Monday, October 5, 2015

TFBT: Not Even Zeus Can Stop Me Now!

Recently, at “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, version 4”  David H asked about some passage dealing with the will of Zeus, and the attitudes of some men toward the will of Zeus. He invited comments on what the role of the will of Zeus was to the narrator, characters, and audience of the Iliad at the time.  My comments are in Italics.  David had quite the list of things to comment on! 

First; Odysseus speaking to Diomedes, Il. Scroll XI “Diomedes answered, “Come what may, I will stand firm; but we shall have scant joy of it, for Zeus the cloud-gatherer is minded to give victory to the Trojans rather than to us.” Throughout the Iliad we see little internal dialogue or self awareness among the characters.  Since they can’t analyze their feels or motivations they just blame it on some daimon or god.  We also throughout the Iliad see some god invisible to them putting thoughts in their heads.

“And now the son of Kronos as he looked down from Ida ordained that neither side should have the advantage, and they kept on killing one another. (line 336 or so).”  According to the lost epic called the “Cypria”  this is the Will of Zeus, depopulation!

(Nestor) lashed his horses and they flew onward holding nothing back towards the ships, as though of their own free will.  You said, “This is speaking of the horses. But does the “as though of their own free will” imply divine purpose?  Nestor’s experience reminds of of Alexander Dumas’ with post horses.   You know after he got rich with “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo” he traved all over the world.   I was just reading “My Adventures in the Caucasias”  To quote Dumas, “Evidently the smell of their stable had lent wings to the horses’ legs.” Nothing divine with Nestor’s horses knowing home.

Scroll XII Speaking of the wall and trench the Achaeans built to protect their camp and ships:    David, the wall around the Achaean camp is such a political hot potato here on earth and on Olympus above, that anything said about it can be discounted as exaggeration or motivated by some hidden agenda.  It is sort of like Nestor’s advice on chariot racing that has nothing to do with chariot racing.  The issues surrounding the wall, involved the maritime imagery in the battle scenes, the fact that Poseidon and Apollo were the slaves who built the walls of Troy (along with Achilles’ grandfather) and mortals not performing the appropriate rituals before beginning a big project.    

Scroll XIII line 784 Alexandros to Hector: Now, therefore, lead on where you would have us go, and we will follow with right goodwill; you shall not find us fail you in so far as our strength holds out, but no man can do more than in him lies, no matter how willing he may be.”  So we are back to no self-awareness, if you can’t do something it’s because the daimon of fear entered you.  If you can do something it’s because a god or more likely a goddess is backing you up. 

Scroll XIV Agamemnon to Nestor, line 51 or so…Is Nestor saying that the situation itself will allow no other outcome, and that this is so strong even the gods would be powerless to change it?     This is the usual sort of boast that ends with a lightning bolt, for example; “There Capaneus, because he said he would capture Thebes against Jove’s will, was smitten by a thunderbolt as he was scaling the wall.”  (Hyginus, “Fabulae” 68)  

“Nestor, if the Trojans are indeed fighting at the rear of our ships, and neither the wall nor the trench has served us...”  Is this Agamemnon deciphering the will of Zeus a posteriori. The wall didn't stand the attack, therefore we can conclude that the building of the wall was not Zeus' will?  Again, no self-awareness here, no, “Hmm, maybe the whole wall thing was a bad idea on our part, not as impregnable as we thought.  Maybe we should have put more effort into it.”  Don’t blame yourself, blame the gods.

Scroll XV … I thought this was especially interesting. It covers the whole development in the plot of the Iliad and part of the Odyssey, with all its twists and turns, as the will of Zeus which he will successively carry out, despite the appearance of fickleness on his part with the abrupt changes in fortune for the human parties involved.  David, it also indicates that Zeus was not all that subject to the Fates

In summary, the heroes of the Iliad have some free will, but since they rarely search their souls, they assume any stray thought or errant emotion was the “gift” from a daemon.  daimon ” being the word they use when they are unsure as to which of the immortals is involved.  Keep in mind that the Will of Zeus, is depopulation! Horses have some free will too unless they push it too far like Achilles’ horses did and the Erinyes shut their mouths. (Homer, Iliad 19. 392)  There’s a lot more to the wall and trench the Achaeans built to protect their camp than  meets the eye. Be careful about saying;  “Not even the gods can stop me now!”  Because the gods are not necessarily as subject to the Fates as envious mortals like to think. 


  1. I wonder whether the idea of Zeus' subordinance to the Fates existed in Homer's time. It must have been common in the late Antiquity, when Lucian mocks it endlessly. It was apparently known to the author and the audience of the Prometheus Bound; but to Homer? I doubt very much.
    At one place, Zeus seems subordinate, if not to the Moirae, then to an order and a set of rules he could or should not break: when he follows the advice of Hera and lets Sarpedon die. However, I find it difficult to interpret this passage reliably. Homer's Zeus is a habitual liar and a perfect actor. After using Hector as a mere tool, he pretends to pity him. Should we really think that Zeus values and loves his son Sarpedon more than Hector, Achilles and all others who must die? Zeus lives on Olympus with three of his sons: Hephaestus, Ares and Apollo. He has thrown Hephaestus off Olympus, and is now ordering him to serve as cup-bearer so that others can have a good laugh over his disability. Zeus also expresses a wish to imprison Ares below the Titans, for nothing. Indeed, he doesn't do anything nasty to Apollo, but Apollo is after all a good son - he follows every order of Daddy, and we know that he will kill Achilles. So Zeus in the Iliad seems to have no paternal feelings, and it was actually no big deal for him to sacrifice Sarpedon.

  2. Maya,

    I so agree with you. I see no indication that Zeus' daughters by Themis are greater than he. The only constraits on his actions are political concerns and things that must happen so this ultimate objective can be attained.


  3. Did you mention that the two different perspectives on the Moirae are reflected in the Theogony? They are once daughters of the Night and then daughters of Zeus and Themis.
    I wonder whether the Nordic Norns are derived from the Moirae, or both are descendants of an older common ancestor, in fact, three older common ancestors.

  4. Maya,

    I akways assumed the Norns andthe Fates were anIndo-european tradition, but never checked in Vedic tradition. I noticed during recent readings of the tragedies, the confounding of the Fates andtheir famous defenders the Eumenides. Aren" their three witches in Macbeth?


  5. I made a very quick check. Results: Vedic and Avestan texts refer to only one "fate", in a rather impersonal manner. We can almost say the same about Homer, but he mentions once "the Fate and the Spinners", without specifying their number.
    So, our earliest extant source specifying three Moirae seems to be Hesiod.
    Incidentally, another group of three deities are the Graces; and Homer in the Iliad gives a generic "Grace" to Hephaestus as wife, and allows Hera to marry off another Grace named Pasiphae, who is not in the later official list of the three Graces. So it seems that it was Hesiod who organized the amorphous early divine pool into groups of 3 goddesses. It will be funny if this whiner is the forefather of the Moirae, the Parcae, the Norns and the witches in Macbeth.

  6. Maya,

    Istustaya and Papaya are two goddesses of destiny with Hattian origin in Hittite religion.

    The task of Istustaya and Papaya is to spin the thread of life, especially the one of the king. They sit at the shores of the Black Sea. After Telipinu's return they take part on the conference of gods.

    Maybe you are Hesiod (and graves) invented the whole triad thing


  7. Brilliant! Maybe these two goddesses are Homer's Spinners:
    "He must look to meet whatever events his own fate (aisa) and the stern Klothes (Spinners) twisted into his thread of destiny when he entered the world and his mother bore him."
    I wonder, were the "Spinners" two or more? If two, they may be the Hattan Istustaya and Papaya; and, combined with the vague Indo-European "Fate", they make the triad.

  8. Maya,
    The Norns spin too, so we have a definite IE situation.