The Representation Of Gods in The Gomer’s Iliad

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The mortals in the Iliad have inherent characteristics that provide the driving force behind their actions: the gods simply act in concert with them, allowing the human beings to exercise free will of their own. Why are the gods portrayed as having human like characteristics?

Throughout the text, the gods are portrayed with all the flaws and eccentricities of mortals. This human-like behavior isn’t restricted to Zeus and Hera. Because the gods are so similar to the mortals, one can make the argument that they exist simply to explain different facets of human nature: therefore, they have an influence on the human heroes, not because they are all-powerful deities, but because they represent personality traits already inherent in each individual person. The deities are being presented in this unique way to help explain human behavior – more specifically, the behavior of the humans in the Iliad itself. The argument that the gods are facets of human nature is also evident in smaller characters. This indicates that the actions of the heroes in the Iliad are actions of free will, rather than decisions made because of divine intervention. Throughout the Iliad, Zeus and the rest of the Olympians are presented as remarkably human in almost every way. In fact, the only obvious difference between the deities and the human characters is that the gods are immortal meaning that they will have to live with their decisions forever. They are acutely aware of this – at the beginning of the Iliad, Hephaestus urges Hera and Zeus to forgo their argument about the Greeks, since “they’ll be no more pleasure at our feasts if we let things turn ugly”. Having to bear each other’s presence forever seems to be a good incentive to keep the peace. And yet, peaceful is hardly the word to describe the relationship between the gods, perhaps because their immortality, in nearly every instance, is countered by their great humanity.

In one memorable scene, Hera flies into one of her customary rages and accuses the son of Kronos of plotting behind her back. Zeus replies that his plans are none of her business, and angrily bids her to keep her silence. At this point, it is clear to the reader that Zeus and Hera are hardly divine symbols of peace and equanimity. Just like mortals such as Agamemnon and Achilles view each other with suspicion and intolerance, the gods experience identical emotions of wariness, anger, and irritation. When Helen refuses to share Paris’s bed, she infuriates Aphrodite. Since Helen is already in a delicate position with the other Trojan women, Aphrodite’s fury is understandable. What is surprising is Aphrodite’s furious response. If one looks at Aphrodite as a divine entity, her reaction may not make sense, but when it is viewed as a manifestation of human emotion, it become almost reasonable. Her angry response to Helen is no doubt spurred by her affection for Paris, whom she has long favored. By ensuring that he gets his woman for another night, she is playing into her own sense of vanity. Hera’s jealousy and Aphrodite’s ego don’t stand alone as examples of this divine humanity. It is also manifested through positive human emotions such as forgiveness. Although it takes some convincing from Hephaestus, Hera swiftly forgives Zeus for his secret scheming, and is soon merrily feasting with the other gods.

Throughout the text, major characters seem to be at constant battle with their different emotions. This inner conflict is mirrored by the everyday conflicts between the gods. Just as Zeus and Hera are constantly at odds with one another, so are the different aspects of Achilles. He’s faced with balancing cultural responsibility, pride, honor, and revenge. No one is completely at peace with his or her conflicting emotions in the Iliad – and therefore, neither are the gods, who represent these emotions. Hector is a prime example of a human figure who finds himself torn between two forces: his love for his growing family, and his duty as a prince of Troy. He admits to Andromache that he worries about his own mortality, but emphasizes how he must fight for Troy to defend the honor of himself and his father. These traits– a deeply ingrained sense of honor, a loyalty to home – are clearly established in the beginning of the text. Therefore, when Zeus later grants Hector “strength to kill and keep killing”, it is not too much of a stretch to attribute Hector’s dodged perseverance to his upbringing and rigid sense of duty, rather than to the intervention of Zeus himself. Cultural upbringing also lays the foundation for Achilles’s future decisions. When in the middle of a bitter argument with Agamemnon, for instance, he briefly debates gutting the king with his sword. Homer proceeds to describe Athena’s intervention. This passage indicates that Athena is solely responsible for preventing Achilles from this violent act. However, the fact remains that Achilles would probably have controlled his temper despite Athena. He is, after all, the son of a king; his awareness of the social hierarchy of eighth- century Greece would be enough to prevent him from raising a sword against Agamemnon.

Despite all the evidence in favor of my arguments, obvious objections can be made. One is why, if so many decisions are made through personal choice and free will, the characters blame the gods for the great losses sustained during battle. Priam, for example, assures Helen that she is not to blame for this war with the Greeks and that the gods are. Yet, if the gods are simply acting in concert with a human’s inherent characteristics, why blame them in the first place? The answer is simple: it is easier for mortals to blame a higher power for unfortunate events than to take responsibility for themselves. For Priam, shoving the blame on the gods may look better than admitting that Paris and Helen’s actions had disastrous consequences. It is also curious that there is so much conflict between each of the gods, when the gods are supposedly acting in concert with a human’s inherent traits. For example, Zeus and Apollo take opposite sides when Patroclus enters the battle. Yet, it is important to note that humans in the Iliad are going through inner turmoil themselves and are therefore constantly battling contrary emotions, making it logical that the gods would take opposite sides. Ultimately, the gods in the Iliad argue, forgive, and reason much like the mortals in the story; they therefore function to help explain human behavior. Although these deities, in the literal sense, seem to control the fates of the mortals, it is clear that each Greek warrior is actually an agent of free will. These humans have intrinsic traits, stemming from their cultural awareness and past experiences, that shape the way they act and behave. The gods simply exist to catalyze that process.

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