Gods play an integral role in Homeric society. They are very active in the lives of humans, both in wartime and peacetime. People depend on the gods to help them fight wars, protect their loved ones, and just improve their everyday lives. Since they do play such a large role in the lives of humans, people often blame or credit gods for things they had no involvement in. This can lead to complicated dealings between gods and humans. The best way for humans to get what they want from the gods is to respect them, and then show this respect.
The gods are much more obliging to the people that honor them greatly than those that do not. In their dealings with the gods, people have to remember that honoring them is not the same as not insulting or being impertinent to them. Just because they have not disrespected the gods is no assurance of help or noninterference by the gods. For example, when the Achaians erect a wall around their boats, they do not make any ? grand sacrifice? to the gods (Iliad 7. 433-464). The gods then take this as an insult and make sure the wall does not last very long.
It is enough to upset the gods just by not paying them the homage they think they deserve. This can cause a very volatile situation where the gods are likely to let you know they have not been honored enough for their liking. Honoring the gods is an excellent way to get them to aid you in your labors. Then how does one honor the gods? The Iliad gives us many examples of humans honoring the gods. The most often used method is prayer. People are often praying to the gods to show their admiration and ask for help. One of the first examples we see is Chryses praying to Apollo (Iliad 1. 5-42).
Chryses prays over and over again to the god Apollo asking for help with the return of his daughter. Chryses reminds Apollo of all the ways he has paid tribute to him over the years. Chryses built a temple to Apollo where he is the priest. He also says that he has burned all the rich thigh pieces of bulls and goats. All of these things were done to show his respect to the great god Apollo and when Chryses in turn needed Apollo? s help, it was granted because Apollo had been duly honored. Another way of honoring the gods is by providing them with a sacrifice.
Things such as this are often expected of people. For example, when the Achaians build a wall around their ships (Iliad 7. 433-453), the gods expect them to make a grand sacrifice to ensure the strength and life of the wall. When they do not, the gods (Poseidon in particular) are angered that no sacrifice was made. Later, Zeus is ? threatening evil upon them in a terrible thunderstorm? (Iliad 7. 478-483) and the Achaians seem to realize that they had not properly honored the gods and none drank until they poured wine to the all-powerful Zeus.
There are many ways to honor the gods, and many of these are expected from you so as to keep you in good favor of the gods. There are many reasons to honor the gods in Homeric society. One of the first reasons would be that the gods give you everything you have. An often-used example in the Iliad would be Aphrodite giving people their good looks. When Paris is hesitant to fight Menelaos, Hektor is scolding him and says his courage does not match his looks. Following this, Paris, defending his beauty, says ?
Never to be cast away are the gifts of gods? (Iliad 3. 67-67) and he replies that his beauty was a gift from Aphrodite. People in this society believe the gods give them their talents or gifts. Another example comes after this battle. After whisking Paris away from fight with Menelaos, Aphrodite is talking to Helen and suggesting that her love is what makes Helen so beautiful (Iliad 3. 413-417) and also that if Helen angers Aphrodite and makes her hate Helen, then she will lose these good looks.
This worries Helen enough to make her run to see Paris as Aphrodite wanted, and it shows us that people are afraid that if they anger the gods, they will lose any talents or gifts they could have received from them. Another reason people in Homeric society respect the gods is so the gods will protect them. In the part of the Trojan War that Iliad tells about, there are a number of times when gods stepped in to protect people. The most obvious of these times was when Aphrodite saved Paris from being killed by Menelaos (Iliad 3. 369-382).
Just as Menelaos was about to kill Paris with his bronze spear, Aphrodite took him away from the battle and placed him in his bedchamber. Paris was whisked away in front of both armies, and no one seems to think anything is wrong with this, as it seems to be a common occurrence, even though it is not usually so obvious. The Greeks and Trojans in Homeric society respect and honor the gods so they will be compassionate to their cause. They want the gods to aid them in their battles, either by directly fighting for them, or by giving them more power to fight for themselves.
When Chryseis was taken from her home, her father called up Apollo to help return her (Iliad 1. 35-42). Apollo heard his call and came to his aid. Apollo let loose a plague of arrows that rained down on the Achaians and their camp (Iliad 1. 43-52). Chryses, as the priest at the temple of Apollo, was able to win Apollo? s favor by offering him a large sacrifice and by being faithful in the past. Another instance occurs when Ares is fighting on the side of the Trojans (Iliad 5. 844-863). The only person who can tell he is a god is Diomedes because Athene has given him a gift of strength and daring (Iliad 5. -8).
Ares is willing to fight alongside the Trojans because the Achaians almost killed Aphrodite earlier. This enraged Ares enough to come down out of the heavens and fight himself. Athene giving Diomedes his gift is a good example of when gods help, but do not directly interfere with the wars of humans. Athene gave Diomedes a very powerful gift, one where he could tell the work of the gods, and also have the power to fight them. Diomedes struck a blow that took Aphrodite out of the fight, and then, with additional help from Athene, fought and defeated Ares as well.
With this gift, Diomedes was able to take on hordes of Trojan attackers and annihilate them with little or no problem. Another way that gods do not directly show their interference is by aiming blows to either strike, or narrowly miss their targets. There are numerous examples in the Iliad of gods throwing blows on or off course slightly to help their side. When Pandaros sends an arrow ? tearing? at Menelaos, Athene brushes it aside so it does no damage to him (Iliad 4. 127-134). There are many other such times when this happens, as the gods see this as the best way to secretly accomplish their goals.
People in Homeric society get most of what they want by way of the gods. The best way to accomplish this is to honor and respect them, and to prove your honor with gifts and sacrifices. Since gods can affect so many things that involve humans and can even influence people themselves, these people must be sure to not get on their bad sides. The more gods that like you, the better your chances to get what you want, and the more resources to call on if you are in trouble. For the most part, gods do what they do for their own benefit only, but it never hurts to have supporting your side in a battle.