The Iliad makes use of a third-person omniscient point of view. Such a perspective gives the poet access to the thoughts and feelings of all characters, humans and gods alike, and he can move at will between the minds of these characters. Importantly, the poet claims to have gained universal access only with the support of the muse he invokes in the poem’s opening verses. He reminds the reader of the muse’s assistance in Book 2 when he prepares to name all of the Achaean and Trojan warriors assembling for battle.
The use of a third-person omniscient point of view is crucial for maintaining the epic scope of the poem, which encompasses action that happens amongst both the Achaeans and the Trojans in their camps as well as the gods in their various abodes. Aside from ensuring an appropriately epic scope, the third-person omniscient point of view also helps underscore one of the poem’s most important themes. That is, it is only through the poet’s omniscience, which glides effortlessly from one character’s perspective to another’s, that readers glean a fuller sense of the awfulness and terror of war and of how it affects everyone.
One unique feature of the poet’s third-person omniscient point of view is that it frequently generates a sense of dramatic irony. The term dramatic irony refers to a particular type of irony that emerges when the reader understands more about a situation than the characters do. Homer uses dramatic irony most often when the gods interfere with human affairs without the humans themselves knowing. In Book 2, for instance, Zeus aligns his favor with the Trojans and sends a dream to the Achaean king, Agamemnon. Zeus intends for the dream to convince Agamemnon that his army is poised to defeat the Trojans, but the reader understands that if Agamemnon mobilizes his army, it will enable the Trojans to inflict massive damage more efficiently. In Book 13, however, Zeus’s favor flips to the Achaeans, unbeknownst to the Trojans:
The rest [of the Trojans] fought on like a mass of whirling fire.
But Hector dear to Zeus had no idea, Hector
heard nothing of how his men, left of the ships,
were torn and mauled in the Argives’ rough response.
The glory might even have gone to them at any moment,
so intent was the god who grips and shakes the earth
as he surged his Argives on and the god surged too,
adding his own immortal force in their defense.
Taken together, the many instances of dramatic irony woven throughout the poem demonstrate that advantage is a fickle, temporary thing. One moment the Trojans seem destined for victory, and then the Achaeans appear poised to win, suggesting that war is a perpetual seesaw that may never truly come to an end.
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