Since I haven’t read the Iliad in a couple of years, I’m working my way through it slowly at present. Right now, my thoughts are on the gods who populate the work. To consider the Iliad without considering the presence and activity of the gods and lesser immortals is to miss the point entirely. Let’s just start with a quick inventory of divine interventions:
- The house of Priam is descended from Zeus.
- Therefore, Hector, the greatest Trojan hero, is partly divine.
- The mother of Achilles, the greatest of Achaean heroes, is a nymph.
- The war begins with the vanity of three goddesses vying for a golden apple.
- The “rage of Achilles” comes about because of the complaint of Chryses, the priest of Apollo, and Apollo’s subsequent actions.
- Athena, Ares, Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon, and Aphrodite take an active part in the fighting.
I could go on, but you get the picture. When the battle flows in the favor of the Greeks, it’s likely the result of a god’s intervention. When the Trojans gain the upper hand, there’s usually a god behind that as well.
But what are the Greek gods? They’re about as far from the Hebrew and Christian God as could be imagined. Unlike Yahweh, they are not eternal. Immortal, yes, but not eternal. Zeus was born of Cronos. Their will is powerful but not irresistible. They can certainly sway the flow of battle, but compare Homer’s account of battle aided by a god with Milton’s. When the Christian God enters the battle in heaven, it is over in an instant. Not so on the plains of Troy.
The Greek gods are not omniscient. Their attention can be diverted. They sleep. They’re a very long way from holy, driven by very human passions, desires, and foibles. The parents of Helen were none other than Leda and a philandering Zeus.
While these gods do not measure up to the God of Israel, they do remind me of Marvel Comics superheroes. Zeus might be Wolverine. Apollo might be Spider-Man. These beings are very human with amazing abilities. Or they might be compared with the oddities of the Q Continuum on Star Trek.