30 March 2010

Some thoughts about the Iliad

The possibility of understanding the Iliad rests on the possibility of encountering death as (possibly) utterly annihilation. Only in this light does the full weight of what everyone wagers in battle become tangible, and only in this light is Achilles' decision to fight for revenge become fully intelligible. Thetis tempts him away from his destiny with images of the happy long life he will live if he turns from the fight and returns to his native land, but Achilles chooses to enter the fight, recognizing that this decision guarantees his death. Amidst the sea of blood that is spilled in the Iliad, we nonetheless must recognize that the work affirms the absolute value of what the heroes are fighting for precisely because they are willing to risk absolute destruction. It might seem as if a belief in immortality makes life weightier, since our actions in this world effect an eternal destiny. Yet I think that perhaps the contrary is true: for we are used to looking upon what is most rare as the most precious of all, and if every life is infinite, then moments of life as are common as grains of sand. But if every life is not infinite, then a decision to risk one's entire existence in battle is the hazarding of one's most precious possession. [as an addendum, I am advancing this argument principally for the purposes of helping us understand the Iliad, not as an answer to the question of the immortality of human life] Only with this realization does the tragic dimension of Achilles' decision come fully into relief, along with the strength of the affirmation of life harboured within his decision to kill Hector.

1 comment:

PSEUDONOMA said...

Never has there ever been such an insightful masthead slogan in the history of Western blogging. Let those who have ears hear.