Fate in the Modern Era: An Exploration of Privilege in Contemporary Society

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Fate in the Modern Era: An Exploration of Privilege in Contemporary Society
Fate is a strange phenomenon for the modern reader to ponder. In our contemporary mindset, personal responsibility is emphasized and free will is accepted as the norm. It seems that only the superstitious or provincial speak of fate as a force beyond our control or understanding. However, in the Iliad and many other works of Greek literature, fate is such a natural and ubiquitous phenomenal that it is accepted as a reality of daily life. The question for the befuddled modern reader becomes: is the concept of fate still relevant in the world today? What does fate look like, when it clearly is not embodied by epic gods?

As I began reading the Iliad and embarked on my Iliadic journey, I believed that fate held no place in the modern world. I saw fate as the concept was presented by Homer; as an outlandish script that was written and engineered by equally otherworldly mythical figures. However after attending the 11th Annual Arthur and Mary Platsis Symposium on the Greek Legacy, I have begun to see the apt parallels between the role of fate in the time of Achilles, Agamemnon and Hector, and in my own life today.

As discussed by lecturer Lloyd L. Weinreb of Harvard University, privilege and gifts of birth seem to have taken the place of the gods to fulfill the role of fate in contemporary society. As I embarked on my college admissions process last fall, no lesson could have been clearer. Some students seemed to have every benefit, while others were left to fend for themselves in the confusing and cutthroat field of higher education. These factors, which included socio-economic status, parental support, and level of academic preparation, created an extensive divide between otherwise equally promising students. Although this modern definition of fate no longer includes all-powerful gods, all-knowing oracles, and foretold deaths, it has equally crushing effects beyond the mere process of college applications. Just as fate foretold death for Hector and glory for Achilles in the Iliad so too do modern day features of birth forever shape a person’s existence; whether that person be destined for a life of ease and comfort, or hunger, strife and fear. Both of these concepts of destiny/fate seem senseless, without reason, plan or a sense of fairness.

As a result of the Platsis Symposium, I set out to consider the role of fate in contemporary society. After careful thought, it seems clear that fate has played a role across history and throughout cultures, although it often operates under varying definitions and titles. Perhaps the only one detail separates the Greek definition of fate from a more modern understanding of the term, for while individuals are shaped by their fates today, it no longer has to define them. Being born in adverse circumstances is not a death sentence, as an edict from the gods might be, but a starting point from which the individual can choose what to value, how to learn from their experiences and what knew fate they want to create for themselves.

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