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Relationship versus Alienation

As  opposites, relationship and alienation reveal much about character. In Homers The Iliad, Achilles tragic flaw, anger, and his petty pursuit of honor cause his alienation from society. His reconnection comes only after his friend Patroclus dies and he sees that the he has focused his life on trivial rewards rather than love. Herbert Masons title character, Gilgamesh, is also distracted from his friendship, and his friend, Enkidu, must die before he appreciates the importance of the relationship.

It takes an unmediated conversation with God for the Bible figure, Job, to realize that his alienation is self-inflicted because he doubts God. After this recognition, he is able to regain his identity as a religious shepherd. Achilles, Gilgamesh, and Job feel alienation from their individual beliefs, their relationships with others, or their relationship with their god or gods, but they also eventually work back toward regaining connection and rebuilding identity. By definition, a storys tragic hero must have a tragic flaw.

In The Iliad, the tragic hero Achilles displays excessive anger. Even though his anger motivates him as a great warrior, it is, conversely, his tragic flaw. Also known in Greek as thumos (1), or intense spiritedness, this anger is the factor that eparates Achilles from the rest of his society in a number of ways. His rage, or mnis (2), against Agamemnon and Hector causes his desertion the war effort, the death of his friend, Patroclus, and his own eventual death. In Book I, Achilles is motivated by a need for the character trait that classified him as a hero… lory.

His thumos causes Achilles to disconnect himself from society. He is focused so much on the acquisition of glory and a divine reward for a glorious life, not to mention Briseus as his prize, that he cannot bring himself to battle. Later, in Book XVI of The Iliad, Achilles anger is his weakness, and the ause of Patroclus death. Achilles sends Patroclus with the Myrmidons and lends him his own armor, telling him to repel the Trojans from the ships, but never go further.

He reasons that his reputation would be ruined if Patroclus failed: No doom my noble mother revealed to me from Zeus, just this terrible pain that wounds me to the quick- when one man attempts to plunder a man his equal, to commandeer a prize, exulting so in his power. Thats the pain that wounds me, suffering such humiliation. (3) He continues to persuade Patroclus, saying …. you can win great honor, great glory for me in the eyes of all the Argive ranks(4). Although Achilles is appealing to Patroclus sense of friendship, Achilles himself is estranged from his own sense of friendship because he is so blinded by his quest for glory.

In this case, Achilles alienates himself from his community. Upon Patroclus death, Achilles awakens to the true spirit of his relationship with his friend. The glory and honor that once ruled his life now mean nothing compared to his bond with Patroclus. Achilles, the mighty warrior, falls … overpowered in all his power, sprawled in the dust… tearing his hair, defiling it with his own hands(5). However, his self-inflicted lienation has cost him the life of his friend, and by the time he comes to realize that love is more important than conquest, it is too late.

The result, Achilles isolation from community and relationship, has caused him to feel intense anomy (6), that there is no meaning or reason to life. Because of Patroclus death, he has become dehumanized and unattached to his own feelings and rational behavior. His alienation from himself then leads to his inability to actively participate in his formerly comfortable society. Both The Iliad and The Odyssey teach that it takes a long time for a person ho has totally been lost in a traumatizing event, such as war, to finally be found.

This idea of alienation from self, or disconnection from ones beliefs and personal history, is clear in the story of Odysseus. After his battles in the Trojan War, Odysseus must travel many years, not only to find his home, but to overcome numerous obstacles to rediscover his pre-war self. The Iliad also portrays this idea of self-rediscovery as Achilles attempts to renew himself after losing himself in war. First, however, Achilles rages on, as in the episode where he slaughters the men by the river. Although he still possesses he thumos, he is working his way toward transformation.

He never makes it home like Odysseus, because he dies first, but this is what makes his heroism tragic. Both Achilles and Odysseus become human after living for so long as machines of war. As they rebuild their dignity, they both reabsorb into society, though Achilles only lives on as a legend of war while Odysseus goes on to rebuilds his relationships. The story of Gilgamesh portrays relationships in much the same way as The Iliad. Once they meet, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become instant friends. In fact, they are so close that they have a yin-yang type relationship whereby they are erfect complements for each other.

What Gilgamesh lacks in bravery, Enkidu makes up in courage, and what Enkidu needs in interpersonal skills, Gilgamesh provides with his position as a semi-god. The first stanza of the poem summarizes the story, stating Gilgamesh was a god and man;/ Enkidu was an animal and man. / It is the story/ Of their becoming human together (7). Since Gilgamesh and Enkidu are not wholly man, they are alienated from society. They cannot relate to other members of their community because they are unique. Their differences, in fact, cause the strong bond of their friendship.

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