ON FATE, THE GODS, AND MORALITY

One of the distinguishing characteristics of many pagan systems of religious belief involves the concept of fate—indicated, for instance, in Eumaeus’s comment, “Eat, my strange guest, and enjoy what we have. / God [Zeus] gives us one thing and holds another back, / Just as he pleases, for he can do all things” (14.477-79). Explore the polar tensions of fate and free will in this unit’s reading: does it appear that Homer’s culture believed more in fate, human free will, or some combination of both? Explain. Another way of getting at this: considering the troubles Telemachus, Penelope, and Odysseus face throughout the epic, discuss the extent to which the mortals in the Odyssey are responsible for their own troubles. It’s obvious that the suitors bring on their own fate, but do the afflictions facing Odysseus and his wife and son result from their own failings? Are they, rather, at the mercy of their fate, or of the fickle and distant gods? What is it about these three characters that makes them worthy of so much vital support from the goddess Athena? Explain. Discuss the morality behind the slaughter of the suitors and the disloyal servants in Odysseus’s household. Any other notions of the ancient Greeks’ conceptions of right and wrong? Illustrate your observations with quotations.

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