The Iliad Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Richmond Lattimore's translation.
'Ah me, that it is destined that the dearest of men, Sarpedon,
must go down under the hands of Menoitios' son Patroklos.
The heart in my breast is balanced between two ways as I ponder,
whether I should snatch him out of the sorrowful battle
and set him down still alive in the rich country of Lykia,
or beat him under at the hands of the son of Menoitios.' (16.433-438)
To us, this might sound contradictory. Zeus is pondering whether he should save Sarpedon from death, even though that would go against his destiny. Can the gods defy fate? In fact they can – and so can mortals, sometimes (see the quote from Book 20, below). If you read Hera's reply, which comes immediately after this passage, you will see that Zeus doesn't back down because he has to, but rather because it would be inappropriate to save Sarpedon.
'For my mother Thetis the goddess of the silver feet tells me
I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day my death. Either,
if I stay here and fight beside the city of Trojans,
my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting;
but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,
the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life
left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.' (9.410-416)
Achilleus's destiny gives him a choice over how he is going to lead his life. How does this fit in with the picture of destiny elsewhere in the work? Is Achilleus just special? If you had a destiny like him, would you rather know it or have it kept secret from you?
'This is the word the Achaians have spoken often against me
and found fault with me in it, yet I am not responsible
but Zeus is, and Destiny, and Erinys the mist-walking
who in assembly caught my heart in savage delusion
on that day I myself stripped from him the prize of Achilleus
Yet what could I do? It is the god who accomplishes all things.' (19.85-90)
When Agamemnon is trying to patch things up with Achilleus, do you find his excuse convincing? (Erinys, just so you know, is the personification of vengeance.) If you are familiar with Shakespeare's play, you might want to compare Agamemnon's excuse with the similar one made by Hamlet to Laertes in Hamlet (Act 5, Scene 2, lines 226-244). Then read Laertes's response, and see if it sounds like something Achilleus might say.