Part of trying to understand such a tragic war is justifying how rational human beings could behave so savagely. The poet does not want to say that all humans are basely vicious, especially when the narrative may be recited to the family members of the soldiers, who would want to keep the heroic legacies of their kin intact. Instead, Homer uses the gods as metaphors for these destructive human impulses, such as the inclination toward violence and brutality. Ares, the god of bloody warfare, and Athene, the goddess of strategic warfare, are portrayed as the main motivators of many of the battles fought. When the war starts to lull in Ilion, the goddess Athene, at Hera's command, comes down from Olympos to reignite the battle between the Achaians and the Trojans by influencing Pandaros. She appears to him in the shape of a fellow soldier, and goads him into an attempt to assassinate Menelaos in order to gain "glory and gratitude in the sight of all Trojans" (4.95). Today we know that this deed was likely just caused by the man's warlike impulse, inflamed by a desire for honor and prestige. In the poem, however, the apparition of Athene rationaliz...
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...e audience by this point that the men fighting were completely beguiled, by the will of the gods and the strength of the uncontrollable emotions sent upon them. The prominence of man’s passions, as well as the gods’ intervention, help to garner sympathy for both the virtues and vices of the heroes.
War is said to bring out both the best and the worst in those involved: bravery, heroism, and sacrifice intermingle with cowardice, savagery, and greed. In Homer’s Iliad, the audience gets more than a taste of both, yet the poet puts the focus on the good in the warriors by using the gods as scapegoats for the folly of man. From the audience’s perspective, the removal of human blame takes the emphasis off of the questionable motivation and execution of this decade-long conflict, and places it on the struggles and sacrifices of the soldiers themselves, as it should be.
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