As the most powerful of the gods, Zeus presides over his fellow immortals on Mount Olympus. Yet Zeus also takes interest in the mortal world below, and, along with the other gods, he frequently interferes in the ongoing war between the Trojans and the Achaeans. Throughout The Iliad, Zeus aims to ensure a Trojan victory, yet in spite of his commitment to the Trojans, Zeus doesn’t have a particularly strong investment in the war actually coming to an end. In Book 1, he makes an arrangement with the sea nymph Thetis to turn the tide of war against the Achaeans, but he does so out of affection for Thetis and her son, Achilles, and not out of a personal desire for a Trojan victory. Instead, Zeus seems more invested in ensuring that the war continues to rage on indefinitely. At the end of Book 7, for instance, the poet describes Zeus as a compulsive “Master Strategist” who perpetually plots “fresh disaster[s] for both opposing armies” and terrifies Trojans and Achaeans alike with loud thunder strikes. Thus, fundamentally uninterested in any real end to human suffering, Zeus continues to foment the violence of a seemingly ceaseless war.
For all his power as an immortal, Zeus is beset by peculiarly human character flaws. For instance, the god has a reputation as a womanizer. The poet comically references Zeus’s many infidelities when, in Book 14, he indicates how Zeus’s sexual desire for Hera eclipses the desire he felt when he slept with other women. Zeus tells Hera: “Never has such a lust for goddess or mortal woman / flooded my pounding heart and overwhelmed me so.” Then he goes on to name eight other women who failed to arouse him to such a great extent. In addition to his insatiable sexual appetite, Zeus has notorious anger issues. He’s particularly quick to anger with his wife, Hera, who frequently plots against him, but he also rages against any and all gods who would disobey his command: “Come, try me, immortals. . . . you can never drag me down from sky to earth, . . . not even if you worked yourselves to death,” (Book 8). Zeus’s wrath and sexual affairs have thematic significance in the poem because they mirror the human character flaws that spark the action of The Iliad: namely, Achilles’s persistent rage and Agamemnon’s sexual desire for Briseis.
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