The Iliad

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Themes and Colors
Honor and Glory Theme Icon
The Gods Theme Icon
Fate and Free Will Theme Icon
Wartime Versus Peacetime Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Iliad, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Gods Theme Icon

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.

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The Gods ThemeTracker

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The Gods Quotes in The Iliad

Below you will find the important quotes in The Iliad related to the theme of The Gods.
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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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.

Related Characters: Thetis (speaker), Achilles
Page Number: 1.492.494
Explanation and Analysis:

Achilles (still seething from his argument with Agamemnon) approaches his mother, the sea goddess Thetis. Achilles asks Thetis to punish Agamemnon for his disrespect, and Thetis agrees to ask Zeus for help in punishing Agamemnon. And yet Thetis is saddened by Achilles's request. She knows that a prophecy was made long ago: Achilles will either die young and gloriously, or he'll live a long, peaceful, and forgettable life. In short, then, Achilles is asking Thetis to arrange for her own son to fight in battle and die.

Thetis is understandably upset that she's doomed to lose her son. And yet she doesn't dispute Achilles's wishes: she knows that the prophecy is set in stone, and she even seems to believe that Achilles is better off dead and glorious than he is alive and unknown.

Book 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker), Aphrodite, Paris
Page Number: 3.460-474
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Helen--the beautiful woman for whom the Trojan War was fought--looks down from the walls of Troy at the battle taking place between Menelaus and Paris: respectively, her Achaean husband and the Trojan prince who kidnapped her. As Helen watches the two men fight for "ownership" of her, Helen sees that Paris is losing, but that the gods won't let him die--he is the favorite of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Helen ruefully notes that Aphrodite is Paris's protector, and as long as she "debases" herself by coming to earth and saving him, she might as well become his slave, too.

Helen's speech suggests how she sees herself. Helen passively watches the men fight for her--she has no real agency of her own during the war. The best Helen can do is observe and comment on the action. Thus, she's insightful enough to make a comparison between Aphrodite and herself: the word "slave" suggests that Helen sees herself as the helpless captive of Paris (Paris has, after all, abducted Helen from her homeland).

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 5 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Athena, Diomedes
Page Number: 5.1-3
Explanation and Analysis:

In this Book, the gods grant Diomedes the strength to succeed in battle. Diomedes is a great warrior, but it's suggested that it's only because of the grace of Athena that Diomedes does so well against the Trojans in this scene. In short, Diomedes prays for courage and talent, and he gets it from Athena.

The passage is interesting because it suggests the relationship between free will and divinity in the poem. Diomedes is a strong man, and yet he's dependent upon the gods for his emotions and his abilities. He is, one could say, not really a "free agent" in the way modern audiences would define the term: rather, he needs the help of gods and goddesses. In this way, the passage reinforces why religion and divine worship are so important in the poem: without the gods maneuvering them, the characters couldn't accomplish anything much.

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.

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.

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker), Thetis
Page Number: 9.497-505
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Achilles lays out the two options before him: he can either fight in the Trojan War and die young, gaining glory and immortality in the process, or he can sail back home and live a long happy life, and be forgotten by history.

Achilles's choice illustrates the differences between honor and happiness. Happiness is personally satisfying, but short-lived: Achilles could enjoy the rest of his life, but his enjoyment wouldn't help anyone else (except perhaps the people back home). On the other hand, honor is selfless and immortal: Achilles would make a great sacrifice by dying on the battlefield, and he would be rewarded for his sacrifice by being remembered forever. Ultimately, the Iliad sees honor as the more important value (although many modern readers of the poem might argue that happiness and peace are better than war and immortality). Also note that the "immortality" Achilles discusses is partly realized by the Iliad itself: thanks to Homer, we're still talking about Achilles thousands of years later.

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.)

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 18 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Hephaestus
Related Symbols: The Shield of Achilles
Page Number: 18.558-594
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Hephaestus, the god of the forge, fashions armor and a shield for Achilles in preparation for Achilles' return to the battlefield. The description of the shield of Achilles is one of the most famous passages in Western literature, so there's a lot to point out about it.

1) Notice that the shield is divided up into carefully composed sections. Perhaps the most important division in the shield is that between the city and the battlefield. One part of the shield shows happy families and merry parties, while the other half shows soldiers fighting. Neither half of the shield is "complete"--and yet when one puts together the two scenes, they depict the totality of human civilization. In this way, the shield conveys the duality of life: you can't have parties and weddings unless you have soldiers protecting you and keeping you safe. By the same token, soldiers would have nothing to fight for if not for the innocent civilians with whom they share a city.

2) Put another way, the two halves of the shield could reflect the duality of Achilles's own spirit. Achilles is trapped between mortality and immortality: between a long, happy, forgettable life, and a short, violent, glorious life that will be remembered forever. Achilles' dilemma is that he can't have glory and a long life: neither choice is perfect. In the end, though, Achilles chooses a life of valor: he chooses the fierce sun, not the quiet moon; the soldiers, not the weddings. The shield reminds us of the choice Achilles has made, and the dual nature of all human society.

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 21 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker), Hector, Patroclus
Page Number: 21.119-124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see Achilles at his most nihilistic. Achilles has tracked down Lycaon, one of the sons of Priam (whom Achilles had previously captured and sold into slavery). Lycaon begs for his life, but Achilles mockingly tells Lycaon that better men than he have lost their lives during the war.

Achilles knows that he's going to die: therefore, he sees the world in the grimmest, most cynical terms. He has no mercy for his opponents in battle--they must die, the same as Achilles himself. Furthermore, Achilles is still furious over the death of Patroclus, and wants revenge at all costs. And yet Achilles' mockery of Lycaon simply isn't dignified: he's toying with his victim, savoring the act of murder instead of just getting it over with. For all his strength and skill, Achilles is often portrayed as an angry, cruel soldier.

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.