Anna Katherine Barnett-Hart
TF: Brian Doak
Fate the Puppet Master
The role of the Gods and the Supernatural in the lives of heroes
The conflict between fate and free will is one that concerns both romantic and epic heroes. In Greek literature, the Gods ruling from atop Mount Olympus are always at the forefront of the lives of mortals, interfering and often determining the ultimate outcome of the epic hero’s quest. The question of individual agency is one that also pervades the journeys of modern romantic heroes, with the tragedy of these character’s situations often stemming from things outside their control. The role of fate is central to the stories of two literary heroes, Hector, from Homer’s Iliad, and Hoffmann, from Offenbach’s opera, The Tales of Hoffmann. The outcome of both Hector and Hoffmann’s missions are foretold, with outside forces ensuring the death of Hector and the heartbreak of Hoffmann. However, despite the limitations of human agency central to both stories, there remains a major difference between Hector and Hoffmann. While the tragedy of Hector comes from the fact that he is aware of his own fate, Hoffmann’s downfall comes from his own ignorance of the forces beyond his control. Comparing Hector’s death in the book 22 of the Iliad with Hoffmann’s love for Olympia in Act II of The Tales of Hoffmann, we see that while Hector’s heroism stems from his decision to act despite knowledge of his inevitable doom, Hoffmann’s heroism arises from his decision to pursue the ideal of romantic love despite his ignorance of forces outside of his control.
In the Iliad, the Gods decide Hectors fate, as the entire war is merely “the will of Zeus…moving toward its end” (1.7). In scroll 22, the Trojans have been forced to retreat as Achilles savagely attacks them, but Hector is determined to face Achilles and preserve his glory. The Gods watch the events unfold, and Zeus considers intervening to help Hector, yet Athena objects, as...