Achilles' Wrath and the Plan of Zeus
The Iliad 1 begins and ends showing people in a normal state, before and after the wrath of Achilles has precipitated the plan of Zeus. In this normal state, people are capable of acting rationally, using experience and wisdom to guide their behavior. However, during the main action of the Iliad, the wrath of Achilles and the plan of Zeus, people live in an extraordinary state of human/divine crisis, because human emotions have broken down those barriers which serve to protect them from the gods.2 In such a human/divine crisis, the disorder of human passion spreads outward, intensifying like a plague, affecting the gods themselves and disrupting the normal order of the cosmos. The resulting cosmic disorder is wonderfully represented in the Iliad by the chaotic battle of the elements between the river Xanthus (water) and the god Hephaestus (fire). The passions of the gods are stimulated and magnified by the emotions of human beings, producing an interactive intensification of violence that can only be ultimately controlled by the plan of Zeus, requiring the deaths of Patroclus and Hector. These deaths, carefully orchestrated by Zeus, serve to reestablish boundaries and distance between humans and the gods: their relationships are normalized; the barriers are restored; and the contacts between humans and the gods are once again carefully regulated by the prudence and rituals which serve to protect people from the gods. Human actions initiate events in the Iliad. However, once the gods are involved, people become helplessly caught up in the terrible logic of a system of rules that operate as relentlessly as the laws of physics. This system is called the plan of Zeus; it is inexorable; it is deadly; it works itself out by causing many human deaths. It is a balance of powers rather than a system of morality. The golden scale expresses the essence of the law of Zeus--balance. Human actions upset that balance in the first place, causing the human/divine crisis of total war that governs the action of the Iliad.3 Anger is the emotion that disturbs the distance between human beings and the gods in the Iliad. Uncontrolled anger destroys orderly social relationships and upsets the balance of correct actions necessary to keep the gods away from human beings. Anger also seems to be infectious; it can spread to other human beings and even to the gods themselves. But anger can and should be controlled, in order to preserve human society and protect it from the wrath of the gods.4 Book 1 provides several examples of situations involving anger, demonstrating both correct and incorrect means of dealing with it. Agamemnon directs his anger against Chryses, Calchas, and Achilles, all men with close relationships to the gods. Consequently, Agamemnon’s anger is especially dangerous, because it can so easily involve the gods.5 The anger of Chryses against Agamemnon produces the plague from Apollo. The anger of Achilles against Agamemnon sets off the wrath. Once Achilles petitions Zeus for revenge, the plan of Zeus is put into action, which in turn sets off the anger of Hera against Zeus, as well as the anger of various other gods, each with his/her own agenda. Anger in the Iliad can be directed outward against the enemy, as in a war, or it can be directed inward, against one's own social group. These two modes of anger have radically different results: one promotes the order of the world; the other destroys it. The anger of Chryses against Agamemnon is actually constructive. Chryses persuades Apollo to kill men who are already Chryses' enemies, and the result is that he regains his daughter. But the anger of Achilles is purely destructive, since he persuades Zeus, via Thetis, to destroy members of Achilles' own social group and glorify the enemies of that group, purely for personal honor.6 When the Iliad starts, a plague caused by Agamemnon's behavior is killing many Greeks. Chryses, a priest of Apollo,...
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