Iliad Essay Research Paper The goddesses have

Iliad Essay, Research Paper

The goddesses have a major role in both epics as Helpers of men. They have varied reasons for this.

One is a maternal instinct. This is displayed in the literal mother-son relationships of Aphrodite and Aeneas, Thetis and Achilles, and the protective instinct that Athene displays in Book 3 of the Iliad when Pandarus arrow shot an arrow at Menelaus and she “took her stand in front and warded off the piercing dart, turning it just a little from the flesh, like a mother driving a fly away from her gently sleeping child” [p80]. Another motive of the goddesses is revenge. Athene and Hera are determined to destroy Troy to repay Paris for his Judgement when he “fell into the fatal error of humiliating the two goddesses by his preference for [Aphrodite], who offered him the pleasures and penalties of love” [p438]. In the Odyssey, Athene’s major motive for helping Odysseus often seems to simply be pity – such as in the speech she gives to Zeus at the beginning of book 5, p88.

Some goddesses only help heroes because they have been ordered to do so by more powerful gods. Calypso agrees to let Odysseus go only when she is asked to by Hermes on behalf of Zeus.

Goddesses might also help humans out of love, or sexual desire for them, as with Calypso and Circe. In the Iliad, Aphrodite who personifies sexual desire helps Paris, her favourite, so he can get back to Helen’s bed and Aphrodite can revel in their lovemaking, which is an honour to her.

Goddesses help men in the Iliad by making them more able to fight, such as the episode in Book 27 [p331] where Menelaus prays to Athene to help him, and in return she “strengthened his shoulders and his knees and planted in his breast the daring of a fly “, and Achilles’ return to battle, where the goddess feeds him with divine food to sustain him in battle.

Goddesses may help less able heroes in battle by removing them from the field, or disguising them. Aphrodite rescues Paris [p74] and Aeneas [p100] from the field when they are having difficulties.

Goddesses physically influence the weapons being used in battle. In the case of Pandarus breaking the truce between the two sides, Athene stops the arrow fired at from being fatal by deflecting it.

Another means by which goddesses help humans is by making people appear more fearful or more beautiful. When Achilles ventures out to the Greek wall in Book 18 [p342] to raise a battle cry, he is joined by Athene, and together they terrify the Trojans.

The support of a goddess defines whether an action will be successful or not.

The outcome of the war is in part foretold by the goddesses who have chosen to support each side. Here and Athene support the Achaeans, both powerful goddesses with very close connections to Zeus (as his wife and closest daughter) who have already been shown as capable of influencing Zeus’ decisions.

The Trojan side has as its patron goddesses Artemis and Aphrodite. This does not bode well for the Trojans, as Artemis is portayed as useless in battle – the most major fight she gets into is with Hera in Book 21 [p392], where she bursts into tears and runs away, compared to a “pigeon that flies before a hawk and has the luck to get away alive “. She is clearly no match for Here, and similarly Aphrodite is no match for Athene. Aphrodite is recognised as a “timid goddess” by Diomedes, she is “not one of those that play a dominating part in the battles of mankind, such as Athene, or Enyo, sacker of towns”. When Aphrodite is attacked by Athene in Book 21 [p391], “Aphrodite, showing no fight at all, collapsed at once”. The contrast between the goddesses on each side of the battle serves to underline the fate of Troy, by highlighting the difference in power between the two sides.

When an individual has the support of a goddess it gives them a greater chance of success in their endeavours. When Nestor notices Telemachus’ companion turn into an eagle and fly away, he gains respect for Telemachus: “my friend, no fear that you will ever be a dastard or a knave, when, young as you are, you already have your guardian gods” [Book 3 p60]. Odysseus has Athene’s support, and although he doesn’t trust in it completely, it implies he will get home.

While goddesses may choose to support men, they are can not decide the ultimate details of their fate – this is left to Zeus and the male gods. Apollo starts the action of the Iliad – “Which of the gods was it that made them quarrel? It was Apollo, Son of Zeus and Leto, who started the feud” [Book 1 p23], and Zeus ends it. Zeus decides when to make people win and lose, and when the other gods have to leave the battle.

If the goddesses wish to decide the course of action, they must influence Zeus or a suitably powerful male god to make a favourable decision. Thetis does this by supplication. In Book 1 [p36] she touches Zeus’ chin and appeals to the favours she has done him previously. In doing so, she influences Zeus to support the Trojans until Achilles returns to battle. Thetis employs the same technique when begging Hephaestus to make new armour for Achilles.

Hera’s resources largely extend to preventing others from action. In Book 14, Hera seduces Zeus, preventing him from action and allowing Poseidon to rturn to the battlefield in support of the Achaeans. When she wants to change something, she is restricted to complaining to Zeus, and is humbled when he chooses not to listen to her.

Athene is capable of action, but not decisions. She most often descends to the battlefield when ordered to do so by Zeus or Here, and when she has an opinion on the battle, she has to ask Zeus before she can take action.

Goddesses may also choose to oppose particular heroes.

In the duel between Hector and Achilles in Book22 of the Iliad, Athene disguises herself as Deiphobus, giving Hector the impression that he is not fighting alone. Because of this deception, Hector turns to face Achilles and is killed.

The goddesses in the Iliad are overwhelmingly defined in terms of their relationships with men.

Thetis’ only role in the Iliad is as the mother of Achilles – she has no place in the action where she is not acting for the benefit of her son. Hera is the consort of Zeus, and has significant relationships with noone else excent for Athene, Zeus’ closest daughter.

Athene is commonly addressed as “the Unsleeping daughter of Aegis-bearing Zeus” (for example, p44). In the Iliad she has very little personality of her own, and carries out her actions most often because she has been asked to do so by Zeus or Here. In older myth, she sprang fully formed from Zeus’ forehead, so she has no mother, and is an off-shoot of Zeus. Aphrodite is “Zeus’ daughter” [p100], and also has relationships with Paris and Aeneas, her favourite and her son.

Even “chaste” Artemis, traditionally more free form male control, is here depicted as merely a spoilt child of Zeus

and sister of Apollo.

Pallas Athena also wields an influential power, through her intelligence and her supernatural power as a goddess. She directs the actions of men, such as Achilles, by making herself invisible to all others except Achilles, and then plucking his hair and warning him not to strike Agamemnon. Achilles does not strike Agamemnon, and a grand mistake is avoided. Athena also influences the actions of Achilles by handing him a spear during the final battle against Hector. By handing Achilles the spear, Achilles knows that he is to kill him. If Athena had not interfered, Achilles would not have delivered his fatal attack.

The competition for power and ultimate victory is continuous throughout the Iliad. Several characters including gods and men, attempt to assume authority and rule in order to fulfill personal endeavors and obtain self-gratification. However, it is often that by themselves, these strong figures cannot carry out the tasks that they wish to accomplish. Instead, they are quick to manipulate and beg in order to have the job completed by someone else. On both the human and immortal level, individuals constantly need the help of others in their struggle for supremacy.

At first, discord arises due to the greed of Agamemnon, yet Achilleus prolongs the problem by holding on to his anger. He acts such as a tantrum-throwing child does when Pallus Athene disallows him from continuing his argument. To prove his point, he has to ask his mother to go to Zeus, and plead for him to help the Trojans so that Atreus son wide-ruling Agamemnon may recognize his madness, that he did no honor to the best of the Achaians (I, 411-412) Achilleus puts himself above the rest of the Achaians, but does not act


accordingly to the position he claims for himself. He forgets that as leader, the consequences of his actions, also affects those whom he holds in his charge, and close to his heart.

Furthermore, instead of assuming full responsibility for his situation, Achilleus places part of the load on his mother Thetis, as well as Zeus. In drawing gods into the conflict, Achilleus further complicates the matter. Without the intervention of immortals, the victor of any contest is simply the stronger, more skilled, or perhaps luckier opponent. Once the gods are brought into the field of play, anything can be expected since they are even capable of changing the destinies of men.

Hera is one of the first of the gods to exhibit her meddling ways and the capacity to turn the tables. When she plans to seduce Zeus into bed to occupy him so that Poseidon may help the Achaians, Hera enlists the help of Aphrodite and Sleep. Though the concept of helping mortals is good and selfless, there is also much evil in her actions. There are no bounds to how low Hera will stoop to acquire the services she needs to triumph over her husband. In order to gain their help, Hera tells lies to Aphrodite, and bribes Sleep with gifts; a lovely throne, imperishable forever, of gold (XIV, 238-239). Without the help of the other two immortals, Hera would not be able to beguile Zeus though she is the highest of all goddesses. Yet, the daughter of Kronos still puts her unknowing accomplices in danger of Zeus wrath. Similarly to Achilleus, Hera disregards the well being of those whom she finds herself dependent upon at times.


When the Achaians hold their games in honor of Patroklos death, several of the greatest warriors receive help or unwanted attention from gods watching on. There are times where the best man does not always win such as when Eumelos comes in last in the chariot race. Diomedes wins the race though Phoibos Apollo [dashes] the shining whip from his hands (XXIII, 384), only because Athene reciprocates by smashing the chariot yoke of Eumelos. Though neither Achaian prays to the gods, the two deities choose to interfere by assisting the man they favor. Therefore, the mortals do not always have a choice, since the gods are free to influence whomever they fancy. Some are granted help whether they realize they need it or not.

In the case of Odysseus, he knowingly asks Athene to be kind; and come with strength for [his] footsteps (XXIII, 770). Despite his status as one of the most noble and glorious Achaians, Odysseus relies on the aid of a goddess to procure dominance and victory. He is not confident enough to count only on his true abilities. Furthermore, Aias remarks that the goddess who makes him fall in the cow manure is the one who has always [stands] over Odysseus like a mother, and [takes] good care of him (XXIII, 782-783). After supporting Odysseus through many of his struggles, Athene has become somewhat of a maternal figure. A bond thus forms between the mortal who fights for splendor and control, and the immortal that helps him to achieve his power.

Whether it be humans seeking the assistance of the gods, or the immortals cajoling one another for favors, there is a complex network of interdependence involving the figures of the Iliad.


The Gods played a major role in the long and gruesome Trojan war. They all had favorites and would help out in a time of need. For example, Aphrodite shows loyalty to Paris throughout the Iliad. “Paris,/like Achilles,/was sulking. He had been worsted in a duel with Menelaus,/ but the goddess Aprodite/saved him from the consequences of his defeat/and brought him to his house in Troy”"(VI. 125).”" Hamilton also recognizes Aphrodite’s loyalty to Paris in his mythology as well. Even after his death, she returns Helen to Menalaus to insure her safety. She saves him from battle, “Aphrodite snatched Paris away, easy work for a God, wrapped him in swirls of mist and set him down in his bedroom filled with scents” (Hamilton 141). We can see throughout the Iliad that she has interfered whenever it was beneficial to Paris. After she has rescued him, she then tries to get Helen to run away with him on yet a second occasion. Her dedication to Paris leads me to ponder the possibility that Aphrodite helps Paris only to further her own purpose. After all, she is the Goddess of love and not war, so what better way to strengthen her own cause, which is to see love conquer the war, than to Miller 2

support the only other person in the Iliad who is a lover and not a fighter? Furthermore, I think she is trying to get back at the other Gods because like Paris, she is an outsider, and in time of war she is a supporter of love. In Hamilton’s mythology, Zeus smiling to see the laughter-loving Goddess in tears bade her stay away from battle and remember her work was love not war. Her father himself laughs at her attempts to conquer war with love. We see that Aphrodite des things for her own selfish pleasures much like the other gods in the Iliad.

Hera and Athena’s selfish motives also interfere on several occasions during the Trojan war. Their interference was not necessarily to protect the Greeks. It was to see the Trojans destroyed in battle. We can see this in two incidents, the battle between Paris and Menalaus and the final battle between Achilles and Hector. After Aphrodite whisked Paris away in the cloud, both sides agreed that the Greeks would then take Helen in order to see and end to war. This decision was not pleasing to Hera so she prompted Athena to persuade Pandarus to break the truce and shoot an arrow at Menalaus. He did this obediently, and the war continued. It was a gruesome scene, “Terror and Destruction and Strife, whose fury never slackens, all the friends for the murderous War God, were there to urge men to slaughter each other. Then the voice of groaning was and the voice of triumph from slayer and slain and the earth streamed with blood (Hamilton 184).” This scene is the essence of what I meant when I said the “Gods protected their favorites for their own pleasures of war”. We can see that neither Hera or Athena really cared who died on either side; they just enjoyed the bloodshed. On another occasion, Athena pretends to be Hector’s brother during his battle with Achilles in order to bring him to his demise. We can see that Athena really wants to see Troy destroyed. Of all the Gods, Hera’s and Athena’s interference in the war leads to the death of many warriors in the Iliad. I believe the these Gods get personal enjoyment from human sacrifices.



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