Homer's Iliad


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The Iliad is a poem divided into twenty-four books, about Troy, written in the late

eighth or early seventh century B. C. by Homer. The saga is about the tenth year of a war

between the Greeks and the Trojans, around 1200 B. C. , and takes place before the city of

Troy.

     While the Greeks are stood by the walls of Troy, the King, Agamemnon, does not

want to return his captive Chryseis to the priest of Apollo, her father. As the Greeks

persevere in their demand, Agamemnon finally agrees, but takes Briseis from Achilleus in

her place. Therefore, both Achilleus and his men withdraw from the fight against the

Trojans. The battle continues with the involvement of the gods, who help and support both

sides, individually and collectively. Despite of Zeus’s order to the other gods not to take part

in the war, they often defy his wishes and support their favorite individuals. Hera, Athena,

Poseidon, Hephaistos, and Hermes side with the Greeks; Ares, Apollo, Artemis, and

Aphrodite with the Trojans. There are unresolved fights between Menelaus and Paris, and

later between Hector and Ais. As a cease-fire is called to bury the dead, a wall is built by the

Greek in order to protect their camp, and their ships are pulled over the shore.

     As the fighting continues, the Trojans acquire the upper hand. Meanwhile,

Agamemnon and the Greeks feel disappointed, and realizes it’s a mistake to quarrel with

Achilleus and agrees to return Briseis with gifts and tributes in the hope that Achilleus and

his men will rejoin the fight. However, Achilleus refuses, but agrees not to leave the next day

as planned.

     In order to determine the power of the Trojan army, Odysseus and Diomedes go on a

spying mission, and the following day the fight resumes with increased intensity.
Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Diomedes are wounded, and the Trojans drive the Greeks back

under Hector. Achilleus sends Patroclus to examine the fight, while Nestor appeals for him

to have Achilleus to fight. The Trojan assault carries on.

     Hector breaks through wall, Menaces the Greek ships and sets one on fire. Patroklos,

anguished by the plight of the Greeks, urges Achilleus to give him his armor and his men so

he can fight the Trojans. Achilleus complies, and Patroklos and the Greeks drive back the

Trojans to their walls, where Patroklos is killed by Hector. At last, Menelaus and the

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Greeks recover Patroklos’ body and fall back to the ships.

     Tormented by the death of Patroklos, Achilleus vows revenge and prepares for battle.

At the request of Thetis, Achilleus’ mother, Hephaistos ( god of Smiths ) makes a brilliant set

of armor for Achilleus. Who was advised not to fight, but fated to die, goes on to fight and

dies. Meanwhile, Hector was advised not to fight, but fated to die goes on to fight and dies.

The use of the gods in Homer, is in order to give color, variety and fictional diversity to the

story.

     In the Iliad the gods are completely human in their behavior and often considerably

less noble than the leading characters of the epics. They argue violently among themselves,

are clever and take sides in the conflict raging in Troy, including Zeus, at times, abandons

his impartiality. The gods seem to be tribal to the invading Achaians. Each tribe is under the

protection of a special god. On Olympus they begin to break away while retaining their

preferences of the men or nations to whom they give protection. Thus, Hera and Athena are

undivided pro-Achaian; Aphrodite, pro-Trojan; and Apollo, less fanatically so. Ironically,

Poseidon, one of the patrons of the original founders of Troy, sometimes he helps the

Trojans and some other the Achaians.

     The Achaians as well as the Greeks of Homer’s time favored the idea that their gods

were so close to the human beings in their desires and weaknesses. They also enjoy

attributing to their goddesses the infinite variety of feminine nature. For instance, Hera is

the jealous, clever wife. Aphrodite, the beauty, but her lack of principle is condoned by her

sheer loveliness. Athena is a wise and compassionate lady, with cunning ideas, and she is

reliable to her male companions. Finally, Thetis is considered to be the symbol of sensitivity

and caring motherhood.

     Zeus, the father and ruler of the gods, is feared and respected on Olympus and he has

the power. He is also a compassionate god. When Thetis solicits his favor to avenge the

dishonor done to her son, he agrees on bringing grievous defeat to the Achaians. Later

Agamemnon reminds Zeus that “ never in my benched ship passed I by a fair altar of thine

on my mad way hither, but upon all I burned fat and thighs of oxen,” and entreats the god to

desist from his disfavor. And “the Father had pity on him and vouchsafed him that his folk

should be saved and perish not. Forthwith he sent an eagle – surest sign among winged

folk – holding in his claws a fawn, the young of the fleet hind; beside the beautiful altar of

Zeus he let fall the fawn, where the Achaians did sacrifice unto Zeus lord of all oracles. So

when they saw that the bird was come from Zeus, they sprang the more upon the Trojans

and bethought them of the joys of battle.” ( Iliad, VIII, 137. )

     She realizes without her participation that her favorites are on the verge of losing the

battle. Then she decide to turn the tide of the fight. She has to delude Zeus, who is not

sympathetic with the Achaian cause, who also enlist the aid of his brother Poseidon. So she

makes herself extremely beautiful to her all – powerful spouse, and this is how she goes

about it : “With ambrosia first did she cleanse every stain from her winsome body, and

anointed her with olive oil, ambrosial, soft, and of a sweet savour ; if it were but shaken, in

the bronze-floored mansion of Zeus, the savour thereof went right forth to earth and

heaven.”( Iliad, XIV, 225. ) She also calls on Aphrodite to solicit her favor, because she

was not sure whether she will accept it or refuse it. Since Hera favored the Danaans, and

Aphrodite the Trojans. However, Aphrodite agrees, then Hera solicits her love and desire

while concealing the real issue by giving Aphrodite a false story, Fortunately, she complies

with Heras’ wishes.

     When the dispute of the Olympians turns out to be too violent as in the war before

Troy, Zeus is moved to fury and is able to restore order by reminding the gods of his

supreme power, if used to the extreme, resistance is useless. There is no second thought of his

meaning in this command: “One thing let none essay, be it goddess or be it god, to wit, to

thwart my saying; approve ye it all together, that with all speed I may accomplish these

things. Whomsoever I shall perceive minded to go, apart from the gods, to succour Trojans

or Danaans, chastened in no seemly wise shall he return to Olympus, or I will take and cast

him into misty Tartaros, right far away, where is the deepest gulf beneath the earth;…shall

we know how far I am mightiest of all gods.” ( Iliad, VIII, 130.) Whenever the gods go

beyond the limits, Zeus has the power to show them that he is really in charges, or he is the

real master on Olympus. Then they comply for a while to soon restart their tricks in

supporting their favorites on earth. For example, Hera, who is a forceful goddess, takes the

trouble to make herself beautiful in seeking Zeus’ favor in order to help her favorites. In

Iliad XIV, the war was going against the Achaians [ Hera’s favorites ] .

     Hera deceitfully pretends that she is on a specifying mission, however, Zeus detains

her and makes the following statement: “Not when I loved the wife of Ixion, who bore

Pirithoos, the peer of gods in counsel, nor when I loved Danae of the fair ankles, daughter of

Akrisios, who bore Perseus, most renowned of all men, nor when I loved the famed daughter

of Phoinix, who bore me Minos, and godlike Rhadamanthys, nay, nor even when I loved

Semele, nor Alkmene in Thebes, and she bore Herakles, a child hardy of heart, but Semele

boreDionysos, a delight to mortals, nay, nor when I loved the fair-tressed queen, Demeter,

nor renowned Leto, nay, nor thy very self, as now I love thee, and sweet desire possesses

me.” ( Iliad, XIV, 259.) Having brought Zeus to this point of erotic ardor, Hera presses

her advantage with feminine astuteness. With modest coyness she says: “Most dread son of

Kronos, what a word has thou spoken! If now thou dost long to be couched in love on the

crests of Ida, and all stands in plain view, how would it be if some one of the eternal gods

should see us slumbering, and go and tell it to all the gods?” ( Iliad, XIV, 249.) But Zeus

resorts to his heavenly prerogative. He is in a hurry and takes appropriate measures. Having

covered Hera with a golden cloud, he clasped his consort in his arms. And beneath them the

divine earth sent forth fresh new grass, and dewy lotus, and crocus, and hyacinth, thick and

soft, that raised them aloft from the ground. There in they lay, and were clad on with a fair

golden cloud, whence fell drops of glittering dew. Thus, by craft, did Hera succeed in turning

for a time the tide of war in favor of the Achaians.

     Moreover, the roles of the other gods are worth considering. For example, Apollo has

a personal interest in the war; he is in favor of the Trojans. Athena is the protesters of the

Achaians, specifically of Achilleus. The following is an example of Athena’s role as the

conscience of Achilleus. In Book I, Achilleus is so furious with Agamemnon for taking

Briseis from him that he is ready to draw his sword against the commander-in-chief:

“…grief came upon Peleus’ son, and his heart within his shaggy breast was divided in

counsel, whether to draw his keen blade from his thigh and set the company aside and so

slay Atreides, or to assuage his anger and curb his soul.” ( Iliad, I, 6. ) Achilleus listens to

Athena’s advice and returns his sword to its sheath. He reviles Agamemnon roundly and

withdraws from battle.

     To conclude, in their own universe in the upper air, the gods love, quarrel, plot and

regarding Zeus, he imposes order by virtue of the power of his thunderbolt. Therefore, the

gods and goddesses make the important decision in Iliad.


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