We everlasting gods . . . Ah what chilling blows
we suffer—thanks to our own conflicting wills—
whenever we show these mortal men some kindness.
Ares voices this lament after being wounded by Diomedes in Book 5. His plaint concisely captures the Homeric relationship between gods and men and, perhaps, Homer’s attitude toward that relationship. Homeric gods frequently intervene in the mortal world out of some kind of emotional attachment to the object of that intervention. Here, Ares describes this emotion as simply a desire to do “kindness,” but kindness toward one mortal often translates into unkindness toward another—hence Ares’ wound at the hands of Diomedes.
Divine intervention in The Iliad causes conflicts not only in the mortal sphere but between the gods as well. Each god favors different men, and when these men are at war, divine wars often rage as well. Ares thus correctly attributes the gods’ “chilling blows” to their “own conflicting wills.”
Ares’ whining does not make him unique among the gods. Homer’s immortals expect to govern according to their wills, which are in turn governed by self-interest. Correspondingly, they complain when they do not get their way. Ares’ melodramatic and self-pitying lament, which is greeted with scorn by Zeus a few lines later, probably implies some criticism of the gods by Homer. Ares’ appearance here as a kind of spoiled child provides just one example of Homer’s portrayal of the gods as temperamental, sulky, vengeful, and petty—a portrayal that may seek to describe and explain the inequities and absurdities in life on earth.