The Dual Role of Gods in The Iliad Essay

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The Dual Role of Gods in The Iliad

With even a cursory exposure to ancient Greek texts, it is obvious that the gods and goddesses are very important in traditional Greek culture. As literary figures in mythos and specific poetry and drama, the gods dabble in the life of man, predict his fate, and routinely thwart any attempt for him to entirely forge his own future. But for those of us who are not extensively schooled in antiquities, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what the gods are to the ancient Greeks, and what they are to us as readers of literature who live outside the culture. Were the gods accepted as parable figures, meant to instruct? Were they used to explain acts of nature? Do they now belong to anything
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The gods are conspicuous to the humans within the text, and moreover, the gods are conspicuous to the reader. As the epic's battles loom and its literary armor clatters, the Olympian gods are present on almost every page of The Iliad. At odds with each other, vulnerable to seductions and flattery, cursed with quick tempers, Homer's gods cannot be depended upon to stay out of the earthly battles, even when ordered to do so by Zeus. For the lesser gods, the threat of eviction from Olympus is not enough to scare them. Zeus tells Iris the swift to deliver the message to Hera and Athene, "...turn them back again, let them not reach me, since we would close in fighting thus that would be unseemly" (VII 399-400), forgetting or ignoring that the gods fight amongst themselves all the time within the text. Zeus is the supreme leader of the gods, but his will is not always respected, especially once he turns his back. He makes terrible threats against disobedience, but the other gods know he is easily persuaded, face to face, to act on behalf of whomever asks. Thetis sits by Zeus's knee and asks for his support for Troy, and because Zeus is endowed with many of the weaknesses of man, he cannot say no to a pretty face. To Thetis's request, Zeus answers, "This is a disastrous matter when you set me in conflict with Hera" (I 518-19) yet he gives in to her, anyway, and will deal with his wife later.

Warriors on both sides, Trojans and Achaians
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