Interactions of Gods and men Nothing can be more life changing than when a god chooses to interact with a mortal man. Much of Greek mythology describes the natures of these interactions. The Olympian Gods meddle with the mortals they rule over constantly, but what is the result for these interactions, and how do they impact the mortals? The question that this paper tries to address is what is the nature of these divine interaction, and how does each side truly perceive each other? The Gods and mortals interact in a variety of ways, but the true natures of these interactions truly describe how the ancient Greeks perceived their gods.
Before one can understand the interactions between the Gods and mortals, one first has to understand the nature of the Gods. In Homer, the Olympian Gods are anthropomorphic; that is to say they have human characteristics. The Gods have both a human shape as well as human emotions and needs. It is very evident that the Gods behave much like the mortals they lord over. Another facet to the Olympians Gods is that they represent a facet of nature, such as fire, water, death, weather, love, anger, nature, and death. The duel nature of the Gods creates a paradox in which the Gods are both anthropomorphic, as well as abstract representations of nature. In Homer, the Gods alternate between each of these parts, and on occasion become one. It can be best said that while the Gods are anthropomorphic, they are also a personification of nature. There are numerous examples of this in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. In book 21 of the Iliad Achilles has to fight the river god Xanthus, but he is saved by the fire god Hephaestus. Hephaestus is portrayed both a fire God as well as the fire itself. Xanthus, who natural aspect is revealed with the lines “ the river’s anger rose/ churning at heart for a way to halt his rampage” (Iliad, book 21, lines 156-157) . The use of adjectives such as churning better describe qualities of a force of nature than an anthropomorphic deity . In essence, Achilles is not so much fighting a God, as he is fighting a force of nature. Another good example deals with the nature of Posiedon in the Odyssey. Posiedon play the role of the sea God as well as the sea itself . In book 5 of the Odyssey, Odysseus attempts to drown Odysseus “ –churned the waves into chaos, whipping all the gales from every quarter…” ( Odyssey, book 5, lines 322-323). Posiedon displays both the natural and anthropomorphic facets of his nature.
What does this have to do with the divine interactions with humans? Simply stated, the Gods are generally human in characteristics, therefore they have the same motives as mortals. Because the Gods have the same motivations as mortal men their actions can be predicted. Divine interactions and relationships with mortals can be compared to a mortal kingdom. The Gods are the ruling class, and the mortals occupy the lower classes. Kings and heroes occupy the middle class, they are greater than other mortals, but lesser than the gods. A majority of Greek heroes and kings trace their lineage back to one of the Gods, and use it to claim superiority over other mortals. Odysseus, Achilles, Heracles, Atreus, Agamemnon, and many other heroes claim divine parentage, but this will be discussed more later. .
When talking about divine interactions, it is best to group them into them into two groups, physical and psychological. The first type that will be discussed is the physical interactions between Gods and mortals. Gods have the same desires and emotions as humans, and because of this the Gods constantly meddle in mortal affairs, yet the always seem to stay just on the outside of their plane of existence. The Gods are ever present, but are usually just outside of the mortal plain of existance. They are an unseen force that influences mortal affairs.
The way the Gods physically interactwith mortals comes in many forms. In the realm of myth, the Gods have many different positions. They play both protagonist and antagonist, they help or hinder the hero, and they decide the fates of mortal men. Most physical interactions with mortals takes place with heroes. Virtually every hero has a God on his side acting as his champion or protector. The role of the Gods in heroic myth raises an important question, do the Gods make heroes?
As many examples there are of hero-Deity interactions, it is hard to tell whether or not the hero needs the God. It can be argued that to make a hero, one of the Gods is needed. More often than not, when a hero is left without a God, he suffers a horrible fate. In book 16 of the Iliad when Patrocalous dies, he lays blame not on Hector, but on Apollo “No, deadly fate in league with Apollo killed me. From the Ranks of men, Euphorbus. You came third, and all you could do was finish of my life” (Iliad, book 16, lines 993-995). Hector had Apollo on his side, and Patroclus had no divine assistance, therefore Hector could not lose. In this situation Apollo gave Hector greatness, not his own ability. Another good example of this is in book 23 of the Iliad, in which there is a race between Ajax and Odysseus. In this race Ajax has a lead, but Odysseus prays to his patron Goddess, Athena, who causes Ajax slip in cow dung. Ajax feels cheated by this and states “Foul, by heaven! The goddess fouled my finish! Always beside Odysseus- just like the man’s mother, rushing to put his rivals in the dust.” (Book 23, lines 868-870). Odysseus was granted victory not from his own skill, but from the fact that the Gods where on his side.
The idea that the Gods create heroes is not always true, and its exceptions are the heroes Odysseus and Hector. While both of these heroes have a God acting as their champion, there true heroic qualites are evident when they are. Odysseus faces immesurable odds, yet he continues to push on, fighting the impossible. Hector knows his fate, and has both heaven and earth against him, yet he displays greater heroic qualities than any of the heroes with divine patronage. Both of these men show greater heroic qualites when the Gods are not helping, and that it an important point. Contrasting this is Achilles and Paris. Neither one of them show true heroic qualities, and only succeed when the Gods interfeer. The Gods made them heroes, because they could not do it themselves. From all this, it can be stated the Gods can make heroes, or make true heroes even greater.
When the Gods interact with heroes, it is often in the form of protection. The patron God will defend his hero and protect him from harm. There are many instances in which the hero is loosing a battle and the God removes the hero from danger. One of the best examples of this is in book 3 of the Iliad, in which Meneleaus and Paris duel for Helen. Paris is defeated by Meneleaus and faces death by his rival’s sword. Before Meneleaus can achieve victory Aphodite, who appears as a fog, lifts Paris from the field of battle and moves him to safety “Aphrodite snatched Paris away, easy work for a god, wrapped him in swirls of myst, and set him down in his bedroom full of scent” (Iliad, book 3, 439-441). Although Paris did not deserve saving, he is protected not because he is a true hero, but because the goddess was on his side. Another important example is the duel between Aneas and Achilles in book 20 of the Iliad. In this duel Achilles comes close to slaughtering Aeneas, who had boasted that he was favored by the gods. When the battle turned against him, the sea god Poseidon blind Achilles with mist and removes Aeneas from the field of battle. Again, the favorite of the gods is saved.
The examples where a hero is saved in a battle is no where nearly as common as when one of the heroes dies as the result of divine intervention. While the god never kills any of the heroes physically, the god does decide who will win, and who will die. This deciding of the outcome is often described as a misthrown spear, a shield that shatters, weak armor, or weapons breaking. When Menelaus and Paris duel in book 3 of the Iliad, Paris is saved from being asphxiated by Aphrodite breaking his helmet strap “… but Aphrodite, , Zeus’s daughter quick to the mark, snapped the rawhide strap…” ( Iliad, book 3, lines 433-434). The Gods choose who lives and dies by deciding these factors in the battle. When Achilles and Hector fight to the death in book 22 of the Iliad, Achilles has Athena on his side, while Hector is alone. In the course of battle Hector’s spear is moved from its mark, while Achilles’ is guided toward it (Iliad, book 22). Athena did not kill Hector directly, but she decided that he would die. During the battle scenes Athena grants Achilles victory, by tipping the odds in his favor.
On the flip side of helping the heroes the gods often play the antagonist. A good example of this deals with Poseidon’s role as the antagonist in the Odyssey. Poseidon, the god of the sea, has cursed Odysseus for blinding his son, the Cyclops (Odyssey, book 9). Poseidon plays the antagonist, and provides conflict for Odysseus throughout the entire epic. In this incarnation, Poseidon is less anthropomorphic, and more of a force of nature, something that Odysseus has no hope of fighting against. Although Poseidon brings much misery to Odysseus, the great hero somehow manages to perceiver. Therefore, it can be stated that by providing conflict, Poseidon brought out the heroic qualities in Odysseus. When the God plays the antagonist, or provides the conflict for the hero, it brings out the heroic qualities within the hero. Odysseus is not a hero because he is a great warrior, he is a hero because he fought against hopeless odds and succeeded.
The following type of physical interaction is rare in Greek Mythology; when a mortal attacks the Gods themselves. The fury of Diomedes is an interesting example of this situation. In book 5 of the Iliad Diomedes does something quite extrodinary, he engages the gods in battle. During the heat of battle, Athena comes to Diomedes and bestows on him the ability to see the gods. When Diomedes tries to kill Aenaes, he is robbed of success by Aphrodite, who takes Aenaes away. This action cause Diomedes to attack Aphrodite! Diomedes succeeds in wounding Aphrodite, but his actions brings Apollo, who warns “ …..Give way! Do not aspire to be equal of the Gods. The immortals are not made of men that walk on the ground!” (Iliad, book 5, line 440). Apollo’s warning simply states that mortals should not aspire to be equals to the gods. Diomedes actions had placed him above other heroes and mortals, as for a brief moment he is greater than the gods. This is a unique situation because most mortals who attempt this face utter destruction.. The gods are appalled that a mere mortal would dare attack one of them. Diomedes ignores the warning of Apollo, and continues with his attack on the gods. Diomedes rage has him take on the war god himself! Apollo begs Ares to stop him, and his words show something unusual for a god, fear. “ .. That daredevil Diomedes, he’d fight Father Zeus! He’s just assulted Love, he stabbed her wrist- like some superhuman, he even charged me!” (Homer, Iliad, book 5, lines 527-529). Ares fails at this, and is defeated by Diomedes, creating something unusual.
Diomedes did more than equal the gods, he was their greater in combat. This type of conflict brings out a true hero in that by fighting the gods, Diomedes proved greater than them, something mortals should not be able to do. This type of interaction is rare, and tells much about the Greeks view of the Gods when they interfere. Diomedes’ attacks on the Gods is remarkable in that he is a hero not because the Gods help him, but because he dares to do the impossible..
How does the example of Diomedes fit in with the other divine interactions? With all of these interactions, heroes were made in some sense. Odysseus fights against the Gods in their abstract forms, and is a hero because he survives and succeeds in his journey. Hector is without the assistance the other heroes have, and is a hero because his qualities are brought out in accepting his fate. The other heroes are protected by the Gods, and made greater because of it. Diomedes attacks the gods themselves, and is made a hero because he did what was thought impossible.
The second form of physical interactions have nothing to do with battle. These interactions have more to do with love and anger. The Gods constantly lust over the mortals they rule. Virtually every god has a child by a mortal. Zeus is the best example of this. Father Zeus could not keep away from Mortal women, he had numerous children with them, and many went on to be great kings and heroes. Some of the famous children of Zeus include Arcisius, grandfather of Odysseus; Helen of Troy, Heracles, and Perseus. Some other heroes that are descended from Zeus include Achilles, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Odysseus, and many others. Zeus is not the only god who has children by mortals, each of the gods, except those who remain virgins, have mortal lovers and mortal children.
The rule to follow when looking at these types of relationships is that the children of sods and mortals are also mortal, although they are often cast in the roles of kings and heroes. The only exception to this is the Dionysus, the god of wine, who is the result between Zeus and the mortal woman Semele. The reason that Dionysus remained a god is that although Semele is his mother, she was killed when she saw Zeus in his true form, Zeus took the child and put it in his thigh, and Dionysus was born from his father (Euripides, Bacchae, lines 88-100).
The role of divine parentage in Greek myth is often used to make a King or hero seem even greater. Greek Kings could claim one of the Gods as their ancestor, and use it to excuse their rule over the people. Also, the children of the Gods often had greater ability then mortal men. The great ability of heroes was explained by divine. The role of divine parentage is used in myth to make heroes. It is a tool that continues the power of the Gods, and creates a new class of mortals that are closer to the Gods than other mortals. The children of Gods are greater then mortals, but lesser than their own parents. This again shows how the power structure between the Gods and mortals ask like a royal family, with these children playing the part of the lesser nobles.
On the flip side of this is when the Gods punish the mortals. The Gods do this not in the name of justice, but when the mortals offend them in some way. Hera, the wife of Zeus, often punishes mortals for loving Zeus, or challenging her power. The seer Tireseus was blinded by Hera for claiming that women enjoyed sex more than men, Hera also cast Orion’s wife , Side, into Hades because she was too beautiful. Hera provides punishment for those mortals who overstep their bounds. The story of Artemis and Actaeon is another good example of punishment. When Actaeon wanders upon the bathing Artemis, she turns him a stag to be killed by his own hunting dogs. Actaeon meant no offense, but he saw the goddess in a way that was beyond his status. Another example of this is the story of Athena and Arachne, where Arachne proves to be a better weaver than Athena, and is promptly turned into a spider by the angry goddess. In each of these cases the mortals are punished for trying to be the equal too, or greater than the gods.
The Gods often punish in anger. This anger can come from jealousy, refusal, insult, and when a mortal tries to be greater than the Gods. When a mortal tries to be as great, or greater than the Gods, he often faces their wrath. The Gods are jealous in nature, and do not tolerate any competition. Hera punishes those who can be greater than her, or compete for Zeus’s attention. Athena punishes Arachne for having more skill than herself.. The lesson is that those who try to be to great will be punished, which is the same as it would be in a kingdom. A subject who would try to be better than his sovereign is often killed.
The second type of divine interaction is psychological. In this class the gods are treated as forces within the human mind. The god can make the mortal have a sudden insight, a lust for battle, unusual wisdom, uncontrollable love, and great anger. In all of these the mortal is subject to mental control by one of the Gods. In the Iliad, this is constantly being used as an excuse. When Paris taunts and challenges Meneleaus in the Iliad, the reason for his actions are explained with “ So Athena fired the fool’s heart inside him” ( Iliad, book 4, ln 120). The Goddess put the fight into Paris in order to further her cause. Helen also suffers from mental control. Her reason for leaving with Paris is not because she loved him, but that Aphrodite made her do it. In fact, Helen refuses to go to Paris, yet Aphrodite makes her do it ( Iliad, book 3 ) “ Maddening one, my Goddess, oh what now? Lusting to lure me to my ruin yet again?” (Iliad, book 3, ln 460-461). This shows that the Gods can do what they want with the mortal mind, and that mortals are powerless to stop it.
Psychological intervention also takes the form as irrational behavior. When Agamemnon fights with Achilles, he later claims that Zeus made him do it. When he tries to get Achilles back he claims “ I was mad, I will not deny it……..I was mad and persuaded my wretched thoughts” ( Iliad, book 9, ln 116-119) . Later, Agamemnon elaborates and says “ I was mad, and Zeus took away my senses” ( Iliad, book 19, line 137) . The Gods are used as an excuse for a sudden change in behavior, or something so irrational that it is unthinkable.
The Gods also interfere in the form of Battle lust. Ares, the God of war, is better described as the battle of carnage. Ares fights for the fight, and he makes other lose control in battle. This is different from Athena, who is the Goddess of civilized, just battle. When Greek soldiers became uncontrollable in combat, he would claim that Areas took control of him . Throughout the Iliad, the Gods are the driving force of the battle. Diomedes says that Achilles will only fight when “ whenever the time comes/ that the heart in his body urges him to and the god drives him” (Iliad, book 9, lines 702-703). This says that Achilles will fight when the some god or goddess makes him.
In the realms of Greek myth, a sudden change of heart or mind was explained that the Gods are responsible. This is not unlike someone today saying “the devil made me do it!”. This is used to explain some unexplained action, or an act out of character for a hero. The gods prove not only to be outside forces, but humanities inner drives. Lust for battle from Areas, lust for love from Aphrodite, spontaneous wisdom from Athena. These are all things that happen to people, times when the rational mind does not seem to have any control over ones actions. The Gods provide an explanation for them, as well as an excuse.
A second type of psychological interaction is when the Gods offer some sort of counseling to a hero or other mortal. Athena does this quite often, as the Goddess of wisdom. The Gods do not always help the heroes in this type of interactions though. The best example of this is when Zeus sends a false dream to Agamemnon, in which he tells the leader it is time for the Acheans to try and take Troy. This proves to be a disaster, and the Greeks truly regret it. The reason Zeus does this is because he wants to keep his promise to Thetis, mother of Achilles, to make sure the Greeks regret not having Achilles fight with them . The Gods provide a way for a hero to think that his wishes are going to be fulfilled. Unfortunately, this turns out not to be true.
The second good example is when Pandarus shoots an arrow during a momentary truce. The Goddess Athena tell him to do this, in order to prevent peace. Athena tells him that if he kills Menelaus during the truce, the Trojans would honor and respect them. Later he claims that he would not have done if the Gods had not told him too. This shows that the gods are used to explain an action when the mortal wanted to avoid the blame for the action.
What do all of these interactions tell us about the Gods and mortals? Quite a bit, the nature of the interactions tell us much about both of them. In most of the interactions, the Gods treat the mortals like children at best, and like a slave or plaything at worst. The Gods use the human to fulfill their own ends and needs. The humans can do very little to stop this and are at the mercy of the Gods. In Greek myth the Gods are not very different than the mortals that they preside over. The only true difference is power, and the gods have it.
The Gods are nothing more than the ruling class, and the mortals are their servants and subjects. Those mortals with divine parentage are lucky, they are between the men and Gods of their world. Heroes and Kings are this middle class, respected by the Gods, but still not their equals. The gods prove this time and time and again, and with these interactions, they make the heroes what they are. Heroes are nothing more than men who strive to be as great as the gods. Sometimes they fail, but they are remembered for daring to dream of greatness.
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