Role Of Greek Gods In The Illiad

Essay, Research Paper

Role of Greek Gods In the Illiad

With our view of God, it can sometimes be difficult to comprehend

the actions and thinking of the Greek deities. The Christian God does

not tend to take such an active role in the affairs of people’s lives,

where, on the other hand, the Greeks regarded direct involvement by

the gods as a daily, uncontrollable part of life. Needless to say,

divine intervention was a major variable in the equation of Homer’s


The gods picked who they would favour for different reasons.

Except Zeus: As the symbol of supreme authority and justice, he makes

judgement calls as to the other gods’ involvement in the war, remains

impartial, and doesn’t seem to get caught up in picking favourites.

Even when his own son, Sarpedon, was about to die, Zeus chose to let

the outcome go unaltered.

On the other hand, Zeus’s wife, Hera, displayed the more typical

actions of a god. After Paris, a Trojan, judged Aphrodite the fairest

over Hera, and, after her daughter Hebe was replaced as cupbearer to

the gods by a young Trojan boy, she was quite resentful towards Troy

and its people. Obviously she sided with the Greeks and would stop at

no length to express her will. Scheming and manipulating she even

dared to trick her husband, King of the Gods. Hera, along with Athena,

who was also passed over by Paris, is seen as the chief divine aid to

the Greeks.

Being the god of the sea, Poseidon was another strong supporter

of the ocean-faring Greeks. Whenever Zeus turned his back Poseidon

tried to help the Greeks in the fight. Poseidon felt that he was

somewhat Zeus’s equal as his brother, but recognizing Zeus’s authority

and experience, he looked to Zeus as an elder.

There were also Gods who favoured the Trojan side of the

conflict. Both Apollo and Artemis, twin brother and sister, gave aid

to the city of Troy. Although Artemis takes a rather minor role,

Apollo, perhaps angered by Agamemmnon’s refusal to ransom Khryseis,

the daughter of one of his priests and was constantly changing the

course of the war in favour of the Trojans. Responsible for sending

plague to the Greeks, Apollo was the first god to make an appearance

in the Iliad. Also, mainly because Apollo and Artemis were on the

Trojan side, their mother, Leto, also helped the Trojans.

Aphrodite, obviously supporting Paris’s judgement, sided with the

Trojans. Although she was insignificant on the battlefield, Aphrodite

was successful in convincing Ares, her lover and the god of war, to

help the Trojans.

One view of the gods’ seemingly constant intervention in the war

was that they were just setting fate back on the right course. For

instance, when Patroklos was killed outside of Troy, Apollo felt no

guilt for his doings. It had already been decided that Patroklos would

not take Troy, he should never have disobeyed Achilles in the first

place. As a god, he was just setting fate on a straight line. Achilles

laid blame on Hektor and the Trojans. He did not even consider

accusing Apollo, who never came into question, although he was

primarily responsible for the kill. Apollo’s part in the matter was

merely accepted as a natural disaster or illness would be today.

This general acceptance of a god’s will is a recurring trend

throughout the poem. A prime example of this trend is in book XXIV.

Achilles, angry over the death of Patroklos brutally disgraced

Hektor’s body. Tethering Hektor’s corpse through the ankles, Achilles

dragged him around Patroklos’s tomb every day for twelve days.

This barbaric treatment was uncalled for and displeased the gods

greatly. Achilles mother, Thetis, was sent by Zeus to tell him to

ransom the body back to the Trojans. One may think Achilles would be

possessive of the body and attempt to put up a fuss as he did before

with Agamemmnon in Book I. But, Achilles showed humility and respect

for the gods and immediately agreed to ransom the body to the Trojans,

showing that all mortals, even god-like Achilles, were answerable to

the gods.

This ideology would seem to give the gods a sort of unlimited

freedom on earth, although, the gods could not always do as they

pleased and eventually had to come before Zeus. Zeus acted as a

balance of sorts throughout the Iliad. He had to keep the gods in

order and make sure that what fate decreed would happen. For example,

after Achilles re-enters the battle Zeus declared that if Achilles was

allowed to go on slaughtering the Trojans with nothing to slow him

down, he would take Troy before fate said it would happen. Therefore,

to counter Achilles massive retaliation against the Trojans, Zeus

allowed the gods to go back to the battle field.

In Zeus’s own interests, he preferred to deal with issues more

personal to the individual heros of the Iliad. This can be seen

throughout the book as Zeus attempted to increase the honour of

certain individuals. Zeus knew that Hektor was going to be killed by

Achilles, and, feeling sorry for Hektor Zeus attempted to allow Hektor

to die an honourable death. For instance, when Hektor stripped

Achilles armour off Patroklos, Zeus helped Hektor “fill out” the

armour so he would not seem like less of a man then Achilles. Zeus

also gave his word to Thetis that Achilles would gain much glory

showing his involvement on a personal level.

Homer used the gods and their actions to establish twists on the

plot of the war. It would not have been possible for him to write the

story without the divine interventions of the gods. Indeed, they

affected every aspect the poem in some way, shape or form. Yet, from

the immortal perspective of the Greek god, the Trojan war, and

everything related to it, was only a passing adventure in the great

expanse of time.


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