Why are the roles of the gods in The Iliad important? What would happen without the gods?
The question goes to the essence of the relationship of the gods to the everyday life of the Greeks. All natural phenomena, all weather, coincidences, human affairs, love, death, etc.—all of reality’s manifestations are nothing but the will of the gods made manifest on the earth plane. The Iliad, while on the surface a saga of human love, battles, wills, etc.—the human war between the combined Greek city-states (the Achaians) and the city of Troy (the Trojans), a siege of the city by invading Greek forces, trying to regain Helen--it is on the deeper level a war (a squabble) among the gods and their wills (Aphrodite vs. Hera and Athena, which begins the human conflict); Apollo--on Trojans’ side; Poseidon—on Achaians’ side, etc.). Without these conflicts, no “epic” would exist; the entire “love story” of Helen and Paris would be merely a love poem by some local poet rather than a world-shaking piece of literature by Homer that affected Western cultures for centuries since. Not only did the epics of Homer affect our culture with metaphors (Trojan horse, Achilles’ heel, etc.) but they shaped the form of fiction, the relationship of plot to larger symbol, etc. A novel such as Moby Dick, for example, relates the relationship of God’s will and Man’s will, in much the same way as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.