Although in Greek mythology immortality is a preserve of the gods and goddesses, human beings also have an opportunity to achieve immortal status. Human beings can achieve the status by demonstrating qualities of courage. Most warriors who go into battle in the Iliad and Odyssey hope to achieve glory on the battlefield. They are not afraid of death, because the idea of having their names remembered forever motivates them. Thus, through battle, they earn their immortality. Greek heroes such as Achilles and Ajax manage to achieve the status during the Trojan War. However, their immortality is restricted to their deeds and not their physical selves because according to Greek mythology, human beings and demigods are subject to death.
But you, Achilles,
there’s not a man in the world more blest than you—
there never has been, never will be one. (Conversation between Achilles and Odysseus in the underworld)
A different way that human beings can achieve immortality is if the status is conferred on them by a god, goddess, or other supernatural being with the ability. For instance, Calypso offers to make Odysseus an immortal being.
Odysseus, man of exploits,
still eager to leave at once and hurry back
to your own home, your beloved native land?
Good luck to you, even so. Farewell!
But if you only knew, down deep, what pains
are fated to fill your cup before you reach that shore,
you’d stay right here, preside in our house with me
and be immortal.
In both the Iliad and the Odyssey, death is expected and considered normal, except when the gods or certain events are seen to influence the process. Throughout the Odyssey, Odysseus is protected by the goddess Athena from machinations by the god Poseidon. Athena averts Odysseus’s “unnatural” death and helps him reach home and recover his household.
The Greek attitude toward death and immortality stays the same in both works; both works acknowledge immortality as the preserve of the gods, and death is considered an expected occurrence for all human beings and demigods.
We everlasting gods. . . . Ah what chilling blows
we suffer—thanks to our own conflicting wills—
whenever we show these mortal men some kindness. (Iliad, book 5)
The quest or pursuit for immortality remains a recurring theme in many Greek stories. Immortality was highly valued by the Greek Heroes. Mortals would always look for ways to become immortals and avert death forever. Immortality was associated with divinity and all Gods were considered to be immortals. Being mortal meant to be a human and someone who could die.
In Homer’s Iliad, it is the Greek warrior Achilles whose pursuit of immortality is best remembered. Achilles is given two choices that will decide his future. He can either go to fight in the war or stay at home with his family. If he chooses to stay back with his family, he will live a good and peaceful life, but will not be remembered. This will be the plain life of a mortal. But if he chooses to participate in the war, though he is destined to die, his death will be a glorious one. He will be forever remembered for his courage and excellence. As we see, Achilles chooses to die in the war and exist forever. This is becoming immortal by being remembered forever.
My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I shall not return alive but my name will live for ever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus is also presented with a choice to decide his future. But his decision is very different compared to Achilles'. Odysseus declines Calypso’s offer to marry her and become immortal. He is more interested in uniting with his family and loved ones than becoming immortal. It is shown that he is not afraid to live and die as a mortal. Calypso mentions how important and prized immortality is.
Good luck go with you, but if you could only know how much suffering is in store for you before you get back to your own country, you would stay where you are, keep house along with me, and let me make you immortal, no matter how anxious you may be to see this wife of yours, of whom you are thinking all the time day after day; yet I flatter myself that I am no whit less tall or well-looking than she is, for it is not to be expected that a mortal woman should compare in beauty with an immortal.
We see that Odysseus does not consider immortality to be so warranted as does Achilles. Achilles chooses for an everlasting "life of fame" after death. But Odysseus chooses to live a happy, mortal life with his wife rather than become immortal. So the attitude towards immortality shows a change from Iliad to The Odyssey.