The Role of Fate and Gods in The Iliad

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Words: 1691 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 1691|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Introduction: The Iliad is an epic poem studied by many in multiple areas of research. The epic holds many themes such as pride, morality, compassion, warfare, etc. However, one that contributes to them all is the role of fate. It is after much analyzing and rereading of the Iliad that the question is posed, “To what extent does fate play in the Iliad regarding the outcome of the war and the individual characters?” Thesis statement: Fate’s role in the outcome of the war and individual characters is used to an extreme extent as Zeus holds the power to everyone’s and everything’s fate. Through research showing how Zeus is controlling all of the fate, examples of his use of manipulation of fate throughout the war and characters, we are able to see this argument as true.

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It is said multiple times in the Bible that God is the one who controls our fate; that he knows what we are destined to do and has plans for us greater than we can expect. He controls our birth and our death. Topic sentence: In the Iliad, it is not quite stated who is in control of fate however everything that is considered fate has been touched or manipulated by the hands of Zeus. Evidence & citing: According to Homer’s Conception of Fate, Zeus represents the highest deity of divine power. In comparison to the Holy Bible, Zeus and God are at the same stature of power. They both hold the power of fate in their hands. “It is Zeus who holds the balance of life and death in the strife. It is from him that victory comes” (Duffy p.477). James Duffy, the author of Homer’s Conception of Fate, believes that Zeus would not be called “omnipotent” and “the lord of all” if we were to subject to a higher power more powerful than him, therefore he is the highest power and he controls fate. In Ancient Greek, the word 'Moira' has multiple meanings. In the Iliad they are translated to mean fate, it is fated or death. “Aisa” is also another word for fate that is often used in the epic poem. “On one occasion Homer states that the ruin of Troy has to be affected by Aisa.. . since the poet distinctly assigns the destruction of the city (Troy) to Zeus”. Since the word 'Moira/ Aisa' is being assigned to Zeus, it is reasonable to believe that he is in control of fate. Commentary: Fate is distributed to each individual at birth by the fates, however, only gods can change the course of fate but in the end, Zeus is the one who makes the final decisions on fate. Zeus has the choice of disobeying fate and creating a new one but if that does occur, he will lose respect from the other gods. This can be seen through the death of Sarpedon. Sarpedon was his son who was fighting in the war against Patroclus. He knows his son is fated to die in this battle and is watching him be slowly defeated by Patroclus. He considers saving him, but Hera reminds him that the other gods would respect him less if he saved his child. He decides to let fate remain and sees Sarpedon die. However, throughout all of it, Zeus had the power to save him and didn't. James Duffy states 'If it were true that Zeus had nothing to do with the fate of Sarpedon, it would follow that he would be unable to deal with the situations of a familiar nature'. Commentary: Now that it is understood that Zeus is in charge of manipulating fate if he wishes, we can see how it plays out in the epic poem and see how much he contributes.

Topic sentence: In the epic, it is fated that the city of Troy will fall on its ninth year. Therefore, the fate of Troy has already been set and put in place. In book two of the Iliad, Zeus gives Agamemnon a dream that is deciphered that it is time for him to assemble the Achaeans for battle and that it is time to attack Troy. Zeus sets the war in motion by doing this which follows the line of fate. Although Zeus has the power of controlling fate, he often decides to let it remain as it should be; protecting it from the other gods. Throughout the beginning of the war, the gods play their parts in trying to protect who they favor such as Aphrodite saving Paris when he was fighting Menelaus in book 3. In book 8 Zeus tells them to stop intervening with the war and to let it be fought by the mortals. Evidence & citing: By Zeus stopping the other gods from intervening, he is making sure that they do not mess with fate. He also explains his power over them, threatening the gods with it. “Listen to me… I don’t want any god- male or female- attempting to brook my word…If I catch anyone of you with a private plan to assist either Greek or Trojans… Then you will know who is supreme around here”. This exposes how even though other gods may play with fate, in the end, it is Zeus's choosing of how fate shall play out. They all must follow his orders because he is all-powerful. In spite of what Zeus demands, Athena and Hera attempt to intervene in the war once again on their chariot. When Zeus sees this, he sends Iris to stop them. Another instance in which Zeus plays with fate is when he has Apollo heal Hector in order to keep his promise to Thetis. Zeus had promised Thetis that Achilles would die an honorable death. Therefore, by giving the Trojans the upper hand by healing hector he is manipulating fate. Zeus is aware of Hector's fate as well and knows that he will die by the hands of Patroclus after killing Achilles, which is why he manipulates fate in this way. Evidence & citing: “The impartiality of his judgment found an image in Homer in the golden scales which Zeus holds in his hand” (Burkert and Raffin). By him manipulating fate, he keeps his promise but also fulfills certain fates. However, him manipulating fates and honoring some still causes affects the fate’s course because the Trojans now have the upper hand whereas if he hadn’t manipulated with the fate of the war the Greeks would still be winning. Because of his intervening, there is an ambiguity of what could have been if he hadn’t manipulated with fate. During this time of manipulating fate to heal Hector, Sarpedon is being killed by Patroclus. As stated before, he honors the course of fate and watches him die but then decides to kill Patroclus, therefore manipulating fate again. These are moments in which Zeus either protected fate or manipulated it. Commentary: Every action has a reaction, when Zeus manipulates with fate there are results that could have been that we are unaware of. While we may not see it with major characters there are the minor soldiers fighting in the story who are collateral damage and that is also manipulating with their fate.

Topic sentence: It is obvious that Zeus has a major part in causing what happens in the war with the simple way he can turn tables around and give one side advantage over the other. Through the previous examples, we can see how he can also affect individual characters. One character the Iliad especially looks into regarding fate is Achilles. As stated before, fate is given at birth. “Zeus spins the thread of destiny for man at his birth”. It is also stated in Jeremiah 1:5 of the Bible that fate is bestowed before birth. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Holy Bible). Achilles had his fate decided when he was born. In book 1, Thetis calls him “ôkumoros” (Nikolopoulou p.175). The root of the word is “ôkus' which translates to feet and 'moros' is another form of 'Moira' which also means death. Commentary: Therefore, what Thetis calls him in the beginning can be translated to foreshadow the way he dies. It is known that his heel is his only weakness and is the only way he can die. It is no coincidence that his fated death is what Thetis calls him. His fate was destined then. Kalliopi Nikolopoulou also found that 'podas ôkus' means swift-footed and that the fact that 'ôkus' is in the word Thetis calls him that it may also refer to his swift death. Evidence & citing: The gods are not the only ones who know his fate. He is also aware of his fate. When he speaks to Thetis in book 18, he is aware that if he goes back into battle that he will die. He knows that if he wants to die with honor, he will die young. Commentary: This has been set up by Thetis when she asked Zeus to promise her that Achilles will die in honor. Here again, Zeus is in charge of fate and makes it so it so. Achilles gets through most of the Trojan war and dies swiftly by an arrow to the foot.

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Conclusion paragraph: Fate has a major role in the Iliad. That role is controlled by Zeus, the most powerful god. Often, he shows his control through the war by appealing to characters and protecting fate from the other gods. Fate is something that is given at birth and shapes the characters in the epic poem. It is seen through characters like Achilles, Sarpedon, Hector, Patroclus, etc. In all these examples, Zeus had his hand in their fates. Therefore, since Zeus controls all fates, fates role in the outcome of the war and individual characters are used to a high extent.

Works Cited

  1. Burkert, Walter, and John Raffan. Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical. Wiley, 2013.
  2. Duffy, James. “Homer's Conception of Fate.” The Classical Journal, vol. 42, no. 8, 1947, pp. 477–485.
  3. Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments: King James Version. American Bible Society, 2010.
  4. Lombardo, Stanley, and Homer. Iliad. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 1997.
  5. Nikolopoulou, Kalliopi. “Feet, Fate, and Finitude: On Standing and Inertia in the ‘Iliad.’” College Literature, vol. 34, no. 2, 2007, pp. 174–193.    

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The Role Of Fate And Gods In The Iliad. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
“The Role Of Fate And Gods In The Iliad.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
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