The gods in Homer often take an active interest in the lives of mortals, who are sometimes their children by blood. At times the gods take the form of men, as when Apollo speaks into Hector’s ear, persuading him toward a particular course of action or filling him with the strength to push back enemies. At times, the role of the gods can seem metaphorical, explaining strange changes in the moods and strength of men. However, the gods of the Iliad also sometimes act directly. The poem begins with Agamemnon’s refusal to give back the daughter of Apollo’s priest. The direct effect of this is felt when Apollo rains plague on the Achaean troops. At other times the gods perform actions that are plainly miraculous, such as when Aeneas is lifted up from battle and has his shattered leg healed on a mountaintop, or when Hephaestus forges extraordinary new armor for Achilles overnight.
The battle between Achaea and Troy is also a battle between two groups of gods in conflict. Hera, Athena, and Poseidon support the cause of the Achaeans, while Aphrodite, Ares, and Apollo assist the Trojans. Zeus, easily the strongest of the gods, presides over the conflict. The source of the gods’ conflict is a linked myth, called The Judgment of Paris, mentioned only briefly in the poem. Zeus asked Paris to judge which of three goddesses (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite) was the fairest. Each offered to reward Paris for his choice, but Paris accepted Aphrodite’s offer of Helen, the beautiful wife of Menelaus. This promise begins the conflict between Achaea and Troy. Although the gods are passionate about the fate of the war, they don’t quite feel the agony of mortal men who must die. They more often help represent the eternalness of nature and the human passions.
The Gods ThemeTracker
The Gods Quotes in The Iliad
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.
O my son, my sorrow, why did I ever bear you?
All I bore was doom…
Doomed to a short life, you have so little time.
Maddening one, my Goddess, oh what now?...
Well, go to him yourself—you hover beside him!
Abandon the gods’ high road and become a mortal!...
suffer for Paris, protect Paris, for eternity . . .
until he makes you his wedded wife—that or his slave.
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!
Then Pallas Athena granted Tydeus’ son Diomedes
strength and daring—so the fighter would shine forth
and tower over the Argives and win himself great glory.
Cronus’ son has entangled me in madness, blinding ruin—
Zeus is a harsh, cruel god.
Mother tells me,
the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet,
that two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy,
my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies.
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love,
my pride, my glory dies . . .
true, but the life that’s left me will be long,
the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.
Fight for your country—that is the best, the only omen!
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.
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.
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.
There is nothing alive more agonized than man
of all that breathe and crawl across the earth.
And first Hephaestus makes a great and massive shield…
There he made the earth and there the sky and the sea
and the inexhaustible blazing sun and the moon rounding full
and there the constellations…And he forged on the shield two noble cities filled
with mortal men. With weddings and wedding feasts in one…
But circling the other city camped a divided army
gleaming in battle-gear.
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
Come, friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so?
Even Patroclus died, a far, far better man than you.
And look, you see how handsome and powerful I am?
The son of a great man, the mother who gave me life
a deathless goddess. But even for me, I tell you,
death and the strong force of fate are waiting.
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!