Although both works are credited to Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey provide two remarkably different views on the nature of the Olympian Gods, their relationship to humanity, and the general lot of mortals throughout their all too brief lives. As a result of these differences, both stories end up sending contrasting messages about life in general. In the Iliad, the supernatural denizens of Olympus are depicted as treacherous, power-hungry, and above all temperamental beings that are always at each other’s throats.
Factionalism abounds, and neither the bonds of marriage, nor the ties of kinship can contain keep it under control. A perfect example is when Ares betrays his mother, Hera, and his sister, Athene, by aiding the Trojans instead of the Greeks. When he is discovered, Athena strikes him down in battle through Diomedes. In the Odyssey, however, the Gods of Olympus display far more unity and civility toward each other. They argue and disagree, but their disagreements are never carried out to the extremes found in the Iliad.
When Poseidon punishes Odysseys for blinding the Cyclopes, Athena does not take revenge. Even though Odyssey’s is her favorite mortal, she respects Poseidon’s right to punish him. Also, the reachery among the Gods that is so prevalent in the Iliad, is nowhere to be found in the Odyssey. In Iliad, Hera, enters into a conspiracy with Poseidon, Aphrodite, and Morpheus to aid the Greeks by putting Zeus to sleepE thus rendering him unable to help his beloved Trojans. Nothing like this incident can be found in the Odyssey.
References to past disagreements and arguments between the Gods (such as in the Poet’s tale of Ares and Aphrodite) are scattered throughout the book, however, so the views between the Iliad and the Odyssey are not exactly diametrically opposed. The role of he Gods in the affairs of humanity is much greater in the Iliad then in the Odyssey. In the Iliad, the Olympians are constantly meddling in the conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans. At best, they view mortals as amusing petsE to be cared for, played with, and loved.
At worst, humans are just pawns to be shuffled around, sacrificed, and set against each other in order to resolve inter-Olympian ego-clashes. When Zeus wants the Trojans to win, he’ll turn nature against the Greeks, slay one of their heroes, or send one of their loyal immortals down to turn the tide of battle. If Hera wants to get back at him, he will do the same thing against Zeus’s people, the Trojans. In the Odyssey, things are very different. The Gods of Olympus generally will not intervene unless they are asked toE such as when the Cyclopes invokes the wrath of Poseidon after he is blinded by Odysseys.
The Gods do not necessarily view all humans as mere as supplicant whelps, either. Athena’s conversations with Odysseys are remarkably free of the condescension and authoritarian posturing that so pervades the discourse between the Gods of the Iliad. They do not have a greater respect for human life in general (witness the casual laying of Odysseys companions, and the Athena backed bloodbath which occurs when Odysseys returns home)E but they have a greater respect for the humans they do like. Athena never kills one of Odyssey’s loved ones in order to spur him on, unlike Zeus’s slaying of Patroclus to incite Achilles.
As a result of these differing portrayals of the Olympians in both works, the Iliad and the Odyssesy come off as having very different worldviews. In the Iliad struggles of man are the result of constant meddling from the Gods, who often use hapless mortals to obtain revenge on each other for sleights, insults, and etrayals committed in Olympus. Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Patroclus, PriamE and certainly none the poor schleps who fought under them had no idea the war was being perpetuated by the will of the Gods alone.
They never had any say in the matter. They are but marionettes in a great cosmic “Punch and Judy” show, and Zeus and company were pulling the strings. In the Odyssey, however, Homer takes a different view. Odysseus, unlike the characters in the Iliad, is ultimately the master of his own fate. Athena does not aid him when he is forced to deal with the Cyclopes, or when he has to pass through the ordeal of Skylla and Kharybdis. Odysseus is forced to rely completely on his own devices, mental and physical, for much of the story.
He is not the sacrificial lamb of Zeus, like Patroclus was, or the plaything of Aphrodite, like Paris was. When Odysseus went into battle, he did not have an Olympian by his side like Hector or Agamemnon did in the Iliad (wellE he did not until Athena aids him during the massacre of the suitors, anyway). Ultimately, the Iliad takes the point of view that mortals are nothing more then the puppets of Zeus’s court, while in the Odyssey, humans ultimately control whether or not they bring death and misfortune to themselves.
How the Gods of Olympus treat you depends on how you treat themE Odysseus brought the wrath of Poseidon on him when he blinded the Cyclopes, who was Poseidon’s son. The fact that Odysseus did not know this until after the fact does not diminish the clear cause and effect relationship. Odysseus’ men bring certain death onto themselves when they slaughter the beloved sheep of Helios. This is another example of the clear-cut cause and effect relationship that exists in the Odyssey. In the Iliad, things are not nearly so simple. Sometimes the Gods just want to stir up trouble, so they break the truce between the Trojans and he Greeks.
Zeus wants to inspire Achilles to enter the fight, so he kills his Achilles best friend Patroclus. The point is, mortals are ignorant toys to be set up and knocked down at the Gods leisure, and for their own clandestine reasons. That is why life is so terrible and random and short for most people. Deal with it. In the Odyssey, life is terrible and random, but it does not always have to be so short. If you are clever enough, strong enough, and diligent enough, you can conquer just about anything the Gods or other men throw at you. Well usually anyway.