The gods and goddesses that the Greek people believe in make up the Greek mythology studied today. These divine characters represent a family living on Mount Olympus who intervene frequently in the lives of the human characters in Greek plays. They are omnipresent, for they are always observing mans actions and working through human nature. The gods are a higher power, and provide explanations for otherwise unexplainable events. The gods help humans in trouble and give them guidance about the future. The Olympians influence men on earth both psychologically and physically. In Homer s epic poem, The Iliad, the intervention of such divine powers as Athena, Apollo, and Zeus play significant roles in the lives of the characters and the events of the Greek-Trojan War.
Athena plays a very influential role in the Greek-Trojan War. She is the most constant divine supporter of the Greeks and divine enemy of the Trojans. Athena s function is to be a goddess of pro-Greek warfare. She came to the aid of the Greeks many times throughout the war. For instance, Athena came down from the sky to stop Achilleus from attacking Agamemnon (Willcock). Andre Michalopoulous confirms this action by quoting what Athena says to Achilles :
loveth you twain alike and careth for you. Go to now, cense from strife,
and let not thine hand draw the sword.(65)
Achilles listens to Athena s request, and therefore he returns his sword to its sheath, and withdraws from battle. Athena also assists Achilles in his battle with Hektor. Malcolm Willcock quotes, After deceiving Hektor into fighting Achilles,she comes to his aid by returning his sword to him (244). This intervention is the greatest assist of a divine power to a human being in The Iliad.
Athena also plays an influential role in the battles of Diomedes. Martin Mueller reveals, Athena is closest to Diomedes. She is with him at the beginning and end of his aristeia and she addresses him without disguise (136). Athena also urges Diomedes to fight Aphrodite. With this command, she removes the cloud from his eyes which made him able to see the gods. Furthermore, as Robert Graves states, She put fresh strength into his legs and arms, which allowed him to sustain in battle with Aphrodite (104). Athena instructs Diomedes not to attack any other gods; but, Diomedes does not take her advice, and fights against Apollo and other gods, which causes Diomedes to retreat until he is saved by being reunited with Athena. This powerful goddess assistsd Diomedes greatly as she does the other characters in The Iliad.
Another Greek warrior who is helped by Athena was Pandaros. Athena encourages him to break the truce with Menelaos , but, as Willcock states, This does not lessen his own responsibility for his treachery – He is a fool to be persuaded (46). Then, she switches to Menelaos side, to prevent any serious harm from the arrow that was shot. Athena protects these warriors as she protects the other Greeks. She usually protects the characters who were natural winners. Athena supports those who have the potential to be successful and therefore she assists many of the Greek heroes (Willcock).
In Addition to Athena, Apollo also plays an influental role in the Greek-Trojan War. Apollo is the most important divine supporter of the Trojans. Willcock tells us, He is the archer god who strikes from afar, the god of disease and healing (4). Apollo s first intervention occurs after Agamemnon had taken Apollo s priest daughter as a war prize. Apollo sends a nine day pestilence upon the Greeks. Pack animals were his first target, and dogs, / but soldiers, too, soon felt transfixing pain from his hard shots and pyres burned night and day (Iliad I. 23-24). Apollo also intervenes in the Greek-Trojan War to assist the human characters. One of the warriors Apollo assists is Pandaros. In fact, Apollo is the one who gave Pandaros his bow after he broke the truce with Menelaos by shooting an arrow at him. But, this passage does not truly refer to the actual action of Apollo handing Pandaros his bow, but rather that, as Seth Schein believes, Pandaros was a specifically good archer (57). Because he is a good archer, it is believed that Pandaros is blessed by the god of archery.
Agenor, Hektor s half brother, is another Trojan warrior that Apollo aids. Agenor is debating on whether or not to run into the city of Troy to save the Trojan people, because if he does he probably will be caught and killed by Achilles. Finally, he decides to run into the city and stand and face Achilles. He hit Achilles with a spear cast, and Achilles begins to fight back. But, before Achilles could do anything, Apollo intervenes by taking the form of Agenor, and removing him from the battle. Then, runs away to lure Achilles apart from the rest of the Trojans. Mark Edwards believes Because of Apollo s intervention, both Agenor and the Trojans are saved from Achilles wrath (290).
An additional god that intervenes in the Greek-Trojan War is Zeus. Zeus is not only the most powerful god in The Iliad, but he also plays the most influential role of any of the other gods. As Willcock states, Zeus is the supreme god without whose will nothing important happens in the world below (14). This will, or plan, of Zeus is central to the plot of The Iliad and plays a decisive role in the main events of the play. Perhaps the reason Zeus is such an influential god is because he intervenes in both the affairs of the Greeks and the Trojans. He is a neutral god, who is a tandom dispenser of good and evil throughout the play (Mueller 147). Zeus neutrality is expressed by Willcock , as he states Zeus, king of the gods, is impartial but knows that Troy is in doom (283). Zeus remains neutral throughout the play by coming to the aid of both the Greeks and the Trojans whenever he deems it necessary.
Zeus assists the Greeks during the war in many ways. One of the ways in which he comes to the aid of the Greeks is by sending an omen. Agamemnon prays to Zeus that his army might not perish. In response to his prayer, Zeus sends an eagle as a sign that he had granted his wish. This prayer is demonstrated as John Scott says :
Just at the moment when the Trojans seemed on the point of victory an
eagle appeared on the left with a live snake in its talons. The snake kept
striking at the neck and breast of its captor until the eagle was forced to
drop it and fly away, while the snake fell and squirmed within the ranks of
Because of this affirmation, the Greeks rejoice and rally. The Trojans decide that this is the a sign from Zeus to end the battle, even though it seemed it was going to be a success for the Trojans. In addition to Agamemnons prayer, Zeus receives a prayer from Thetis. Thetis, the mother of Achilles prays to Zeus :
lived beyond all other mortals. So long put strength in the Trojans, until
the Achaians give my son his rights and his honor is increased among
them. (Iliad 256-64)
Zeus decides to grant Thetis wish and help the Trojan army. This action is an answer to Thetis prayer because she wanted the Trojans to start winning battles to bet back at the Acheans and Agamemnon for dishonoring Achilles by taking his war prize. Therefore, Thetis is granted the wish that she wanted through the mighty power of Zeus. Answering the prayers of the Greeks such as Achilles and Thetis is just one of the ways in which Zeus helps the Greeks. Although Zeus is essentially a neutral god sometimes he shows favortism to one side or the other. In many instances, he aides and intervenes in the Greek-Trojan war in favor of the Greeks.
Not only did Zeus assist the Greeks in the Greek-Trojan War, but he also aides the Trojans. For instance, Zeus is tempted by Hera before the battle that destroys the city of Troy. In return for this destruction, Hera would give Zeus the cities that she loved the most – Argos, Sparta, and Mycena. Edwards confirms this temptation as he states :
Before the battle really begins there is a prelude in which Zeus speaks
unmentioned, perhaps to make her anger more irrational. (128)
Zeus decision to avoid destructing the city of Troy immensly aggrivates Hera. His decision also shows that he was protecting the city of Troy, thus helping the Trojans in the Greek-Trojan War.
Zeus assists the Trojans in another instance by directly intervening in a battle. Mueller says, After a general account of indecisive fighting, the turning point in the second day s battle comes when Zeus intervened on the side of the Trojans (103).
Zeus aids the Trojans by sending down a lightening bolt to make Diomedes, the Greek warrior, retreat. Because of Diomedes retreat, Hektor is able to push the Acheans back on their ships that are now threatened with fire. Zeus gives the Trojans another victory later in the war when the Greeks and the Trojans begin fighting over Patroklos body, a battle arises between the two enemies. At this time, Zeus intervenes in the battle and once again comes to the Trojans aid. Mueller states, At length Zeus gives victory to the Trojans, and in a passage richly studded with similies the poet describes the retreat of the Acheans, with Meriones and Menelaos carrying the body while the two Aiantes provide cover (107). Zeus plays an important part in the victories of the Trojans. He inspires terror into the Greeks (Willcock 98) and enables the Trojans to overcome the Greeks many times throughout the Greek-Trojan War.
The Greek-Trojan War in The Iliad is not only a War between human characters, but it is also a battle between divine characters. While the Olympians immortality separates them from man and leaves them free from death and suffering, there power brings them closer to humans because it is constantly being used to either aid or hamper mans progress. These gods are central to the poem because they are actually responsible for the war s beginnings, and every event that occurs has been affected by a god in some way. The gods have the power to control the outcome of the events on earth because man can be persuaded so easily. Therefore, the divine intervention in the war is frequent and significant to the war s outcome. The power of the gods such as Athena, Apollo and Zeus is crucial to the events in The Iliad, for the Greek-Trojan War is a battle between not only the heroic human warriors, but also the mighty dine gods.