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Zeus in The Iliad

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.

Zeus is well known as the most powerful god in Greek mythology. This lesson will explore the different roles he took in Homer's, ''The Iliad''. Read on, to learn more about the almighty Zeus.

The Iliad

Homer's The Iliad was written in the late eighth century B.C.E, and is an epic poem meant for oral recitation. The humans battle one another in the Trojan War, the gods interfere, and chaos ensues. As noted in the other lessons on The Iliad, the gods play an important role in the play, as they ultimately decide the fate of the humans. Many of the immortals favor the Achaeans, so it is fated that Troy will fall. Let's dig a little bit deeper to better understand how Zeus plays a big part in this outcome.

Who is Zeus?

Zeus, is the son of Cronus and Rhea, and was born into quite an interesting situation. Legend states he was placed into his position of power by killing his father and rescuing his brothers and sisters from his father's stomach. Yes, you heard that correctly. Cronus had killed his own father in order to take power, and was told that he would suffer the same fate at the hand of one of his children. Each time Rhea had a child, Cronus would swallow them. When Zeus was born, Rhea tricked Cronus by feeding him a stone, and secretly hid Zeus. When Zeus was old enough, he returned, defeated Cronus, and freed his siblings from his father's stomach. Thus began Zeus' role as the most powerful god in Greek mythology.

Zeus in The Iliad

There is rarely a moment in The Iliad where Zeus' presence is not felt. We are given many different impressions of Zeus throughout the play, and much revolves around his role of power, and everyone being fearful or his wrath.

Zeus on Mount Olympus

Despite the universe being fearful for Zeus, ironically, it also seems he is concerned with the wrath of those on Mount Olympus. Zeus wanted to keep the peace, and seemed to be a moderator, if not a mediator a lot of the time. If he wasn't able to secretly help people out on the down-low, he had to resort to smiling, nodding, and just going along with what everyone else wanted.

  • When Thetis asks for Zeus to give the Trojans the upper hand, he responds that doing so will be disastrous because it will force him into conflict with Hera, his wife, who detests the Trojans. He agrees, but only with a slight nod in hopes that Hera doesn't notice.
  • After Aphrodite whisks Paris away from his combat with Menelaus, Zeus states the battle is done the war should be finished. Hera is furious and demands Zeus not let the battle end until Troy is in ruins. Wishing to keep the peace with Hera, Zeus agrees, and has Athena cause the Trojans to restart the war.
  • He agrees to let Troy fall so he does not face an uprising on Mount Olympus. The majority of the gods and goddesses detest the Trojans, so Zeus knows the Achaeans must win.

Zeus and the Trojans

While Zeus did not scheme and plot as maliciously as the other gods and goddesses; he did show favor to the Trojans on a few different occasions, even though he knew they were fated to lose:

  • He gives advantage to the Trojans at the request of Thetis, although he already favored Hector.
  • He removes Hector from the worst of the fighting, and holds him back until Agamemnon is badly injured.
  • He sends Hector extra strength to cast a large stone against a wall blocking the Achaean ships.
  • He sends Apollo to help Hector in battle after Poseidon helps the Achaeans.
  • He stops Hector from being killed by an arrow, and gives him power to fight harder.

Zeus and Fate

Fate plays a large role in Greek mythology. Zeus was not one to manipulate the fates; however, he sometimes struggled with them. There were times during the play when Zeus questioned deaths or outcomes that had been written. Even the strongest willed gods can feel as if fate has played a bad hand:

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