Gods in the Iliad
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The Gods behavior in the Iliad
In this essay, we aim to extract some sense to the Greek gods’ behavior using the Iliad as our guide. It is important to note that in classic Greek literature, and poetry, the gods frequently intervened in man’s affairs. Throughout the poem, Homer shows how the lives of men, are intertwined with the gods will, as they intervene in their affairs whenever they see fit (Ylmaz 2). These interventions, aimed to protect their favored champions, often changed the turns of the battle, and the human destiny. Upon seeing that, we might think that the Greek gods act whimsically, using men as tools to achieve their earthly goals, and that gods as conceived by Greek mythology are not heroic, or godly. Nevertheless, it is important to note that “Greeks did not always think of their gods, in the same way, many Americans think of God. In the usual Judeo-Christian way of thinking” (Webster 1).
To Greeks, gods were not omnipresent, and omnipotent deities, instead, they corresponded to human archetypes. For instance, Ares is the god of war and battles. In a strict sense, he is an insightful and cunning deity, but his power is not infinite, and can be bested by men with the help of another god. Moreover, Greek gods are not away from suffering, as they have the same feelings as mortals. That is why in book V, Ares laments his intervention in the battle after Diomedes wounds him in battle “We everlasting gods… Ah, what chilling blows we suffer—thanks to our own conflicting wills— whenever we show these mortal men some kindness.” (Homer V). This line illustrates the relation between gods and men. To Ares, his intervention was out of kindness. Nevertheless, by showing kindness to a side, he spites the other. That is why, during the siege of Troy, gods were separated into two factions. Those who helped the Greeks, and those who helped the Trojans. Homeric gods are depicted as independent and free-willed. Zeus might be the main god, but he is never seen intervening in the other gods affairs. Although de jure bound to their role as gods, they hold a de facto independence that allows them to meddle in the mortal’s affairs.
However, it is important to note that although gods have a human form; are born, and have sexual encounters, they do not die, nor eat human food. They belonged to the earth but held a different role. To Greeks, gods are blessed creatures. Men might dine with the gods, but they were never regarded as gods. Men in the Iliad are heroes, a term that referred to men that were less powerful than gods, but they were regarded as god-like. Those heroes had contact with gods and were protected by them as if they were their favorites. However, while men seek honor, gods did not, as they had the ultimate of honors, which is to be a revered immortal creature.
In the Iliad, we can see how gods change human affairs, and turn the tides to one side, or another. In the poem, gods can be regarded as those who try to keep the balance in the carnage, often forcing heroes to abide by solemn oaths, and aiding their champions in duels. (Ylmaz 4) Greek gods do meddle in human business. They try to do it in a way that does not hinder balance, as they understand that men have to live their lives without the intromission of an omnipotent God. Greek gods know that fate is what drives men and that they have to live by it, if they intervened, they might change future, and such thing was strictly forbidden. (Webster 1). Greek gods were feared, and revered, but never loved. They served as paragons, but never as examples as would happen in Judeo-Christian religions.
Boardman, John. The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991. Print.
Lattimore, Richmond. The Iliad;. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1951. Print.
Webster, M. “Gods and Men in Greek Religion.” Grand Valley State University, 2005. Web. <http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/gods&men.htm> 18 June 2015.
Ylmaz, T. “Representation of the Gods in the Iliad by Homer: A Brief Analysis”. Journal of Süleyman Demirel University Institute of Social Sciences 1.15 (2012): 1-13. Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi. Web.<http://edergi.sdu.edu.tr/index.php/sbed/article/viewFile/3343/2857> 18 June 2015.