What is the relationship between gods and mortals in Homer's Iliad?

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The gods have a complicated but important role in The Iliad. On the one hand, they are far more powerful than human beings and are depicted as having the ability to shape and manipulate human outcomes. One need only read The Iliad 's opening book to find Apollo punishing...

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The gods have a complicated but important role in The Iliad. On the one hand, they are far more powerful than human beings and are depicted as having the ability to shape and manipulate human outcomes. One need only read The Iliad's opening book to find Apollo punishing Agamemnon by inflicting a plague on the Greek army, an example that illustrates this grave disparity of power.

At the same time, however, the gods are also deeply human in terms of their personalities and foibles. They can even have children with human beings, and there are characters within The Iliad who have divine parentage. Most notable is Achilles, son of the sea nymph Thetis, but to give additional examples, you can point towards the Trojan hero, Aeneas, son of Aphrodite, or Helen, daughter of Zeus.

Furthermore, the gods are not impartial in this conflict among mortals, and they find themselves divided over which side they should support (a fact which causes no small tension among them). Various gods will intervene (or attempt to intervene) to assist one side or the other. In this respect, just as the Trojan War has caused unrest among mortals, it has likewise brought strife to the gods as well.

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The relationship between gods and mortals is crucial in the Iliad. Achilles, the ill-fated protagonist, is the product of a relationship between a mortal man, Peleus, and a sea-goddess, Thetis, making Achilles a demi-god. As a result, Achilles becomes mortal beloved by the gods, adding to the conflict and complexity of the Trojan War, the setting for this Greek epic.

The war itself builds and destroys relationships between mortals and gods, as both chose sides after Helen was abducted by the Trojan prince, Paris. Athena, the warrior goddess, remains loyal to Achilles, while Hektor, the Trojan hero, finds patronage from the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite. Zeus, not wanting to choose between his daughter and his lover, observes the war from his lofty throne on Mount Olympus.

This intersection of gods and mortals adds heightened drama to the landscape of the Trojan War, causing a rift between gods and mortals that will continue into Homer's next Greek epic, the Odyssey.

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Greek religion, as portrayed in the Homeric epics, is characterized as "anthropomorphic." That means that the gods have "human forms." They are similar to humans in more than just outward form. Despite being stronger and more powerful than humans, they have human motivations and emotions. Zeus, the king of the gods, is a lecher, chasing after women and boys. Hera, his wife, is jealous. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, commits adultery. The gods are subject to jealousy, anger, lust, pride, and benevolence. Also, rather than acting together, they tend to squabble with each other, just as human families do. 

Next, the relationship between gods and mortals is often described by the Latin phrase "do ut des" ("I give that you might give"). Mortals offer the gods worship, loyalty, and sacrifices in exchange for practical aid in war, marriage, farming, and other daily activities. Mortals also arrange sacrifices to propitiate the gods and avert their anger. 

The gods intervene in every aspect of daily life, giving advice, deflecting weapons, creating magical disguises, sending plagues, and generally using their powers to help the mortals they favor and harm the ones they dislike, limited only by laws of necessity.

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