Analysis of the gods of Iliad

11 Dec

The god’s are an undeniable presence in the story of the Iliad and other than Achilles they just might be the most important aspect of the entire story.  The will of the Gods plays a large role in the events of this epic, and the Gods themselves form an intriguing sub story. Concepts of gods then and now vary drastically but also have some strange similarites.

Let us begin with the ways in which the God’s directly affect warfare in the Iliad.  We see this done in several different ways.  The first way that comes to mind is the God’s desire to rescue certain individuals throughout the story.  One instance of this is when Menelaus and Paris are battling to end the war and determine who will finally take Helen home for good. So the two of them battle to what is supposed to be the death, and as we see in the story Menelaus is just about to kill Paris when out of nowhere the god Aprhodite sweeps up Paris and rescues him to safety (book 3 lines 430 and following).  This, tends to be a common event in the Iliad. On several other occasions many of the other god’s come to the recue of certain soldiers. The motives of the God’s tend to be petty things, such as, how much a specific soldier sacrificed to the god’s. Other times it was solely based on relationships between the god’s and the particular individual in the battle.  While this is one of the main ways we see the God’s interfering in warfare, it is not the only way.  They also play a crucial role in the moral of the soldiers.  We see this several times throughout the book.  A great example of this is when Posiedon the God of the Sea, comes to the aid of the Achaens, while they are being pushed against their boats and losing confidence quickly.  Posiedon urges them on, specifically we see him give renewed power to the Ajax brothers who use this to lead their comrades into battle again and hold off the Trojans a little longer (book 13 lines 56-73). This is a crucial moment in the battle because the Trojans were preparing to burn the Achaens entire fleet of ships.  The last role, that the god’s play in the war, is the role of prophets. Throughout the book, the god’s talk to many soldiers about their fate, specifically when they will die or who they are suppose to kill. This idea comes up most often with the hero of the story Achilles whose fate is ultimately the driving point of the entire story.  Achilles knows that he will die because the god’s have told him this, but he also knows that he will win glory on the battlefield.

The concerns of the god’s, involved in many of the human interactions in the Iliad often seem very childish.  Often times they are doing something because of  sacrifices paid to them or because of blood lines.  Zeus seems to be by far the most important god.

He is often, referred to by most all other god’s and humans as the ‘Father’.  It is Zeus’ will that usually determines battlefield glory.  In the case of the story of the Iliad, Zeus’ one goal is to bring ultimate glory to Achilles.  This was the request of Achilles’ mother Thetis as she begged to Zeus to give him glory against the Trojans for the hardships that Agamemnon caused him.  It is Agamemnon who takes Achilles women Briseis and thus causes Achilles rage that becomes the focal point of the story.

As a result of Thetis request, Zeus gives great glory to the Trojans until Agamemnon and the rest of the Achaens  are out of luck and sorely miss their great hero Achilles. In doing this Achilles is given all the glory and proven to be the better man. Overall the most important of the god’s in this story tend to be Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite and Posiedon. We see other god’s as well but never as often as these few. An interesting difference between modern gods and the god’s of Ancient Greeks is that we only have one God essentially, which is quite different from Greek mythology where they have several. Another bizarre difference is that the god’s actually fight, this a concept that is beyond our culture.  Our ideal example of a god is one that relies more on pacifism and wisdom and tends to remain stationery.  We also see certain god’s favor certain sides. Specifically Zeus, Apollo, Ares and Aphrodite tend to lean towards the Trojan side, while Athena, Posiedon, and Hera are in favor of the Achaens.

This is bizarre and similarly common to our beliefs today in modern warfare that our God is on our side. During the bush Administration there was a strong, feeling of destiny from many Americans and the assumption was that we were acting under the divine right of God when we went to war with Iraq. The signature phrase of that war became “God Bless America”.  This mirrors closely the idea that many of the soldiers in the Iliad had going into battle knowing that father Zeus was on their side. On this note, it is rare that you could find any real evidence of our God helping us out in any real battle situation, but during the times of the Ancient Greeks you had a true sense that many outcomes in battle were the direct results of divine intervention. Our God would never be seen fighting in war or for that matter on a battlefield, but the Ancient Greeks’ gods are frequently seen getting into the mix. This is one of the drastic differences between gods in war then and now.  The last thing I noticed is that even the Ancient Greek gods as powerful as they are follow some sort of pre-determined destiny. This is different from our God because many believe that our god has the ability to change the fates of its’ followers.

The Iliad is a book where the god’s are clearly a focal point to the book. Without their presence the Iliad would lose much of its enjoyment. The god’s play a role as an interesting side story and sometimes a comedic side story as they have many petty arguments and fights. There is no doubt though that the Ancient Greeks truly believed that these god’s would decide their glory and honor, which is in some ways very much the same ideas and beliefs we have today. It is truly amazing to see how some concepts over time fail to change.

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One Response to “Analysis of the gods of Iliad”

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  1. Torrey Book Blog - March 10, 2013

    […] A look at the pagan gods […]

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