Homer’s Iliad: Book XV
Questions for Book XV:
- Fate clearly is set and it always seems pretty grim. So how do you live your life? How do you cope under such a system? What are you supposed to do and think to get through another day? Adopt a Les Nessman outfielder philosophy? (In one episode of WKRP the station forms a softball team but Les as a child always had to practice violin instead of learning to play outside, so he gets sent to the outfield and begs silently, “Please, Lord, don’t let them hit it to me.”) Is that the only hope — that you’re so insignificant that the gods don’t notice you and you may not be the direct victim of nasty divine politics? Do you have to go through your life thinking, “Please, Lord, don’t let them hit it to me”?
“That moment Zeus awoke on the heights of Ida,
stretched out by Hera, queen of the golden throne —
he leapt to his feet, he saw the Trojans and Achaeans,
one side routed, the other harrying them in panic”
Zeus wakes up, sees Poseidon fighting and Hector hurt, and pitches a fit at Hera. “Don’t you recall the time I strung you in mid-air / and slung those two massive anvils down from your feet / and lashed both hands with a golden chain you could not break?” (15.23-25). Hera feigns innocence and blames Poseidon for the havoc among the Trojans. We hear of future fated events as Zeus reasserts his authority.
Ares learns of his son Ascalaphus’ death, and Athena urges self-restraint:
“Maniac, out of your senses! You, you’re ruined!
What are your ears for, Ares, can’t you hear the truth?
Your wits are gone — where’s your respect for others?”
“So now, I tell you, drop this anger for your son” (15.167). After Apollo helps revive Hector, we also are given a brief flash-forward to Hector’s fate: “for Hector’s life would be cut short so soon … / Why, even now Athena was speeding the fatal day / when he would fall to the power of great Achilles” (15.711-713). This confirms the attitude about Fate, but there’s still glory in the moment despite ultimate futility. Hector is in the thick of it: “But now he was bent on breaking men” (15.714).
He’s doomed, but he participates enthusiastically. So maybe it’s a matter of knowing your place and nevertheless taking your shot, like Hector does, even when unfairly pitted against the half-divine Achilles, Fate, the gods, Athena’s tricks, etc. That’s pretty impressive!
At the end of the book, Ajax is doing a good job of defending the Greek ships from the Trojans.