The Iliad

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Zeus’ Eagle Symbol Icon
Although Zeus’ complex plans are clear to the reader of the Iliad, the will of the gods is much more unclear to the men on the Trojan battlefield. The soldiers are forced to watch for omens that the gods send them, and deciding what is truly a sign from a god can be difficult to interpret. The clearest sign of any god’s support comes in the form of Zeus’ eagle, which signals to soldiers that Zeus is on their side. When men choose to ignore it, as Hector does in Book 12, the consequences can be dire.

Zeus’ Eagle Quotes in The Iliad

The The Iliad quotes below all refer to the symbol of Zeus’ Eagle. 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 12 Quotes

Fight for your country—that is the best, the only omen!

Related Characters: Hector (speaker)
Related Symbols: Zeus’ Eagle
Page Number: 12.281
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Hector and his fellow Trojans see a sign from Zeus: an eagle carrying a bloody snake. The troops interpret the sign as proof that their assault on the Achaeans' camp will fail. But Hector disagrees: he encourages his peers to ignore the ambiguous sign and fight on, inspired by their love for Troy.

The passage is important for a number of reasons. First, Hector's emphasis on patriotism and group loyalty seems somewhat modern, as does his refusal to be swayed by superstition. Hector isn't saying that the Trojans should ignore the gods altogether; rather, he's saying that the Trojans shouldn't try to interpret signs from Zeus themselves (that's the job of the seers and soothsayers). By contemporary standards, Hector seems to be rejecting the strict determinism of ancient Greek religion and culture: he seems to be saying that the Trojans can choose their own destiny by fighting bravely. (And yet in the end, Hector's heroism is impressive precisely because it's futile: Hector has been fated to die, so his insistence that the Trojans should ignore all omens is poignant in its ignorance.)


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Zeus’ Eagle Symbol Timeline in The Iliad

The timeline below shows where the symbol Zeus’ Eagle appears in The Iliad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 8
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon, and Zeus sends a sign of encouragement to Agamemnon in the form of an eagle. The eagle gives the Achaean army hope, and they begin to fight back. (full context)
Book 12
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
As Hector and Polydamas try to storm the ramparts, they see an omen, an eagle holding a bloody serpent in its talons. The serpent bites the eagle, which releases it... (full context)
Book 13
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
...fresh reinforcements, Hector once again pushes the Trojans forward. Great Ajax taunts Hector, and another eagle sweeps past the Achaeans, which the Achaeans take as a positive omen. Hector criticizes Ajax’... (full context)
Book 24
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
...Priam to pray for a sign from Zeus first, and Priam agrees. Zeus sends an eagle to reassure them. Priam sets out in his wagon, accompanied by his old driver. (full context)