Comparison Of The Greek Relgion In The
Iliad To Christianity Essay, Research Paper
16 March 1999
Comparison of the Greek religion in the Iliad to Christianity
Throughout the Iliad of Homer there can be seen many features of the Greek religion. The
features of religion that appear throughout this epic poem are those that existed during the time of
Homer. By taking a better look at theses main features it can be seen that they are similar to those
of Christianity today. Some of the existing main features of both are the following: the belief in
gods or God, prayer, sacrifice, and funeral rites. However, despite these similarities, each feature
is observed differently by the two religions.
The Greeks in the Iliad believe in many gods. Each god has a specific “power” or “gift” that is
known by people. Zeus is the supreme god in their religion and is also the King of Olympus (16.
233). He is known as the god of clouds and the sky. Other gods include Aphrodite the goddess of
love, Athena the goddess of wisdom, and Apollo the god of prophecy, light, poetry and music.
However, these are just a few of the gods seen in the Iliad. These gods are seen as
anthropomorphic, taking on human characteristics and behavior. This can be seen when Zeus
weeps tears of blood for his own son Sarpedon (16.459-61). He weeps because he wishes to save
his son from his destiny of death. Hera, sister and wife of Zeus, makes it clear that if he toys with
fate this will cause much disturbance among the gods. Also like humans, gods play favorites and
get involved with human events (23. 773-74). The Greek gods in the Iliad are also the parents to
mortals. As was just shown Zeus’ son Sparpedon is in fact a mortal who is destine to die. Other
examples of this are Thetis, mother to Achilles (18. 94-5) and Aphrodite, mother to Aeneas.
The view of God in the Christian religion is quit different from the view of “gods” just seen in
the Greek religion of the Iliad. Christians, unlike the Greeks of Homer’s time, believe in one God
Almighty (Genesis 17: 1-4). He is seen as divine entity, who knows all and sees all. In this aspect
he is definitely not seen by Christians as having any human characteristics, like the gods of the
Iliad are seen by the Greeks. Like the Greek gods, the Christian God too had a mortal son.
To Christians he is known as Jesus, and was sent to earth by God (John 3: 1-2). Like a mortal he
was able to die. However, unlike a regular mortal, Christians see his death as a symbol of
salvation. They believe that he has died for their sins, therefore saving the Christian people.
Although the Christians worship only one God, they see him as three people. This includes God
the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
In the Iliad of Homer mortals make requests to the gods through verbal prayer. The gods often
answer and speak back to the mortals. This can be seen when Chryses prays to Apollo (1.35-42).
He is praying to request assistance from the god. He needs help getting his daughter Chryseis
back. The god verbally speaks back to Chryses. He then answers his prayer by physically sending
a deadly plague throughout the Achaian camp, killing hundreds of the troops. As can be seen
through this example, the Greeks in the Iliad had actual one on one conversations with a god
during time of prayer.
Christian prayer is similar to Greek prayer in the Iliad, in that it is a verbal request to God.
Christian sometimes talk to God during prayer, but mostly prayer is considered a set form of
words used for a devout request (Our Father, Hail Mary, Creed, etc.). It can take place alone or
in a community setting such as church or during mass. It is sometimes, but not always, preformed
when kneeling. The major difference between Christian prayer and prayer in the Iliad is that
Christian prayer is spoken to God or a saintly figure who is unseen. They are not within physical
reach or touch. When Christians pray God does not verbally answer back as the Greek gods do in
the Iliad. God does not answer Christians back with a physical event, such as Apollo sending a
plague. If a physical event does takes place due to Christian prayer(which is rare) it is seen as a
miracle or sign from God.
In the Iliad of Homer sacrifices were preformed before battle, before oaths were taken and
also before a guest and a host began a meal. Sacrifice in the Iliad consists of the slaughtering of an
animal. After the animal is killed the Greeks scatter barley, then cut up the animal. After this they
cover the thigh bone with pieces of flesh and fat. They then pour wine on the ground and eat (1.
418-74). The scattering of the barely represents seeds of life. The purpose of covering the bone
with flesh and fat is to burn. The wine is then used to create a great amount of smoke. This is to
allow them to communicate with the gods. This is the purpose sacrificing this way. When
Chryseis sacrifices the Oxen and prays to Apollo (1. 451-74) it is for an end to the plague from
Danaans. Sacrifice is also used as a form of apology. This is seen when Odysseus returns Chryseis
back to her father with an oxen for sacrifice (1. 308-11). Sacrifice seems to differ from prayer in
the cense that it is a more formal event which is meant to show the respect the Greeks have for
the gods. It seems that when the Greeks sacrifice to the gods in the Iliad there is more of a
separation between mortal and immortal. At times of sacrifice mortals appear to have more
reverence for immortals. It also differs from prayer, in that it is not always preformed in request.
Christian sacrifice in today’s church is seen much differently then sacrifice in Homer’s Iliad.
It is not seen as an animal sacrifice to God. In the religion of Christianity sacrifice may be offered
in the form of a donation to the church or the community. Another form of sacrifice in the
Christian religion is the giving up of something. For example, Christians may give up (sacrifice)
something for forty days until Easter when Christ is risen. Sacrifice in Christianity differs from
prayer because it is not done out of request for something. It is also considered a selfless act in
which one does not except anything in return.
The last feature shared between both religions is funeral rites. In Homer’s Iliad it is seen why
the Greeks preform funerals for heros. The reason for this is to turn the body from impure to pure
and to put their body to rest. This is also a way to protect the living from the vengeance of the
dead (23. 65-92). The acts of funeral mourning include laying the dead on a funeral pyre of
timber, then the mound is heaped over the dead, and their hair is cut (23. 135-53). Eventually, the
dead are burned and their bones are later buried. In honor of the dead funeral games are held (23.
257-61). These events include boxing, wrestling, foot-race, armed combat, shot-put, archery, and
spear throwing contests (23. 651-897). When each event ends prizes are given.
Christian funerals are held as a way for loved ones to celebrate the dead’s life and to mourn
their passing. It is also a way for the soul of the person to go to heaven and they will be at
peace. This is similar to the Greeks putting the dead’s body to rest. The act of funeral mourning in
the Christian religion consists of a ceremony held where prayers are said for the dead and those
left behind. The dead are then usually buried, but sometimes cremated (burned) as shown in the
Greek religion. Although Christians do not hold funeral games in honor of the dead, services are
usually later held in honor and memory of the dead. They are usually held forty days after dead,
when Christian believe the dead have risen to heaven.
By looking at the gods and God, prayer, sacrifice, and funeral rites in both the Greek religion
of the Iliad and of Christianity there can be seen the comparison of these features. Both religions,
in some way share the four features described above. However, both religion practices each
feature in somewhat different ways. By comparing the two, the unique way each religion practices
each feature are seen above. Though it is seen how different they really are, they are in some
ways the same.