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Deus Ex Machina And Fate Vs. Duty

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Deus ex Machina and Fate vs. Duty

in Homer's The Iliad and Virgil's The Aeneid

The actions taken by the gods in the works of Homer's The Iliad and Virgil's The Aeneid are numerous and important. Both works gain their momentum from the activities of the gods, and without these heavenly actors the two stories would quickly become stagnant and fizzle out into inaction. The central divine driving force in both of the works is the wrath of two female gods: Juno(Hera:Greek) and Minerva(Athena:Greek). These two are responsible for much of the driving force in the two stories as they settle their vendetta with the Paris and the Trojans. As a result, and for purposes of scope, this essay will examine specifically the effects of the godly intervention on the Trojans and Troy.

In The Iliad the actions of the gods culminate into the beginning of the end for Troy. Hector is slain with the help of Minerva. Achilles is properly prodded into fighting through the death of Patroclus, who for all intents and purposes is handed over if not slain at the hand of Apollo himself. Any god with anything to say to the contrary has their hands tied by fate. With Troy's hero Hector fallen the city is all but lost.

In the beginning of The Aeneid the Trojans still can't escape their tormentors even after the fall of Troy. Sure enough, "Hell hath no fury...", and at Juno's request Aeolus unleashes a great storm upon the Trojans, and they are forced to land near Carthage. The landed party is led by Aeneus, son of Venus(Aphrodite:Greek). Venus, concerned for her son, appeals to Jupiter(Zeus:Greek) for help. Jupiter reassures her that Aeneus and the Trojans will have a bright future. Venus with Cupid and Jupiter with Mercury(Hermes:Greek) ease Aeneus into the good graces of Dido. In comparison to Homer's work the divine intervention in Virgil's seems to be that of slightly more mature gods. In The Iliad the gods are just as, if not more, emotional than some of the mortal characters. "This provoked and angry response from Hera: [...] But Hector is mortal and suckled at a woman's breast, while Achilles is born of a goddess whom I nourished and reared myself" (XXIV:60) The more mature gods in Virgil's work convey a much more responsible feeling which provides better "sure footing" for the story.

Book two of Virgil's work describes the fall of Troy. Aeneus at a feast hosted by Dido is asked to tell the story of the fall of Troy. He describes the destruction of the city, how he was deterred by Venus from killing Helen, the death of Priam, and the death and vision of his wife among other things. During the fall Venus allows him to see the gods as they work to destroy the city. This permanently scars Aeneus, and places and immense enmity between him and the gods. Until this moment the primary action seen by the reader is that of the inhabitants of the city, and the invaders. The battle centers on the people with little to no view of the gods.

"My poor husband, what mad thought drove you to buckle on these weapons? [...] Even if my own Hector could be here. [...] Come to me now: the altar will protect us, or else you'll die with us." (II:674)

"Danaans in a rush to scale the roof; the gate besieged by a tortoise shell of overlapping shields. Ladders clung to the wall, and men strove upward before the very door posts, on the rungs"(II:578)

This is a stark contrast with the style portrayed with Homer's writings in which the divine action is shared regularly and consistently through the battles.




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