Thursday, September 30, 2010

Life and Death- Humanities paper

I have to turn in a rough draft for a humanities paper tomorrow morning. It's been the mental works for a while now, but since I don't particularly love writing papers, I haven't written anything more than an outline until tonight. And then I totally changed how I wanted it to go, so the outline did very little. Anyway, it isn't the greatest paper or writing in the world, but it's something interesting to think about. (And it's not too long: only a page.) Enjoy. :)

There are few topics which mankind contemplates more than the meaning of life, and the moment of death. This has always been true, and I suppose it will always remain true; for is there anything more present to our minds than our life?
            I suspect that more than anything, our view of death affects our beliefs of the meaning of life. In the world of the Iliad, to die meant to spend the rest of time in Hades, sitting. There was no reward for good deeds, no great punishment for sins, and no progression. Life, then, was all the meaningful time they had. They weren’t necessarily driven by a “great reward” as much as earthly rewards, duty, and respect from others. Life was a time to become great, to earn glory, to prove your strength above others, and to be the best.
            As time passed, many beliefs about death have evolved. A prevalent one throughout time is there is nothing after death. As a result, life becomes a time to satisfy carnal pleasures. People climb the corporate ladder to become powerful and wealthy, satisfying the human desire for power and ease. People do whatever they can to satisfy their sexual desires and their physical desires, all because this life is all there is, so why not?
            The religious world, on the other hand, tends to belief in some sort of life after death. Whether this means being angels with Jesus in heaven forever, or an eternal progression to become like God ourselves, this belief completely reshapes peoples’ meaning of life. This life becomes a time to prepare, to learn, and even to sacrifice for this “greater good.” The virtues that are valued shift from power, wealth, and satisfaction, to humility, charity, and obedience. Clearly this drastically different belief in what happens after death, has a huge impact on beliefs about the meaning of life.
            Why then, could this influence not go the other way around? Perhaps  it does. How people value life, determines how they view death. Death is a great unknown. It happens to everybody, yet it only happens once for anybody. But, does death end life? This is the question that we must answer ourselves.
            In the world of the Iliad, the Greek and Trojan societies valued glory, honor, and reputation as desirable virtues. This was how they defined meaning in their lives. They also seemed to have an interesting belief that if you had a good reputation, were honorable and glorious, then life did not necessarily end with death. They rested easy knowing that when they were in Hades, their name would be remembered and respected.
            Because of this, the moment of death was incredibly important to them. The pinnacle example of this in the Iliad takes place in the exchange between Achilles and Hector as Hector fights his last battle. As Hector is preparing to fight this last battle, his father Priam pleaded by explaining that “When a young man is killed in war” even though he is wounded and dead, “he lies there beautiful in death, noble.” But, he tells Hector, “there is no human fate more pitiable” than when the dogs maul the body. This advice from Hector’s father gives the hint that death in battle is not the “pitiable” end of a prized life, if he dies honorably. What is pitiable is the death is blemished by a degrading act. With this, Hector goes off to fight Achilles. Some of his last words before the battle are “I’ll be much better off facing Achilles, either killing him, or dying honorably before the city.” This makes it clear that an honorable moment of death is something quite prized indeed.
            As Hector and Achilles face each other, Hector vows that if Achilles falls, Hector will honor his body. He requests the same. Achilles, in his desire for utter revenge, refuses that respect. In that moment, we realize that Hector is fighting out of duty, and has little desire to end Achilles life. Achilles, on the other hand, wants nothing more than for Hector’s death to be such that his life ends; such that he loses his great reputation, and is humiliated. When Achilles drags Hector’s dead body from the back of his chariot, even the gods take pity on Hector and preserve his body from utter disgrace so that he might retain his respect, and live on.
            Whether we view life the same way as the ancient Greeks did, or one of many other beliefs, we all feel a certain way about the moment of death. The common denominator seems to be that if the virtues we valued in life are strong and prevalent at the moment of death, then regardless of where we go after that, we “live on.” Perhaps literally, and perhaps figuratively, but death doesn’t entirely claim life.
As well as I try to say it, I’ll end with the words of one who says it much better: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” –Mark Twain

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