Role of Greek Gods In the IlliadWith our view of God, it can sometimes be difficult to comprehendthe actions and thinking of the Greek deities. The Christian God doesnot tend to take such an active role in the affairs of people’s lives,where, on the other hand, the Greeks regarded direct involvement bythe gods as a daily, uncontrollable part of life. Needless to say,divine intervention was a major variable in the equation of Homer’sIliad. The gods picked who they would favour for different reasons. Except Zeus: As the symbol of supreme authority and justice, he makesjudgement calls as to the other gods’ involvement in the war, remainsimpartial, and doesn’t seem to get caught up in picking favourites. Even when his own son, Sarpedon, was about to die, Zeus chose to letthe outcome go unaltered.
On the other hand, Zeus’s wife, Hera, displayed the more typicalactions of a god. After Paris, a Trojan, judged Aphrodite the fairestover Hera, and, after her daughter Hebe was replaced as cupbearer tothe gods by a young Trojan boy, she was quite resentful towards Troyand its people. Obviously she sided with the Greeks and would stop atno length to express her will. Scheming and manipulating she evendared 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 tothe Greeks. Being the god of the sea, Poseidon was another strong supporterof the ocean-faring Greeks.
Whenever Zeus turned his back Poseidontried to help the Greeks in the fight. Poseidon felt that he wassomewhat Zeus’s equal as his brother, but recognizing Zeus’s authorityand experience, he looked to Zeus as an elder. There were also Gods who favoured the Trojan side of theconflict. Both Apollo and Artemis, twin brother and sister, gave aidto 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 thecourse of the war in favour of the Trojans.
Responsible for sendingplague to the Greeks, Apollo was the first god to make an appearancein the Iliad. Also, mainly because Apollo and Artemis were on theTrojan side, their mother, Leto, also helped the Trojans. Aphrodite, obviously supporting Paris’s judgement, sided with theTrojans. Although she was insignificant on the battlefield, Aphroditewas successful in convincing Ares, her lover and the god of war, tohelp the Trojans. One view of the gods’ seemingly constant intervention in the warwas that they were just setting fate back on the right course.
Forinstance, when Patroklos was killed outside of Troy, Apollo felt noguilt for his doings. It had already been decided that Patroklos wouldnot take Troy, he should never have disobeyed Achilles in the firstplace. As a god, he was just setting fate on a straight line. Achilleslaid blame on Hektor and the Trojans. He did not even consideraccusing Apollo, who never came into question, although he wasprimarily responsible for the kill.
Apollo’s part in the matter wasmerely accepted as a natural disaster or illness would be today. This general acceptance of a god’s will is a recurring trendthroughout the poem. A prime example of this trend is in book XXIV. Achilles, angry over the death of Patroklos brutally disgracedHektor’s body. Tethering Hektor’s corpse through the ankles, Achillesdragged him around Patroklos’s tomb every day for twelve days.
This barbaric treatment was uncalled for and displeased the godsgreatly. Achilles mother, Thetis, was sent by Zeus to tell him toransom the body back to the Trojans. One may think Achilles would bepossessive of the body and attempt to put up a fuss as he did beforewith Agamemmnon in Book I. But, Achilles showed humility and respectfor the gods and immediately agreed to ransom the body to the Trojans,showing that all mortals, even god-like Achilles, were answerable tothe gods.
This ideology would seem to give the gods a sort of unlimitedfreedom on earth, although, the gods could not always do as theypleased and eventually had to come before Zeus. Zeus acted as abalance of sorts throughout the Iliad. He had to keep the gods inorder and make sure that what fate decreed would happen. For example,after Achilles re-enters the battle Zeus declared that if Achilles wasallowed to go on slaughtering the Trojans with nothing to slow himdown, he would take Troy before fate said it would happen. Therefore,to counter Achilles massive retaliation against the Trojans, Zeusallowed the gods to go back to the battle field. In Zeus’s own interests, he preferred to deal with issues morepersonal to the individual heros of the Iliad.
This can be seenthroughout the book as Zeus attempted to increase the honour ofcertain individuals. Zeus knew that Hektor was going to be killed byAchilles, and, feeling sorry for Hektor Zeus attempted to allow Hektorto die an honourable death. For instance, when Hektor strippedAchilles armour off Patroklos, Zeus helped Hektor “fill out” thearmour so he would not seem like less of a man then Achilles. Zeusalso gave his word to Thetis that Achilles would gain much gloryshowing his involvement on a personal level.
Homer used the gods and their actions to establish twists on theplot of the war. It would not have been possible for him to write thestory without the divine interventions of the gods. Indeed, theyaffected every aspect the poem in some way, shape or form. Yet, fromthe immortal perspective of the Greek god, the Trojan war, andeverything related to it, was only a passing adventure in the greatexpanse of time.