Homer’s The Iliad is filled with references to the gods and other creatures in Greek mythology. The gods regularly interfere with the Trojan War and the fate of various Achaean and Trojan warriors. In the following slideshow, images from Barry B. Powell’s new free verse translation of The Iliad by Homer illustrate the gods’ various appearances and roles throughout the epic poem.
Apollo and Artemis
Fig 21.2 - Apollo was the aoidos, the “singer,” among the gods. Here young and beardless and holding a lotus staff, he greets his sister Artemis, who carries a bow and is accompanied by a deer, her usual attributes. In classical times the triad Leto, Apollo, and Artemis made up a holy family, although in origin they were unrelated. Athenian red-figure wine-cup by the Brygos painter, c. 470 bc.
Zeus and Ganymede
Fig 20.2 - Zeus, naked except for a cloak wrapped over his arms, his scepter at his side, seizes the handsome naked boy by the arm and shoulder. Ganymede holds a cock in his left hand, a typical gift in pederastic relationships. He looks down modestly. Zeus’s thunderbolt rests against the frame of the picture to the left. Athenian red-figure wine cup by the Penthesilea Painter, fifth century bc.
Hephaistos Prepares Arms for Achilles
Fig 18.3 - The smithy-god, bearded and wearing a felt cap, sits in an elaborately draped hall on a platform holding a cloth with which he is polishing the finished shield. A servant holds it up for inspection. The surface of the back of the shield is so bright that it reflects the figure of Thetis, sitting in a chair with a footstool just as Homer describes. Behind Thetis stands Charis, Hephaistos’ wife. Another servant works on the helmet in the lower left. Between him and Thetis are the breastplate and the shinguards (the surface of the fresco is damaged here). From Pompeii, c. ad 60.
Thetis Consoles Achilles
Fig 18.1 - Thetis has pulled a cloak over her head in a sign of mourning. Achilles, lying on a couch before which stands a table filled with food, holds his hand to his forehead in a sign of grief for the death of his friend Patroklos. In this representation Thetis has already brought Achilles new armor from Hephaistos, which hangs on the wall. The shield is decorated with the face of a lion. Shinguards hang nearby. To the right of the couch is old man Phoinix and to the left Odysseus—unlike in Homer’s description—and Nereids (?) stand on either side. The names of all figures (except the Nereids) are written out. Black-figure Corinthian wine jug, c. 620 bc.
The Wedding of Zeus and Hera
Fig 14.1 - The scene is depicted on a metope (a square sculpture on a frieze) from the gigantic temple to Hera (the so-called temple E) at Selinus, at the southwestern tip of Sicily. Selinus (“parsley”) was the westernmost of the Greek cities in Sicily and destroyed by the Carthaginians in 409 bc. A half-naked Zeus, sitting on a rock, clasps the wrist of Hera. One of her breasts is exposed as Hera removes her head covering in a traditional gesture of sexual submission. c. 540 bc
Poseidon as Kalchas
Fig 13.2 - In the likness of the prophet, Poseidon holds his trident between the two Ajaxes, Oïlean Ajax and Telamonian Ajax, encouraging them to fight. Telamonian Ajax holds a hoplite shield emblazoned with a ram and behind him to the right is his brother, the bowman Teucer, and another warrior. A fifth warrior stands at the far left. Athenian black-figure wine-cup by Amasis, c. 540 bc.
Poseidon in his Chariot
Fig 13.1 - The god of the sea rides across the waves in a scene inspired by Homer’s description. He holds his trident in his left hand and points in the direction he wants to go. The chariot is drawn by four horses with dolphin tails. Roman mosaic, ad second century, from a Roman villa in Sousse, Tunisia.
Achilles and Cheiron
Fig. 11.3 - In spite of Phoenix’s claims in Book 9 to have educated Achilles, in the usual version referred to by Eurypylos Cheiron the Centaur taught him. Cheiron was the one learned and civilized Centaur in a wild race of savages. Cheiron taught Achilles the arts of a gentleman: to play the lyre and recite poetry, to hunt, and to heal. Here in this Roman fresco from Herculaneum in Italy, Cheiron, bearded and wearing an ivy wreath, holds a plectrum and shows the young Achilles how to play on the lyre. The Romans loved these mythical tales and painted them on their walls as decoration, usually set in a painted frame. This fresco was preserved when Herculaneum was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in ad 79.
Fig 11.1 - Shown as the winged Near Eastern “Mistress of Animals,” Gorgo holds a goose in either hand. The scary face is depicted with large eyes, snaky hair (but not here), pig’s tusks, and a lolling tongue. The Gorgon’s stare turns away evil. Here Gorgo is shown with four wings and large, pendulous breasts. Painted red on white ware from Kameiros, Rhodes, c. 600 bc, excavated by Auguste Salzmann and Sir Alfred Biliotti, photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
Zeus and his Emblem, the Eagle
Fig 8.1 - Zeus sits on a throne dressed in an elaborately embroidered cloak. His hair is long and braided and his beard full. Spartan black-figure wine cup, c. 550 BC.
Fig 6.1 - Riding the winged horse Pegasos, wearing a traveler’s hat, the hero prepares to stab the Chimaira (“she-goat”). A monster with a snake’s tale, a goat’s head growing from its back, and a lion’s body, the Chimaira is perhaps an invention of the Hittites, who dominated central Anatolia around 1400–1180 bc, and later northern Syria around 900 bc. Pegasos sprang from the blood of the Gorgon when Perseus cut off her head, along with a mysterious Chrysaor, “he of the golden sword” (Apollo has this epithet in Book 5 of the Iliad). From the rim of an Athenian red-figure epinetron (thigh-protector used by a woman when weaving), c. 425–420 bc.
Fig 5.2 - On the handle of the famous François Vase, Ares crouches on a stool. His name is written before him (“ARTEMIS” belongs to the figure behind him). He is fully armed as a sixth-century bc hoplite warrior: Shins and chest protected by bronze, he wears a helmet with horse- hair crest and kneels before his shield. He clings to his single thrusting spear with its point downward. He seems to hold some kind of scepter in his left hand, which he touches to his beard. His genitals are exposed in accordance with conventions of “heroic nudity.” The extraordinary François Vase, found in Italy, is covered with mythical images, some inspired by the Iliad. Athenian black-figure wine-mixing bowl by Kleitias, c. 570 bc.
Lapiths and Centaurs
Fig 2.3 - In this relief from the Parthenon in Athens a bearded Centaur seizes the hair of a Lapith youth and prepares to kill him. Homer calls the Centaurs “wild beasts,” and it is not clear that he thought of them as half-horse, half-man, as they were always later portrayed. The Lapith is “heroically nude,” though he does wear a cloak around his shoulders. This is one of the Parthenon metopes, or carved panels, that surrounded the temple high above the line of sight. Marble, c. 430 bc.
Barry B. Powell is Halls-Bascom Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of a new free verse translation of The Iliad by Homer. Read our previous posts on The Iliad.