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Danny Chen
Professor O'Neill
Human Being and Citizen I Section 13
27 October 2014
Greek Culture and Fate Against Human Nature
In the Illiad, a deep-rooted belief in inevitable human fate, with gods as a medium, encourages
the Greeks to subdue natural instincts of self survival for the sake of honor through warrior culture. To
clarify, while cultural interests develop over time from social environments, natural interests represent
the purely biological desires, such as life and sustenance, that arise from simply being alive. The Trojan
war itself effectively reflects a pattern in which the Greek culture is somehow actively striving to
overcome human nature.
Why do the bulk of Greek fighters, especially the invisible and unremarkable soldiers, risk their
own lives on this long, dangerous campaign for cultural issues? Even the greatest fighters in the war
fear mortality, and a combination of cultural values like honor, glory, money, family, and revenge,
cannot fully explain how they overcome this natural fear. However, by delving into specific moments, a
pattern spreading across the entire war forms that underpin the importance of fate in overcoming this
fear.
Most obviously, fate can be used as an assurance of victory which is a general reason why there
is a prevalence of seers in Greek culture. If the Acheans know that the inevitable fate of Troy is its
downfall, then it would be easier to draw courage and overcome the natural human fear of uncertainty.
In order to measure whether fate is on their side, the Greeks rely on the will of gods as a
medium. For example, Zeus sends a message to Hector, But soon as a spear or bowshot wounds the
king and Atrides mounts his chariot once again, then I will hand Hector the power to kill and kill till he
cuts his way to the benched ships and the sun sinks and the blessed darkness sweeps across the earth

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(302). On one hand, being advocated by the gods, like in Hector's case, would easily make one feel
invincible. The certainty of fate allows him to easily overcome natural fears. At the same time though,
this certainty doesn't entail complete hopelessness in the opposing side either. After Zeus intervenes
upon Diomedes' killing spree, Nestor says, Victory comes from Zeus but not for you. He hands the
glory to Hector, today at least tomorrow it's ours, if he wants to give us glory. There's not a man alive
who can fight the will of Zeus (236). Whether inflicting or receiving the god's wrath, both sides
appreciate that their fortune in war resides in the will of a greater power.
When fate is with him, Hector gains courage by using it as an insurance, but when fate is
against him, then he gains courage by using it as an ultimatum. Hector's words to Andromache most
clearly deliver this theme of fate, No man will hurl me down to Death, against my fate. And fate? No
one alive has ever escaped it, neither brave man or coward, I tell you it's born with us the day that we
were born (212). His mention of brave man or coward run parallel to Achilles speech, The same
honor waits for the coward and the brave. They both go down to Death (262). These rivals share this
common, converging theme of fate which suggests a belief deeply ingrained in these warriors that the
decisions they make cannot affect the end result. Although they can make individual decisions in the
battlefield that would deem them cowardly or brave, they cannot shake off their uncompromising
destiny. This certainty of fate is what overcomes any reluctance that the warriors may have; the conflict
between natural and cultural would thus be simplified if an uncompromising fate existed.
In the case of Hector, his natural desire is to live which most clearly emerges when he tries to
confront furious Achilles alone. Homer metaphorically describes their interaction as a natural predator
against prey relationship, Achilles went for him, fast, sure of his speed as the wild mountain hawk, the
quickest thing on wings, launching smoothly, swooping down on a cringing dove (546). Later, Homer
repeats this natural relationship, And swift Achilles kept on coursing Hector, nonstop as a hound in the
mountains starts a fawn from its lair (547). One cannot understate how utter terror and panic seize the

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prey against a predator, and how such powerful natural instincts compel Hector to run.
On the other hand, the other conflicting element is culturally affecting the trapped Hector who
declares, No way out. If I slip inside the gates and walls, Polydamas will be first to heap disgrace on
me... I would die of shame to face the men of Troy (544-545). Faced with the decision to choose
between natural and cultural values, Hector takes the indecisive path, running around the wall to avoid
making a definite choice. However, at this point, Hector has already forgotten his own words about an
uncompromising fate. When he realized later that Athena had tricked him to confront Achilles, he
understands, No way to escape it now. This, this was their pleasure after all, sealed long ago... So now
I meet my doom. Well let me die but not without struggle, not without glory (551). His suggestion that
his death was predetermined undermines his own natural need to protect himself. Thus, this implication
of an inevitable fate simplifies the conflict, and Hector, essentially by feeling cornered, overrides the
dove in his heart in order to challenge the hawk.
Fighting against an inevitable fate, in context of the martyrdom of a heroic warrior, cultivates
and stirs an appreciation of honor in Greek culture. Homer, by instilling these conflicts of natural
versus cultural for the characters, is implicating merit towards human culture overcoming human
nature.
In the end, the most prominent embodiment of human nature in The Illiad are the gods
themselves. They have arguably caused the war and undoubtedly fueled the war too. Athena tempts a
Trojan archer to fire at Menelaus; Zeus plans the death of Patroclus and the vengeance of Achilles.
These all-powerful gods literally enter the battlefield to fight the mortals whether directly or indirectly.
From a symbolic perspective, these gods represent the powerful will of human nature manifested
physically. By fighting against these immortal, all-powerful beings, the Greeks amplify the value and
merit of the warrior code.
At the same time though, almost paradoxically, these warriors fight in the name of these very

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gods. Throughout the poem, the humans repeatedly credit their gods rather than themselves for combat
prowess and success. For example, Ajax before dueling Hector prays, Father Zeus... Now let Ajax take
this victory, shining triumph! But if you love Hector, if you hold him dear, at least give both men equal
strength and glory (221). Its somehow peculiar how humbly Ajax, a completely adept and powerful
fighter, pays credit to the gods for his own developed talents. However, this intimate relationship with a
higher being affirms that Ajax is shouldering a greater will than simply his own. He is fighting partly in
honor of a god rather than purely in honor of himself.
This theme of a greater will, the gods, is only a subset of the ultimate will of fate. Admittedly,
even Zeus, the most powerful of the Greek gods, submits to fate when he allows his son Sarpedon to
die against his own wishes. Hera scorns his guilty conscience, Dread majesty, son of Cronus what
are you saying? A man, a mere mortal, his doom sealed long ago? You'd set him free from all the pains
of death? Do as you please, Zeus... but none of the deathless gods will ever praise you (427). Clearly,
a hierarchy of wills exist in which gods fall between humans and fate. The humans, though at the
bottom, attach themselves to a greater cause, and as a result, they can find motivation to uphold honor.
After the Trojans injured all the great Achaean fighters and forced them back to their ships,
Agamemnon suggests a very human decision in the face of approaching disaster, No shame in
running, fleeing disaster, even in pitch darkness. Better to flee from death than feel its grip (372). It is
by no means unnatural for humans to run from from failure, from loss, and from death, but Odysseus
replies back fiercely, You are the disaster. Would to god you commanded another army, a ragtag crew
of cowards, instead of ruling us, the men whom Zeus decrees, from youth to old age, must wind down
our brutal wars to the bitter end until we drop and die, down to the last man (372). In the end, Homer's
cultural message of honor may resound in Odysseus's words because it attributes the Greek warriors to
being more than obedient pawns to human nature.