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Consider the Roles of Gods in the Iliad


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Q: Consider the role of the gods in the Iliad. Why are they given credit or blame for so much of what happens at Troy? Does Zeus have ultimate control over the fate of these mortals? To what extent do the mortal characters exercise free will in their choice of actions? Be sure to discuss at least three separate episodes from the text to support your argument.

In Homer’s The Iliad, divine intervention is a recurrent theme in the epic. The epic portrays a world in which humans and Gods somewhat co-exist even though they are in very different worlds. We witness that heroes in The Iliad go through many troubles when “fate” and the Gods operate their lives. In Homer’s epic, the Gods intend to constantly change the lives of the people and manipulate events that take place on earth for their own self interest or any other reason. We see many recurrent patterns throughout the epic between the Gods, fate, and the heroes. For example, the Gods play a very important role in Troy. Certain gods are on each side of the war and they all have a reason, albeit petty, to help a side. Hera, the patron goddess of women, and Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, are opposed to the Trojans because a Trojan said that Aphrodite was more beautiful than them. Poseidon, the god of the sea, is also against the Trojans, because the king of Troy once enslaved him and made him build the city's walls and then refused to pay Poseidon. Although Apollo, god of poetry, archery, and healing, was enslaved at that time and cheated out of pay, he is on the Trojan side. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is also on the Trojan side because a Trojan said she was very beautiful. Ares, the god of war, is also on the Trojan side. Those who remain more neutral are Zeus, the “king of the gods”, who controls the sky and the weather, Hephaistos, the god of fire and blacksmithing, and Hades, the god of the underworld. These gods can change sides quickly. For example, Zeus becomes involved in the war when Thetis convinces Zeus to help the Trojans, or when the same goddess gets Hephaistos to make a new suit of armor for Achilles.
The gods have the power to manipulate people’s emotions, the weather, they could disguise themselves as humans, or do basically anything they wanted. As you can see, the war wasn’t just humans versus humans. It was gods versus gods and humans were the pawns to be used for their desires or for fate to be adhered to.
One theme The Iliad talks about is fate. For example, in Book 20 of The Iliad, Apollo had come down and intervened during the fight between Hector and Achilles. Apollo had covered Hector in a mist and saved him from grave danger so Achilles would not be able to kill him. The reason that these heroes are saved from the midst of these battle was because of the adherence to fate. It was fated for Hector to live and it wasn’t his time yet.
Throughout the The Iliad, the Gods continual intervening into the human world was just to make sure fate was on its right course. When Patroclus was killed by Hector due to the help of Apollo, “Apollo advanced, veiled in a dense mist, invisible to Patroclus in the tumult, stood behind him and struck him in the back with the flat of his hand. The warrior’s vision spun, as Apollo knocked the helmet from his head, sending it under the horses’ feet with a clang, and the plumes on its crest were streaked with blood and dust. The gods had never allowed it to be fouled till then.” (16:789-791) Apollo knew that it was decided that Patroclus would not be the one to take Troy. In this instance, Apollo affected the outcomes of certain events to fulfill the fate to come. The Iliad brings up the question of who or what is actually responsible for a man's destiny. It seems as if the most powerful god Zeus could control many of the events that transpire. As the leader of the gods who governs the law and social order, his job is to make sure that everything goes according to plan. In fact, the opening statement of The Iliad contains the phrase "the will of Zeus," which means that everything is up to Zeus. It is also a way of saying that there is no free will and all matters are in the hands of the gods. Also, even though the gods do not have a destiny, because they are immortal, they still have to follow fate because even when Sarpedon, Zeus’ son dies, Zeus considered saving him, even though it was against Sarpedon’s destiny. In Book XXII, one line showed The Iliad’s view on fate, “But once they reached the springs for the fourth time, then Father Zeus held out his sacred golden scales: in them he placed two fates of death that lays men low - one for Achilles, one for Hector breaker of horses - and gripping the beam mid-haft the Father raised it high and down went Hector's day of doom, dragging him down to the strong House of Death. (22:248-54) In the Iliad, the gods constantly refer to others' final destiny and fate. For example, in Book XIX, Hera says “Yes! We will save your life - this time too - master, mighty Achilles! But the day of death already hovers near, and we are not to blame but a great god is and the strong force of fate. (19:483-486) This line clearly stated the fact that the gods knew about when other characters would die. Achilles must die a certain way because fate wills it, just like when Apollo killed Patroclus. They prophesied that a man and a god will put an end to Achilles' life. In Book XXI, Achilles' refers to his own fate: The son of a great man, the mother who gave me life a deathless goddess. But even for me, I tell you, death and the strong force of fate are waiting. There will come a dawn or sunset or high noon when a man will take my life in battle too - flinging a spear perhaps or whipping a deadly arrow off his bow. (21:122-28) This statement foreshadows Achilles' death which is he dies from getting shot by an arrow in the heel guided by Apollo. It seems that his fate is set and that he cannot change it, therefore he accepts it. At the same time, he may choose to perform an action that could alter his fate but never his ultimate destiny, which is to die. The Iliad presents a talking point on life. Whether a man's fate is controlled by his actions or that by some outside force, is somewhat undetermined. Free will is determined by the gods while also determined by fate. binding humans by the laws of fate. Homer created these recurrent patterns of how the Gods and fate come into play with the human world. He used internal and external levels of interventions from creating illusions to directly coming in contact to the world with physical forces. Both authors convey this idea of how the Gods and fate are two very intertwined ideas. If there were no fate, then the Gods would just be at war with each other for their own personal endeavors. Gods either lunge into the human world for their own benefit or to help fate stay on the right course.

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