The Heroes of the Iliad as Indo-European Gods: A Mythological Rosetta Stone: Part 1 of 9

The Heroes of the Iliad as Indo-European Gods: A Mythological Rosetta Stone: Part 1 of 9



 Comparing the Iliad to the other Indo-European epics, the Indian Mahabharata and the Irish Battle of Magh Tuireadh, we can see quickly that it is descended from the same tradition, the same material, but recast in a Greek form. This being plain from a host of examples which will become apparent, and following the established tradition in myth studies (Wikander, Dumezil, etc) that has shown the heroes of the Mahabharata to be specific divine incarnations, it should follow that the active figures of the Trojan War are representatives, incarnations, of the most archaic primary gods, and should carry bonafide elements of their myths. Georges Dumezil hints as much when he points out that Achilles and Arjuna come from the same original. Both are the intellectually sensitive but terrifyingly powerful princes who hold themselves back from the action to brood over some issue, questioning whether they should fight, then coming through in the end to wreak havoc on the opponent's greatest warriors at the key moments. And as Arjuna is the spiritual son of Indra, Achilles and Arjuna then are each in their own way the “chivalrous” warrior god Indra made flesh. If this really is so, then what stops us from looking further to see if the other main gods appear in Greek guises within the pages of the Iliad?

There is nothing to assure that such a venture would be successful. There is no telling how much change the Greek version of the epic had undergone before reaching its final form, how much the characters of the heroes had been warped, merged, or even removed from the story. However, it should be remembered that the Iliad is thought to have been composed in its present form around the mid 8th century BCE, and was also written down well before the Mahabharata was, which itself preserves the characters of the gods so clearly. And when we begin to investigate the question we quickly find that the Iliad too has been surprisingly conservative in content, and a significant amount remains within the traits of the main heroes to indicate their specific divine and Indo-European origins.

In the Mahabharata, the primary protagonists, the Pandavas and their mortal father Pandu, are spiritual sons and incarnations of the gods of society: Varuna and Mitra, Vayu and Indra, Nasatya and Dasra. This makes three pairs of gods, each pair representing one of the functions in the tripartite social division. On the opposing side of the Kauravas are the incarnations of Dyaus, Surya, one of the Rudras, Bhaga, the demon Kali, and the embodiment of the Dwapara Yuga, among other warriors who may or may not have divine connections. Therefore these in particular are the gods we should look for in the heroes of the Trojan War. Doing so will help us greatly clarify these archaic Indo-European divine archetypes.

Agamemnon – Varuna (The Terrible Sovereign)

Agamemnon is the older brother of Menelaus and the reigning king of Mycenae. He is known as a fierce warrior and he is acknowledged commander-in-chief of all the assembled armies. As such he represents the power of kingship. Pandu likewise begins the events leading to the war as the king of the Kuru Kingdom. As Dumezil outlines it, the Varuna archetype is always a conqueror who expands the territory of his kingdom in the early days of his power, which is exactly what Agamemnon and Pandu are said to do. Pandu is described as swallowing up kingdoms. After regaining his father's lost kingdom, Agamemnon's conquests make him the most powerful king in all of Greece. Agamemnon is not a peaceable ruler, he is often haughty or unjust, known as something of a despot who takes what he feels to be his, as when he mistreats Achilles by exacting from him the woman Briseis. This general character recalls the descriptor which has been applied to Varuna: “The Terrible Sovereign.” It is Varuna whose sometimes violent but vital power forges kingdoms (as with Romulus), and it is he whose snares and spies exact justice from all within his kingdom which is the world. Agamemnon is highly destructive on the battlefield, a mirror image in fierceness of Achilles, and is known as one of the best three Greek warriors along with Ajax and Diomedes (when Achilles is not present).

While the loss of a hand is usually a trait associated with the Mitra type, the First Kings, Irish Nuada and Greek Agamemnon, both significantly sustain a wound instead to their arms, causing each to retire from battle for a period of time. Nuada too is the First King and expands the kingdom via the war with the Fir Bolg. It is possible that this has led to a confusion of Nuada with Mitra, despite the fact that Nuada is the First King. Agamemnon and Nuada are wounded in the arm during battle while the Mitra type instead loses a hand during a questionable contract or oath.

Agamemnon's life is bookended by motifs very similar to those found in the story of King Pandu – Agamemnon's family had been cursed by Myrtilus as he died at the hands of Pelops, Agamemnon’s ancestor, resulting in infighting and death to several generations of the Atreides family. Pandu's curse, given to him by the Rishi Kindama as he died by Pandu's hand, was that he could not embrace his wife with intent of love and so couldn't have children at all. Both curses caused great difficulty to the accomplishing of each king's duties, and to successfully furthering their lines. Indeed, Agamemnon's own son and wife, Orestes and Clytemnestra, were also caught up by the inter-family violence resulting from the curse, while his daughter was sacrificed to the gods. In the end of Pandu's life he one day is overwhelmed with love and embraces one of his wives, bringing about his death. Agamemnon dies when he returns home to his wife, either at the hands of her wife's lover or her own. Each king dies as a result of their curse and this occurs at the moment they return to their wives. Agamemnon and Menelaus also are forced into exile (related to the curse) before the events of the Trojan war, just as the Pandava brothers must endure exile before returning to fight the Kurukshetra War. Agamemnon was venerated as Zeus Agamemnon, in recognition of his embodiment of the role of sovereignty in line with the highest divine sovereign.

Terrible Sovereign: (Agamemnon, Varuna/Pandu, Nuada)

-Has a curse that affects his progeny

-Is First King

-Expands territory

-Is exiled before the war

-Is wounded in the arm

-Exacts justice in a harsh manner which leads to conflict with the Thunderer and death of the Thunderer’s son/favorite

-Dies when he returns to his wife

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