Discuss the role of the Greek gods in the Iliad.

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The gods are portrayed as immortal, but in many ways very human. It is important to remember, of course, that the entire conflict represented in the Iliad began with a contest between Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena to determine which was the fairest. Because the Trojan prince Paris chose Aphrodite, he received the hand of Helen, and the city of Troy was the subject of the undying hatred and enmity of Hera and Athena. So their petty jealousies and arguments play out on earth in the form of death struggles between mortal men. The gods are constantly interfering in the course of the war, sometimes intervening in the course of combat itself. They also bicker and lobby each other for support, with Hera and Athena appealing in turn to Zeus and Apollo for help for the Greeks, and Aphrodite trying to get Poseidon to assist the Trojans. More than once, most conspicuously in Book Four, the Olympians debate among themselves as to who they should support, as the following speech of Hera (Juno) to Zeus (Jove) suggests:

“My own three favourite cities,” answered Juno, “are Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae. Sack them whenever you may be displeased with them. I shall not defend them, and I shall not care...Let it be a case, then, of give-and-take between us...Tell Minerva [Athena] to go and take part in the fight at once, and let her contrive that the Trojans shall be the first to break their oaths and set upon the Achaeans.”

The gods are eternal, and very powerful, but they are spiteful, meddling, and highly involved in the affairs of humanity, often to the detriment of people. 

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