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Role and Importance of Greek Gods in Iliad

This epic poem, written in 800 B.C.E., is based upon the Trojan War that took
place when a prince of Troy stole the wife of a Spartan king. Greek gods are
anthropomorphic gods who posses various human characteristics . Based on
these characteristics, Homer depicts them as very competitive beings who are
constantly trying to prove themselves superior to others. In Iliad, some gods
sided Achaeans while others sided Trojans but they shared something common
which is , they all interfered in the war which resulted in various unexpected
consequences. Therefore in Homer's Iliad, Greek gods intervene in the war to
help their favorite mortals, control the fate of soldiers and cause unexpected
twists and turns in the plot. During the Trojan war, different gods take
different sides and they are depicted very generous to their favorite mortals.
The Iliad would be nothing like we know it if it were not for the influence of
Gods, this is because, ultimately, they are the ones who decide the fate or
outcomes for humans. From the very beginning of The Iliad, it is clear that
when the gods are offended by the actions of the humans, or when the gods
favour one human over another, the humans' fates are sealed. The gods help
their favourite mortals both directly and indirectly. Mortals fight gods and gods
fight each other. The world of the Iliad is a world of cosmic conflict. It is
evident that Athena, Poseidon and Hera are in the side of Greeks while
Aphrodite, Apollo and Artemis seem to be on the side of Trojans.
Consequently, the Greek gods help their favorite mortals in every situation
without worrying about the possible consequences; having this kind of support
from a god is a substantial power a mortal can have. The fact that Gods helps
mortals regularly introduces the role of gods in deciding the fate in Iliad.
Also, to state that these influences shaped the book completely.
The book begins with Apollo cursing the Achaeans with a plague, as revenge
for them kidnapping the daughter of one of his priests. High king Agamemnon
has taken her for his concubine. Agamemnon agrees to return the girl to stop
the plague, but only if Achilles, the Achaeans’ greatest warrior, gives him his
own concubine Briseis in compensation (her own opinion apparently being
irrelevant). Achilles is furious at this suggestion. He almost fights Agamemnon
in a duel, but Athena, goddess of wisdom, checks his anger. Instead, he
relents, but refuses to fight in battle against the Trojans and begs his mother,
the sea nymph Thetis, for help. Thetis intervenes on Achilles’ behalf with Zeus,
king of the gods. Zeus agrees to aid the Trojans in battle, until Agamemnon
realises how much he depends on Achilles’ fighting ability and gives Briseis
back to him. Zeus’ wife Hera is angry at Zeus intervening on the Trojans’
behalf, because she supports the Achaeans, but her son Hephaestus, the smith
god, manages to calm her down.
It’s safe to say that throughout the poem, each of the main character is chosen
by gods in some way or the other and have gained a favour not only because of
their birth but also because they were destined to full fill a certain fate.
Achilles and Aeneas are similar in the sense that they have received favor from
the gods, partially as the result of a sort of “divine nepotism" and also because
they stand out from ordinary men because of their military or physical
But when it comes to this nepotistic behaviour of gods, there is one exception,
Zeus. He is the symbol of supreme authority, and justice. He tries to make
sound judgments and to not involve in unjust behaviour as much as he can. A
clear example of this is when Zeus didn’t interfere even when the outcome
was not good for his own son, Sarpedon who died. On the other hand, Zeus's
wife, Hera, displayed the more typical actions of a god.

While Aeneas is proud, he is not arrogant. He is a warrior, but he has the

capacity for great love and sympathy and instead of abandoning his fellow
soldiers in a time of need, he rallies them with a moving speech. In these ways
he seems to be a hero worthy of the divine intervention and to make an even
stronger case for that, he is the direct descendent of a god. Achilles, quite
unlike Aeneas, is very aggressive and often without the sympathy or kindness
(until the very end) shown by Aeneas. He is quick to react negatively and holds
grudges. He is, in many senses, not worthy of what the modern reader might
think of as a great person, but he has superhuman strength and is the
descendent of a god as well. One cannot help but question why they receive
equal intervention, but then again, the gods are seen as fickle and nepotistic in
both works, sometimes favoring the wrong cause and proving them to be
prone to making bad decisions.
The gods occupy a strange role in the Iliad and the life of Achilles. “The gods do
not meet the expectations of the human characters. They do support the
Greeks, but for reasons that have nothing to do with morality. They love and
they hate, but they never talk about justice.
Both Homer and Virgil show that the gods are not perfect and that they are
capable of recognizing their own faults. In a cultural/religious context, this is a
potent statement since it reveals that this is not a society that believed in the
ultimate righteousness of their gods, but rather knew that they were prone to
same fallacies of mortals. Keeping this in mind is important in the analysis of
the two protagonists of each texts since many of their actions are based on
these gods’ wills and decisions. While they may react differently (Aeneas with
submission and Achilles with rage and defiance) the fact remains that they are
just as much out of control in some senses as the gods that, through all their
bickering and self-interest appear to be.
One of the biggest differences in between Achilles and Aeneas in terms of their
interactions with the gods and subsequent decision is the way they handle this
divine intervention. In the Iliad, there seems to be an underlying tension that
Achilles carries about the fact that so much is already determined for him. He
already knows his fate and although he does have the choice to settle down to
the life of comfort he wishes for, he still decides to go and fight (partially for
the glory rather than because of any sense of duty, it seems).

There are endless incidences which provide us an insight of how the Gods have
a huge control of what is happening all along. For example, in Book 1 how
Athena restrains Achilles. Or how in Book 2, Zeus sends Agamemnon a dream.
In the fourth book, the Gods are also arguing on Mount Olympus over the
result of the duel like the humans. Zeus declares that Menelaus has won and
so the war should end as sworn, but Goddess Hera and Athena disagree.
And also, when Aphrodite rescues Aeneas and Diomedes wounds Aphrodite in
book 5. In the fifth book, Homer represents the Gods as life savers. In the
absence of Achilles, Diomedes finds himself face to face with Pandaros and
when he’s injured, he calls for Athena to help and so she heals him. When
Diomedes kills Pandaros and wounds Aeneas, Goddess Aphrodite intervenes to
save his son from death by the hands of Diomedes.
Thus, the gods intervene very frequently in the plot and bring unanticipated
twists. Therefore, in the Iliad, gods frequently interfere in the war to help their
favored side. These gods are different from the ideal ideas of a God because
Greek gods help their favorite mortals regardless of if it is right or wrong to do
so; whereas, ideally it’s generally a fact that God always favours the right. It
would be difficult to engage in any meaningful discussion about either of these
heroic characters without mentioning the gods. So, the gods are very
significant characters used by Homer to make the plot more interesting and at
the same time reveal the powers and nature of gods.

By Riya Sharma