The Odyssey

Humanity in Homer's World

“Poor things, why did I give you to King Pêleus,

a mortal, you who never age nor die,

to let you ache with men in their hard lot?

Of all creatures that breathe and move on the earth

none is more to be pitied than a man.”

——Iliad Bk17: 497-501

Of mortal creatures, all that breathe and move,

earth bears none frailer than mankind. What man

believes in woe to come, so long as valor

and tough knees are supplied by the gods?

But when the gods in bliss bring miseries on,

then willy-nilly, blindly, he endures.

——Odyssey Bk18: 164-169

The events in Homer’s epic poems occur in two parallel worlds, the mortal and the immortal. The Iliad and The Odyssey portray dramatic relationships between humans and gods. Gods have a tremendous amount of power over humans. For example, the gods can whisk Paris away from Meneláos’ lance as easily as they can place Patróklos among destruction. Nevertheless, when Odysseus is offered immortality, he chooses to be mortal, and to embrace all the pain that Kalypso foretells. Seeing this unusual case, we cannot help but compare humanity and immortality and explore the significance of being human.

The intrinsic difference between humans and gods is the fact that humans “possess the ability” to die. Death, making life...

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