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The Illiad, Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 961

Essay

In fulfillment of the requirements for this assignment, I have provided the answers to the questions you requested. The first two don’t seem to apply here, so I will answer the next three:

  1. What do you feel are the strengths of your essay? I think I answered the thesis-questions with originality, avoiding answers that sound like a template of standard boilerplate academese. The observation about children’s behavior being like that of the gods is I think a good and accurate-enough one (allowing for occasional exceptions).
  2. What parts of the essay do you feel are weaknesses or areas that could use more work? The (justly negative) comparison of Jove to Abraham Lincoln begs for further development. The good cop/bad cop point might be taken as stretching the point — which it may be doing. And I think that the second direct quote may undermine my argument a bit about Jove’s fickleness.
  3. Are there any particular parts of the essay on which you would like more feedback? I am curious as to how Butler’s translation is considered today. It may just be that Homer’s muse can’t sing in English, or maybe I’m just tone deaf to war opera, but it sometimes clangs so badly (“bold bold hussy, will you really dare to raise your huge spear in defiance of Jove?”) as to render it useless for casual reading and for any kind of analysis based on direct quotes from it. I’m with the narrator of Shakespeare’s Henry V, who shouts out: O, for a Muse of fire!

In reading The Iliad, one of the things that gradually becomes more and more apparent is how much the gods act like children, especially tweeners (ages 10–12). They get into arguments and fights about little things because of a hyperactive sense of duty and honor. Every insult (as they see it) must be repaid, and the sooner the better. They are loyal to a fault to their friends, although their friends often change. Their sense of fair play is low, and they admire those who can cheat and get away with it cleverly. They are highly possessive, yet at the same time are generous. Neither the gods nor children see their behavior as childish, but rather heroic. So where does all this leave Jove, the chief god and, in effect, the chief child on Mount Olympus?

Jove has one simple primary duty that even a child can easily understand: to stay on top. He can only do that by keeping order on Mt. Olympus, lest he himself be toppled, even as he himself toppled his father, Saturn. That’s about the sum and substance of his outlook. Certainly no mere mortal — or at least no mortal soldier in combat during the Trojan War, regardless of which side he is fighting on — can count on Jove for protection. Whether the supplicant is a man or a god or a demigod, Jove’s chief loyalty is to himself, and in exercising that loyalty he shows essentially no consistent loyalty to anyone else. In the exercise of his duty, Jove can rise above the fray, but not too far, lest the gods form conspiracies among them. He can be objective, but not for very long, lest he infuriate his wife or one of his many lovers and their own immortal and mortal children. The question is whether he has to keep order on earth too, or let his family of gods contend among themselves to do that, or simply let things occur as they will on earth among the mortals by banning (if he can) any divine meddling. In short, should Jove care who wins the Trojan War? Does he need to care?

He had better, because all mortals are, in effect, his toys. Hector, for example, was one of Jove’s favorites, and Hector fought for Troy. Claiming dibs on their own toys, so did Venus, Mars (for awhile), Apollo, Diana, and Latona. On the Greek side stood the gods Minerva, Juno, Neptune, Mercury, Vulcan, and Thetis. In this celestial civil-war among the gods, so mixed up are the loyalties and bloodlines between Olympus and earth that Jove resorts, in Book VIII, to a staple technique of leadership: the good cop/bad cop routine: If I see anyone acting apart and helping either Trojans or Danaans, he shall be beaten inordinately ere he come back again to Olympus; or I will hurl him down into dark Tartarus far into the deepest pit . . . (Silva, 2011). But after making that speech, he assures Minerva I am not really in earnest, and I wish to be kind to you. With that, he mounts his chariot and speeds off to a throne in the clouds to watch the battle. At noon, he raise his scale on high, and it weighs against the Greeks. This action is similar to what occurs in Book XV, when he draws another line in the performance of his duty:

I will bring it about that the Achaeans shall persistently drive the Trojans back till they fulfill the counsels of Minerva and take Ilius. But I will not stay my anger, nor permit any god to help the Danaans till I have accomplished the desire of the son of Peleus, according to the promise I made by bowing my head on the day when Thetis touched my knees and besought me to give him honour.

But what one notices about most of the gods is that they are not very good at duty if it requires too much of them. Jove is no different. He is worthy of his position only through his strength, not really any superior devotion to duty. In this civil war, Jove was no grown-up Abraham Lincoln.

Work Cited

Homer. “The Illiad.” Silva, Linda. World Literature Anthology: Volume I. APUS ePress, 2011. 127.

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