Role of the Gods in The Iliad

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  • 0:03 Gods in ''The Iliad''
  • 1:10 How the Gods Control…
  • 1:38 The Gods Helping The Trojans
  • 2:50 The Gods Helping the Achaeans
  • 3:37 The Gods Causing Trouble
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

This lesson will cover the role of the gods in Homer's 'The Iliad.' Main focus will be placed on each of the gods, and how their roles were of great influence in the characters and the events in the poem.

Gods in The Iliad

Reality TV has nothing on the cattiness and back-stabbing that goes on between the gods and warriors in Homer's The Iliad! This epic poem, written in 800 B.C.E., is based upon the Trojan War that took place when a prince of Troy stole the wife of a Spartan king. The gods and goddesses love to manipulate, plot, and ploy against the humans they detest, so pay close attention, because their influence drives battles that ensue throughout the poem.

The Iliad would be nothing if it were not for the gods, as they ultimately decide the fate, or outcome, of the humans. From the very beginning of The Iliad, it is clear that when the gods are offended by the actions of the humans, or when the gods favor one human over another, the humans' fates are sealed. For example, in Book 1, when Agamemnon takes Chryses' (Apollo's priest) daughter as a prize, Apollo puts a plague upon the Achaean camp until Agamemnon agrees to return the daughter to her father. These gods are not playing around, and have no problem using human suffering as a form of entertainment!

How the Gods Control The Iliad

While every instance of divine intervention cannot be listed here, below are some important moments that identify when, and why, the gods stepped in. It is important to note the gods were not necessarily intervening for the benefit of the humans but more for their own interests or tastes. Disagreement, compromise, or spite between the gods often became motivation for intervention. Take a look at the roles of the gods in The Iliad, and try to decide the justification for their interventions.

The Gods Helping The Trojans

Here are some examples of the gods or goddesses stepping in to help the Trojans by giving compassion, strength, or even life:

  • Before The Iliad, Paris was given a golden apple from Zeus, a token to signify the fairest goddess; he chose to give it to Aphrodite, goddess of love. She has shown favor to him, and even had Helen fall in love with him. This is why, during his battle with Menelaus, Aphrodite rescues Paris by concealing him in a thick mist, and then brings Helen to him in his chambers.

  • Zeus, king of all the gods, men, and universe, claims to stay neutral in this battle; however, he does give more favor to the Trojans by helping Hector more than he initially set out to in his promise to Thetis. He gives Hector strength, symbols from the sky, and protection during battle.

  • After being manipulated by Hera, Zeus sends his son Apollo, the god of the sun and the stars, to help Hector in battle, while Poseidon, the god of the sea, helps the Achaeans.

  • Zeus commands Achilles to release the body of Hector to Priam; Hermes, Zeus' messenger, provides safe passage for Priam to collect the body.

The Gods Helping The Achaeans

Here are some examples of the gods or goddesses stepping in to help the Achaeans by giving strength and protection:

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