The Role of Gods and Goddesses in the Fate and Destiny of Characters in
Homer s The Iliad
Homer s The Iliad is an epic poem written about the events that transpired during the war between the Achaians and Trojans and the fates of the warriors and civilians. What is Fate? Britannica.com defines fate as an inevitable and often adverse outcome, condition, or end. Homer expresses the idea that the gods and goddesses intervene in the fates and destinies of the warriors during battle and in their everyday lives. Frequently throughout The Iliad, Homer has Zeus or another god depict the fate of a character. These fates are irreversible and final. No matter how much a character tries they cannot be changed.
In Book I, Homer already depicts godly intervention in the lives of the characters. During one of the Achaians many raids on cities located near Troy, they captured two enemy maidens, Chryseis and Briseis. Chryseis was awarded to Agamemnon (Commander-in-chief of the army) and Briseis to Achilles (Achaians best warrior). Upon this action, the father of Chryseis, Chryses pleads with Agamemnon for her safe return. Agamemnon refuses to return her. Therefore Chryses prayed to Apollo who then brought a plague on the Achaian camp. This is an example of the god s intervention in the lives of mortals. Achilles then tries to tell Agamemnon that he is the reason for the plague but Agamemnon will have none of this. Achilles then draws his sword on Agamemnon but Athena convinces Achilles otherwise. These events brought great despair to Achilles who then prayed to his mother Thetis, the sea goddesses. He pleads with her to convince Zeus to ensure that the Trojans defeat his fellow Achaian soldiers. Thetis then visits Zeus and convinces him to aid the Trojans. In Book IX, Diomedes prophesizes the fall of Troy, saying, They can all return home, he says, but he, Diomedes, will remain alone, if necessary, to continue fighting, for it is fated that Troy will eventually fall. In Book XVI, Achilles allows Patroklos, his best friend, to wear his armor and lead the Myrmidons into battle. Achilles thus prays to Zeus for Patroklos safe and sound return from battle. Zeus granted Patroklos success but denies him a safe trip home from battle. Patroklos falls victim to the spear of Hektor with a little help from Apollo. Apollo slipped up behind Patroklos and strikes him so hard his armor fell to the ground and his helmet flew off. As he was dieing, Patroklos said to Hektor, It was the gods, the gods and Deadly Destiny. Later in Book XVI, Zeus considers overturning fate so that his son Sarpedon could live. But Hera overrules him, telling him to d as he pleased but none of the deathless gods would ever praise him. This depicts that the gods have some power over fate but like humans they must accept it because worse consequences come occur when fate is disrupted. In Book XVIII, Thetis tells her son, Achilles , that if he avenges Patroklos death he will die. Achilles throws this aside and says, I ve lost the will to live. So he rejoins the army and vows to avenge Patroklos. In Book XIX, Achilles death is again prophesized, but this time his horses tell him. They tell Achilles that Patroklos death was not their fault but it was Apollo and Destiny. Again Achilles doesn t listen driven by his hate for Hektor who killed his best friend. In Book XXII, Zeus considers again changing the destiny of a mortal. This time it is Hektor but Athena reminds him that the deathless gods will revere him. Athena then intervenes in the form of Deiphobus. Achilles and Hektor engage in battle. Hektor ran at first but Athena leads him to believe that he will have help from the gods in the up coming battle. The begin fighting. Achilles throws his spear but misses and Athena returns his spear to him. Achilles kills Hektor and as he dies Hektor reminds Achilles that his death draws nearer everyday. Athena s goal is to precisely bring about what fate has decreed. Thus sometimes the gods help humans face up to their obligations and destinies. In the final book, the gods preserve Hektor body so that it doesn t rot or deteriorate. The gods also decide that Hektor s body will be given a suitable burial. So Thetis explains this to her son and Achilles agrees to give up Hektor s body. The poem ends with Achilles still alive but his death is eminent.
The godly interventions in this poem appear a kind of rough justice, a justice that seems in all cases much harsher than the offense committed. Also at times, characters such as Achilles appeared to have free will. But at other times, the gods seem to control the destiny of humans. And at other times, neither gods nor men seem to be in control of fate. It s simply what it is.