Discuss the role of the gods in The Iliad.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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What is so interesting about the presentation of the gods in this epic classic is that, instead of being divine and more wise than humans, the gods are shown in many ways to be more petty and more capricious than humans themselves. Homer presents the reader with a panoply of gods and goddesses, each of whom take sides and try to influence events, favouring one human or group of humans. However, this inevitably brings them into conflict with each other, as one human will be favoured by one god and another human will be favoured by another god, causing not only conflict between these humans but between the gods as well. Note what Ares says in Book 5 after being wounded by Diomedes:

We everlasting gods... Ah what chilling blows
we suffer—thanks to our own conflicting wills—
whenever we show these mortal men some kindness.

Of course the issue is that the gods are ruled by their desire to see their will done, which inevitably brings them into conflict with other gods who have their own agendas. What is presented as "kindness" by Ares is therefore something of a mixed blessing, as "kindness" implies that he is showing unkindness towards another human. The gods are therefore presented as being capricious, fickle beings who sulk and have tantrums when they don't get their own way. The conflict between the two sides at Troy only serves to expose the pettiness of the gods as they use human conflict as a thinly veild mask for their own wills as they seek to shape fate and destiny.

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