The Iliad Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Richmond Lattimore's translation.
Kalchas straightway spoke before us interpreting the gods' will:
"Why are you turned voiceless, you flowing-haired Achaians?
Zeus of the counsels has shown us this great portent: a thing late,
late to be accomplished, whose glory shall perish never.
As this snake has eaten the sparrow herself with her children,
eight of them, and the mother was the ninth, who bore them,
so for years as many as this shall we fight in this place
and in the tenth year we shall take the city of the wide ways." (2.322-329)
One of the interesting things about Kalchas's prophecy here is that we only hear about it second-hand, through Odysseus. Odysseus, as we all know (especially those who have read the Odyssey), is a master of trickery, so everything he says has to be taken with a grain of salt. What would be the advantage of making up a prophecy? Would you act differently if you knew that you were fated to succeed only after many years of failure?
Yet, as it was not the destiny of great-hearted Odysseus
to kill with the sharp bronze the strong son of Zeus, therefore
Athene steered his anger against the host of the Lykians. (5.674-676)
At first this might look like your standard-issue account of destiny stepping in to direct the hero's actions. On close inspection, however, it turns out to be highly ambiguous. Because, if it's destined that Odysseus won't kill the son of Zeus (i.e., Sarpedon), is it destined that Athene will stop him, and in just this way? Here, as elsewhere, it seems more like the gods choose to act in accordance with destiny, rather than being forced to do so.
Poor Andromache! Why does your heart sorrow so much for me?
No man is going to hurl me to Hades, unless it is fated,
but as for fate, I think no man has yet escaped it
once it has taken its first form, neither brave man nor coward. (6.486-489)
Okay, so we know Hektor is trying to cheer up his wife here, but if you were Andromache would you fall for that? So what if Hektor will only die when he's fated to die? Doesn't it still make sense for his wife to be sad whenever he dies? On another point, when Hektor says that the brave man can't escape his fate any more than the coward, what do you think would make someone want to be one instead of the other?