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The Blame Game Mortals Versus Immortals
Cultures throughout time often created codes of conduct that individuals were expected to obey. Homerâ€™s â€�Iliadâ€ demonstrated such expectations were not always met and if that was the case, there were consequences. Whether deviating from these expectations were the result of a mortalâ€™s character or divine interference remains to been determined.
Some situations in the â€�Iliadâ€ illustrated that mortalsâ€™ imperfect characters can lead to turmoil. This was the case when Agamemnon, behaving much like a spoiled child, demanded Briseis from Achilles. There was no implication here of foul play by the gods but rather of flaws in Agamemnonâ€™s temperament. It was his stubbornness that resulted in the death of many Greek warriors.
Another contributing factor to the death of numerous Greeks warriors resulted from an imperfection on Achillesâ€™ part. The actions of Agamemnon left Achillesâ€™ pride damaged. This is shown some books later when Achilles is asked to help with the war. He responds by saying â€�I will not share in council or deeds with him, for he deceived and sinned against meâ€ (Book IX). This statement illustrates Achillesâ€™ unmoving attitude without reference to interference by a god. The gods were, therefore not to blame for Achilles excessive pride, as they were not shown to influence this particular flaw in character. The obstinate attitude of Achilles led to his ruin through the death of his close friend, Patroklos.
The validity of the above two examples may be challenged at first glance by an earlier event. In the beginning of book I, â€�Hera put the thought into [Achillesâ€™] heartâ€ to find why Greeks were suffering. In doing so, Achilles found that Agamemnon was to blame. It would be false to assume the two menâ€™s sentiments towards one another were influenced by Hera. Though she may have put the two men face to face, she was not to blame for Agamemnonâ€™s childlike actions or Achillesâ€™ excessive resentment. Thus, gods were not direct contributing agents behind imperfect natures of Agamemnon and Achilles. Though Hera found a reason for two heroes to quarrel, she did so unintentionally. This is especially true considering Hera favored Greeks and would want Achilles to fight.
Contrastingly there were situations in the â€�Iliadâ€ where gods directly toyed with mortalsâ€™ emotions and in fact, their character. Such was the case when Athena persuaded Pandaros â€�to shoot a swift arrow at Menelaus and win thanks and glory from all the Trojansâ€ (Book IV). Athena, as directed by Zeus, roused Pandaros to break a truce that was present between Greeks and Trojans. By â€�persuading the heart of a fool,â€ Athena was clearly Pandarosâ€™ puppeteer (Book IV). Thus actions of gods â€“ not humans â€“ reinitiated the war.
In book XVI, a godâ€™s interference altered the normal conduct of Hector and Patroclus.
But even stronger than the mind of men is that of Zeus; sometimes he puts even a brave man to flight and easily takes away victory, yet sometimes himself he urges a man to battle. He it was who then aroused the spirit in Patroclusâ€™ breast.
To protect the body of Sarpedon, Zeus made Hector, a normally valiant Trojan warrior, become cowardly. Zeus also played with Patroclusâ€™ character such that he continued fighting when he was advised to stop. The actions of a god, namely Zeus led to the demise of Patroclus. In some situations is it clear who causes mortals to deviate from their normal behavior â€“ themselves or gods.
Interestingly, there were parallels between mortals and immortals in regards to outcomes when deviating from normal conduct. Similar to mortals, the â€�Iliadâ€ described a situation where a god acts beyond her normal realm and had to face consequences. In book V, Diomedes wounds Aphrodite. After she returned to Olympus, Zeus states that Aphrodite was not assigned to dealings of war but of marriage. Having acted out of character by assuming the roles of Ares and Athena, Aphrodite was wounded, as a mortal would have been. There are other incidents of distress that fell upon immortals, which are similar to those of mortals.
In another case, immortals were shown to mislead other immortals, in addition to humans. Hera, upon seeing Greeks falling behind in battle, decided to interfere with the normally attentive Zeus. With help from Aphrodite, â€�the Father slept quietly on Gargarusâ€™ peak, overwhelmed by sleep and loveâ€ (Book XIV). While he slept, Greeks gained the upper hand and pushed Trojans back. As a result, Hector was also wounded. Hence, Zeus, a normally careful observer of the fates was, by trickery led to close his eyes on the war. This situation shows that gods could influence one another, as well as mortals. Such an occurrence was of consequence to Zeusâ€™ plans, as well as Trojans and Greeks.
Whether speaking of gods or mortal men, their digression from an appropriate character left a dark stain - quite often literally - on themselves or others. In Homerâ€™s â€�Iliadâ€, either the godsâ€™ actions or mortalsâ€™ natural flaws caused these deviations. It appears, out of both gods and mortals, only the fates could be free from imperfection as Zeus respected their unwavering duty.
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