This lesson discusses divine intervention in Homer’s ‘The Iliad’. Focus is placed on both good and bad interventions and how they shaped the plot of this epic poem.
Homer’s The Iliad is an epic poem written in 800 B.C.E. and based upon the battle of Troy that took place between the Trojans and the Achaeans. Throughout the poem, the gods and goddesses spend a lot of time manipulating, plotting, and working against the humans they dislike. Despite all of their cunning behavior, however, their actions always end up putting fate back on its proper course. Destiny and fate are paramount in Greek culture. No matter what outcome the gods and goddesses want, the end result is already predetermined. This lesson will focus on their moments of divine intervention, so you can see how both the good and bad interventions helped shape The Iliad.
Divine Intervention in The Iliad
As with most Greek tragedies, this epic poem would be nothing if it weren’t for the gods, since their cunning actions help seal the fate, or outcomes, of the humans. Divine intervention is present from the very beginning, when Apollo curses the Achaeans with a lovely bout of the plague, thus cementing the immortals’ significance in the poem.
There is never a moment where the immortals are not showing their presence in some form or another. They’re like a nagging sibling who always wants to make sure he gets the last word, just to be sure no one forgets he is there. Let’s take a look at some examples of divine intervention and how they propelled the good and bad moments of the poem.
First, we’ll explore divine intervention that was intended to do good by the mortals. While these divine acts are open to interpretation, consider whether the gods were helping to benefit the mortals or if they were helping for the benefit of their own tastes.
Example 1: Athena, Zeus’ daughter and goddess of purposeful battle, favors the Achaeans. She wishes to see the Trojans lose in battle; therefore, when Achilles is about to draw his sword upon his leader, Agamemnon, she steps in to stop him.
Example2: Zeus, king of all the gods, men, and universe, helps Hector by giving him strength and protection during battle.
Example 3: Aphrodite, the goddess of love, favors Paris because he once chose her as the fairest of the goddesses. As he is about to lose in combat against Menelaus, Aphrodite rescues him by concealing him in a thick mist. She then whisks him away so he can be with his love, Helen, in his chambers.
Example 4: Athena provides extra strength to Achilles, after the death of Patroclus, so he can rejoin the battle and continue to fight despite his heartache.
Example 5: Aphrodite and Apollo, the god of the sun and the stars, protect Hector’s body from the dishonor placed upon it by the Achaeans. They ensure it can still be properly honored by his family.
Example 6: Zeus commands Achilles to release the body of Hector to Priam; Hermes, Zeus’ messenger, provides safe passage for Priam to collect the body.
Example 7: During Patroclus’ funeral, Iris, god of the rainbow, helps bring winds so the pyre fire will blaze. This allows for a proper funeral ceremony.
Now let’s check out some examples of the gods and goddesses stepping in to cause trouble. Whether it’s because of their distaste for particular mortal or because of conflicts among one another, the immortals never seemed to have trouble showing their sneaky sides.
Example 1: Thetis, Achilles’ mother and a sea nymph, asks Zeus to force the Achaeans to lose in battle for a little while, so they will have to grovel back to Achilles.
Example 2: Zeus misleads Agamemnon into thinking the Trojans are doomed for sorrow, to encourage him to depart for battle. There is no good intention here, Zeus was not happy to do this, he was just trying to stop civil war from breaking out on Mt. Olympus.
Example 3: Zeus, reluctantly, has Athena manipulate the Trojans into restarting the battle, even though Menelaus and Paris’ combat should have meant the battle had ended.
Example 4: Athena manipulates Pandarus into killing Menelaus so the battle will resume, even though the sneaky goddess only intends for Menelaus to get injured.
Example 5: Hera, with help from Aphrodite and the Sleep god, seduces and distracts her husband, Zeus, so Poseidon, the god of the sea, can help the Achaeans fight the Trojans. When Zeus awakens, he quickly sends Apollo to help Hector.
Example 6: Athena appears to Hector to tell him he’ll be protected when he battles Achilles – this, of course, is not the case, and Hector is left abandoned by the gods.
Example 7: During Patroclus’ funeral games, the gods cause trouble for the sake of the mortals they wanted to see win. Athena breaks the yoke of the chariot belonging to Eumelus, the best driver, during the chariot race so Diomedes could win.
Homer’s The Iliad is a supreme example of divine intervention being used to ensure that the fate of the mortals is sealed during the battle of Troy. The gods and goddesses played manipulative and cunning roles in their parts as puppeteers, thus offering entertainment in a battle that was already predetermined by destiny. While there are moments of genuine care and assistance offered from Mt. Olympus, there’s enough back stabbing and dirty dealing that even Zeus has to throw in the towel. When it comes to divine intervention, the gods and goddesses are allowed to stick in their noses, so long as they get fate back on its rightful course. . . eventually.