The Iliad

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Zeus Character Analysis

The king of the gods, Zeus’ power greatly exceeds his fellow immortals. The fate of the war is changed when Zeus promises Thetis that he will give glory to Achilles by turning the war against the Achaeans. Hera is his wife, and Apollo, Athena, and Ares are among his many children.

Zeus Quotes in The Iliad

The The Iliad quotes below are all either spoken by Zeus or refer to Zeus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Iliad published in 1998.
Book 1 Quotes

Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighter’ souls, but made their body carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

Related Characters: Achilles, Zeus, Agamemnon
Page Number: 1.1-8
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, at the beginning of the poem, Homer establishes the task ahead of him. Homer will describe the history of the great hero Achilles, who fought alongside his peers the Achaeans (in modern terms, the Greeks) against the Trojans, commanded by the great king Agamemnon.There's a lot to notice here. First, consider that the first word of the poem is "rage." The Iliad is a poem about the savagery and brutality of war, which could be considered the "rage" between different kingdoms. But the poem is also about the rage of individuals: great men like Achilles, who were inspired by their emotions to fight in battle, often achieving great glory in the process. Homer, it's been suggested, both approves of rage and questions what its purpose is. Rage, he says, results in one thing: death (the "carrion feasts"). Yet Achilles's rage also ensures that he'll be remembered forever--as evidenced by the Iliad itself. Finally, it's crucial to notice that Homer is asking the goddess (sometimes translated as "muse") of poetry for inspiration. Homer doesn't see himself as a writer in the modern sense of the word: he's not inventing a story to entertain his audience. Instead, Homer sees himself as merely transcribing the poetry of the gods--an epic, larger-than-life story about the greatest Greeks of history.

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Book 4 Quotes

We claim we are far, far greater than our fathers.
We are the ones who stormed the seven gates of Thebes,
heading a weaker force and facing stronger walls
but obeying the gods’ signs and backed by Zeus.
Our fathers? Fools. Their own bravado killed them.
Don’t tell me you rank our fathers with ourselves!

Related Characters: Sthenelus (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 4.471-476
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Agamemnon is trying his best to goad his troops into success on the battlefield that day. Agamemnon visits Diomedes, an important Achaean commander, and tries to convince him that he's failing to measure up to his ancestors' achievements. Diomedes doesn't respond, knowing full-well what Agamemnon's up to. But Diomedes' co-commander, Sthenelus, cries out that his troops are far greater than his ancestors in military prowess, and he lists his soldiers' achievements proudly.

Sthenelus's behavior suggests how easy it is to goad troops into action: in the society of the Iliad, everybody measures their greatness against that of their ancestors--and to be less than one's ancestors is the worst kind of failure. And yet Homer also implies that measuring oneself against one's ancestors is futile. In this scene, for example, Agamemnon isn't really trying to criticize Diomedes at all--he just wants his soldiers to succeed at all costs. Comparisons with ancestors, then, aren't accurate statements of fact so much as they are manipulative tactics designed to promise eternal glory and inspire greater achievement.

Book 9 Quotes

Cronus’ son has entangled me in madness, blinding ruin—
Zeus is a harsh, cruel god.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 9.20-21
Explanation and Analysis:

Agamemnon cries out that Zeus is punishing him: the Trojans have begun to defeat the Achaeans in battle, and it seems that the war is about to end with Agamemnon's defeat. Agamemnon doesn't take personal responsibility for his actions--instead, he blames Zeus (the son of Cronus) for the defeat.

By modern standards, Agamemnon's behavior looks pretty irresponsible: he plays the "blame game" instead of accepting responsibility for his troops' defeat (it was Agamemnon, after all, who forced Achilles out of the army). By Homeric standards, Agamemnon's real crime isn't refusing to accept responsibility for his actions (in ancient Greece, the gods are responsible for everything, at the end of the day) but rather giving up the fight too soon. As we'll see, Diomedes is able to rally his troops and win the battle, showing that Agamemnon is "throwing in the towel" too soon.

Book 13 Quotes

One man is a splendid fighter—a god has made him so—
one’s a dancer, another skilled at lyre and song,
and deep in the next man’s chest farseeing Zeus
plants the gift of judgment, good clear sense.

Related Characters: Zeus
Page Number: 13.844-847
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section of the poem, Zeus surveys the fighting between the Trojans and the Achaeans and praises the Trojans for their valor. Zeus decides to reward the Trojans with good sense and clever strategy.

It's important to keep in mind why Zeus is helping the Trojans in the war: he ultimately wants Achilles to achieve as much glory as possible, and therefore tries to make the Trojans the most dangerous enemies they can be. In short, Zeus's "methods" are rather hard to understand: even when he seems to favor one side, he really has the other side in mind.

The passage is also important because it shows the relationship between fate and free will in the poem. Zeus controls the fate of the universe, and yet Zeus himself seems to be influenced by the behavior of the Trojans and the Achaeans: their bravery encourages him to choose to alter the result of the battle. Furthermore, Zeus's observations suggest that the Trojans aren't just puppets, doing whatever Zeus tells them to do: Zeus is genuinely impressed with the Trojans' courage and talent. In short, the characters in the poem aren't just playing out their destinies: they're exercising free will, if only at times and within the larger designs of the gods and the Fates.

Book 14 Quotes

With that the son of Cronus caught his wife in his arms
and under them now the holy earth burst with fresh green grass…
And so, deep in peace, the Father slept on Gargaron peak, conquered by Sleep
and strong assaults of Love.

Related Characters: Zeus
Page Number: 14.413-421
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the deity Sleep goes to Zeus and, following Zeus's lovemaking session with his wife Hera, makes Zeus fall into a deep slumber. Sleep is working on behalf of Poseidon: he's trying to get Zeus out of the picture so that Poseidon can meddle in the Trojan War. Now that Zeus is asleep, Poseidon is free to do whatever he wants.

It's often been pointed out that the gods and goddesses in the poem (and in Greek mythology in general) are often less noble and dignified than the human beings. Zeus and his relatives have to resort to lies and deception to control one another--it's not like they can fight each other, since they're immortal. Thus, the passage reminds us that human dignity reflects human mortality: the reason that courage and bravery matter in a human is that the human could die at any time. The passage also complicates the role of free will in the poem: the gods seem to be exercising free will as they deceive one another, suggesting that gods, and therefore humans, have more control over their own destinies than it might seem.

Book 16 Quotes

Do as you please, Zeus . . .
but none of the deathless gods will ever praise you…
if you send Sarpedon home, living still, beware!
Then surely some other god will want to sweep
his own son clear of the heavy fighting too.

Related Characters: Hera (speaker), Zeus, Sarpedon
Page Number: 16.526-531
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous scene, Zeus surveys the Trojan War and sees that his own son, Sarpedon, is about to be killed. Zeus contemplates saving his son from the danger, but decides against it after Hera encourages him to refrain from interfering. Hera's argument is interesting: she claims that Zeus's interference is a "slippery slope," and will encourage the other gods to meddle in human affairs excessively.

The passage conveys the complicated nature of free will in the poem. Zeus has the choice to interfere in human affairs, but he clearly doesn't want the gods to meddle in human affairs excessively--that's why he ultimately allows Sarpedon to die. Zeus's actions suggest that even gods have to bow before to the power of fate and destiny sometimes. Furthermore, the scene suggests that Zeus, just like Agamemnon, is a leader: he has to balance his own desires with his duties to the other gods in Olympus.

Book 17 Quotes

There is nothing alive more agonized than man
of all that breathe and crawl across the earth.

Related Characters: Zeus (speaker)
Page Number: 17.515-516
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Zeus surveys the Trojan War and witnesses the death of Achilles's friend and lover, Patroclus. Zeus mourns the death of Patroclus, a great soldier and a great friend. In general, Zeus claims that humanity is the most "agonized" of all living beings.

Zeus's speech is important because it captures mankind's divided nature. Unlike all other beings, humans have the gift of self-consciousness: they have the ability to reason, worship the gods, and--crucially--know that they're going to die. Humans are put in a frustrating position: they have enough intelligence to make their lives good and meaningful, but also enough to recognize that their own lives are full of misery and suffering, and are doomed to end no matter what. Human beings have to suffer on behalf of their peers and their civilizations: that is the "noble burden" of mankind.

And yet there's a bright side: humans are capable of worshipping the gods, and they're also capable of great feats of strength, bravery, intelligence, discovery, kindness, etc. It's for this reason that the gods honor humans by allowing their souls to live for ever and be remembered for eternity. One could say that all humans--not just Achilles--are caught halfway between mortality and immortality, and that's what makes them so special.

Book 19 Quotes

Ruin, eldest daughter of Zeus, she blinds us all,
that fatal madness—she with those delicate feet of hers,
never touching the earth, gliding over the heads of men
to trap us all. She entangles one man, now another.
Why, she and her frenzy blinded Zeus one time,
highest, greatest of men and gods, they say

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 19.106-111
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Agamemnon speaks with Achilles for the last time. Agamemnon tries to apologize for his argument with Achilles, but without ever really apologizing. Instead, Agamemnon claims to have been manipulated by the goddess Ruin (Atë, the eldest daughter of Zeus, but whose mother is unknown)--a figure who was long ago cast out of Olympus, and who wanders among men, causing misery and argument between them.

For not the first time in the poem, Agamemnon is blaming the gods and destiny instead of taking individual responsibility for his actions. Agamemnon's refusal to accept responsibility seems particularly cowardly by modern standards: a good leader, we've been taught, doesn't "pass the buck" to some else, even if the "someone else" is a goddess. Perhaps Agamemnon's greater error is in making excuses of any kind. At this point in the poem, Achilles isn't expecting an apology of any kind from the king--he's totally indifferent to the argument with which the poem began. Agamemnon, not knowing this, babbles on about fate and Ruin, unaware that his explanations are pointless. Achilles is fighting for himself and his own glory, no matter what happens.

Book 22 Quotes

Past the threshold of old age…
and Father Zeus will waste me with a hideous fate,
and after I’ve lived to look on so much horror!
My sons laid low, my daughters dragged away…
Ah for a young man
all looks fine and noble if he goes down in war,
hacked to pieces…When an old man’s killed
and the dogs go at the gray head and the gray beard…that is the cruelest sight
in all our wretched lives!

Related Characters: Priam (speaker), Zeus
Page Number: 22.70-89
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Priam begs Hector, his eldest and favorite son, to refrain from fighting a duel with Achilles-- a duel that Hector knows he's bound to lose. Priam mourns the loss of his other children in the Trojan War--his implication being that he couldn't stand to lose another child, especially one as noble as Hector.

And yet Priam's speech is full of contradiction. He complains that an old man's death is not an honorable thing: dying as an old man is proof that you weren't brave enough in combat as a younger man. When a young man dies on the battlefield, his death is treated as something to celebrate: it's assumed that the young man was a hero and a leader to other soldiers. In short, Priam's speech both implores Hector to stay with his aging father and also admits that Hector's best chance for glory is to fight Achilles and die a hero's death. In a way, Priam is mourning the unfairness of life itself: there's no way for the king to be a proud father and have living sons.

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Zeus Character Timeline in The Iliad

The timeline below shows where the character Zeus appears in The Iliad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
...story of the rage of Achilles. The outcome of Achilles’ anger is the will of Zeus, but it also killed a huge number of Achaean soldiers. The story opens in the... (full context)
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
...side, sensing his grief. Achilles explains the situation and asks his mother to plead with Zeus to take action. He notes that Zeus owes Thetis a favor, as Thetis once helped... (full context)
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After twelve days, Zeus returns to Olympus. Thetis goes to see him and kneels before him, asking him to... (full context)
The Gods Theme Icon
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Although Zeus attempted to make his promise to Thetis in secret, Hera has seen everything. She taunts... (full context)
The Gods Theme Icon
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...in front of all of the gods, attempting to defuse the quarrel between his parents Zeus and Hera. He tells Hera that Zeus is far too strong, and gives a comic... (full context)
Book 2
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Zeus is kept up at night trying to devise the best plan to honor Achilles by... (full context)
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...courage of his soldiers, and tells the assembled soldiers that despite the original prophecy of Zeus and that fact that they outnumber the Trojans, the time has come to give up... (full context)
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...armies disperse and the men make sacrifices to the gods. Agamemnon sacrifices an ox to Zeus, praying to defeat the Trojans, but Zeus is not yet prepared to grant his request.... (full context)
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As the armies of Achaea storm out to battle, Zeus sends his messenger Iris to Troy, alerting them to assemble their own armies to meet... (full context)
Book 3
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...is finished. The troops pray for the oath to be kept, but Homer notes that “Zeus would not fulfill their prayers”. Priam, unable to bear the sight of his son’s potential... (full context)
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...Paris throws his spear, hitting Menelaus’ shield but failing to break through. Menelaus prays to Zeus for revenge, and his spear throw almost hits Paris, who barely dodges it. Menelaus then... (full context)
Book 4
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The gods sit in council on Mt. Olympus, watching events take place in Troy. Zeus begins to taunt Hera, mocking her and Athena for standing by while Aphrodite rescues Paris.... (full context)
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Zeus, satisfied with Hera’s offer, agrees to ensure Troy’s destruction. He orders Athena to fly down... (full context)
Book 5
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Odysseus, seeing the death of Tlepolemus, kills several of Sarpedon’s men in response. Sarpedon is Zeus’ son and is not fated to be killed by Odysseus. Hector pushes past the injured... (full context)
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...the Achaeans pushed back, harness Hera’s chariot and put on their armor. They appeal to Zeus to help the Achaeans, and he allows them to do so. They fly to the... (full context)
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On Olympus, Ares displays his wound to Zeus, complaining of Athena’s violence and of Diomedes’ attacks on the gods. Zeus replies that he... (full context)
Book 7
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Ajax prays to Zeus and prepares himself for battle. The duel begins, and Hector’s spear throw fails to pierce... (full context)
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...gives up his war-belt. The two armies return to their camps. The Achaeans sacrifice to Zeus and lay out a banquet, where Ajax receives a choice cut of meat. (full context)
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...Olympus, Poseidon is angered that the Achaeans are building fortifications without sacrificing to the gods. Zeus calms him, and tells him that he may destroy the fortifications as soon as the... (full context)
Book 8
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The next day, Zeus summons the gods to assembly, forbidding them to interfere any further in the war. He... (full context)
The Gods Theme Icon
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The Achaeans and Trojans enter into battle once more. Zeus, holding a golden scale, tips the balance of the war in favor of the Trojans.... (full context)
The Gods Theme Icon
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...pity on the Achaeans and curse Hector. They decide to assist the Achaeans directly, despite Zeus’ warning, and arm themselves for battle. Zeus sees the goddesses preparing for battle, and sends... (full context)
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Zeus returns to Olympus and mocks Hera and Athena for their failed efforts. Hera tells Zeus... (full context)
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...battlefield, so as to not let the Achaeans escape in the night. He prays to Zeus that the Achaeans will finally be defeated the next day. The Trojans light many watch... (full context)
Book 9
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...summons a meeting of the armies and tearfully declares the war a failure, stating that Zeus has “entangled me in madness.” He tells the Achaeans that it is time to sail... (full context)
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...in order to bring him back into battle. Agamemnon agrees with Nestor, stating again that Zeus seized him with madness to make him quarrel with Achilles. Agamemnon sets aside a massive... (full context)
Book 11
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As dawn rises, Zeus sets the goddess Strife upon the Achaeans, encouraging them to fight. Agamemnon puts on his... (full context)
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Zeus sends his messenger Iris to Hector, telling the soldier to hold back and command his... (full context)
Book 13
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Zeus, pleased with the Trojan dominance, takes his eyes off of the battlefield, not suspecting than... (full context)
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Homer briefly remarks on the clash of wills between Zeus and Poseidon. Zeus favors the Trojans in order to give Achilles more glory, but Poseidon... (full context)
Book 14
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...actions of Poseidon and is pleased. She plots to help her brother by further diverting Zeus’ attention away from Troy. Hera decides to dress in all of her finery and enchant... (full context)
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...flies to the dwelling places of the god Sleep. She asks the god to put Zeus to sleep for her, and Sleep is initially resistant. He recalls that he once performed... (full context)
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Hera flies to Mount Ida, where Zeus is enthroned. Sleep hides nearby in the form of a bird, waiting to perform his... (full context)
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Sleep sends word to Poseidon that Zeus is asleep and that he may do as he pleases. Poseidon orders the Achaeans to... (full context)
Book 15
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Zeus awakes from his slumber and sees the catastrophe created in his absence. Feeling pity for... (full context)
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Hera agrees to Zeus’ plan and returns to Olympus. She tells the god Themis about Zeus’ unrelenting anger, and... (full context)
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Zeus gives Iris her message for Poseidon, telling him to back down. Zeus warns that he... (full context)
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On Zeus’ orders, Apollo goes to Hector and rouses him from his stupor. Hector says that he... (full context)
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Hector notices Teucer’s bow break and takes it as a sign from Zeus. He rallies his troops to push forward, just as Great Ajax urges his men to... (full context)
Book 16
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...Achilles’ chariot is yoked and Achilles stirs up the Myrmidons, his troops. Achilles prays to Zeus, asking him to fill Patroclus with courage and to bring him back safely from battle.... (full context)
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...kills every Trojan he encounters. Patroclus faces Sarpedon, a Trojan ally and a son of Zeus, and eventually kills him. Zeus considers saving Sarpedon from Patroclus, but Hera scolds him, telling... (full context)
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Zeus briefly deliberates whether to kill Patroclus now in reprisal for Sarpedon, or to let him... (full context)
Book 17
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...Sarpedon’s body behind and accuses him of fearing Great Ajax. Hector dons Achilles’ armor, and Zeus endows him with great strength. Hector rallies the Trojan troops, telling them that the man... (full context)
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...died. Achilles’ horses, immortal gifts from the gods, sense the death and begin to weep. Zeus pities the horses and fills them with strength. They take their driver Automedon back into... (full context)
Book 19
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...come to reconcile. Agamemnon agrees, but notes that he is not to blame, indicating that Zeus had blinded his judgment when he chose to quarrel with Achilles. Agamemnon tells the story... (full context)
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...for the living, and convinces Achilles to let the men eat. The captains sacrifice to Zeus and eat. (full context)
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...something, but Achilles refuses, overfilled with grief. Achilles addresses Patroclus with a speech of mourning. Zeus, filled with pity, sends Athena to nourish Achilles with the food of the gods without... (full context)
Book 20
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As the Achaeans prepare for battle, Zeus summons the gods to a council. Zeus tells the assembled gods that they may return... (full context)
Book 22
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...Achilles begins to chase Hector, and they run around the walls of Troy three times. Zeus, filled with pity for Hector, wonders if she should rescue him, but Athena tells him... (full context)
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...circuit of Troy, Achilles cannot gain on Hector, but Hector cannot escape from Achilles’ speed. Zeus takes up his scales and tips the balance against Hector, sentencing Hector to death. Athena... (full context)
Book 24
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...Achilles is the son of a god, and that he and Hector cannot be equals. Zues agrees with Hera, but also indicates that the gods loved Hector dearly. He sends Iris... (full context)
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Zeus sends Iris to Troy, letting Priam know that he must travel alone to the Achaean... (full context)
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Zeus tells Hermes to go to Troy and ensure Priam’s safe travel. Hermes appears to Priam... (full context)