Authority in the Iliad

“Now when Zeus has brought the Trojans and Hector to the ships, he left the fighters beside them to endure toil and misery without ceasing, while he himself turned his shining eyes away, looking far off to the land of the horse-breeding Thracians, and the Mysians, hand-to-hand fighters, and the splendid Hippemolgi, drinkers of mares’ milk, and the Abii, most upright of men. But towards Troy he did not turn his shining eyes at all, since he did not expect in his heart that any immortal would come to the help of either Trojans or Danaans.” (Iliad 13.1-9, Verity translation)

In Iliad books 13 and 14, events are moving ever closer to the poem’s climactic confrontations, as Zeus increases the pressure. He is mistaken, though, that none of the other gods will interfere. Like his mortal counterpart Agamemnon, Zeus rests easy in his authority, confident in his status as first born, assured of his superior power. But while he turns his eyes away, other gods have their eyes firmly fixed on the Greeks and Trojans and conspire in secret to achieve their ends.

Found in the modern-day Peloponnese, this head of Zeus dates to the 2nd century BC and may have belonged to a larger-than-life cult statue of him. Per the empty eye sockets, statues would have had inset eyes and been painted. The effect must have been startlingly realistic, quite a terrifying sight to behold on the daily. Especially when we consider the remote, dispassionate, and powerful nature of the gods.

What do you find most striking about ancient conceptions of the gods?

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