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Nature of the Gods in the Iliad

By pizzamanl Oct 15, 2014 1421 Words
In the Iliad, the gods play an important role in the Trojan War. The Homeric gods know they are better than the mortals that serve them and do not care much when they fight and have quarrels. The gods can always withdraw from the battle and never have to worry about dying or suffering that the humans live with every day during the war. This is where we see the motivations of the gods, their relationships with mortals, relationships with each other and the power and authority of Zeus. The motivations of the gods differ greatly throughout the Iliad, including the relationships they have with soldiers who were fighting in the war. For example, Aphrodite has a special relationship with the Trojan hero, Paris. When he is wounded in a battle with Menelaus, she “ whisked Paris away with the sleight of a goddess. (3, 370-400)” She took Paris away from the fighting because she liked him because he chooses her as the prettiest over Hera and Athena in an earlier part of the myth. She saved him out of her own honor, not for Paris’ life. Selfishness was one of the motivations of the gods. When the priest of Apollo has his daughter taken by the Greeks and they refuse to give her back he prays to Apollo saying “Hear me, Silverbow, Protector of Chryse… Grant me this prayer: Let the Danaans pay for my tears with your arrows. Apollo heard his prayer and descended Olympus’ crags pulsing with fury, bow slung over one soldier, the arrows rattling in their case on his back as the angry god moved like night down the mountain.” (1, 45-50) Because Apollo valued prayers to him he sent arrows that rained down on the Greeks for nine days causing many of them to die from the plague. The reason Apollo retaliates is because he feels insulted that the Greeks do not respect his priest and in return himself. He starts killing the Greeks out of selfishness and the desire of Kleos. Even the gods wanted honor. This motivated them to go to war with the mortals. The gods also value control and power. They use the heroes of each side as pawns in their war to see which gods will win and see which are stronger. The gods’ motivations differed from one god to the next, and this occasionally caused conflict between them. The gods are displayed as one big, dysfunctional family. The gods’ relationships with each other are based on distrust and hatred between each other. The gods have conflict about everything just like most humans do. Their conflict usually plays out in the mortal world and is willing to fight each other to affect the outcome of the war. Even though Zeus is the most powerful and threatens the others often, they still continue to go against him just not in fighting him. Hera tricks him, Athena helps some of the heroes, and Poseidon helps the Greek side when Zeus is knocked out. They do this to show that they think they are smarter than Zeus and want power. Zeus realizes this and says “Hera you scheming bitch, this trick of yours has taken Hector out and routed his army. (10, 15-20)” Zeus becomes furious with Hera because she tricks him into falling asleep for a long enough time while she and Poseidon help the Greeks, which were against Zeus because he was helping the Trojans. This was only a simple trick and did not involve fighting like most of the war. Athena says she will protect Diomedes, son of Tydeus, and she stands on Greeks’ side. Athena agrees to do this because she doesn’t like Ares because Ares turned Trojan and abandoned the Greeks. “Athena’s hand deflected the spear in mid-air and sent it sailing… She drove his spear home to the pit of Ares’ belly, where the kilt-piece covered it.” Athena seriously injured the god Ares but could not kill him because he is immortal. This made him back out of the war and gave the Greeks the upper hand once again. The gods were always against each other because of personal reasons and this caused many humans to die because of what they chose to do. The gods seem to have a unique relationship with the mortals in the epic poem. The gods do not actually care much about what happens to the humans. The gods do not allow something to happen to the mortals based on this outside force that predestines everything. The gods, especially Zeus, believe heavily in fate. Zeus tells the other gods that fears something may interfere with fate, “If Achilles is the only fighting out there, the Trojans won’t last a minute against him… I fear he may exceed his fate and demolish the wall. (20, 20)” He sent the gods into the war to stop Achilles from destroying the Trojan army before it was foretold. This causes much more death but that does not matter as much as fate to the gods. Not even the all and powerful Zeus would try to mess with fate. Zeus wishes to alter the destiny set for his son, and despite his superiority to the other Olympians (not to mention the other minor gods and goddesses), he is unable to resist the authority of his daughters, the Fates. Hera even makes him not go against fate. Zeus says “Fate has it that Sarpedon, whom I love more than any man, is to be killed by Patroclus. Shall I take him out of the battle while he still lives? (16)” Hera says “A mortal man, whose fate has long been fixed, and you want to save him from rattling death. (16)” So Zeus understood that he should not change the fate for even his dear Sarpedon. This shows us once again that fate is more powerful than all of the gods. Zeus does care some about the Trojans, but he is just repaying a favor to Thetis, Achilles’ mother. Thetis begs Zeus “Give the Trojans the upper hand until the Greeks grant my son the honor he deserves” (1, 540-541) and Zeus does it. He made the Trojan army start winning battles just because of a personal debt to a goddess. This shows us how much he really cared for the outcome of the war. Zeus was the strongest of all of the gods and the mortals did not mean very much to him.

The power and authority of the leader of the gods, Zeus, is very prevalent throughout the Iliad. Zeus focuses on having the upper hand compared to all the other gods when it comes to power and authority. He never gives up the chance to remind the other gods who is the strongest of them all. Zeus was undoubtedly stronger than all of the other gods put together. He is even so certain of his power as to say that he could take them all on without breaking a sweat. Zeus tells the other gods “These two hands are more powerful than all the gods on Olympus combined” (8, 462-463) Zeus bragged throughout the entire myth about his power. All of the other gods knew not to fight against Zeus so they all tried to outsmart him which worked on occasion. [Zeus to the other gods] “Come on. Hang a gold cable down from the sky. All you gods and goddesses holding the end couldn’t drag me down from the sky to earth Zeus the Master, no matter how hard you tried.” (8, 20-30) He knew he was that much stronger than all the others. When he told the gods they could interfere they did. When he told them they couldn’t they listened for the most part. His authority was unmatched by any of the other gods.

Hector dies because of the gods and the Iliad comes to an end. This war does not affect the gods at all except it excites them into doing battle with each other and choosing a favorite side. They gods may have fought the battle but their ability made them unable to die and they did not suffer making them far superior to the mortals that were fighting for their lives on the battlefield. The nature of the gods is seen in the epic through their motivations, how the mortals where treated by the gods, how they saw each other as gods, and Zeus’ strength and prowess above all the other gods.

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