The Gods in Homer’s Epic Poem “The Iliad”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 6
Words: 1743
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: Bachelor

Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad is a story about the siege of Troy city by the Greeks and the Trojan War. The poem contains dramatic scenes of battle that require gods’ intervention on behalf of different characters. The Iliad introduces its readers to an entire society of the gods including their divine interaction and causation. Some of the gods that are featured in the poem include Athena, Zeus, Hephaestus, Apollo, and Hera. This is in addition to many other gods that have permanent residency in the Olympus peaks. Thus, the gods in the poem have been personified in different forms including winds and rivers.

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It is clear from the very start that the gods have the ability to inflict death and destruction on the people. In the tenth year of the Achaean siege of Troy, Apollo, the archer god has sent a terrible plague to the Achaeans. Apollo is a significant Trojans’ divine supporter, and therefore fights its enemies on its behalf. Homer states, “for 9 days, the “God of the Silver Bow” Apollo has sent the pestilence upon the Greek camp to punish Greek commander Agamemnon’s stubborn refusal to return the captive Chriseis – his battle prize and concubine from a past victory – to her father Chryses, priest of Apollo.” The god, Apollo is infuriated by the king’s stubbornness and his decision to capture Chryses, who is Apollo’s priest. The king even declined to release Chryses’ daughter who had been offered as a ransom. By intervening on behalf of the Trojans, Apollo act as a defender of the weak and the oppressed as well.

In the Trojan War, the gods depict their jealousy and pettiness with each other to determine the fate of the Trojans and the Greeks. It appears that the gods and the goddesses are in competition for supremacy with each other. This is illustrated when Paris, the son of the Troy’s King is asked by Zeus, the king of gods to choose the prettiest goddesses among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Each of the goddesses in contention for the title of the prettiest offer irresistible promises to Paris in anticipation that they would be chosen by him. However, it also emerges that the goddesses can be cunning and deceitful as Paris fails to marry the mortal Helen of Troy whom he was promised if he chose goddess, Aphrodite, which he did.

Other than Apollo, goddess Aphrodite and god Ares are also vouching for Trojan in the war. The romantic relationship between Acres and Aphrodite demonstrates that the gods are also consumed by lust. Aphrodite is already married to someone else but Acres is still interested in her. Since he did not choose them as the prettiest goddesses, Hera and Athena decides to join the Greek side of the war by helping Achilles. Thus, the gods and the goddesses in the Iliad have been portrayed as beings whose stand on anything could be swayed to any direction that they find favor in. However, the most significant perspective of the gods is that they are omnipresent and constantly watch human actions in addition to working through humans.

The gods have more superior powers and are answers to unexplainable happenings and events around human lives. They serve to assists humans in trouble by giving them vision about the future. Both physically and psychologically, the gods influence men. The goddesses Athena comes out as the most dominant divine enemy of the Trojans during their war against the Greeks. In several occasions, she intercedes on behalf of the Greeks. In one such instance, she descended from the skies and protected Agamemnon from being attacked by Achilleus.

Homer was keen to demonstrate that human excellence and divine limitations go together. Thus, his use of the ‘Longinus’ dictum was to make gods men and men gods. The Iliadic heroes pray quite often in ways that are strikingly the same as in real life situations. As they pray, they have some specific requests in their minds. They use the occasions of prayer to remind the gods of the benefits extended to them in the past as well as promise them gifts in the future if they answer their prayers. To make their promises practical or bolster up their prayer requests, they offer animal sacrifices. Alternatively, they perform a pious before eating to appease the gods.

Animal sacrifices occupy a central position in the practice of the Greek religion. In the Olympian, it also demonstrates the aspect of how the gods are keen to receive the sacrifices and how they regard those who perform them. The generous offerings given by Hector are used by Zeus as an act of favor for him in his fight with the Trojan chief. The Iliad characters are past-age heroes who offer the most splendid and grandest gifts to the gods. However, it must not be forgotten that there are many fewer heroic situations that offer less expensive gifts to the gods for favors in real-life. This is in addition to the regular monthly or annual rituals offered to the same gods as part of life. Since this is a war story, it requires the exact narrative demands to describe torn communities. The Trojans find the city life hardly normal while the Achaeans find themselves in faraway lands from the ancestral sanctuaries.

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In one of the scenes, the Trojan women attempt to appease Athena following a directive from Helenus, a seer. This scene has some relevance and dramatic urgency not found in sanctuary scenes that are more routine. Here, Helenus is introduced as a representation of another divine communication facet, which is a reflection of a more ordinary experience of the realm of the prophetic and oracular. In the prayer by Achille to Zeus, the significance of the oracular shrine to the Iliad is aptly demonstrated. However, it should not be lost to readers that Homer intended the poem to give more prominence to a skilled individual who has powers to interpret portents and signs sent by the gods. Here, a message is first delivered to a prophet who then conveys it to the gods. This, however, does not hide the fact that sometimes there are obvious signs that anyone can interpret. A case in point is where Athena sends a heroine to Diomedes and Odysseus, and they immediately recognize that it indicates a favor from her.

Although direct communication with the gods through sleeping and waking vision was common during ancient times, the waking form is more pronounced in the Iliad. As demonstrated above, the Iliadic heroes were much closer to the gods and appeared more privileged than others. The gods used the heroes, thus, to disguise themselves when they appeared to humans. This mostly happens when they are encouraging the sides they favor or supporting their proteges. However, the gods do not have a consistent way of doing so. In most cases, Achilles instantly recognizes Athena even despite her attempts to disguise herself.

Athena’s frequent appearance to the Achilles is because Hera has sent her. Apparently, Hera has deep convictions towards Agamemnon and Achilles and do not wish them to sink into apathy and destitution. Characteristically, a description of a narrative of some god appears before each epiphany scene as an elucidation of his or her motives as well as a conversation with yet another divine entity. This is often accompanied by a Homeric epiphany of physical intervention that is common in real-life events. For instance, through a cloud of mist, Paris is removed from the battlefield by Aphrodite. Similarly, Aeneas is snatched by Apollo from Diomedes before taking him in his acropolis temple to recover. These episodes serve to reinforce the fact that supernatural and magical elements are actively present in the Iliad.

The actions of gods on humans depict that humans do not have free will. In some cases, gods intervene in human affairs even without the involvement of the affected humans. For instance, Hera uses Agamemnon to encourage Achaean without the knowledge of Agamemnon that he is acting on behalf of Hera. A more physical example is when Apollo kicks the Achaean wall to destruction. This goes on to reveal the expectation of the omnipresence behavior of the gods and the close relations they have with their cause and explanation functions. This brings a distinctive attribution of the individual deity’s clear personal motives.

Among the many roles played by the gods, they also procreate, which implies that they are not fickle. The sexual relations that occur between human and divine characteristics also come out clearly from the poem. Male deities have a propensity to enter into sexual relations with human lovers and produce human offspring with them. For instance, Sarpedon is a product of a union between Zeus and Laodameia. Homer does not present such entanglement and affairs as problematic. Instead, though not common, the affairs between goddesses and mortal men are depicted as more difficult. In Greek mythology, sex implies that a man dominates over a woman. This kind of relationship will, therefore, subvert the order of things where the gods are superior to humans. Hence, by a mortal man dominating over a goddess, the superiority of the gods would be threatened. Indeed, it is for the same reason why the immortal Thetis refused to enter into a romantic relationship with the mortal Peleus. However, a unique case that defied this order was the paradoxical and rare union that led to the conception of Achilles, which explains its uniqueness. The poem also implicitly recognizes that divine parenthood was a characteristic of the heroes’ age. This was a time when human beings were considered somewhat closer, if not greater to the gods. However, such claims were not commonly made by contemporaries.

The eccentric omniscient perspective of the narrator allows readers to witness the gods’ attitudes to the humans who preoccupy them. The gods are interested in the mortals of the Trojan plains and the Achaean cities as well as the Ethiopians where they observe the Mysians and Thracians’ affairs. It is also apparent that each of the gods has his or her favorites and unfavorites among individuals and cities. The gods may choose what to gift their favorites with or discuss amongst themselves what to offer. For instance, Apollo gives Pandarus a bow while Hera enters into an agreement with Zeus to destroy Achaean, which is her favorite city, in return for Troy’s fall. This is a classical demonstration that the gods do not support any essential order.