Thus, after two more hours of work and rewriting:
Trading Blood for Tears
Sorrow has long been one of mankind’s closest companions. Whether it sprang from a box, or trickled with the sweet juices of a tempting fruit, bitter sadness has plagued humanity for centuries. Because of this longstanding relationship between mortality and tragedy, sorrow is often a central theme in ancient writings. Homer’s Iliad – despite the fact that a large portion of it is devoted to records of violence and hostility – is not the quintessential “war epic” it first appears to be, but rather an astute commentary on the import of sorrow not only in mortal lives, but in immortal lives as well, and in the drawing together of the two.
The lives of the humans in The Iliad are much more complicated – and more importantly more sad – than is sometimes acknowledged. Two particular scenes leap out of the continuous stream of battles and bloodshed: the discussion between Hektor and Andromache, and Priam’s plea to Achilleus (Il. VI, XXIV).
The scene between Hektor and his family is one of the most moving displays of emotion in literature. Hektor’s dear wife, Andromache, entreats him not to go to war, as she fears for his life. She cries, “For me it would be far better to sink into the earth when I have lost you, for there is no other consolation for me after you have gone to your destiny – only grief” (Il. VI:410-413). Hektor replies that he will not surrender his honor, and intends to fight (Il. VI:440-461). Homer then goes on to describe Andromache’s state after hearing her husband’s decision: “[She] mourned in his house over Hektor while he was living still, for [she] thought he would never again come back from the fighting alive” (Il. VI:500-502). And so the wife of Hektor spends the last few days of her husband’s life as if he has already passed on, living in a state of sorrow for what will come.
The second memorable scene from The Iliad involves two enemies. Priam, king of Troy, has lost his son Hektor to the warrior Achilleus. With the help of divinities who pity his sorrow, Priam approaches Achilleus to beg for his son’s body, that he may properly bury him (Il. XXIV:485-506). The true tragedy of the situation is summed up in one line: “The two remembered, as Priam sat huddled at the feet of Achilleus and wept close for manslaughtering Hektor and Achilleus wept now for his own father, now again for Patroklos” (Il. XXIV:509-512). Two men, divided by a war, share the tears that are blind to such division. Together, they weep for what has already come to pass and cannot be undone.
These two examples portray the raw human pain that springs from the fury of war. While the audience is accosted with accounts of battle after battle, until they all run together into a mass of angry chaos, these two interludes are quite distinct (Griggs, class). Homer describes these sad scenes with a softer tone, and the gravity of such emotion is evident in its contrast to the repetitive feeling of the war passages. When tragic situations such as these arise, those same battle accounts that cause the sorrow seem to be nothing more than a tool to convey the emotion of the poet’s true concern: the utter consumption of mortal life by tragedy.
However, it is not only mortals who suffer in these old stories. Gods, too, are vulnerable to sorrow. In the very beginning of The Iliad, the mother of Achilleus shows surprising sympathy for her son’s grief and shame. We see the depth of her pain when Homer says, “Thetis answered him then letting the tears fall: ‘Ah me, my child. Your birth was bitterness’” (Il, I:413-414). Thetis, a goddess of Olympus, sits beside her mortal son and weeps for the pain he must endure.
This Greek story bears a semblance to the account of Enoch in Heaven. According to Moses, “it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept” (Moses 7:28). The great and powerful God of men sat and wept on behalf of all his children. One cannot read such a passage and remain unmoved. The pain of a deity, in whom we wholeheartedly believe, is incredibly poignant. It is relatable; as humans, we can read such passages and draw from our own experience to try to comprehend that divine mourning.
So what is the purpose of sorrow? What could possibly be the benefit of living such a tragic existence? Simply, we experience sorrow to relish the deific connection it creates. If mankind didn’t know sorrow, deities would have no need for pity; conversely, if gods knew no sadness, they would not understand humans, and man would be left alone. The role of sorrow is absolutely crucial.
As humans, our earthly endeavor is to please our gods, and ideally, become like them. We emulate our deities in every manner we can conceive. The race of men is a race of creators – albeit not yet functioning at a level of deific proficiency. Every experience we have is a step in the process to achieve divinity. We read histories of our gods, learn how they speak, and how they act. We lay out rules and guidelines for living in a manner agreeable to these higher beings, in the hopes that they will take pity on us, and that their sorrows will sympathize with our own. Thus, as our gods weep, so do we.
Unfortunately our mortality gets in the way, sometimes. Rather than seeking to emulate our gods through appreciation of divine joy in addition to sorrow, we may be tempted to settle for the sorrow alone. This pain, while as passionate as joy, will not suffice. Only by ending our search for new causes of sorrow, and acknowledging the divinity of sorrow itself can we hope to discover its opposite, and truly trade the lowly shedding of blood for the shedding of pure, divine tears of both sorrow and joy.
I think it reads much better now. Yay constructive criticism!