Ancient Greek Deities and Their Human Characteristics Essay
Ancient Greek Deities and Their Human Characteristics
The ancient Greek Gods and their myths have existed in the human imagination and spirit for as long as man has had the ability to pass down their fables. Since before the dawn of recorded events, when man was limited to oral communications, the people of ancient Greece recounted to each other and to succeeding generations a variety of myths and legends surrounding the everlasting anecdotes of these magnetizing heroes. Some of these stories were told for pure entertainment as shepherds would do to pass the time while tending to their flock. Others were etiological in nature, as renowned philosophers, such as Socrates and his prize student Plato, would discuss; debating their meaning or interpretation of life, love, and existence.
There are even present day university courses being held in order to discuss the lives of these supernatural beings. These deities have been passed around for thousands of years, and have yet to cease capturing the interest of the human spirit. Man has always been fascinated by these great immortals and moreover by the stories surrounding them, and since universities based their coursework on the Latin and Greek, it was natural for psychoanalysis and medical diagnoses to create names from these fables.
Their charm and allure is accentuated by their recognizable human attributes. Ancient Greek Gods, like man, have been known to love and lust, to be jealous and seek revenge, to be bitter and even petty, characteristics common to everyday man, making them memorable. The Greeks would relate the stories of these omnipotent entities who act capriciously, frivolously, and even immorally, making them unforgettable, their legends transcended time and culture. They were nothing like any deity known to man then or now. The ancient Greeks would seek haven and ask for forgiveness from these familiar sorts of Gods because the Gods understood the problems that plagued man.
They assumed that if a mere mortal succumbs to the seduction of revenge, and seeks refuge in the Gods and Goddess, the Gods would have nothing but understanding since they themselves made the very same mistakes. The ancient Greeks began using the stories as an explanation for man’s eccentric and erratic behavior; using stories such as Pandora to explain evil in the world, and woman’s inherent curious nature. Though they lack the religious seriousness one might expect from a god, the sort of seriousness found in the Judeo-Christian’s image of God, they are nonetheless still omnipotent, in the eyes of ancient Greece.
Of course the Judeo- Christians believed in one god, monotheism, while the ancient Greeks believed in many, polytheism. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are three of the oldest, and most popular religions in the world today. The majority of the world’s view on how a deity would or should behave comes from these three faiths. These religions are monotheistic, believing in one and only one God. These religions are also considered to be Abrahamic, explained by the Encyclopedia Britannica to mean that all three identify with and emphasize that they trace their common origin back to Abraham, or recognize a spiritual tradition identified with him.
The majority of the world’s population, 54% according to the ranking of the world religions by Preston Hunter (Hunter) identify with these religions, they believe in the scriptures brought down by their creator, and related back to them by a prophet, or in certain sects of Christianity, the Lord himself. In every one of these scriptures God is described as pure, divine, all knowing, all seeing, and moreover, unlike any human, God is not petty or jealous. His love for his creation is merely platonic, the way one might love a creation of his own.
There is no gender; God is not male, nor female. In both Judaism and Islam, the word “God” is replaced by the genderless form “Allah” or “Ellah”, both meaning “The One”. He has no flaws, or errors, he does not mingle or mix with lessor beings, most of all he does not procreate with his creations. In some sects of Christianity, God has a son, Jesus, but even then it was defined as a conception like no other; from the womb of the Immaculate Conception (Mary, daughter of Amram) herself, and only to prove His existence and platonic love for His creations.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16. – King James Bible Islam and Judaism argue that He has no family, no sons (except a Trinity-form Jesus), no daughters, no mother, and no father. There is none that came before Him, and none shall come after him. He is the one and only creator of the Heavens and earth.
The Torah, the Hebrew bible bestowed upon Moses, the leader (and prophet) of the chosen people of Israel, mentions in chapter 45 verses six through seven: “I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil. I am the Lord, that does all these things.” (Is. 45:6-7) Also described in chapter 112 verses two through five, of the Quran, the holy scripture of the Islamic faith sent down upon Mohammed [peace and blessings be upon him] the last prophet, “Say: [Oh Mohammed] He, Allah, is One.
Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten; and none is like Him.” (Surah 112 Ikhlas – Unity – vs. 2-5) In all of these religions the theory of God is that he is alone, without gender or partner, but in ancient Greece, the gods were many and of both genders, every aspect of the heavens and the earth were split among twelve deities. Some overlapped, sometimes causing feuds; while others were alone in their ruling. Before the twelve Olympians ruled there were other gods, and a beginning before the beginning.
The mystery of how the universe was created is a challenging question that has been puzzling man since man first pondered upon it. Various explanations have been given throughout ancient times. Rhoda A. Hendricks, author of several books on classic civilization, recounts Hesiod’s (a Greek oral poet thought to have been alive between 750 – 650 B.C.)
Version which closely resembles Gneisses “First of all Chaos came into being, and then Gaea, the broad Earth, the ever certain support of all the deathless gods who dwell on the summit of snowy Olympus, and also dark Tartarus in the innermost part of the broad-path earth, and also Eros, the fairest of the immortal gods, who relaxes the limbs and overpowers the resolution and thoughtful determination in the hearts of all the gods and all mankind” Gaea, Earth, united with Uranus, heaven, creating the Titans, six gods and Goddess.
Among them was Cronus, their youngest son and the cause of the Titan’s downfall. Destroying his father and taking the crown Cronus became the supreme ruler. With his sister Rhea as his new bride, Cronus fathered six of the major Greek deities – Zeus, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Demeter, and Hestia. The tradition for takeover was set, for Zeus followed in his father’s steps of killing the current ruler, Cronus, and marring his sister, Hera. From Hera and Zeus came Ares, the God of war, Hephaestus, the god of fire, and metal work, and Hebe, the Goddess of Youth (Hendricks). Being the philanderer he was known to be, Zeus had father many other Gods, and Goddess.
Though the Greeks say Chaos was put in order, and the Earth was settled, I believe it had only begun, for these twelve Olympians (two more to be born later from Zeus) would create chaos like no man has ever known. Being Gods, supreme rulers of all that is supernatural and earthly, one would assume that humans were beneath them, but that was not the case for some of the gods. Instead of being above mankind they acted as though they were among the vulnerable; constantly battling each other in petty contests, than seeking a mortal’s approval. They would meddle and mingle with the fate of man just to satisfy their egos.
For example the story of Helen of Troy was set off by a chain of events caused by the Gods being petty and narcissistic. Some might think of the downfall of Troy with the Trojan horse was the fault of Paris for being selfish, taking Helen away from Sparta and back to Troy with him. But poor Paris had no control of fate, but Zeus did. The story of Troy and also the beauty contest is a good example of how the human-like behaviors are involved. Helen of Troy was the daughter of Zeus and Leda, an earthly woman married to the king of Tyndareus. Zeus, the king of the Olympians and ancient Greece’s very own Casanova, was infatuated with this magnificent woman.
Ignoring the fact that she was married, and that he would be committing adultery, Zeus came down from Mount Olympus in the form of a swan and took advantage of unsuspecting Leda. From that night she bore his half-immortal children, one of which was Helen. Helen was said to be a beauty that no man had ever seen. She was compared to Aphrodite herself, the Goddess of love and eternal beauty; being part immortal didn’t hurt either. She was the bride of Menelaus the king of Sparta, and she was soon to be the love interest of Paris. But Paris wouldn’t have been able to take Helen from Menelaus if not for Aphrodite’s assistance. Paris, Prince of Troy, was asked by Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite to judge a beauty contest.
Again this was the doing of Zeus, for he had instructed Hermes, the messenger to the gods, to lead the Goddess to Paris to be the judge. Each of the Goddess promised him a reward if they chose them as the winner. Hera offered to make him the ruler over all man if she were chosen; Athena ensured him victory in all his battles, but it was Aphrodite’s offer that had won him over.
The Goddess of beauty had promised the hand and heart of another beauty, Helen. And so as the story goes, Paris sweeps Helen off her feet and brings her home to Troy, focusing Menelaus to seek his brother’s aid in avenge his honor and reclaim his bride. The story does not end there, the Gods continue to meddle in the lives of their subjects; Athena, Hera and Poseidon frequently helped the Greeks, while Aphrodite and Ares defended the city of Troy (Hendricks), but sadly Troy is defeated in the end. In that one story along, we find the Gods behaving in petty and vengeful ways. They’ve ruining the lives of hundreds to satisfy their own selfish psyche. Zeus takes his way with Leda, knowing fully what this will cause.
Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena put Paris in a predicament he cannot win, and later Athena and Hera go against him and his people for simply disagreeing with them. At times the gods were simply selfish, and other times they were genuine. Some gods honestly and truly loved the mortals that prayed to them. These sympathetic gods would defy their elders and find ways to make their love immortal so they may join them in Mount Olympus. In the story of Psyche and Eros, (Cupid) Eros fell in love with Psyche, a mortal princess whose astounding beauty earned the anger of Aphrodite. Cupid, the son of Aphrodite and Ares (the god of war), was the god of desire, affection, and erotic love.
Annoyed with Psyche, Aphrodite sent Cupid to prick her with one of his arrows which would have forced her to fall in love with the most hideous man in all of Greece; this only shows another great example of the god’s petty jealousness. Cupid went to do as he was instructed, but instead of putting Psyche under a spell, he accidently pricks himself and he is bound by the love spell of his own arrows. Aphrodite had forbidden Eros to be with mortal woman, which was hypocritical considering she herself had many affairs with mortal men, and so had her father Zeus.
Of course Eros defies his mother and goes off to see Psyche anyways. The myths and legends from those times had done more than fascinate man; they inspired us to name medical and psychological terms after them. Things like phobia, which is usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in order to avoid their fear.
Typically this was disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational. In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities. A famous and common phobia is arachnophobia, the fear of spiders and other arachnids, such as scorpions. This came from the story of Arachne and Athena.
Arachne was a great mortal weaver who boasted that her skill was greater than that of Athena, goddess of wisdom and strategy. Arachne refused to acknowledge that her knowledge came in part from the goddess. Offended by Arachne’s arrogance, Athena set a contest between the two weavers. According to the recordings by Ovid, a Roman poet and collector of classic ancient Greek myths, the goddess was so envious of the magnificent tapestry and the mortal weaver’s success, and perhaps offended by the girl’s choice of subjects (the loves and transgressions of the gods), that she destroyed the tapestry and loom and slashed the girl’s face.
The brown haired goddess Raged at the girl’s success, struck through her loom, tore down the scenes of wayward joys in heaven. Ultimately, the goddess turned Arachne into a spider. A commonly used term of psychology is narcissism, the love and interest of only one’s self. This comes from the story of Echo and Narcissus as it is written in Thomas Bulfinch’s Stories of Gods and Hero’s.
Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. As punishment, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus “lay gazing enraptured into the pool, hour after hour” (Graves), and finally changed into a flower that bears his name, the Narcissus. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, narcissistic personality disorder is defined as “an individual who is excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity.”
In other words can’t see anything past one’s own problems. Thanks to the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, the story of Oedipus has become one of the most widely known psychological Greek myths in the modern world. However, because of Freud’s ‘Oedipus Complex’, many modern readers focus on his apparent love of his mother and hatred for his father; this in fact is not true to the Greek mythological tradition of Oedipus. As told by Robert Graves in The Greek Myths part II, Oedipus’s birth father Laius was married to Iocaste and ruled over Thebes. Grieved by his prolonged childlessness, he secretly consulted the Delphic Oracle, which informed him that this seeming misfortune was a blessing, because any child born to Iocaste would become his murderer.
In an attempt to prevent this prophecy’s fulfillment, upon the birth of the boy Laius had his ankles pinned together so that he could not crawl ( causing his ankles to swell and giving him his name Oedipus, translated to be swollen ankles); he then gave the boy to a servant to pass onto a shepherd from Corinth and then to another shepherd so on till he was in Polybus. Eventually Oedipus was adopted by the King and Queen of Polybus; because they two were childless they decided to raise him to be their own. Several years later Oedipus left Polybus in search of his birth place and parents. Soon he came upon a road and was rudely told off by his biological father, which he had no knowledge of at the time.
The two engaged in a battle resulting in the death of Laius, unintentionally fulfilling the prophecy of his father’s death. Upon arriving in the city of Thebus after solving the sphinx’s riddle Oedipus was crowned king and was given the mourning queen as a bride He again unaware of their biological connection. He continues to rule as the King of Thebus, but once he found out that he married his mother and killed his father, he gouged his eyes out and wandered the desert for ages. As the story goes on we find elements of psychological disorders but, Oedipus himself did not suffer from Sigmund’s theory of what Oedipus complex was. In all this one can find the contrast between the Greek deities and the Abrahamic Gods. The contrast between the Abrahamic and the Greek gods has been shown to be extreme
. The Abrahamic religions had the monotheistic God who was all-powerful and all-knowing. Although the Torah and Bible describe him as “jealous,” it was seen as meaning that he expected a strict following of the laws that he gave to the people. The Abrahamic God’s reasons behind the love and punishment were unclear to the followers, this was a test of their faith. God was not understood completely but was followed wholeheartedly. The Greek gods had behaviors that were very easily understood by the people.
They acted in very human ways, although the “lightning bolt” of Zeus could not be defended against. Their stories relay their human like personalities. They would get angry over insults made by their subjects (Athena); they let their lusts carry them away (Aphrodite, and Zeus); they engage in petty feuds with one another (Aphrodite, Athena, Hera). Moreover, the Greek gods appear to humans and mingle with them, helping or hindering them and at times, making love with them. The Olympic Gods had the same physical and emotional characteristics as us. Mortal women could compare to Aphrodite’s beauty and Zeus could be out witted and fooled. Jealousy, anger, bitterness as well as love and compassion were signature characteristics of the God’s personalities.
WORK CITIED: SOURCES
1. According to Greek Mythology: Pandora