How does the Iliad exemplify the ancient definition of tragedy?

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One of the most poignant aspects of Homer's Iliad is his development of the ancient definition of tragedy. Homer is able to display characters who are poised between equally desirable, but ultimately incompatible courses of action. Placed in such brutally agonizing conditions, human beings find little salvation. There is no external reality that can alleviate the agonizing condition of choice, a condition that Homer seems to suggest is intrinsic to being human. Homer develops a notion of tragedy that challenges our initial understanding. We would normally see tragedy as a reality where something "good" is met with something "bad." However, the characterizations offered in the Iliad suggest that a truly tragic condition exist when there is a collision between two goods.

Hector embodies this state of being. His entire existence is poised between mutually exclusive realities. The loyalty he holds to Paris, while disagreeing with his brother's immature choice, the collision between having to fight for Troy and remain with his family, the love he has for the honor of Troy and the regard he has for the soldiers who must lay down their lives for it, and the crash between desire and duty are all integral aspects of his characterization. His final confrontation with Achilles is one where the desire to flee and the need to stay and accept the inevitable reflects this tortured condition. Hector lives a life that is constantly posited between two good, the location of tragedy. At the same time, Achilles faces a similar predicament in his involvement in the war. He understands the desire for immortality is mutually exclusive with living a life of contentment and happiness. The reconciliation with Priam is an instant where sanctuary can be taken from the inevitable condition of his own death as a result of his participation in the Trojan War.

Homer depicts the life dedicated to honor as one that is rooted in a tragic collision between two notions of the good. This is the ultimate legacy of the Classical tradition, a reality that Homer describes in a beautiful acknowledgement of what it means to be a human being.

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