In the ancient Greek, gods were seen as divine beings, for instance the Trojan War was viewed by many Greeks not just as a dispute among men but as a desire of the gods. In fact after reading the Iliad, one is made to believe that had the gods not involved themselves in the war, men might have settled their differences without much bloodshed. It was generally believed that the divinity was one being who had the ability to control everything and understands everything, though he may chose not to do so. There are many gods in the Iliad, each with his specialty but all are loosely controlled by a much greater god, Zeus, just as men were governed by kings or dictators (Greek p 1).
The gods in Iliad are shown as being physically more powerful than men although they also have their own points of weakness and desires which appear to be greater than the weaknesses and desires of mankind and which seemingly are sometimes hostile to the well being of mankind. To add on this, the gods' relationship with one another placed man at risk at times. For instance, it is Athena's and Hera's rivalry with Aphrodite together with their hostility towards Paris that causes and prolongs the bloodshed witnessed in the Trojan War. It strongly emerges from the story that men understood their gods better than the gods did. It is seen that while men more often than not, petitioned their gods for favor, few mortals confidently expected their god's beneficence. Generally men were happy to receive the kindness or protection given by the gods, but they were not surprised if the gods did not respond or if the same gods decide to harm them deliberately. This can be seen from the instance where Hector prays to be delivered from death and for Troy's deliverance from destruction, but he does not really expect it. But before going back to battle, Hector pays his wife Andromache and their baby son, Astyanax, a visit. The wife expresses her fears and pleads with the husband not to go back to battle. Hector answers her "Lady, these many things beset my mind no less than yours. But I should die of shame before our Trojan men and noblewomen if like a coward I avoid battle, nor am I moved to. Long ago I learned how to be brave, how to go forward always and to contend for honor, Father's and mine. Honor -for in my heart and soul I know a day will come when ancient Ilion (Troy) falls, when Priam and the folk of Priam perish."
The Greek gods possessed a curious blend of human characteristics, they were greatly interested in the affairs of humans and they had an incredible distance from humanity. This duality comes out clearly in the way the author portrays them throughout the poem and the way he presents the thoughts of the Greeks about their gods. But what is clear is that the Greeks generally viewed their gods with great intimacy. To understand the role of these gods in the Iliad one will first have to put in mind that fact that they were treated as divine beings. This comes out clearly in the aspect of control that these gods were supposed to have over the course of events that happened in the lives of humans. This is a view that the author has shown throughout the course of the Iliad, but it is strikingly brought out in the opening lines of the Iliad, "......and the will of Zeus was accomplished since that time when first there stood in division of conflict Atreus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus. What god was it then set them together in bitter collision? Zeus' son and Leto's, Apollo, who in anger at the king drove the foul pestilence along the host...." (Lattimore, 1.5-10). What this means here is that the Iliad was there to fulfill the will of Zeus and the immediate instrument to oversee the fulfillment of that will was the god Apollo. He is actually the one who sets in motion the confrontation between Achilles and Agamemnon which is the basis of the following twenty three books. There it can be said that Zeus occupied a position relative to Apollo just as Apollo occupied a position relative to humans (Hogan & Schenker p. 1).
The story also shows that Apollo's anger had been aroused at the will of one of his priests, Chryses, a human, Apollo says, "Hear me... if ever it pleased you that I burned all the rich thigh pieces of bulls, of goats, then bring to pass this which I pray for: let your arrows make the Danaans pay for my tears shed." (Lattimore, 1.36-42). This posse a question as to whether the Iliad's action was set in motion by Chryses, Apollo, Zeus, or by something else? But if Iliad is there to fulfill the will of Zeus, then one will be justified to conclude that both men and the gods were pawns of Zeus. Another important characteristic of the gods is that they had the capacity to be persuaded by mortals. This is very crucial in explaining the way Greeks viewed them. It is generally argued that the main important feature of gods who are connected closely to humanity is that they should be receptive to the wishes that humans have. A passage from book nine strengthens this argument, where Phoinix speaks to Achilleus in an attempt to convince him to rejoin the Greek army. He rebukes him of being more obstinate than befits the gods (Lattimore, 9.496-501). But the episode in book one throws this into an amusing contrast where Athena descends from Olympos to prevent Achilleus' wrath at Agamemnon. He openly acknowledges that if any man obeys the gods then the gods will also listen to him. Therefore Achilleus sees no conflict between his giving in to Athena and his refusing to ignore his purpose at the will of Agamemnon, whether he is given his kingship by Zeus (Lattimore, 1.218).
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In some instances the gods could not be persuaded by any amount of sacrifice or wailing. An episode in book three confirms this whereby both armies swore an oath to abide by the single combat between Menelaos and Paris, where those who break were to face horrible punishments. It was Zeus here who could not stoop to the will of men, a big contrast from the other gods who frequently gave in to the will of men. This confirmed the fact that had divine powers with men as his pawns. The most common feature where divine interaction among the gods was squabbling and this is famous between Zeus and Hera. In book one Hera accosts Zeus after meeting with Thetis. They exchange angry words but Zeus eventually silences her by saying, "But go then, sit down in silence, and do as I tell you, for fear all gods, as many as there are on Olympos, can do nothing if I come close and lay my hand upon you." (Lattimore, 1.565-8). This shows that Zeus had taken charge of the other gods. At the beginning of book eight, Zeus gives a speech in an effort to quell the fight among the other gods, showing that he was also frustrated with them just as a human king would be with a band of nobles fighting amongst themselves instead of carrying out his wishes (Lattimore, 8.8-17). The parallelism between the gods with Athena, Hera, and others who were firmly on the side of Apollo and the Greeks, Aphrodite, and those supporting the Trojans and men, shows that the gods of the Iliad were gods that mortals expected to have an interest in human affairs. It is shown that when things were going smoothly for the humans the way gods would have wished, they intervened. This comes out in the very beginning where Hera gives Achilleus the idea of summoning a convention to find out why the Greek host had been afflicted, "...on the tenth day Achilleus called the people into assembly; a thing put into his mind by the goddess of the white arms, Hera..." (Lattimore, 1.54-5).
There is no doubt that the gods of the Iliad were perceived of divine beings that had an intense concern with the affairs of humans. The Greeks of the Iliad made sacrifices to them expecting responses from them, as the scales of war tilted one way or the other; the battling sides attributed the shifting fortunes to the shifting will of Zeus. The Heroes of the Iliad did not see anything weird with the gods coming down from Olympos to communicate to them or fight alongside them in battle.
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