Fate, it seems, is predetermined by a force that far surpasses the control of mortals and immortals alike. Throughout the epic poem, The Iliad, Homer repeatedly shows us that fate , not gods, is the determinant of life’s outcome. Fate is the true sovereign in The Iliad, and the gods, as human in certain aspects as humans themselves, are the mere executors of fate. The immortals that inhabit Mount Olympus are chosen as upholders of the laws of fate, but there are plenty of occasions where the gods defy the same laws they espouse. Absolute power can corrupt absolutely; with the tremendous amount of power bestowed in them, gods are often faced with the temptation to break the rules- a temptation which a number of gods end up indulging in. In some cases, the gods let their emotions affect the divine judgment. Factions are created among the gods, as each of them have different reasons and motives for supporting and defying fate for their preferred nation.
As powerful as the gods are, they are still limited by the inevitable truth of fate. Fate provides a general guideline by which the gods are supposed to use their powers to set things in motion. It is evident that even almighty Zeus is not a master of fate but the enforcer. He uses his golden scales of fate to determine what the fated outcome for this battle is and the Achaean side plummets. Acting upon what fate had determined should be the outcome, Zeus cast a shower of lightning over the Achaeans and the Trojans chased them all the way back to their ships. (8.81-90) Hector and Achilles met on the battlefield and Zeus again measured their fate, Hector’s side fell and he was slain by Achilles. (22.248-254) Zeus is responsible for upholding the laws of fate and to ensure that they are uncompromised and are executed according to what it had already predetermined. Paris attempted to resolve the conflict between the nations by challenging Menelaus to a duel, the winner would take away Helen and be awarded reparations, however when Paris failed miserably, Aphrodite rescued him and brought him back to his bed. Since Paris was missing in action, Agamemnon declared victory over the Trojans. The conflicts would have all been resolved once Menelaus was awarded reparations and his wife was returned, however this would jeopardize the fated downfall of Troy. Zeus responded to this by sending Athena to provoke Pandaros to attack Menelaus, to set setting the war back on the right track and moving along.(4.80-84) Zeus responded by sending Athena to encourage Pandaros to attack Menelaus, setting the war back on the right track. (4.80-84) Achilles, blinded by his rage, killed many Trojan soldiers and disposed of their bodies in the river Scamander. The river god counterattacked by nearly drowning the hero. He was not fated to die in this way, so when Achilles called out to the gods for help, Hephaestus came and burned the river god into submission. (21.308-336/405-409) Achilles headed back towards Troy once he found out he had been tricked by Apollo. Hector had originally planned to reason and come to a compromise with Achilles, but he later realized that this was not an option and fled in fear. (22.111-164) Achilles had already chased Hector around Troy three times when Athena decided to intervene. Athena told Achilles of her plan to fool Hector. She took the form of Deiphobus to con Hector into staying to battle Achilles, who would soon kill him. (22.257.267) As much as the gods want to help their favorite heroes and nations, sometimes they are helpless to defy fate. Apollo, who dearly loved Hector, withdrew from helping him because he knew that it had been fated for Hector to go down to the house of Hades.(22.248-254) Zeus, a devoted enforcer of the law, and he strictly punishes those who try to flout fate. He had previously punished Hera by having her strung in midair, slinging two massive anvils down from her feet. (15.23-31) He had also reprimanded Sleep for tampering with the fate of Hercules by hurling him deep into the sea. (14.290-318) These punishments had set a very strong precedent for those who sought to supersede fate and, even though Hera and Athena could not resist helping the Achaeans when they were at a disadvantage, they restrained themselves as they knew that punishment by Zeus would be eminent if they ignored the power of fate. (8.476-496)
Throughout the entire poem there are many instances in which gods are presented with a choice between following the laws which they enforce or breaking them to fulfill some personal agenda or motive. Zeus, despite the immense amount of power he possesses, is also the god with the most integrity as he restrains himself from tampering with end result of fate. This is clearly shown in the tale of his son Sarpedon, who was about to meet his imminent death at the hands of Patroclus. Zeus considered changing the course of fate by rescuing his beloved son, but decided not to after being reminded by Hera that he is the upholder of fate (16.426-461) Conversely, many gods do not recognize the significance of fate to the same extent that Zeus does. Apollo was responsible for plaguing many of the Achaeans and overlooking fate as he knew that this would prove that he was powerful and would bring him more worshipers offering more sacrifices. (1.565-566)
The human nature of gods in The Iliad is evident from their susceptibility to act out their emotions. Aphrodite, the coward goddess, rescued Paris when he failed miserably in his battle against Menelaus- a battle which was supposed to resolve the war. (3.428-441)/ (3.135-136) The two parties agreed that the winner would get possession of Helen and war reparations.(2.104-114) Chryses, a priest of Apollo who begged Agamemnon for the right to give a large ransom for his daughter to be returned to him, prayed to Apollo, who was furious when he was denied that right. Apollo punished the Achaeans severely by inflicting their army with a plague. (1.50-60) Calchus had correctly identified that this was the work of Apollo, and it is not until they appeased the god that they became plague-free. Thetis plays a significant role in this aspect of the poem. After the initial argument Achilles had with Agamemnon, he felt like he wasn’t being treated with the respect he deserved for the many battles he had won for the Achaeans and that his honor and status were being challenged by Agamemnon. Achilles told his mother about their argument and the indignation he felt for this injustice. He told his mother that she can assist him by reminding Zeus that he was indebted to her for saving his life, and persuade him to help Achilles. Zeus and the other gods were feasting with the Ethiopians, and will be back in twelve days. Upon their arrival to Mount Olympus, she would try to win him over. Zeus himself had been guilty of letting his emotions get the best of him. He felt a sense of indebtedness to Thetis who had previously saved him, and thus reluctantly accepted her request to aid her son. (1.619-635) He did just as he promised and punished the Achaeans, causing them to suffer many casualties and setbacks so that they would beg Achilles to come back , restoring his honor and sense of significance. Achilles eventually did return to battle and killed Hector, and afterwards tied Hector’s feet to the back of his chariot and defiled his body. Apollo pleaded to the other gods that Hector was not destined to be forever defiled by Achilles and deserved a proper burial. He proposed that they steal the body of the Trojan prince and return it to King Priam. (24.37-65) Zeus would not allow the situation to be resolved this way.(24.88-90) Instead he decided that he would send Thetis to tell Achilles that he had to give the body back.(24.137-146) He then sent Iris to tell Priam to get a large ransom ready and to go alone to Achilles’ camp. Here he could exchange the ransom for his son’s body and Hermes would be his escort. (24.171-191)
As a result of much civil unrest, the gods had created factions among them. The Achaeans had the blessing of gods Athena, Hera, Poseidon, and Hephaestus; the Trojans were supported by Apollo, Ares, and Aphrodite. Gods who were of the Trojan faction rescued Aeneas and gave strength to Hector. Those who belonged in the Greek faction gave Diomedes strength. Diomedes, wounded by Pandaros, prayed to Athena and she answered the prayer by bestowing him with super strength to use to defeat many Trojans. (5.133-147) Diomedes, having been enhanced by Athena, had an aristeia and fought so well that the Trojans recognized him as one of the best of the Achaeans. Among the Trojans that battled Diomedes was Aeneas, who was Aphrodite’s son. Aphrodite could not help but want to protect her beloved son, only to get wounded by Diomedes and consequently allow Apollo to take over the task of safeguarding Aeneas. (5.347-395) Diomedes even tried to attack Apollo, violating the agreement he had with Athena. (5.495-508) Ares then proceeded to fight alongside Hector to slaughter many Achaeans. Athena, with permission from Zeus, came down to fight alongside Diomedes, and the clash of the titans resulted in Ares getting wounded. It was during this battle that god’s involvement in the battlefield peaked. Patroclus had exceeded the expectations of the gods and defeated every opponent he came in contact with. Glaucus prayed to Apollo to heal his wounds and help the Trojans in battle, and Apollo answered his prayer and healed him. (16.605-622) Apollo then wounded Patroclus, weakening him, allowing a Trojan soldier to wound him before Hector gave him the finishing blow. Hera was so determined to help the Achaeans that she was willing to sacrifice her own head for them. She did whatever it took to divert Zeus’ attention from the battle. She tricked Aphrodite into lending her precious girdle to her, and bribed Sleep to send Zeus into a deep slumber; as a result, Poseidon was given a window of opportunity to lead the Achaeans into victory. Achilles, in his blind rage, mowed down rows of Trojans, and sent them retreating back to the walls of Troy. Apollo ensured their successful retreat by distracting Achilles until the Trojans were all within the safety of their walled city.
It is evident that the gods of The Iliad play an important role, but only as enforcers of the laws of fate, and not as controllers of it. However, since they are unchallenged in power, they occasionally forget their status in relation to fate and act upon their own personal interests. All the gods involved in the factions are motivated by different agendas to support the their favored nation thus dividing them and causing civil unrest. This kind of interpretations of gods creates a foil for the perfection associated with supposedly god-like behavior.