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Definite Fate in Ancient Greece

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Definite Fate in Ancient Greece

        Fate has been an important concept that determines the lives of the people of Ancient Greece.  During this time, it was widely believed that there was no escaping fate.  Although, this knowledge is widespread and understood by many during this time, in stories such as the legend of Perseus, Homer’s the Iliad and Oedipus at Colonus it is shown that some characters would go to great lengths to alter their fate, even though they know such an aim is futile.  At most, the interactions these characters have with the gods of this time allow for their pending fate to be prolonged.  In all, fate in Ancient Greece is a phenomenon that cannot be escaped but through interaction and maybe relationship with the Greek gods, their fates may be extended.

        Ancient Greek’s believed that a person’s fate cannot be changed; regardless of the attempts made to try and change one’s fate.  However, the outcome seems to return to the predestined fate that had been laid out beforehand.  This is true for the case of Perseus.  In the story, the oracle at Delphi prophesies and tells Akrisios, which is the father of Danae and grandfather of Perseus, that he will never have a son.  And that his daughter’s son will kill him.  Immediately, Akrisios makes an attempt to prevent this fate from happening.  Fearing that the gods may kill him if he were to slay Danae, he “built a brazen chamber underground and there guarded Danae” (Lopez-Ruiz, 255).  In order for Akrisios to not fall under his predestined fate he makes an attempt to change it by making sure his daughter does not get pregnant.  Despite the widely accepted view of unchanging fate, he still makes the attempt.  Later on in the story due to Zeus impregnating Danae the prophecy comes to fruition due to a god’s involvement.  It was in an event that Perseus partook in that he mistakenly killed his father, “But in throwing in the quoit he struck Akrisios on the foot and killed him instantly” (Lopez-Ruiz, 256).  In regards to unchanging fate, it is shown clearly that fate cannot be altered.  Given the example of Akrisios, no matter what he tried his efforts were futile in deterring and inevitably stopping the outcome of the fate he was already predestined.  In the ancient Greek world people accepted fate as an unchanging and predestined occurrence.  Regardless of the choices a person makes during those times a person’s fate would not be altered.  The outcome remains the same no matter the case or experience that the person goes through.

        In accordance with the previous statements, even though fate is an unchanging phenomenon in the ancient world, it is through divine intervention that we see some heroes have a sort of extension or prolongation to their predetermined fate.  The gods seem to play a key role during the span of a person’s life up to the time they reach the “fate” that they are destined to achieve.  The gods tend to act as intermediaries between fate and the people.  Meaning, their underlying role is to have the peoples fate go through as predetermined but in ways that suit their views.  They can choose the life the person is to live and hardships but the fate of the person is forever unchanged.  For example, in Homer’s the Iliad, Zeus proclaims, “Ah me, that it is destined that the dearest of men, Sarpedon, must go down under the hands of Menoitios' son Patroclus.  The heart in my breast is balanced between two ways as I ponder, whether I should snatch him out of the sorrowful battle and set him down still alive in the rich country of Lykia, or beat him under at the hands of the son of Menoitios” (Book 16, lines 433-438).  This may seem to be the opposite of the definition of fate by Zeus attempting to aid Sarpedon, however Zeus is thinking about whether or not he should save Sarpedon from death, and knowingly by doing this Zeus will be aiding in Sarpedon conquering his fate and staying alive.  In the end, Zeus does not save Sarpedon and he dies.  The importance of this shows the proof that regardless of intervention by the gods they only act as intermediaries of the fate of the Greek people.  Zeus’ options were to intervene or not to. And Zeus chose not to, meaning that fate was already in play when he made his decision.  Sarpedon was destined to die, and as fate would have it, he did die.  As stated, the gods are important and act as the underlying factors between a persons predestined fate.  This in turn shows that fate is not even controlled by the powerful gods of Greek times but by its own natural phenomenon.  And that a persons defined fate is unchanging.



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