The Idea of Destiny in Homer's Odyssey: Fate, God, Daimôn and Human Immortality (Essay Sample)
You may revise, narrow, expand, or combine any of these questions. You may also devise your own topic, so long as it addresses at least one of the texts:
Gilgamesh, Trans. David Ferry;
Genesis (from Holy Bible, KJV, Zondervan);
Gospel According to Mark (Bible);
Homer, The Odyssey;
Virgil, Aeneid, (Bantam Books, 1971);
Dante Alighieri, Inferno (New American Library 2009);
Shakespeare, The merchant of Venice (Signet, 1965);
Discuss the idea of destiny or fate and the various ways destiny is portrayed or explained in one of the works we have read. USE QUOTES FROM THE TEXT TO SUPPORT YOUR ARGUMENT.
Destiny may be identified with a divine power of some sort, such as God, the gods or Fate. Or it may be understood as with some motivating force within human beings. It may be equated with the human condition--with certain common denominators that we all share.
Examine the theme of justice--or its apparent absence. Justice is often seen as a balancing act, but is there an alternative way of looking at justice? Is destiny always just?
The Idea of Destiny in Homer’s Odyssey: Fate, God, Daimôn and Human Immortality
The poetic design to interpret socio-religious beliefs transmitted through human endeavor shapes the representation of αἶσα (Destiny) in Greek archaic literature. This essay elaborates on the notion of destiny in the Homeric epic Odyssey in which the idea is often expressed through the themes of fate, relationship between Gods and men, journey, death, justice and the ‘inevitableness’ of consequences. While in Iliad, Homer creates nobleness of his characters through the construct of an epical ‘moira’ (Fate) — in Odyssey, he posits destiny with a design of celestial, cosmic or divine purpose; and with this poetic intention, Zeus, once the source of ‘moira’, turns into a passive divine guardian, a never-ending agent who administers destiny.
“Of these things, Speak, Immortal One,
And tell the tale once more in our time.” CITATION Sta07 \p 1 \l 1033 (Lombardo 1)
The Odyssey opens with these lines invoking divine help to retell/recreate the story of Odysseus. Homer represents his bard as ‘moved by the god’ CITATION Sta07 \p 59 \l 1033 (Lombardo 59) and ‘divine’ CITATION Sta07 \p "60, 148, 240" \n \l 1033 (60, 148, 240) to whom god has bestowed on his inspiration. Thus, the dawn of Greek poetic tradition starting in hands of Homer presents its poetic vision as inspired by the divine. For this purpose, the poet casts Muses who as a godly power possess the omniscient memory and their presence in the text confirm the authenticity of retold stories of historical events and heroes. But, Homer, the master of poetic craft, creates an uncertainty between the divine origin of his stories and its merely resembling the actual events of god. In Book-22, Phemius, the Homeric bard of Ithaca, refers to the human (self-taught) and divine attribution of his ability to sing:
“By your knees, Odysseus, respect me
And pity me. You will regret it someday
If you kill a bard — me — who sings for gods and men.
I am self-taught, and a god has planted in my heart
All sorts of songs and stories, and I can sing to you
As to a god.” CITATION Sta07 \p 209 \l 1033 (Lombardo 209)
These lines of Phemius can sum up the process of how stories were formulated to be retold — and it announces a new orientation to individuality of the poet, the relative autonomy of the poet as a point of liberation from the total dependence on divine inspiration. The Odyssey revolves its narrative on this theme where human versus divine ‘can’ occur simultaneously creating different degrees of the same thing.
Evidently enough, an orally transmitted composition sets the context for Homeric heroes and their fates. Homeric epics employ certain words, their derivatives and phrases to denote the idea of fate. Words such as μοῖρα, αἶσα, πότμος, μείρομαι, μόρος, with their etymological source and their ‘evolutionized’ meanings found in later Greek literary tradition, suggest the connotations of — part, share > due measure > death > the share of death CITATION Liu10 \p 12 \l 1033 (Liu 12).
“.…. The tall pillars that keep earth and heaven apart …..” CITATION Sta07 \p 3 \l 1033 (Lombardo 3)
As Jacqueline de Romilly puts it, the blend of Hellenic and pre-Hellenic elements find space in Homeric religion. This religion imagines mount Olympus or simply the ‘heaven’ up in the sky as the home for gods. The Odyssey names almost every natural phenomena such as thunder, Moon, storm, cloud, the Dawn, wind, snow, mist, frost, lightning, Sun, rain, the stars etc. The epic poem gives instances where mortals get afraid of such phenomenon. Sometimes humans are terrified by the mere perception of such natural sights, as they believe these are all heavenly phenomena occurred in response to some unholy act of mortals.
Coming to Romilly again though Zeus is their king, father or father-like figure — each god has his / her own distinctive personality, attitude, mood and likeness. Inter-personal relationship among gods, as Homer depicts it, finds analogy to mortal human life. Zeus’ wife, Hera, sometimes challenges him, sometimes deceives him formulating through scenes some of which are almost comic in nature CITATION Jac85 \p 13 \n \l 1033 (13). Other gods tries to influence Zeus or disobey him. In Book-5 of the Odyssey when Calypso came to know about Zeus’ order to free Odysseus — she rebuked Hermes condemning male gods and their hypocrisy. She continues citing examples where male gods have enjoyed privileges taking mortal women as lovers and where they have frustrated female gods for doing the same. Like men, Gods have their king and assemblies. An occurrence of one such assembly opens Book-1 of the Odyssey. Like men, passions can be found in gods that are not always very legitimate. Demodocus, in Book-8 of the Odyssey, sings the Ares-Aphrodite story of adulterous love CITATION Sta07 \p 54 \l 1033 (Lombardo 54). The birth of Achilles reminds that Homeric gods, in real or in disguise, passionately mingle with mortals. Gods, too, have their friends, preferences and rivals.
Thus, Homer has made his gods not merely anthropomorphic, but also ‘human’ with all the ‘imperfections’ the word may convey. However, being god they enjoy privileges of immortality and superhuman powers, which make them fundamentally different from mortals. The Odyssey gives examples of thunderbolt, wielded by Zeus, and storms, raised by Poseidon, and the transformation of men in to pigs by Circe. In Homeric world, man is constantly afraid of gods for they could thwart him. In Odyssey, divinity is, as Homeric man often speaks of it, referred to as an abstract ‘daimôn’, a divine principle, the will of heaven CITATION Jas14 \p 9 \l 1033 (Binder 9). The term, as used by Telemachus in Book-16 when he was in great distrust that his father Odysseus is standing in front of him, he disbelievingly states: “You must be some spirit, enchanting me” CITATION Sta07 \p 147 \l 1033 (Lombardo 147). Hence, Telemachus, not sure about any specific god to be involved yet he is convinced of some divine (theos) intervention, is referring to an unstipulated nature of mysterious supernatural power by using the term spirit, originally used as daimôn in Homeric Greek CITATION Jas14 \p 10 \l 1033 (Binder 10). In Book-8 Alcinous uses the term to describe the same nameless abstract divinity, asserting collectively as gods, when he says: “….. (gods) spun that fate” CITATION ...
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