What does the epic show about human beings in the face of tragedy?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Homer's Iliad helps to define tragedy as the collision between separate courses of action that are equally desirable, but ultimately incompatible.  This can be seen best in Hector.  The Prince of Troy is constantly pitted in moments where the conflict between desire and duty, family and country, individual hopes for happiness in the face of political responsibility all trap him.  When he wears his battle armor and his child cries, he offers a prayer for his son and in this light, the reader can see how Hector is trapped in the story.  He seeks not to fight, yet is a gifted fighter who must do what he doesn't want to.  He is devoted to his family, but ends up dying for their honor. He is in love with his wife and child, but is torn from them.  In the end, Homer shows the pain, what Sartre would call "agony," in what it means to be human.  Within such a conception, there can be "no exit," to borrow another Sartrean term, from such a condition.  The tragic condition that plagues human beings is one from which the only absolute is pain and hurt.