This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
com/category/book-talk/> Classics <http://bookstove.com/category/classics/> Poetry <http://bookstove.com/category/poetry/> Children <http://bookstove.com/category/children/> Drama <http://bookstove.com/category/drama/>
Home <http://bookstove.com> » Classics <http://bookstove.com/category/classics/> » *Gods of the Iliad* 1 <http://bookstove.com/classics/gods-of-the-iliad/#comments> Gods of the Iliad <http://bookstove.com/classics/gods-of-the-iliad/> Published by Dan Levinson <http://www.triond.com/users/Dan+Levinson>, January 30, 2008 What purpose is served by the members of the Greek Pantheon within the context of Homer’s Iliad? In examining the role of the gods in Homer’s /The Iliad/, our inquiry must be twofold. In most Greek mythology the gods display both enormous power and influence over the mortal realm, as well as demonstrating human characteristics in the field of thought and emotion, sometimes to the point in which the conflicts and vacillations of the gods are identical to that of the mortals, differentiated only by their smaller number and greater power. Quoting Xenophanes, Walter Burkert writes, “’Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all things which among men are reproach and blame: stealing, adultery, and mutual deception’.” In the case of the Iliad, the gods follow this trend quite perfectly. In fact, we see these transgressions represented clearly in the episode of Achilles appealing to his mother, the goddess Thetis, to avenge his dishonor by asking Zeus to take action against Agamemnon and the Greeks. He deceives Hera by omission and Agamemnon by illusion, upon the request of one whom he owes a favor. “The Homeric gods are ageless and immortal, can possess great knowledge of the future, and are influenced by pleas of one another and the prayers of mortals” (/World Mythology/, Donna Rosenberg). We must discover both why the gods are so similar to mortals in their whims and ways, and what role they play in the context of /The Iliad/. One thing that we must take into account is the corpus of mythology, from which the Greek readers of /The Iliad/ would have been intimately familiar with the characters of the gods. For example, in the tale of Heracles, Zeus resolves that his son should be put through his labors in part on account of his wife Hera, in order to pacify her. “The lord of Olympus wanted to be certain that Heracles earned eternal fame, but he also wanted to please Hera, who hated his children by other women. Therefore, Zeus promised Hera that Heracles would have to perform for King Eurystheus of Tiryns whatever ten labors the king commanded. Only then would Zeus make Heracles immortal” (Rosenberg). Read more in Classics <http://bookstove.com/category/classics/> « The Epics of Gilgamesh
Both of these ideas are important in our analysis of /The Iliad/. Clearly Zeus wants great things for his son Heracles. as they intercede either on the account of other gods (and by extension. would have no care for a mortal’s troubles. as well as Tiryns of the aforementioned Heracles myth. nor would Zeus. being a goddess. they would be impossible models for the mortal Greek heroes. and without sin. “The Homeric gods clearly have their favorites among mortals and make an effort to help them” (Rosenberg). In /The Iliad/. we must assume some degree of metaphor and symbolic interpretation. we see this demonstrated case in point. through the cultural phenomenon of mythology. to the point where oftentimes their success or failure does indeed become dependent upon the favor of the gods whom they serve or pay obeisance to. Alan Dundes). “[Myth literalists] tend to seek factual or historical bases for a given mythological narrative while advocates of one of the many symbolic approaches prefer to regard the narrative as a code requiring some mode of decipher-ment. particularly in /The Iliad/. Instead. the contact of the gods with the heroes is incredibly important. The participation of the gods in the affairs of the mortals is based on these concepts. for Thetis. having overthrown the Titans and paved the way for the current world of humankind. the action of /The Iliad/ would have halted here. either consciously or unconsciously. who found Troy of /The Iliad/. If the gods were not possessed of imperfect. We know for certain that the literalist school has some basis for legitimacy through the excavations of Heinrich Schliemann. imperfect as the heroes would be by comparison. Thetis is troubled intensely by her beloved son’s chagrin and calls in a favor from Zeus.com/classics/catcher-in-the-rye-soundtrack/> Even though Heracles is the son of Zeus. “The Homeric hero feels the presence or absence of his gods. If we return to the event of Achilles’s request to his mother Thetis. and would have little want to support them. in that they illustrate important points of exploration. the children of gods) and on the account of the heroes to whom they have given their support. Were the gods perfect. by virtue of having saved his life and his kingship from the other gods. However. In a way. and his decision to put him through the labors demonstrates two things: first that the needs and conflicts of the gods supercede even the lives of mortals. the gods themselves. He often attributes all of his success on the battlefield to them or blames them for his failures and bad luck” (Rosenberg).<http://bookstove.com/classics/the-epics-of-gilgamesh/> Catcher in the Rye Soundtrack » <http://bookstove. and of her appeal to Zeus on her son’s behalf. pristine. second that the gods appreciate heroes and heroism. These are ideas that the Greek readers would have been aware of. by virtue of the very fact that the gods are active and operating within these stories. in the immediate moment the appeasement of Hera is more important than the life of another of his illegitimate children. and Mycenae. The Thunderer’s recognition of his debt to Thetis is yet another case in point example of the necessity of the gods’ emotions for . It is imperative that we take into account the deeper levels of meaning which have been attributed to these myths over the millennia. It is important to realize that the literal and symbolic exegeses of myth are not necessarily mutually exclusive” (/The Flood Myth/. especially Zeus. The gods and their faults – emotions and the like – are necessary components of recognizing the power and glory of mortal heroes. and like to reward heroic deeds. human-like characteristics. are the greatest of all heroes.
the sake of the both the action of the story. however. any ambiguity as to his rightness vanishes. However. the physical surroundings. as having one immortal parent. Achilles is one of the most famous warriors in history. often barbaric and uncontrolled. and so on. For these three heroes at least. even when it brings destruction” (/Greek Religion/. either in themselves or in their divinities” (Rosenberg). This is different from the concept of moral standards in that it is a justice based on the sovereignty of the gods. this sort of Judaeo-Christian ethical model simply does not apply to the culture of Greece during the time in which these stories were in circulation. or whether he was actually the child of Antigone. as shown clearly by the examples of their very own divine figures. by Schliemann and Sir Arthur Evans. respectively. as well as enhancing their renown. something we might consider horrible by our current standards is perfectly acceptable. often mentioned in the mythic narrative. fervently approved of in the culture of Homeric Greece. With the sanction of Zeus. and in fact. As a result of requesting aid from his mother and Zeus. it makes little sense why Achilles. Achilles. and they do not live by such a code themselves… It is clear that the ancient Greeks did not require perfection. may be looked at in a more pleasing light. Perseus. is the hero of the story at all. the evidence evinced from these ancient civilizations indicates that the actual warfare that took place. In the case of Achilles. and yet in /The Iliad/ he can be construed as petulant and immature. In fact. Another such case of this is that Greek heroes are ascribed. and that the death of the Greeks on account of Achilles is seen as a just and righteous punishment for having offended the great warrior. though his deeds are so fantastical that we are more likely to interpret him as a largely mythic figure. This latter idea is by far the most important. “[The gods] have not given any moral code to mortals.” All of this indicates that the heroes of the period owed their parentage not to gods. there is a strong chance that they were historical figures per the excavations of Troy and Mycenae. are integral for elevating the heroes to a mythic. many Greek soldiers are killed by the Trojans. the gods give them a certain amount of justification and rightness in their actions. Their help enhances the stature of those warriors who receive it” (Rosenberg). The gods are utilized to increase the fame of the hero in question. “One may… attempt to speak in terms of a quasi-amoral justice of Zeus – a justice which is not bound to established statutes. Taking this into account. and the eminence of the hero Achilles. the actions of Achilles. but to the spouse of the mortal parent. Priam’s massive walls. demigod-like status. In supporting a mortal hero. is neither predictable nor accountable. If we examine the text from a contemporary moralistic stance. and their ability to feel for or favor mortals. “The gods are particularly partial to heroes because they appreciate and enjoy heroic deeds. By adding the support of the gods. it is unclear whether Thetis was a real woman. The gods. of course. WalterBurkert). there is also an equal degree of permissiveness in regards to the behavior of heroic figures. and the Minoan civilization at Knossos. and other such heroes are described as having an immortal parent. “The Bronze Age arose in the third millennium through renewed stimulus from the East… Troy at this time achieves a first period of prosperity to which the Treasure of Priam bears witness. Burkert wrote. stands a high probability of having been historical fact. the weaponry. often seeking vengeance or defending his honor. Theseus. This is true of Heracles. As the justice of the gods is flawed. oftentimes even amoral. in many instances. and yet is ultimately always in the right. the many ships of the Greeks. but what /is/ clear is that Achilles was a mortal .
Either way. Agamemnon could have been inspired by a dream. removing the impossible or divine elements from Homer’s story offers us a different picture of what may have happened. While any discussion on the reality of the event is purely speculative. At the same time. His only concern is for how his own circumstance may be affected. and would gladly and openly help if it did not mean angering his sister goddess and wife. Over the course of . is in large part to glorify the heroes in question and to solidify the justness of their actions in the minds of the readers. especially because Apollo helps this occur.man. yet significant reinforcements of the fortitude and valiance of Achilles are extremely important to the story and are cause for the images of him that we think of in the present. Zeus is not concerned with the lives of the mortals. one feels sadness for Achilles upon the death of his friend Patroclus. bristling at the insult to his honor. Again. and far more a mortal man. The only way in which the author of /The Iliad/ could make the hero’s actions appear not only upright. However. particularly the Achaeans /en masse/” (Burkert). a fearsome warrior with many faults and imperfections and a short-fused temperament to accompany his ferocity. Achilles. Yet I will do as you wish”” (Rosenberg). the truly heroic course of action for Achilles would have been to come to the aid of the Greek forces and at least attempt to turn the tide of the battle. “Zeus. this indicates to a Greek reader that Zeus finds no fault with Achilles. but sympathetic to the reader. and we might look at certain key events differently. What emerges is a figure far less the perfect hero. She already complains that I have given the Trojans too much help in battle. centuries prior. The actual writing of /The Iliad/ is not placed until the 8th century BC. Without the gods there would be less affinity for Achilles by the reader. If we again examine the episode in which Achilles appeals to Thetis and causes misfortune for the Greeks. the reason for the involvement of the gods becomes increasingly apparent. Greek epic sets up an autonomous world which is deliberately presented as a greater and more beautiful past: the heroes were more powerful than mortals are now. There is further reinforcement of this idea by Zeus’s response to Thetis. with the action of /The Iliad/ thought to occur sometime within the 13th century. is to place the gods squarely upon his side. replied. It is clear now that the use of the gods. this became a common spiritual world for all Greeks… Families and cities took pride in being able to connect their traditions with the heroes of epic” (Burkert). But why should epic heroes be honored to such a point that. “You are making my life with Hera more difficult by asking this of me. in the text of /The Iliad/. For example. the Homeric figures are heroes. with the gods out of the equation. the gods actually serve a purpose subservient to that of the heroic mortals? “The worship of heroes from the eighth century onwards must… be derived directly from the influence of the then flourishing epic poetry. and it seems that fate is against him. the pride of Achilles is far more apparent as a cause or at least agent in the cause of his friend’s death. refuses to fight for the Greeks. as well as the deaths of many Greek and Trojan soldiers. and that he was so fearsome a warrior it inspired storytellers and later writers to conclude that he was the child of a god. It is also well documented that these epic stories were originally passed down through an oral tradition of bards and traveling poets. “In early epic art [/heros/] refers to all the heroes of whose fame the bard sings. but he may also have wanted to attack the Trojans in order to prove that the Greeks could win without Achilles and promote solidarity among his forces. the Cloud-Gatherer. in /The Iliad/ at least. nor does he find Achilles’s plea to be unreasonable in any way. These subtle.
reddit. these heroes could not be considered imperfect or without right moral action. It is no different with the ancient Greeks.us/post?url=http://bookstove.com/classics/gods-of-the -iliad/&title=Gods of the Iliad> Reddit <http://www.com/submit?url=http://bookstove. The Greeks wanted to connect themselves to these epic heroes by means of their heritage and their customs.com/tag/hera/> Homer <http://bookstove. we somehow take a part of that heritage of honesty and courage for ourselves. for both families and cities.com/tag/achilles/> Apollo <http://bookstove.com/tag/homer/> Iliad <http://bookstove.com/tag/war/> Zeus <http://bookstove. such as George Washington. and glorified them so that they might glorify themselves. Therefore.com/tag/troy/> war <http://bookstove.com/tag/zeus/> Liked this? Share it! Tweet this! <http://twitter. “the striving for excellence in particular areas of human behavior” (Rosenberg).com/tag/odysseus/> odyssey <http://bookstove.com/classics/gods-of-the-iliad/&ti tle=Gods of the Iliad> Share on Facebook <http://www.com/home/?status=Gods of the Iliad : http://bookstove. the stories of the war on Troy undoubtedly developed and evolved. While stories such as the one about the cherry tree are historically false.php?u=http://bookstove. The role of the gods in /The Iliad/ is to help the heroes be as heroic as they possibly can.com/sharer.com/classics/gods-of-the-iliad/> StumbleUpon <http://www. is the most compelling factor of all. they are a representation of what Washington meant for the country. mentioned by Burkert above.icio.com/tag/trojan/> Troy <http://bookstove. by being an American.com/feed/> 1 Comment .stumbleupon. to the utmost.com/classics/gods-of-the-il iad/&title=Gods of the Iliad&bodytext=<p>What purpose is served by the members of the Greek Pantheon within the context of Homer’s Iliad?</p> > Bookmark on Delicious <http://del.com/submit?url=http://bookstove. who drew courage and faith from their ancestors. It is the same reason why fledgling myths have emerged about our own heroes.com/classics/gods-of-theiliad/&t=Gods of the Iliad> * Subscribe to our RSS feed.facebook.com/tag/greek/> Hera <http://bookstove. and used these figures as a link between mortal man and the divinities.com/tag/gods/> Greek <http://bookstove. At some point between the historical event in question and the development of a tradition of involvement by divine forces. <http://bookstove. 8 Liked it I Like It Achilles <http://bookstove. there was a reason for the crafting of these impossible elements.com/submit?phase=2&url=http://bookstove.com/classics/gods-of-the-ilia d/&title=Gods of the Iliad> Digg This! <http://digg.com/tag/odyssey/> Trojan <http://bookstove. and had to represent /aretē/.com/tag/iliad/> Odysseus <http://bookstove.com/tag/apollo/> gods <http://bookstove.hundreds of years. The idea of tradition.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.