The Iliad Mortality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Richmond Lattimore's translation.
'Oh if I only
could be as this in all my days immortal and ageless
and be held in honour as Athene and Apollo are honoured
as surely as this oncoming day brings evil to the Argives.' (8.538-541)
It is a curious fact about the Iliad that, for all its focus on the theme of death, it rarely shows characters longing for immortality. This is one of the few times when this happens, and it is interesting that Hektor says it out of excitement – wanting the moment to last forever – instead of despair at a moment passing.
'Fate is the same for the man who holds back, the same if he fights hard.
We are all held in a single honour, the brave with the weaklings.
A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much.' (9.318-320)
Achilleus's attitude here is not unique in the Iliad. (Compare his remarks here with those of Hektor in Book 6, lines 488-489, quoted in the section on "Fate and Free Will.") What makes them distinctive is that they come from Achilleus. Do you think that this attitude is consistent with his character elsewhere in the Iliad? For a modern literary treatment of death as the great leveler, read W. B. Yeats's great poem "Cuchulain Comforted," accessible here. (Cuchulain, pronounced "Ka-HOO-lan" is a great hero of Celtic mythology.)
Aïdoneus, lord of the dead below, was in terror
and sprang from his throne and screamed aloud, for fear that above him
he who circles the land, Poseidon, might break the earth open
and the houses of the dead lie open to men and immortals,
ghastly and mouldering, so the very gods shudder before them;
such was the crash that sounded as the gods came driving together
in wrath. (20.61-67)
One thing's for sure about the Homeric worldview: it doesn't paint any rosy picture of the afterlife. (You'll get an even better sense of this if you read the Odyssey, Book 11.) So much of our lives is spent wondering about what happens after death. Do you think you – or the heroes of the Iliad – would do things differently if they were able to get a sudden glimpse into the underworld? (Here's a hint, to make you even more curious to read that book of the Odyssey: in it, the ghost of Achilleus gives Odysseus a partial answer to this question.)