Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are poems centered around the events of the Trojan War. The Iliad recounts the events from the Trojan war during the final weeks whereas The Odyssey is a sequel telling the story of Odysseus and his journey back home. Within the poems, the role of gods and goddesses plays an integral part in influencing the human characters and the events of the Trojan War. The divinities are split between the sides of the Trojans and the Achaeans due to conflict with Paris and the goddesses. The use of these divinities parallels with the polytheistic beliefs in Greek culture. Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and Apollo are some of which who are used in both The Iliad and The Odyssey.
The Homeric gods are seen as divine powers who are powerful, manipulative, and immortal to humans even though they are portrayed in human form (Jones). The intervention of the gods is the reason behind the start of The Trojan War as well as a major influence on mortal character development. Homer portrays the gods and goddesses as immortal beings with numerous characteristics seen mostly in humans. Zeus, being considered to be the greatest god in the hierarchy, shows behavior that resembles how a mortal human would act. In the Iliad, Zeus does not take a side but intervenes in the war multiple times showing both his divine powers and mortal characteristics. He states in the poem ‘I stay on Olympus throned aloft, here in my steep mountain cleft, to feast my eyes and delight my heart. The rest of you: down you go, got to Trojans, go to Achaeans. Help either side as the fixed desire derives each god to act” (Book 20). He only steps in when it is necessary, showing how the powers of a god are guided by human-like decisions.
The quarrels between the gods involve Zeus being the ultimate decider of what happens. It is also important to note that throughout both texts, human characters speak almost entirely in terms of the god’s power rather than their divine being (Jones). Zeus, for example, used his power to help Agamemnon take the trojans even though in the past he used his power for the Greeks. With the gods using their power to sway the battle based upon the humans, characteristics of betrayal and struggle appear. This can be seen in Book One of the Iliad when Zeus is struggling between Heras and Thetis’s quarrels. Zeus promises Thetis to support the Trojans but in doing so it would anger Hera. When he says “You’re going to force me into a conflict with Hera” highlights an issue that is human-like. This dilemma between Hera and Thetis puts Zeus in a position of lying and distrust which seems unlikely for a powerful god. Taalman explains that even though Zeus “sympathizes with the trojans, [he] sacrifices Troy to Hera and Athena”. Zeus’s intervention during the war due to the other gods to his overall want for peace among both worlds allows him to be humanized into a human being rather than a divinity with no limit on power. Hera, Zeus’s wife, also demonstrates human qualities that interfere greatly within the war. The tension that is created between her and other gods allows them to gain these characteristics. Hera’s actions stem from her passion for helping the Greeks, but what causes this passion is her anger and jealousy when Paris did not choose her as the most beautiful. In book one of the Iliad, “heroes quarrel on Earth and the gods quarrel on Olympus” which shows how the gods are fighting with one another like human beings (Yilmaz). For example, the conflicts between Achilles and Agamemnon connect the qualities of both humans and gods because the gods themselves are fighting the same way. For example, with Zeus struggling to not upset anyone, Hera says “devising secret plots behind my back…you can’t bear to tell me what you’re thinking, or you don’t dare” (Book one, 573).
Anger and envy are clearly presented within Hera’s words. This ultimately urges Hera to make decisions based on her emotions (Scott). Her decision in book 8 when she deceives Zeus at Mount Ida is influenced from jealousy and need for power. She does this in order for the Greeks to gain power by seducing him, which distracts him for the war for a short period of time. The interference of Poseidon in The Iliad is greatly due to Hera’s hatred toward the Trojans. Hera calls on Poseidon in book 14 to help the Achaean forces, while she distracts Zeus to keep his attention away from the battle so that gods can intervene in the war freely. Homer makes the conflict of the gods look similar to those of humans with themes of deceptions and betrayal. Due to this, the trojan war becomes less about either side and more on the gods wanting to resolve their own struggles and fights with one another. Poseidon’s betrayal of his father to intervene in the war is a human-like choice as well as withdrawing from Troy out of respect for his father (Frazer). Poseidon’s act of rebellion is similar to Achilles’ rebellion against Agamemnon which demonstrates how alike the divinities and heroes are (Bertani). He also demonstrates his vengeful power on the battlefield through messing with the humans.
In the Odyssey, however, his vengefulness can be seen after Odysseus blinds the cyclops, his son (book 5). Poseidon decides to punish the men by unleashing storms that cause destruction and death to Odysseus’s ships and men. During the war, Poseidon continues to help the Greeks but makes the choice to save Aeneas, a Trojan, after Greek Achilles almost kills him. Poseidon knew that Aenea’s fate was not death but to become a king. His choice to save Aeneas contrary to the benefit of the Greeks conveys human-like morality. After Poseidon’s engagement in the war, Zeus calls Apollo to fight for the Greek side. This ultimately stirs up the war even more. Apollo’s interference in the war in Book 21 shows how the gods are acting upon their own feelings, grudges, and vengefulness. It is also significant to note the quest for status among many of the gods, including Apollo, are motivators of these emotions. Anger is one of the most common characteristics in the gods because it is a result out of the power struggle. Bertani says that “the anger of the hero and the god are interwoven into the diction, thematic, and symbolic substructure of the entire work”. Achilles’ characteristics are similar to those of Apollo in terms of anger and power struggles “through the diction of boasting, and asserted that they are both the younger aggrieved parties forced to demur to individuals with greater status, Poseidon and Agamemnon” (Bertani). For example, Apollo refuses to fight Poseidon when he confronts him. Poseidon asks “don’t you remember this, how many great evils we two, alone of all the gods, suffered at Illium” when Apollo decides to side with the Trojans after they had been slaves to them. Apollo is called a coward for his human qualities of refusing to fight by his sister Artemis.
Apollo’s want for power can be seen in the very beginning in book one when he demonstrates his destructive power on the battlefield. Whereas this shows the powers of the divinities, it also be said that unleashing these powers are from human characteristics. This scene in the first book sets the rest of the poem in motion. In conclusion, Apollo’s emotions toward his family and the want for a higher status is what humanizes him. As a result of the interactions between the gods and goddesses in their hierarchy, gods are drawn into making poor, human-like decisions. Homer shows how the gods are divine and powerful yet struggle with human qualities such as anger, jealousy, and betrayal. The development of these characteristics mirrors the development of the poems through the god’s intervention in the war. With Zeus holding the most power, he allows for his children and wife to influence his decisions based upon conflicts with other gods. For example, Hera displays human-like emotions like envy and pity not only towards other gods, but mortals too. She goes to Zeus like many other gods so that she can gain power. Poseidon and Apollo use acts of rage against the mortals in order to gain control. The struggle for power is seen in Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and Apollo. The Iliad and The Odyssey both convey the quest for status among the hierarchy of the divinities through the human-like qualities. Because Homer humanized the divinities rather than making them supernatural beings allow for the readers to understand the important relationship between the gods and goddesses and the heroic characters.f