"The Iliad" recounts the destruction between 1250-1200 B.C. of thecity-state of Troy. A coalition of Greek armies sacked Troy after 10 yearsof war and the use of the so-called Trojan horse, a secret weapon containinghidden "special operations" troops.
Achilles, the charismatic and indestructible leader of his commando-likeMyrmidon soldiers, was part of the huge force aligned against Troy. But hewas an unwilling partner in the coalition. Achilles was a mercurial freeagent who chose when and where to fight. Following someone else's orders wasnot his thing.
Enormously skilled at warfare, Achilles killed many men, includingHector, a prince of Troy in a climactic duel. However, the young godlikeAchilles was ultimately killed himself after a Trojan arrow severed hisvulnerable heel tendon.
Homer declares that fate and the Greek gods were the driving forces inAchilles' life and career. Thetis, his mother, instead of cooling her son'sardor for war and gore, urged Achilles to pursue his destiny as a gloriouswarrior: "Doomed to a short life, you have so little time."
Achilles realized he would never father children or delight in being agrandfather. Instead, the gods -- fate -- have decreed a brief life.Achilles also knew he must ultimately die in the midst of battle. Whateverhis personal misgivings about a life of warfare, Achilles was aware, asHomer writes, "... the will of Zeus will always overpower the will of men."
Achilles bore no moral responsibility for his actions, whether cruel orkind. Homer even has Achilles' horse say: "But the day of death alreadyhovers near ... the great god is the strong force of fate."
In sharp contrast to Homer and his Achilles character, is the HebrewBible and its account of another ancient superstar warrior of theMediterranean area. David, king of Israel, lived about 250 years afterAchilles, and at first glance, the two men had much in common.
Like the Greek warrior, David was charismatic, and attracted devotedsoldiers and adoring women. David first gained fame as the 17-year-oldslayer of Goliath, the Philistine Terminator, and the Bible records thatDavid slew tens of thousands of enemies. David and Achilles each played thelyre, a stringed musical instrument that subdued the violent urges in bothmen.
Achilles' "soul mate" was his male cousin, Patroclus, and it is thebattlefield death of Patroclus, and not politics that finally compelledAchilles to actively join the anti-Trojan coalition. The Bible describes theclose friendship between David and Jonathan, King Saul's son. LikePatroclus, Jonathan was also killed in battle, and David deeply mourned theloss.
But there are enormous differences between Achilles and David,reflecting the dichotomy between classic Greek and Hebrew views of humanbehavior. "The Iliad" opens with the phrase "the will of Zeus," indicatingthat the gods control our destinies.
David, unlike Achilles, lived a long life complete with multiple wivesand disappointing rebellious children. However, David's errors and sins, andthere are many, are not attributed to God or fate, but to the man himself.David, unlike Achilles, shaped his own destiny with acts of bravery andbeauty, and with acts of cruelty and callousness. But the Hebrew monarchalways had the ability to change his behavior.
At the end of David's life, there was a reckoning of the soul and aprice paid for his sins. God prevented David from erecting the Holy Templein Jerusalem because the king's hands were bloody and sinful. The honor ofbuilding the Temple was left to Solomon, David's son.
Young Achilles exited history in warfare, a victim of the gods. At hisdeath, David was no victim of unchanging fate. Instead God rendered moraljudgment upon Israel's king and the life of virtue and sin David chose forhimself.
Blind fate vs. conscious choice: the great difference between Homer andthe Bible.