The Iliad Religion Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Richmond Lattimore's translation.
lord of the silver bow who set your power about Chryse
and Killa the sacrosanct, who are lord in strength over Tenedos,
Smintheus, if ever it pleased your heart that I built your temple,
if ever it pleased you that I burned all the rich thigh pieces
of bulls, of goats, then bring to pass this wish I pray for:
let your arrows make the Danaans pay for my tears shed. (1.36-42)
When Chryses, the priest of Apollo, makes his prayer, he reveals something important about the religion of the Ancient Greeks. It was very much based upon a give-and-take relationship between mortals and gods: the mortal would make sacrifices, or would build monuments to the gods, but he could ask for something in return.
Now as he weighed in mind and spirit these two courses
and was drawing from its scabbard the great sword, Athene descended
from the sky. […]
The goddess standing behind Peleus' son caught him by the fair hair,
appearing to him only, for no man of the others saw her.
Achilleus in amazement turned about, and straightway
knew Pallas Athene and the terrible eyes shining. […]
Then […] the goddess grey-eyed Athene spoke to him:
"I have come down to stay your anger--but will you obey me?--
from the sky; and the goddess of the white arms Hera sent me,
who loves both of you equally in her heart and cares for you.
Come then, do not take your sword in your hand, keep clear of fighting,
though indeed with words you may abuse him, and it will be that way." (1.193-195, 197-200, 206-211)
Some scholars have argued that the Homeric gods might sometimes just be metaphors for human thought processes. For example, when Athene – the goddess of wisdom – appears above Achilleus and tells him to cool his jets, that could just be a poetic way of saying that his better judgment takes over. It seems difficult to apply this theory in every case, however (many gods act beyond their specific job description). How convincing do you find it, here and in the Iliad overall?
I have taken away the mist from your eyes, that before now
was there, so that you may well recognize the god and the mortal.
Therefore now, if a god making trial of you comes hither
do you not do battle head on with the gods immortal,
not with the rest; but only if Aphrodite, Zeus' daughter,
comes to the fighting, her at least you may stab with the sharp bronze. (5.127-132)
This quote reveals just how strange the Ancient Greek understanding of the gods was. Just when you expect Athene to have taken the mist off Diomedes's eyes so that he doesn't fight with any gods, it turns out that he's only supposed to fight one of them: Aphrodite. What does the fact that Diomedes fights with gods and gets away with it say about Achilleus's claim to be the best of the Achaians?