The Gods, and Zeus Especially, as Spectators in the Iliad

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As spectators we are normally passive onlookers of the action taking place. The only influence we can have over the outcome is by making the participants aware of our support by cheering, or of our anger and frustration at an action by chanting and booing. We place our trust in the officials and referees to ensure that strict guidelines and rules are adhered to throughout the action. As spectators we are also commentators expressing our opinions regarding the actions of the participants and the officials. As spectators we can empathise with the emotions of the participants and feel extreme jubilation or extreme disappointment depending on whether you are supporting the winning or losing side. In this essay I will be discussing whether the gods in the Iliad conform at all to this definition of a spectator. In the Iliad, the action we are witnessing is a war between the Achaeans and the Trojans supported on each side by different gods, with Zeus supposedly acting as the impartial referee ensuring that the rules of honourable conduct are adhered to. The poem opens during a ‘time-out’ in the nine year war and the losing Achaeans are blaming their poor performance on the actions of their ‘captain’ Agamemnon, who has upset the other side’s main supporter Apollo. But in appeasing Apollo, Agamemnon disrespects the honour of Achilles, and in retaliation he refuses ‘to play’ for his side until his honour is restored. It is at this point in the action that Zeus’s impartiality is compromised by a promise to Thetis that the Trojans will have the advantage until the Greeks acknowledge the worth of their ‘star player’ Achilles. When the action resumes in Books 2-7 each of the gods gives their support to their favourites on the first day of fig... ... middle of paper ... ... watching from high Pergamos was angered and called aloud to the Trojans: “Rise up, Trojans, breakers of horses, bend not from battle”(4.507-508). He goes on to admonish them for their poor performance especially as Achilles is not ‘playing’. But in contrast, as Apollo is calling out from the citadel as a spectator, Athene ‘drove on the Achaians, any of them she saw hanging back as she strode through the battle’ (5.515-516). Apollo’s relegation to a spectator maybe because the actions of the Trojan archer Pandarus, carried out in the name of Apollo, were considered dishonourable in warfare and Apollo wanted to distance himself from those actions. Apollo is again seen as a spectator in Book 5 as he and Aphrodite ‘take their ease and pleasure’ (5.760) on Mount Olympus, but this is only after he has taken direct action in saving Aeneas during a fight with Diomedes.

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