Writing Assignment – Week 4

Outline and map out the divine events in Book 8. How does it compare with the actions of the mortals in that book? What is the relationship between the actions of the mortals and gods in Book 7-8? Are the two related or simply concurrent (or mixed)? What does it say about the experience of the mortals in these two books “on the ground,” compared with other books in the Iliad, e.g. 5-6?

NB: Initial posts should be 350-400 words; each reply should be around 100 words.

13 thoughts on “Writing Assignment – Week 4

  1. Alicia Wooten

    I find the relationship between the gods and the mortals to be very interesting. It seems to me that the Gods, particularly Zeus, have a majority of the power and there is minimal free will in the Iliad. However, some mortals are able to influence the gods.
    Whenever the characters talk about who is winning a battle, they phrase it in terms of whom the gods are granting glory to. For example, when the Trojans were forcing the Greeks back to their ships, Nestor told Diomedes, “For the time Zeus, son of Kronos, gives glory to this man [Hektor]; for today; hereafter, if he will, he will give it to us also; no man can beat back the purpose of Zeus, not even one very strong, since Zeus is by far the greater” (8.141-144). This implies that the Trojans are only winning because Zeus wills it. Therefore, no matter how much skill the Greeks may have, they cannot reverse the momentum of the battle because they cannot overpower Zeus. When Zeus decided to spare the Greeks, he sent an eagle with a fawn in its talons. “They [the Greeks], when they saw the bird and knew it was Zeus who sent it, remembered once again their Warcraft, and turned on the Trojans” (8.251-252). If Zeus had not decided to show mercy to the Greeks, the Trojans would have burned the Greek ships and likely won the war.
    Even though the gods decide the outcomes of the battles, mortals can help influence their decisions. In Book 8, Agamemnon was able to persuade Zeus to take pity on the Greeks. Agamemnon cried to Zeus, “For I say that never did I pass by you fair-wrought altar in my benched ships when I came here on this desperate journey; but on all altars I burned the fat and thighs of oxen in my desire to sack the strong-walled city of the Trojans. Still, Zeus, bring to pass at least this thing that I pray for. Let our men at least get clear and escape, and let not the Achaians be thus beaten down at the hands of the Trojans” (8.238-244). Since Agamemnon had made sacrifices to Zeus, Zeus decided to grant him the lives of his people, showing that while the Gods may be in control, mortals can sometimes influence their will.

    1. Paulina Horton

      Hi Alicia!

      I completely agree with what you’re saying. For the most part mortals are just subject to the will of the gods. It doesn’t seem like there’s that much free will in this story. Even looking at the entire story you can see that it’s not actually men that cause the war. Paris only gets Helen because Aphrodite gives her to him, and the war itself is caused by the wrath of Hera and Athena. The gods seem to have more invested in this war than the Greeks or Trojans do. Because of this I think the actions of the mortals often mirror the actions of the gods. For example Agamemnon’s supplication to Zeus in Book 8 mirrors Thetis’ appeal to him in Book 1. Both of them used favors that they did for Zeus as a way to persuade him to help their cause. Another example would be Athena retreating from battle when threatened by Zeus because she knows how much stronger he is than her and in Book 8 and Diomedes avoidance of Hector in battle in Book 5 because he knows how much stronger Hector is than him.

      1. Teresa Plummer

        Hi Paulina,

        I like the idea that “the actions of the mortals often mirror the actions of the gods” and your examples were great! I agree, it does not seem as if the people have much free will, but there does seem to be a give and take between mortal actions and divine intervention. For example:

        Mortal action: Teukros tries to kill Hektor (8.309-310)
        Divine intervention: Apollo falters the arrow (8.311)
        Mortal action: Teukros’ arrow kills Archeptolemos which makes Hektor grieve and beat Teukros with a rock (8.312-334)
        Divine intervention: Zeus fills the Trojans with fury (8.335)
        Mortal action: Hektor goes on a killing spree and the Achaians flee in terror and pray (8.345-349)
        Divine intervention: Hera takes pity on the Achaians and joins up with Athene to intervene (8.350-396)

        And, it goes on and on, with one mortal action leading to divine intervention leading to another mortal action leading to another divine intervention and on and on. And, this leads us back to that same question. Is mortal action driven by divine intervention? Or, is divine intervention driven by mortal action? And, if there is no “free will” on the part of the mortals, would any of this give and take be happening?

  2. Pascha Seda

    Hi guys! I agree with both of your posts for the most part. The only thing I would disagree with is the mortal’s ability to influence the god’s decisions. Although it may sometimes seem that way I think that it has been pretty evident that whatever decisions the gods make are because of their own will and benefit. For instance, I’m gonna borrow Alicia’a example: “They [the Greeks], when they saw the bird and knew it was Zeus who sent it, remembered once again their Warcraft, and turned on the Trojans” (8.251-252), when Zeus supposedly showed mercy on the Trojans. I didn’t take this as a gesture of pity or caring. I saw it as simply another move in Zeus’ master plan. He couldn’t have the Greeks give in at that moment. If they would’t just accepted defeat at that moment then his plan would’ve been ruined.

  3. Teresa Plummer

    Great posts everyone! It seems like we have a bit of a quandary here. Who is really in charge of the mankind’s destiny? The gods or people? This is not a new question by any means. People have wondered this since the beginning of time and I’m not sure that Homer makes it any clearer. On the one hand, Alicia is right when she says “mortals can help influence their decisions.” For example, “the father took pity upon him and bent his head, that the people should stay alive, and not perish” (8.245-246) seems to indicate that Zeus is straying from his course so the Achaians wouldn’t perish. On the other hand, Pascha is right in saying that this is all part of “Zeus’ master plan.” Part of this master plan can be seen in Book 8 when he says, “For Hektor the huge will not sooner be stayed from his fighting until there stirs by the ships the swift-footed son of Peleus on that day when they shall fight […] over fallen Patroklos” (8.473-476). So, it appears that Zeus’ plan is to stop Hektor by drawing Achilleus back into the battle. Is it possible that both of these things could be true? That Zeus has a master plan, and that he can be moved by the people?

    1. Paulina Horton

      I’ve always thought that based on the way the gods were worshipped that they were ultimately the ones that controlled mankind’s destiny. The Odyssey is a good example of this. Angering the gods in any way can dramatically change a man’s fate. I highly doubt that Odysseus would have spent 10 years at sea if it weren’t for the wrath of Poseidon. Men may have some say over their daily lives, but when it comes to the big picture it is the gods that determine the final outcome. As for the morality of the gods I think they’re pretty amoral. What I mean by this is that they are outside the realm of human ideas of morality. They don’t choose their actions based on what is right and wrong but what will serve their purposes best. You would think that their decisions would be the ones that benefited their subjects best, but looking at Hera’s irrational rage towards the Trojans we can see that that is not generally the case. Zeus ultimately made a promise to Thetis to restore Achilles’s honor and in order to do that Achilles must rejoin the battle. If Zeus allowed the Trojans to destroy the Greeks in Book 8 not only would Achilles’s honor not be restored, but he’d also probably called a coward and traitor since he could’ve been the one to prevent the Greeks from failing. I don’t think Zeus was taking pity on the Greeks as much as ensuring that he keeps his promise to Thetis.

      1. Alicia Wooten

        I can definitely understand the idea that Zeus is only sparing the Greeks because he needs to in order to restore Achilleus’s honor. Even if this is true, does that not mean that Achilleus was able to influence the gods since Zeus is working to grant Achilleus’s wish?

        1. Teresa Plummer

          I can see that too! So Zeus has his plan “to restore Achilleus’s honor,” but was this because Achilleus (or Thetis) influenced him or because it was already part of his plan? And, why would Achilleus influence Zeus and not Agamemnon or Hektor or Diomedes or even Athene? Maybe Zeus has a plan and everyone else is just fitting in with that plan, like pawns in a chess game.

          1. Paulina Horton

            I think it was because Thetis influenced him. It seems like Zeus tries to be pretty neutral when it comes to the affairs of mortals. Even in Book 1 he is kind of reluctant to help Thetis because he doesn’t want to deal with Hera’s nagging. I also think he appealed to Zeus because why would he appeal try to appeal to someone of lower status when he can appeal directly to Zeus and know for sure that his wish will be granted.

  4. Pascha Seda

    I would like to think that Zeus contains the mortal quality of compassion or pity at the very least but I think he makes it very clear in book Book 8 that he is a ruthless divine power. This is very evident in this excerpt from Book 8 (Lines 8.7-8.27)

    “Now let no female divinity, nor male god either,

    presume to cut across the way of my word, but consent to it

    all of you, so that I can make an end in speed of these matters.

    And any one I perceive against the gods’ will attempting

    to go among the Trojans and help them, or among the Danaans,

    he shall go whipped against his dignity back to Olympos;

    or I shall take him and dash him down to the murk of Tartaros,

    far below, where the uttermost depth of the pit lies under
    earth, where there are gates of iron and a brazen doorstone,

    as far beneath the house of Hades as from earth the sky lies.

    Then he will see how far I am strongest of all the immortals.

    Come, you gods, make this endeavour, that you all may learn this.

    Let down out of the sky a cord of gold; lay hold of it

    all you who are gods and all who are goddesses, yet not

    even so can you drag down Zeus from the sky to the ground, not

    Zeus the high lord of counsel, though you try until you grow weary.

    Yet whenever I might strongly be minded to pull you,

    I could drag you up, earth and all and sea and all with you,

    then fetch the golden rope about the horn of Olympos

    and make it fast, so that all once more should dangle in mid air.

    So much stronger am I than the gods, and stronger than mortals.”

    Not even his children and wife are free of his wrath.

  5. Avery Tucker

    Avery Tucker


    1. I agree with Teresa. It is interesting to see just how often and how significant the divine intervention is in books seven and eight. My instance is when Apollo the Sun God, sets two days of death, one for the Trojans and the other for the Achaians. Book eight reads “”he set two fateful portions of death, which lays men prostrate, for Trojans, breakers of horses, and bronze-armored Achains, and balanced it by the middle. The Achaians’ death-day was heaviest.”” (8.70-72) It is interesting that Apollo balances out the scales but then the text states that the Achaians had the more severe death-day. I analayzed this quote to maybe mean that the Achaians lost more significant warriors or may have just been more shaken up on their death day.

    2. My second point comes from the continuation of the quote stating, “…a kindling flash shot over the people of the Achaians; seeing it they were stunned, and pale terror took hold of all of them”(8.75-77). This quote leads me to believe that the majority of mortal actions in the Iliad are dependent on the actions of the Gods. In the quote above a vivid picture of Apollo wiping out the Achaians is painted. The Achaians that survive see the flash and the fall of their warriors and respond in stiff fear as though they cannot rebuttal anything done in divine power, which seems to hold true.

  6. Sheree Goffe

    I agree with the different perspectives, but I might have to disagree with Pascha
    In book 8 I feel like Zeus told the gods not to interfere because he had a promise to fulfill. If anybody remembers thetis (achilleus’ mother) supplicated zeus for a favor. Zeus has been biding his time waiting for the proper moment to fulfill that. Athena and Hera have been trying to put the war in Achaian’s favor. The evidence that zeus was putting it in their favor was when he weighed the scale of the battle. Iliad 8.72-77. The Achaians’ death-day was heaviest. There the fates of the Achaians settled down toward the bountiful earth, while those of the Trojans were lifted into the wide sky; and he himself crashed a great stroke from Ida, and a kindling flash shot over the people of the Achaians; seeing it they were stunned, and pale terror took hold of all of them. and another evidence when he spoke to Hera saying the Achaians will not get any father until Achilleus comes back to fight. IL.8.473-476 For Hektor the huge will not sooner be stayed from his fighting until there stirs by the ships the swift-footed son of Peleus on that day when they shall fight by the sterns of the beached ships
    in the narrow place of necessity over fallen Patroklos.


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