If you want a decent modern visual depiction of the scenes that Homer poetically described in his epics on the Trojan War, you need look no further than a superhero movie that pits different powerful beings against other entities with incredible power. In Homer’s vision of the Trojan War, the ancient Greek gods split into separate factions (favoring either the Trojans or the Greeks) and fought it out in a series of separate, intense battles that could make scenes from The Avengers movies seem pitifully weak.
This concept is perfectly illustrated in one of the final skirmishes in The Iliad, right before Achilles killed Hector, the champion of the Trojans. In this awesome battle, many of the gods joined the fray, either by directly fighting, or by more subtle means, such as mystically inspiring troops or using their powers to sabotage enemy soldiers to give their own men an advantage. According to Herodotus, an intrigued Zeus gave off cracks of thunder as he watched his divine kin join their respective sides in the Trojan War. On the side of Troy were Apollo, Artemis, Leto, Aphrodite, the river-deity Scamander, and Ares (who would later switch sides). Siding with the Greeks were Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Hephaestus and Hermes.
In a battle of epic proportions, all of the participating gods became embroiled in one-on-one fights. The gods of war, Ares and Athena, crossed blades. The queen of the gods, Hera, faced off against the huntress, Artemis. The formidable messenger of the gods, Hermes, found himself battling Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis. The river-deity, Scamander, met flame-wielding Hephaestus in battle. Yet, possibly the most impressive match-up was between Apollo and Poseidon, a fight between the sun and the seas.
The battle between Apollo and Poseidon, unfortunately, proved quickly to be one-sided—Apollo suddenly decided he didn’t want to fight his uncle, and wisely called a truce. It is safe to say that Apollo made a good choice; Homer vividly described the palpable power flowing from Poseidon, brother of Zeus:
“The foothills and peaks
Of Mount Ida of the many springs were shaken; Ilium and the
Greek ships trembled; and in the underworld Hades, lord of the
Dead, took fright and leapt with a cry from his throne. He was
Afraid earthshaker Poseidon might split open the ground above
His head and expose to mortal and immortal eyes the horrible
Decaying chambers that fill the gods themselves with loathing.”
(Homer, The Iliad, Book 20, Penguin Classics, 2014).
Such was the awful power that Poseidon exhibited in his frenzied state of excitement as he prepared to faced down the archer-god, Apollo. With this power, shaking the earth to the depths of Hades, Poseidon and his comrades in the pro-Greek faction were able to win the day, overwhelming the gods who had sided with Troy. Bolstered by their victorious divine support, the Greek forces were able to press the Trojans back into their city of Ilium, and Achilles brought the scene to a climax by killing the Trojan champion, Hector. Yet, despite this show of force, the Trojan city of Ilium did not fall. It would take some cleverness from Odysseus for that to finally occur.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Top picture attribution: (Poseidon graphic (augmented), [Public Domain] via maxfreepixel.com)
- The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.