What is more powerful in the myths that Hamilton features- fate or free will? Do the characters have any control over their lives or are they always at the mercy of the gods?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamilton shows that mortals are always subject to a fated condition that is larger than individual free will.  Hamilton's collection of myths shows that mortals who suffer when they believe their own free will over this larger and fated configuration.  These individuals only find redemption and restoration when they are able to acknowledge their own freedom operates within a constitution where the immortals reign supreme and are validated.  It is through this where individuals can find happiness and not incur the brutality of the divine.

Hamilton features myths that substantiate the fated order of the divine. Mortals only find happiness when they understand that the fate of the divine is more totalizing than their free will.  For example, when Hercules transgresses in believing that his own free will is more powerful than the divine, he suffers. Hercules's lack of self control and moderation are examples of traits where he values his free will over the larger configuration of fate.  When he channels his own significant energies towards this larger construction, Hercules finds happiness.  An instance of this is when Hercules offends the Oracle of Delphi, and revels in his free will.  Yet, when this free will causes him to do unspeakable acts, it is through submission of his free will to the fated divine that enables Hercules to find hope and restoration.  Free will enables the individual to submit to the will of the immortals. When this is done, the fated structure of the universe is upheld.  The individual who does not do this finds themselves at the mercy of the immortals.  The result of this dynamic always results in a substantiation of this fated configuration.  The myth of Hercules demonstrates this.  

The myth of Hercules shows how free will without an understanding of fate can cause individuals to suffer.  Another instance where Hamilton shows how free will can be destructive would be in the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Psyche being worshipped for her beauty over Venus is an instance where individual free will fails to acknowledge a fate constitution of being.  Psyche uses her free will without an acknowledgement of the fated configuration of the divine.  This spells destruction for her as she incurs the goddess's wrath.  When she is able to submit her will in accomplishing the tasks that Venus lays out for her, Hamilton shows her free will as being geared towards a larger configuration. Yet, when curiosity gets the best of her, it is another example of free will overriding the will of the divine.  It is only through the work of fate, in the form of Cupid's deliverance, that Psyche is spared.  As she is elevated, the fated configuration is restored, as her beauty will no longer rival the goddess Venus. In this myth, one sees how Hamilton suggests that free will can benefit mortals so long as it is channeled towards the the structure of fate.

When Hamilton depicts the myths of Greek heroes, one sees unchecked free will leads to demise in accordance to the Gods' will.  Theseus abandons his responsibilities, reflections of what individual free will should do in order to please the divine, and he suffers.  Odysseus offends the divine through his free will and suffers.  He pleases the divine, reaffirming the fated construction, and is rewarded. Orestes' suffering is not alleviated because of his free will.  Rather, it is only when the divine operates in a restorative capacity does he find his suffering alleviated. Oedipus refuses to acknowledge the condition of fate.  He suffers as a result.  In these examples, characters have control over their lives. Yet, their free will has to be geared towards substantiating the order that validates the divine. Fate ends up winning out over any attempt at individual exercising free will. 

When a fated structure is understood in characters' actions, they are not at the mercy of the divine.  Free will is present.  Characters do have control over their lives, but it must be acknowledged within a larger context that exists outside of their own actions.  When individuals fail to heed this fated structure, their suffering becomes inevitable.  In this regard, Hamilton's narrative reaffirms the construction of Greek "civilization."  It was predicated upon the structure of the divine.  Being able to envision human free will within a larger structure of fate that validated the divine helped to achieve this sense of "civilization."