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Mythology in Iliad

Ancient Greek Mythology: Greek mythology consists of a collections of myths that concern the gods, heroes, and people of ancient Greece. These myths were shared not only as entertainment but also as a means of passing along beliefs, rituals, and teachings. Many of the Greek gods serve as personified elements of the natural world, which likely represents a way for ancient Greeks to better understand the world around them. The mythology of ancient Greece has had a profound influence on Western culture, literature, and rhetorical traditions and continues to persist in the popular imagination to this day.

The Judgment of Paris: Many conflicts in ancient Greek myth start with the meddling of gods in mortal affairs. The ten-year struggle known as the Trojan War is no exception. According to myth, Zeus held a banquet to celebrate the union of Peleus and Thetis, who would later become parents to Achilles. All gods and goddesses were invited to the banquet except Eris, the goddess of discord. When Eris arrived at the banquet and was turned away, she threw down the Golden Apple of Discord addressed “to the fairest.” The apple sparked a vanity-fueled dispute between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, who all claimed to be the fairest. When the goddesses asked Zeus to judge who should receive the apple, he commanded Hermes to lead them to the Trojan prince Paris, known for being an exceptionally fair judge. When Paris could not decide between the women, each offered him a bribe. He was swayed by Aphrodite’s offer to grant him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta, and awarded her the apple. Menelaus of Sparta responded by sending an army (the Achaeans) to retrieve his wife and Athena and Hera, outraged over their loss, sided against the Trojan forces. This formed the basis for the Trojan War.

Mythology Examples in Iliad:

Book I

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"lame Vulcan ..."   (Book I)

This is a reference to the deformity that the god Vulcan (in Greek, Hephaestus) may have received when Zeus threw him by the foot from Mt. Olympus during a fight. He landed on the island of Lemnos, which was thereafter associated with him. An alternate myth credits his deformity to Hera, who may have thrown him from Olympus as a child in reaction to either his ugliness or a preexisting deformity. In this version he was found in the ocean by Thetis, who raised him as her own.

"Ulysses..."   (Book I)

“Ulysses” is the Latin name for the Greek hero Odysseus, who plays a role in the Iliad but is more famous for being the hero of the Odyssey, a story also attributed to Homer and considered a continuation of the Iliad. Ulysses wanders the world after the Trojan War, trying to get back to his home, wife, and child.

" Sminthe...."   (Book I)

Sminthe is another name for the god Apollo. The name relates to mice and indicates that Apollo was also the “mouse god.” Mice were highly regarded in ancient Greek society because they supposedly arose from the vapors of the earth and had prophetic powers.

"SING, O GODDESS..."   (Book I)

One characteristic of epic poetry is the narrator's invoking a muse to help tell the story. The Muses were nine daughters of Jove, each of whom governed a particular science or art form. The narrator is probably referring to Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry. The other eight Muses and their domains include Clio (history), Erato (love poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhytmnia (sacred poetry), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy).

"Olympus..."   (Book I)

Olympus is the dwelling place of the gods according to Greek mythology. It should not be interpreted as the Greek concept of “heaven”; rather, it was a place of perfection, above the earth's physical mountains where the gods held court and no mortal was allowed.

"Juno..."   (Book I)

Juno (or Hera), the queen of the gods, is portrayed by Homer as strong and precocious. She is often seen conniving behind her husband Jove’s back as well as constantly disagreeing with him. Her habit of tormenting Jove’s other lovers and wives is referenced in the Iliad. An ironic contrast to Homer's Juno can be seen in other myths of the tradition, where she is often described as being in constant pain because of a character whose name literally means “the glory of our Hera,” namely Hercules. This pain is due to a wound in her chest that Hercules gave her with an arrow while working on his “labors.”

"Jove..."   (Book I)

As you can see from these few lines of introduction to this book of Homer’s Iliad, the god Jove (or Zeus) is very important. Jove is the head of the Greek pantheon and ruler of the gods. He is husband to Juno and often claims to be neutral in regards to the Trojan war.

"dread Orcus and of the river Styx..."   (Book II)

“Orcus” refers to the land of the dead, also known as Hades. The river Styx is the first of the five rivers the dead must endure on their way to the underworld and marks the boundary between life on earth and life in the underworld. The five rivers are Acheron (representing sorrow or woe), Cocytus (crying and lamentation; Acheron flows into Cocytus), Phlegethon (the river of fire), Lethe (forgetfulness of the world of life above) and Styx (the river on which the gods swear unbreakable oaths).

"Hercules..."   (Book II)

Hercules was a Greek hero and son of Jove (Zeus) who was most famous for his incredible strength and courage.

"Argus..."   (Book II)

Argus was a giant with one hundred eyes; he was killed by the god Mercury (in Greek, Hermes).

"Pygmies..."   (Book III)

The Pygmies were a mythological race of small humans who lived near the Nile's source. They were constantly waging war with the flocks of cranes that would migrate to their land each winter.

"Panic, Rout, and Strife..."   (Book IV)

These are all the personified names of spirits. Panic and Rout are the sons of Mars (Ares), the god of war, who drive his chariot into battle, while Strife is the sister of Mars and is also heavily involved in war and bloodshed. Strife is also known as Eris or Discord.

"Titans...."   (Book V)

The 12 Titans were the predecessors of the Olympian gods and the children of Gaia and Uranus, or “Mother Earth” and “Father Sky.” According to myth, one Titan known as Cronus (In Roman, Saturn) overthrew his father and claimed the throne of the world alongside his sister and wife, Rhea. Uranus prophesied that Cronos, like himself, would be overthrown by his own sons. In an attempt to avoid his fate, Cronos ate all of his children until Zeus, hidden by his mother, freed them by forcing Cronos to vomit them up. A battle ensued between Cronos’s children (the Olympian gods Hera, Hestia, Demeter, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus) and the Titans. The Olympians won the war along domain over the universe, and Zeus imprisoned the Titans in Tartarus.

"helmet of Hades..."   (Book V)

The helmet of Hades is a primary weapon used by the god of the underworld. The helm renders its wearer invisible and has been borrowed by Athena, Hermes, and the greek hero Perseus.

"Enyo..."   (Book V)

Enyo is a goddess of war in mythology and companion to the god of war Mars (Ares). She is responsible for the destruction of cities and is closely linked to Eris, the embodiment of strife and discord.

"Gorgon..."   (Book V)

A gorgon is a monster with snakes for hair and whose glance can turn a person to stone. There are three Gorgons in Greek mythology, the most famous of which is Medusa, who is killed by Perseus.

"robe which the Graces had woven for her..."   (Book V)

The Graces were three daughters of Jove, who personified Splendor (Aglaia), Good Cheer (Thalia), and Happiness (Euphrosyne). They were associated with Venus and acted as her attendants.

"Ganymede..."   (Book V)

Ganymede was a young Trojan who was considered the most beautiful man on earth. He was kidnapped by Jove and brought to Olympus where he was made immortal and served as cupbearer to the gods.

"Chimaera..."   (Book VI)

The Chimaera or “Chimera,” is a mythological fire-breathing monster with the body of a goat, the head of a lion, and the tail of a serpent. In Greco-Roman mythology, she is slain by Bellerophon, who shot an arrow at her from the flying horse, Pegasus.

"Sisyphus..."   (Book VI)

A mythological king of Corinth, Sisyphus was punished for claiming to be more clever than Jove himself. When he died, his punishment was to roll a huge stone up a hill forever. Each time he neared the top of the hill, the stone would roll down and Sisyphus would have start over again.

"naiad nymph ..."   (Book VI)

The Naiads were a group of female spirits who presided over bodies of fresh water such as wells, streams, springs and brooks.

"Gorgo..."   (Book VIII)

The word “Gorgo” is another name for a Gorgon, which refers to any one of the three sisters who had snakes for hair and the power to turn anyone who looked at them to stone. The Gorgons were named Stheno, Euryale and Medusa.

"Erinyes..."   (Book IX)

The Erinyes are also known as the Furies. The Furies were female monsters who personified the idea of vengeance and were believed to have had snakes for hair and blood dripping from their eyes. The monsters punished criminals, especially those who committed the worst kinds of deeds, such as the killing of one's own mother or father or breaking an oath.

"centaurs..."   (Book XI)

Centaurs are mythological creatures with the body of a horse and the trunk and head of a man. They are notorious for being wild and lusty, and said to be overly indulgent drinkers and carousers. Centaurs are commonly characterized as violent and uncultured beings.

"Chiron..."   (Book XI)

Chiron, the wisest and justest of all the centaurs, acts as a teacher to many Greek heroes, including Achilles and Hercules. He is known for his skill with medicine and also excelled in music, archery, hunting and the art of prophecy. Where all other centaurs in Greek mythology are thought to be wild, violent and uncultured, Chiron is intelligent, civilized and kind.

"their real father, Neptune..."   (Book XI)

This is a reference to the belief that many Greek heroes had two fathers, one being a god and the other being a mortal man. Gods often lay with mortal women, but avoided responsibility for raising the children brought from these encounters. If gods chose to bring forth children with the wives or lovers of kings or great men, heroes were often raised in the home of their earthly fathers regardless of their godly parentage.

"Discord..."   (Book XI)

Discord is another name for the embodiment of Strife, who appears with Ares in battle.

"demigods..."   (Book XII)

Demigods are the offspring of both a god and a mortal. Many of the heroes in the Iliad, including Achilles, are demigods.

"Danae the daintily-ancled daughter of Acrisius, who bore me the famed hero Perseus..."   (Book XIV)

Danae was the daughter and only child of King Acrisius and Queen Eurydice of Argos. When the oracle of Delphi prophesied Acrisius would be killed by his own grandson, he locked Danae in a tower where she was impregnated by Zeus. Her son became the hero Perseus, who slayed the Gorgon Medusa and fulfilled his grandfather's prophecy by accidentally killing him with his javelin.

"slept with one another without their dear parents knowing anything about it..."   (Book XIV)

This passage is a reference to Jove and Juno's incestuous relationship. Not only are they husband and wife, but brother and sister as well.

"Jove imprisoned great Saturn..."   (Book XIV)

This statement is a reference to Jove's overthrow of the Titans, who were deposed and then imprisoned in Tartarus.

"him who was at once her brother and her brother-in-law..."   (Book XIV)

Neptune is both brother and brother-in-law to Juno. Jove and Juno married regardless of their shared parentage, which was common in the realm of the gods. This made Neptune Juno's brother-in-law by marriage, as well as her natural brother.

"I fastened two anvils on to your feet, and bound your hands in a chain of gold which none might break, and you hung in mid-air among the clouds..."   (Book XV)

This passage is a reference to Zeus’s punishing Hera for leading the other gods in revolt against him. In retribution, Zeus hung Hera from gold chains in the clouds until she promised to never rebel against his authority again.

"the Linus-song..."   (Book XVIII)

Linus is the son of Apollo and Calliope and personifies song and singing. The "Linus-song" refers to a particular kind of dirge or song of mourning. In this context, however, his song is more likely a morning song than a dirge.

"Folly, eldest of Jove's daughters, shuts men's eyes to their destruction..."   (Book XIX)

Known in Greek mythology as Atë, Folly is the spirit of delusion, infatuation, and recklessness, all of which lead men to ruin; Folly is also known as Ruin. Agamemnon is trying to deflect some responsibility for the violence that has slain many by claiming that no many is above Folly’s influence.

"the slayer of Argus..."   (Book XXI)

This title references the god Mercury. Under Jupiter’s orders, Mercury murders the giant Argus, freeing Jupiter’s lover, Io.

"lets you kill them whenever you choose..."   (Book XXI)

Diana is the goddess of both hunting and childbirth. The passage states that since Diana is responsible for childbirth—and because women often prayed to her for easy pregnancies—is equally responsible for the deaths of women during childbirth, which were not uncommon occurrences at the time. Juno accuses Diana of being unfit for battle, because her only "kills" are those of women giving birth.

"for he brings fire and fever in his train..."   (Book XXII)

Orion's Hound refers to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, which appears to be next to the constellation of Orion. The claim that Sirius “brings fire and fever in his train” refers to the fact that the star Sirius rises during the peak of summer, a time when sickness was common. Illness seems to trail after the star.

"Oedipus..."   (Book XXIII)

Oedipus is a character from Greek mythology who was prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother. Despite his efforts to not fulfill the prophecy, he accidentally does so anyway. His tale is one that portrays the inescapability of fate despite an individual’s exercise of free will.

"Cassandra..."   (Book XXIV)

Cassandra is Priam's daughter. The god Apollo gave her the ability to tell the future, but because she would not repay him for his generosity, Apollo made it so that her prophecies would never be believed. She predicted the fall of Troy, but no one listened to her.

"they forgave not the wrong done them by Alexandrus in disdaining the goddesses who came to him when he was in his sheepyards, and preferring her who had offered him a wanton to his ruin...."   (Book XXIV)

This references the Judgment of Paris, the event which set in motion the abduction of Helen. Arguing about who was most beautiful, three goddesses—Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena—insisted that Paris declare a winner. Aphrodite earns Paris’s vote when she promises him the most beautiful woman in the world (a "wanton"): Helen of Troy.

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