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The Illiad Essay, Research Paper

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a god as “1. A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient ruler and originator of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheist religions. 2. A being of supernatural powers, believed in and worshiped by a people.”(360) I believe the first definition reflects Modern America’s connotation of the word god. The latter definition recalls the Ancient Greco-Sumerian ideal of a being greater than man. While both definitions are equally valid in literature, many perceive the word only in the first view. However, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Epic of Gilgamesh portray an obvious theme with gods possessing limits and imperfections, not “perfect, omnipotent, and omniscient”(360). The gods in the time of these selections obviously reflect society, unlike the first definition, the only difference is they possess immortality (Melchert 8).

In the Odyssey, the goddesses Circe and Kalypso both expected lifelong commitments from the mighty Odysseus. Both of the goddesses promised great things to the hero, including godhood. Odysseus could refuse both goddesses. Human obstinacy beat out the whims of goddesses. If the Protestant god were to make any type of demands upon his followers, more than likely, they would not refuse him. One could argue, though, that Odysseus did give in to the goddesses by bedding them. Always though, his focus eventually shifted to returning home and reuniting with his mortal wife. Homer portrayed a man who refused immortal beauty for true love. “She is mortal after all, and you are immortal and ageless. But even so, what I want and all my days I pine for is to go back to my house and see my day of homecoming. If some god batters me far out on the wide blue water, I will endure it, keeping a stubborn spirit within me, for I have already suffered much (93-94).” Thus, the mortal Odysseus was able to deny the temptations of the goddesses multiple times (Duzer 109).

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, they put down another goddess’ whims. Ishtar, goddess of war and love becomes attracted to the mighty but mortal Gilgamesh. But rather than giving into the goddes, Gilgamesh thought it out and refused. After the offer of her marriage, Gilgamesh replies, “–that I will not. How would it go with me? Your lovers have found you like a brazier which smoulders in the cold, a backdoor which keeps out neither squall of wind nor storm, a castle which crushes the garrison, pitch that blackens the bearer….And if you and I should be lovers, should not I be served in the same fashion as all these others whom you loved once?” (Mack 27). Thus, a second hero also refuses a god.

Sometimes, the gods only wanted honest opinions from the humans. In the events leading up to the Iliad, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodit? all contend to be the fairest of the goddesses, but out of prudence, no god will endorse them with the distinction. When Zeus refers them to the mortal shepherd, Paris, the three instantly ceases to expect an honest opinion. The question loses importance and the goddesses begin a persuasion match in which each goddess offers the shepherd great things. In the end, Paris chooses Aphrodite’s gift, and her and Athena become bitter and spiteful because of the judgment. If the goddesses were equivalent to the first definition of god, they would already have either the instant wisdom to know who was the fairest. Also, their infinite power would give them each the ability to make themselves infinitely beautiful. Finally, the god would not need to ask the opinion of the human because his omniscience would already give him the opinion (Melchert 6-10).

The ancient gods sometimes felt threatened by the strongest mortals. When this would happen, the gods would seek ways to stop the power of the humans, sometimes the gods would fail and others they would succeed. The gods were constantly on watch to make sure the mortals never gained too much power, almost as if the were terribly insecure about the power they possessed compared to the power of the mortals that they thought they controlled.

The very premise of the Epic of Gilgamesh involved a hero who almost equaled the gods. In the beginning of the epic, the gods sought to control and destroy Gilgamesh by creating an antihero to defeat him. Later, the equals join, building the insecurities of the gods. Eventually, the gods afflict Enkidu, ally of Gilgamesh with a fatal disease, by that stopping the power of the dynamic duo.

Perhaps this fear of the mortal’s strength was a legible concern of the gods. The Iliad depicts a Diomed?s who rallied against many Trojans. When Aphrodite stepped in his way, he stabbed the goddess, and she fled to Olympus to cry on her mother’s lap: “Oh my wound! Diomedes hit me! that bully! because I was trying to save my own son Aineias, my darling favorite! This war of the Trojans has become a war of Achaians against gods (64)!” In response, her mother, Dione speaks of past things humans have done to the Olympians:

Make the best of it my love. Be patient even if it hurts. Many of us Olympians have had to make the best of what men do, and we have brought much trouble upon one another. Ares made the best of it, when Otos and Ephialtes made him their prisoner ? they shut him up in a brazen jar for thirteen months. Indeed that would have been the end of the greedy fighter, ……. Hermes stole him away, when he was already in great distress from his cruel prison (65).

The gods were challenged by the power of the mightiest humans and went to great lengths to stop these people.

Eventually, Zeus, the strongest god, tries to encourage the gods to involve themselves in the war. Consequently, the war continued to drag on without the intervention of the gods for quite a while. Achilles fighting by the river with Aeneas brought the god Scamander in the fighting; Scamander’s involvement brings in Hephaestus and then all the other gods begin fighting in the Trojan war. Zeus’ sublime request for the gods to take on their part in the war resulted in little response, but a mortal’s fighting led to an uproar action of the gods in the war (Duzer 57-66).

When multiple gods coexist, disagreement will occur. The gods always held different opinions regarding the treatment of humans, and there was always someone to help the humans escape from the gods’ wrath.

Homer’s Odyssey depicted a god attempting to destroy a specific human. Poseidon continually attempted to destroy Odysseus. But on numerous occasions, other gods were present to help the hero survive. When Poseidon sent Odysseus’ ship in the wrong direction, Aeoleus gave the hero a bag which encaptured every counterproductive wind. When Odysseus fell into the sea after departing from Calypso’s island, Ino, a sea nymph, gave him an enchanted scarf to aid his directional sense. Athena also made constant provision, saving Odysseus from destruction and hopelessness many times. A major weakness of the pantheist structure was the discord among the gods. The pantheon limited the power of the members within it (Duzer 57-66).

The gods are also guilty of hubris in these works. It is almost as though they are so arrogant that they find humor in watching the humans struggle. In The Illiad, Zeus decides to watch the humans fight instead of helping them. “These mortals do concern me, dying as they are. Still, here I stay on Olympus throned aloft, here in my steep mountain cleft, to feast my eyes and delight my heart.” ( Homer Book 20, 26-29). Melchert describes this scene like the way we watch soap operas on television today, with no real purpose to help, just out of entertainment or comical purposes (8-9).

In opposition to the fact that the gods are limiting and faulty, Jin Chung states the “although the God’s are associated with human and ?anthropomorphic’ qualities, there is a distinct division between God and man.” He points out that throughout works such as Gilgamesh, The Illiad and The Odyssey, the strongest of mortals would have no strength if it were not for the god’s that govern and lead them. He continues to take the side of the immortal by claiming that this type literature conveys the view of the immortal gods as “omniscent and powerful beings” (5-10).

Another view is to keep the mortal thoughts for the mortals and let the gods be divine. The humans should not think that they can find immortality like Gilgamesh set out to do. They should accept their fate and live life to the best as the gods told Gilgamesh. This concept is conveyed in the work composed by a sixteenth century poet, Pindar.

Seek not to become Zeus.

For mortals a mortal lot is best.

Mortal minds must seek what is fitting at the hands of the gods,

knowing what lies at our feet and to what porportion we are born.

Strive not, my soul, for an immortal life,

but use to the full the resources

that are at thy command.

Clearly, the Greeks and Sumerians around the time of Homer had an alternate sense of the divine being. They recognized the power of the gods, but they were also aware of their limits. They realized that the gods were not all-powerful and were, as we have seen, constantly trying and testing them to see exactly how powerful they were. Today that is comparable with Christianity. All in all, the gods of Greco-Sumerian history were powerful, but in comparison to the mortals that they powered, the gods had merely the ability to live forever. Perhaps, these so- called gods should not be called gods, but simply immortals. They obviously do not stand up to the dictionary meaning of the word god.

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