in On the War for Greek Freedom, dreams are very important and usually foreshadow fate, events that are certain to happen. The Greeks paid a large amount of attention to their dreams because they often told events that were certain to happen in real life. One dream that changes the course of events is in the Reign of Croesus of Lydia. King Croesus was punished by God because of the way he continuously questioned Solon as to why he was not said to be the happiest man alive and implied that he was he himself was the happiest man alive. As a result of being punished, King Croesus had a dream that his son Atys would be killed by a blow from an iron weapon. Atys was a soldier, who commanded armies and would eventually fight in a war if needed. Fearing that the dream would turn into a reality, King Croesus planned to arrange a marriage in order to prevent his son from going to war. He also had all iron warlike weapons banished from the men’s quarters and taken down from any wall to protect his son from dying. During this time, a man named Adrastus who was from Phrygian and of royal lineage, came to King Croesus to seek shelter after being exiled from Phrygian for killing his brother. The king accepted him because their families were friendly with one another. While all these events were taking place, there was a “monstrous wild boar” on the top of Mount Olympus in Mysia that was ravaging the crops of the Mysian people. This caused the people to go to King Croesus and beg him to send his son, along with his troops, to kill the boar. Having had the dream, the king refused to allow his son to go. He couldn’t bear the chance of the dream of his son being killed turning into a reality. After a great deal of reasoning with his father, Atys was able to convince the King to allow him to go to Mount Olympus. Atys’ argument in persuading his father to allow him to go to Mount Olympus was that the boar is not capable of using an iron weapon to kill him, therefore he wouldn’t die going on the expedition. Atys and King Croesus were now under the impression that this would not be the time and place in which the king’s nightmare about his son would turn into a reality. The King told Adrastus that since he had cleansed him and took him into his household, that Adrastus would now accompany Atys to Mount Olympus to protect him from robbers and evil-doers. During the expedition to Mount Olympus, the group of men found the boar, surrounded it, and threw their spears. It was in that moment that Adrastus missed the boar and struck Atys in the back. The prophecy that Atys would be killed by an iron weapon had become a reality, and he had met his tragic fate. King Croesus tried to do the impossible and prevent fate from taking its path. This account is a prime example, of how it is inevitable for one’s fate to carry out, regardless of what a person desire or how they try to change it.

Human agency is how people react to the fate that they have been given. Within The Trial and Death of Socrates, the reader is able to interpret death as an inevitable part of one's fate. Socrates is a philosopher who believes that death is the freeing of the soul from the chains of the body. During Phaedo, which is the fourth and final dialogue of the work, Socrates illustrates the philosopher's attitude towards death. Philosophers are lovers of wisdom, and they yearn for death because they believe that the only way to attain to true wisdom is when the soul is completely free. As mentioned in the Plato readings, the pure souls depart to the divine, immortal, and rational. The afterlife of an individual who has lived a just life will be pure bliss and that person will thrive. Socrates says, “Those also who are remarkable for having led holy lives are released from this earthly prison, and go to the pure home which is above, and dwell in the purer earth; and those who have duly purified themselves with philosophy, live henceforth altogether without the body, in mansions fairer than these, which may not be described, and of which the time would fail me to tell.” Socrates is not saying that you have control of your fate, but the way that you act on this earth will influence your fate during the afterlife. He also believes that the highest heaven is reserved for the philosopher alone because of the way that they were not interested in the bodily pleasures throughout life and are completely ready for their soul to be freed.

The plots of the works The Iliad by Homer, On the War for Greek Freedom by Herodotus, and The Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato, could not have developed without the interrelating roles of the gods, fate and human agency. The Gods were such an important aspect in the ancient Greek culture, and it was very prominent in the way that they influenced Greek literature. Although the gods did not have direct control over fate, they were important executors in guiding humans to carry out their fate, which directly relates to human agency, how people carry out the fate that they have been given.

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