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In the ancient world, religion was crucial for the Greeks, as it could be seen from the literary pieces of the ancient writers. Both ordinary people and noble rulers prayed to the gods to obtain their assistance in their deeds. Nevertheless, the gods are not always portrayed as supportive and sympathetic power. In this respect, the two literary pieces of Homer, the prominent ancient Greek writer, can be distinguished in order to investigate the representation of the gods. Thus, this paper examines the gods' roles in The Iliad and The Odyssey, specifically indicating whether or not they control humans. Moreover, it also discusses the matter of stability of the gods, proving that they are either simply fickle or support some essential order. In addition, the paper investigates what the presentation of the gods reveals about the ancient Greek understanding of the divine. Therefore, both The Iliad and The Odyssey are masterpieces of the ancient literature that portray the power of the gods, their role in people's life, and views of the ancient Greeks on the divine.
The gods' roles in The Iliad and The Odyssey
In The Iliad and The Odyssey, the writer depicts the gods as very competitive and tricky beings who constantly attempt to show their superiority. According to Morris and Powell, “The Greek gods had favorite humans and intervened in human affairs, but they did not live within the human heart. They were powerful, but their power had limits. All gods, including Zeus, were subject to fate” (123). In this respect, both literary pieces deserve to be investigated more meticulously.
In The Iliad, the gods are divided into two groups – those who supported Achaeans and those who promoted Trojans. At the same time, their constant interference in the Trojan war unites them, as well as leads to the tragic consequences. Moreover, the gods do not only intervene in the war, they also control the fate of mortals and make unexpected turns. For example, the opening lines of the literary work reveal the consequence of the Trojan War that happens according to the will of Zeus (Homer 1.1). Thus, the numerous deaths, miseries, and pain the war has brought are the result of gods' intrusion. In most cases, the power of the gods is instant and destructive because they are led by their feelings and emotions. For instance, Athena and Hera are against the Trojans because Paris found them less attractive and beautiful than Aphrodite. Poseidon also supports Achaeans because he is furious at the ancient Troy king. Thus, the gods who chose the Trojan side were Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, and Hermes. These gods are also guided by their personal desires, such as revenge, anger, or appreciation that, in turn, influence the course of the war and life of people. Thus, Apollo sends a plague upon the Achaeans, while Athena provides Diomedes with courage in battle. Therefore, the role of the gods in The Iliad is crucial because they directly affect and manipulate humans' fates.
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At the same time, the gods have a prominent role in The Odyssey,where the lives of people are in the hands of gods. Being a mortal man, Odysseus seeks protection and support from the gods in his adventure. Similarly to the The Iliad, the gods intervene in the human life. However, the will and influence of the gods are less significant in The Odyssey,where they function as divine supporters of their human favorites. In some cases, the gods assume mortal disguises in order to help people. Nevertheless, the actions of the gods usually remain hidden from the humans' eyes. For example, when Poseidon aims to destroy the ship of the Phaeacians, they are unaware of the divine intervention (Homer 12-14). At the same time, because of the divine will, Odysseus is held on the island of Ogygia. Thus, while in The Iliad Zeus can be regarded as a starting point of all the further miseries, in The Odyssey, Calypso is a force that sets the beginning of the character's journey. Additionally, most of the gods in the story, including Athena and Zeus, assist Odysseus during his challenges. Thereby, in The Odyssey, the gods act as advisers of the characters purposed to guide the wandering hero.
The fickle nature of the gods
Moreover, in both literary works, the fickle nature of the gods can be observed. In The Iliad, the gods support Greeks, but the reasons of their behavior can be hardly defined as just. Moreover, the gods are usually led by their selfish desires in their choice whom to support. In this respect, the nature of the divine power is fragile because it depends rather on the gods' emotions than morality or common sense. Furthermore, the gods often quarrel amongst each other, as well as engage in intrigues and manipulations in order to show their superiority. Both The Iliad and The Odyssey show that the gods act on impulse and without any respect for characters' accomplishments. For example, Achilles is depicted as unfair and irrational character, but while he is the son of a goddess, he is valued and supported by the gods. Therefore, the fickle nature of the gods is perfectly seen through their treatment of humans and relations between each other.
The ancient Greek understanding of the divine
In addition, The Iliad and The Odyssey demonstrate the ancient Greek understanding of the divine. In the Greek view of things, the gods are present in every aspect of human life. Moreover, those characters who deserve to be honored for some reasons by the gods, are regarded as heroes (for example, Achilles and Odysseus). At the same time, The Iliad glorifies the war and the courage of the soldiers who risk their lives. While the gods guide every character in the literary work and ironically treat them, such presentation of the gods shows the attitudes of the Homer's society – honor and respect of the god's power, as well hope for their favor.