The Ancient Greek Rants
The theme of mortality is considered as the hallmark of The Iliad. (Although mortality is the theme of many great works of literature and art, I can think of none that impresses the meaning of mortality so insistently and unsparingly as The Iliad.) So when reading, we need to remember that even the greatest of mortal men remain just that: mortal men.

I love the warriors in the epic because most of them knew and accepted their mortality. They knew that they were born to die. They also knew that there was a line between mortals and immortals that should not be crossed. This knowledge has made them humble. This humility is the greatest virtue that I see in them.

Achilles, a man who was possessed of great beauty and strength knew that his death is coming near. He is so full of life and yet he says that he is ready to accept death whenever the Gods are going to give it to him.

"I will pursue Hector who has slain him whom I loved so dearly, and will then abide my doom when it may please Zeus and the other gods to send it. Even Hercules, the best beloved of Zeus--even he could not escape the hand of death, but fate and Hera's fierce anger laid him low, as I too shall lie when I am dead if a like doom awaits me. "

Diomedes is the embodiment of humility. For doing what is agreeable to Athena, he attacks Aphrodite and even stabs at Apollo. Then he defeats even the God of war. After achieving such feats which are incapable of being achieved by humans, this young hero boasted not a single word of his prowess. He knows that he is incapable of being harmed by any immortal (Athena personally says this to him). And yet he humbly says that he will not fight any immortal again.

On the Trojan side, both Glaucus and Sarpedon are excellent examples. The discussion between Glaucus and Diomedes is all about mortality. Consider this famous speech from Sarpedon,

"My good friend, if, when we were once out of this fight, we could escape old age and death thenceforward and forever, I should neither press forward myself nor bid you do so, but death in ten thousand shapes hangs ever over our heads, and no man can elude him; therefore let us go forward and either win glory for ourselves, or yield it to another. "

I’m sad that this theme is not present in today's adaptations. For instance, Xena and Hercules (TV version) behave like they're born to live forever. What the hell some stupid American director know about heroism or mortality in Greek literature anyway?!


© 2013
  Tom | TVizion