The fact is that in an unusual sense, Homer’s use of divine plants affect the way characters are portrayed in The Iliad. Using methods such as these creates a system of wins and losses. Many times, God’s must interfere in order to justify the actions of the mortals and their own. In order to accommodate this situation, an action must be told to let others know about the God’s interference through supernatural means. Because many in the times of Homer’s writing, the idea of a force interfering in Greek and Roman lives affected their way of life.
The need to please gods became a high priority. In The Iliad, the use of omens, dreams, and prophecies often determine the outcome of the story. Omens foretells the good or evil coming upon something whether from a god or pure coincidence. Calchas, Thestor’s son, was a clear signal that many characters in the book relied on Omens. Homer shares this in the Iliad by saying, “…Calchas rose among them… the clearest by far of all the seers who scan the flight of birds (Homer 1. 79-81).” The quote later explains the action Calchas took using omens such as Apollo presenting him with a path. Another example of an omen can be taken from the story of an eagle flying over the Lapiths.
Homer once again explains the story by saying, “For suddenly, just as the men tried to cross, a fatal bird-sign flashed before their eyes, an eagle… clutching a monstrous bloody serpent… flung it away to earth, dashed it down amidst the milling fighters (Homer 12. 230-238).” This omen was later presented to be sent by Zeus warning the Trojans not to cross to attack. The fact that this could have turned out much worse for the Achaeans make this omen important since Zeus sent this. It not only was an amazing sense of hope, but it affected the war overall and the stories plot. While omens are the main reasoning of the story, dreams also overtook parts of the story.
Dreams, in the Iliad, can be determined to be a message from a god or messenger. In one example, Zeus sends Agamemnon a dream in the form of Nestor, someone that Agamemnon deeply trusts. It starts with Nestor coming upon Agamemnon in a dream and saying, “Zeus commands you to arm your long-haired Achaeans, to attack at once, full force—now you can take the broad streets of Troy! (Homer 2. 32-34).”
This forces Agamemnon to rethink his ideas all because of a realistic dream that Zeus sent in aid for others, truly an extraordinary experience. This example can be compared to Penelope’s dream in The Iliad about the eagle that killed the geese. Penelope speaks of her dream saying, “But down from a mountain swooped this great hook-beaked eagle… he snapped their necks… I wept and wailed… the eagle killed my geese (Homer 19. 607-613).” The reasoning behind the dream was that Odysseus was the eagle and the geese were the suitors. The twist is that Penelope felt bad for the geese getting killed which makes us as readers rethink whether Penelope wants Odysseus home.
The two examples of Agamemnon and Penelope show similarity in that they both show future events to come whether in war or sadness. Prophecies seem to also affect characters in the Iliad because prophecies are set events that cannot change and, therefore, ignoring how the characters have a say in prophecies. A prophecy can be viewed as a prediction or set event to come in the near future. Zeus had a plan for hector based on this definition and knew that his life would come short. There are two ways this is explained in the Iliad. The first one is when Zeus knows that after Patroclus died due to Hector, Hector himself would die. The second way is when this prophecy is fulfilled by Zeus and Hector dies.
In Book 15, Zeus mindset to this prophecy begins with him thinking, “Hector alone he prized and glorified among hordes of men for Hector’s life would be cut short (Homer 15. 709-711).” Zeus trying his best to give Hector his most prized life before his death shows that the relationship between Hector and Zeus was bonded and strong. Zeus even at one point tried to save Hector from this prophecy but was convinced to let him be. This prophecy was fulfilled when Homer exclaimed, “Death cut [Hector] short. The end closed in around him (Homer 22. 425).” The unfortunate events of Hector lead to the end of the Prophecy and Achilles taunting Hectors dead body. These examples of prophecy show the need of fulfillment in order to complete the story.
All things considered, the examples of omens in the Iliad show how the use of omens were an important part of Greek lives which in the story was used by Calchas. Zeus’s use of birds showed how omens affected the outcome of the Iliad and its characters. Dreams also showed an important aspect to changing a characters—or mortals— way of thinking such as the example of Agamemnon when he was told to not attack the Trojans. Comparing to the Odyssey, Penelope also received a dream that told her about the geese and eagle. This all comes back to the gods who always affect the outcome of the story. With prophecy, the example of Hector’s death shows that fulfillment on part of the gods shows needed requirements in order to fulfill a set of events. Again, all these examples leads to the gods who control the mortals through omens, dreams, and prophecies.
- Homer., Robert Fagles, and Bernard Knox. The Iliad. New York, N.Y. Penguin Book, 1998.
- Homer., Robert Fagles, and Bernard Knox. The Odyssey. New York, N.Y. Penguin Book, 1996.