The Use of Divine Intervention in the Iliad
The Iliad is filled with many great scenes and themes. We get to experience the heart of battle and the triumph of victory. Another important aspect of the poem is the fact that it was one of the first tales told that gave us personal insight into the gods and goddesses and what their personalities were like. All throughout the story, we have close encounters with these devious players who seem to passionately take part in the affairs of mortal men and women. Analyzing the use of the gods actions in this poem gives us keen insight into the mentality of the Greeks at that time and how they viewed their religion and their way of life. Through examination of the poem one can attempt to answer whether or not the gods made the really important decisions in the story. Particularly we will focus our attention on Zeus, the king of the gods, and his son Apollo. We will attempt to determine how much of their influence played an integral part in the story.
Divine intervention was a major variable in the equation of Homer s Iliad. The gods picked whom they would favor for different reasons. Except Zeus: As the symbol of supreme authority and justice, he makes judgement calls as to the other gods involvement in the war, remains impartial, and doesn t seem to get caught up in picking favorites. Even when his own son, Sarpedon, was about to die, Zeus chose to let the outcome go unaltered. We find him granting supplications but we really do not see him coming down into the playing field to interfere with the mortals actions.
There were also gods who favored the Trojan side of the conflict. Both Apollo and Artemis, twin brother and sister, gave aid to the city of Troy. Although Artemis takes a rather minor role, Apollo, perhaps angered by Agamemnon s refusal to ransom Chryseis, the daughter of one of his priests and was constantly changing the course of the war in favor of the Trojans. Responsible for sending plague to the Greeks, Apollo was the first god to make an appearance in the Iliad. Also, mainly because Apollo and Artemis were on the Trojan side, their mother, Leto, also helped the Trojans. It is important to realize that Apollo s actions were directly influenced by the actions of the mortal s and not the other way around.
One view of the gods seemingly constant intervention in the war was that they were just setting fate back on the right course. For instance, when Patroklos was killed outside of Troy, Apollo felt no guilt for his doings. It had already been decided that Patroklos would not take Troy, he should never have disobeyed Achilles in the first place. As a god, he was just setting fate on a straight line. Achilles laid blame on Hektor and the Trojans. He did not even consider accusing Apollo, who never came into question, although he was primarily responsible for the kill. Apollo s part in the matter was merely accepted as a natural disaster or illness would be today. This general acceptance of a god s will is a recurring trend throughout the poem. A prime example of this trend is in book twenty-four. Achilles, angry over the death of Patroklos brutally disgraced Hektor s body. Tethering Hektor s corpse through the ankles, Achilles dragged him around Patroklos s tomb every day for twelve days. This barbaric treatment was uncalled for and displeased the gods greatly. Achilles mother, Thetis, was sent by Zeus to tell him to ransom the body back to the Trojans. One may think Achilles would be possessive of the body and attempt to put up a fuss as he did before with Agamemnon in Book I but Achilles showed humility and respect for the gods and immediately agreed to ransom the body to the Trojans. Thus, he showed that all mortals, even god-like Achilles, were answerable to the gods.
This ideology would seem to give the gods a sort of unlimited freedom on earth, although, the gods could not always do as they pleased and eventually had to come before Zeus. Zeus acted as a balance of sorts throughout the Iliad. He had to keep the gods in order and make sure that what fate decreed would happen. For example, after Achilles re-enters the battle Zeus declared that if Achilles was allowed to go on slaughtering the Trojans with nothing to slow him down, he would take Troy before fate said it would happen. Therefore, to counter Achilles massive retaliation against the Trojans, Zeus allowed the gods to go back to the battlefield. In Zeus s own interests, he preferred to deal with issues more personal to the individual heroes of the Iliad. This can be seen throughout the book as Zeus attempted to increase the honor of certain individuals. Zeus knew that Hektor was going to be killed by Achilles, and, feeling sorry for Hektor Zeus attempted to allow Hektor to die an honorable death. For instance, when Hektor stripped Achilles armor off Patroklos, Zeus helped Hektor fill out the armor so he would not seem like less of a man then Achilles. Zeus also gave his word to Thetis that Achilles would gain much glory showing his involvement on a personal level.
Homer used the gods and their actions to establish twists on the plot of the war. It would not have been possible for him to write the story without the divine interventions of the gods. Indeed, they affected every aspect the poem in some way, shape or form. However, the gods were not the actual decision-makers when it came to the real choices to be made. Beginning with Agamemnon s decision to make a fool of Chryses all the way to Achilles s mutilation of Hektor s corps, the mortals were allowed to make their own choices regarding these matters and the decisions they made resulted in the god s various actions. Important moments were always left up to the mortals to decide for themselves.