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The Gods, And Zeus Especially, As Spectators In The Iliad

2658 words - 11 pages

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 ...view middle of the document...

On the third day of fighting the gods are frustrated by the way the action is unfolding and take matters into their hands by distracting the ‘referee’ allowing them to once more influence the outcome. Day four sees the return of the ‘star player’ Achilles who is out to gain revenge for the death of his dear friend Patroclus. However, Zeus is concerned that Achilles is ‘interfering with play’ and allows the gods to once more lend their support to their own sides. Finally, the action of the poem is brought to a close by Zeus issuing Achilles a ‘red card’ for breaking the rules of honourable conduct by not allowing Hector’s body to be buried with respect.

The depiction of the gods as spectators is best illustrated in the two big counsel scenes in Books 4 and Book 20. The opening of Book 4 is a scene on Mount Olympus, ‘Now the gods at the side of Zeus were sitting in council over the golden floor’ (4.1-2) and they are discussing the duel that has just taken place between Menelaus and Paris. Zeus is mocking Hera and Athene for not helping Menelaus: ‘Yet see, here they are sitting apart, looking on at the fighting, and take their pleasure’ (4.9-10), whilst Aphrodite has directly aided Paris by spiriting him away from the duel. He goes on to propose that the terms of the truce should be honoured and the war ended with Menelaus’s victory. But Hera and Athene, who are the most ardent supporters of the Achaeans, will not accept nothing less than the total destruction of Troy. As Willcock states ‘they are quite ruthless and amoral, bargaining with one another about the destruction of cities, as if it is all a game’ . In Book 20 we once again see Zeus gathering all the gods together to revoke the order he gave them not to take part in the fighting in Book 8. He will be the spectator: ‘Even so, I shall stay here upon the fold of Olympos sitting still, watching, to pleasure my heart. Meanwhile all you others go down, wherever you may go among the Achaians and Trojans and give help to each side, as your own pleasure directs you’ (20.22-24). But Hera, Athene and Poseidon soon decide to be spectators themselves, ‘we are far too strong for them. Let us then go away and sit down together off the path at a viewing place, and let the men take care of the fighting’ (20.135-137), and Apollo and Ares also stop fighting, ‘so they on either side took their places, deliberating counsels, reluctant on both sides to open the sorrowful attack’ (20.153-155). But Zeus was not happy about this and ‘sitting on high above urged them on’ (20.155).
Zeus is the main spectator, whose role it is to act as the impartial ‘referee’ ensuring that the laws of the universe are observed. These laws known as ‘the justice of Zeus’ (1.239) fall into two categories; natural law or ‘the divinely appointed order of the universe’ and moral law, whereby Zeus ‘punishes, late or soon, a man who has done injustice to another, either in his own person or in that of his descendants’. But...

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