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Free Study Guide-The Iliad by Homer-Free Online Book Notes Summary
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THE DIVINE MACHINERY

The brood of immortals, known as the divine machinery, is a brilliant combination of mythology and psychology. Throughout the poem, the gods play an important part in the action of the plot and its outcome. Sometimes following the orders of Zeus and sometimes going against them, the gods appear on the battlefield to help their favorite warriors, some of them Trojan and some of them Greek.

Several key immortals appear throughout the poem. The goddesses seem to be particularly omnipresent. Hera, the contriving wife of Zeus, is constantly goading her husband into one action or another and is often a thorn in his side, especially since she is a staunch and vocal supporter of the Greeks. Athena, who sprang forth from the head of Zeus with a mighty war shout and in full armor after the King of the Gods swallowed her mother, is the goddess of logic and wisdom; like Hera, she staunchly supports the Greek cause throughout the battle. In contrast to Athena, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and another daughter of Zeus, supports the Trojans and works to continue the love affair between Paris and Helen; Athena is supposedly the wife of Hephaestus, the fire god, but her love for Ares and her faithlessness to her husband are well known.

The gods also appear regularly within the pages of the poem. Poseidon, the king of the sea and the brother of Zeus, often comes to the rescue of his favorite warrior. Both he and his brother, Hades, who rules over the underworld, share the universe with their mightier relative, but the tripartite division almost always yields to the supremacy of Zeus. Delighting in the din of battle and the slaughter of men, Ares, the god of war and violence, is the son of Zeus and Hera; he is the most detested of the Olympian deities. In contrast to Ares, Apollo stands for everything good and is liked by all; the son of Zeus and Leto, he is the god of music, medicine, punishment, and civil constitution.


The divine machinery frequently serves in an inspirational capacity to alter a mortal character's mental or physical abilities. For example, Athena appears to Achilles in Book I and calms his anger sufficiently enough to prevent him from killing the king. In Book II, Agamemnon is sent a dream to reinforce his own subconscious beliefs. In breaking the truce in Book IV, Athena appears to the foolish Pandarus and persuades him to reactivate hostilities. In all of these cases and many more like them, the divine machinery works to influence the minds of the heroes and reveal a character's inner thoughts.

As the gods divide their ranks between Greeks and Trojans, the immortals who best correspond with the traits of Achilles, Agamemnon, or Diomedes, align themselves with those Greeks, while the attributes of the Trojans are projected in their divinities. As a result, the heroic qualities in each camp are increased or decreased, depending on the actions of the divine machinery that is helping them at the moment. The most important immortal, however, is Zeus, and his interference in the war controls the action. Initially, the Greeks struggle and lose because of Zeus' promise to aid the Trojans. Then when Zeus listens to the pleas of Thetis, the mother of Achilles, the tide turns in favor of the Greeks. In an effort to try and restore order to the universe, Zeus allows Achilles to kill Hector. He then humbles the Greek hero by sending Priam to him to beg for Hector's body. In the end, Achilles is really an earthly form of the mighty Zeus.

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