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Would you like to live in times of Homer and belive in his pagan gods? This essay will provide a short sighseeing tour. Reader will find that life and faith in ancient times were different. Life in those ages may not be as fun as faith rewarding as they may appear from distance. Although this tour is short it should be unpleasant. On top of that it may bring some usefull lessons from past spiritual developments to enlighten current ones. We shall take a bit longer look into the chemistry of relations between gods and people in writing of Homer as well as between gods themselves.
The views of gods in Homer’s Iliad differ much from what we believe about God in Christian or Muslim civilizations nowadays. Homer’s "father of gods and men,“ Zeus, is not the same good-father-type of god as Christian God. He is nor the solemn-king-of–Universe-type as Muslim Allah. Homer’s gods would probably be closest to Hindu deities in contemporary world. However it is not the difference between polytheism and monotheism which strikes the most. The difference which strikes – and even offends - the most is the imperfectness and even immorality of anthropomorphized gods of Ancient Greece. Imperfectness or immorality are characteristics of men in Western Christianity.
Their attribution to God would be a blasphemy. While all human problems in Christian world began after people Adam and Eve picked up the forbidden apple, problems of Homer’s Iliad began after three goddesses Athena, Hera and Aphrodite and started to claim the apple (of Discord) with the inscription "For the most beautiful.“ This quarrel indirectly led to the start of Trojan War, then to its prolongation due to involvement of the winner of the quarrel goddess of beauty and love Aphrodite in favor of Trojan side.Goddess of wisdom Athena and Hera, queen of heaven, goddess of women and marriage sided with Greeks. These goddesses recruited other gods."... and Athena and Hera muttered, since they were sitting close to each other, devising evil for the Trojans. Still Athena stayed silent and said nothing, but only sulked at Zeus her father, and savage anger took hold of her."[page 194, line 456-460]
Aphrodite enlisted her admirer god of war Ares (Mars) on her side, "The numerous struggles of Trojans, breakers of horses, and bronze-armoured Akhaians, struggles that they endured for her [Helene’s] sake at the hands of Ares (the War-God)." [p 3.128] God of the sea Poseidon favored the Greeks always when king of gods Zeus did not pay attention.“May that man, that coward never get home from Troy--let him linger here, ripping sport for the dogs, whoever shirks the fight while this day lasts.” [p. 349]Hera tried to neutralize Zeus. He for some time saw nothing of what was going on, because his attention was completely drawn away from the war and from all world affairs by the wiles of his wife Hera. "For no longer are the gods who live on Olympus arguing the matter, since Hera has forced them all over by her supplication, and evils are in store for the Trojans by Zeus‘ will." [p. 78, line 67-70]
When he awakened and looked from Olympus down, he saw Hector stretched on the plain almost lifeless. Discord takes place among gods also. Zeus immediately instructed his brother Poseidon to quit the field. Vanity of goddesses fuels the war. Hera at one point tells Zeus to take Argos, Sparta and Mycenae „of all cities the three that are dearest to my own heart“, if he will allow her to destroy Troy. In other words she was willing to sacrifice innocent inhabitants of three cities, many of which were her followers only to revenge to hated Troy for such a petty reason as unfavorable statement about her beauty.Gods control every twist in the war; "The old man went back again in anger, but Apollo listened to his prayer, sincehe was very dear to him, and let go the wicked arrow against the Argives. And now thepeople were dying one after another while the god‘s shafts ranged everywherealong the wide host of the Achaians, till the seer knowing well the truthinterpreted the design of the archer."[p. 69, line 380-385]
People of the Iliad regard the gods as significant part of their lives and try to please them with ritual. Rituals include animal and human sacrifices. “There appeared a great sign; a snake, his back blood – mottled, a thing of horror, cast into the light by the very Olympian, wound its way from under the altar and made toward the plane tree.” [page 84, line 308 – 310]
Achilles sacrifices twelve captured Trojans at the occasion of Patrols´ cremation, Religion softens some differences and encourages some virtues, like hospitality: „from Zeus are all strangers and beggars.“ Despite of that moral behavior does not look to play important role in winning the favor of gods by people. Odysseus is lying to a captured Trojan spy Dolon and promises him life if he will betray information he needs. When Dolon does, Odysseus cuts off his head.“Diomed looked sternly at him and answered: Think not, Dolon, for all the good information you have given us, that you shall escape now you are in our hands, for if we ransom you or let you go, you will come some second time to the ships of the Achaeans either as a spy or as an open enemy, but if I kill you and an end of you, you will give no more trouble." Homer still considers him a hero and model character in every aspect. Odysseus later on his return from Troy boasts that he „pillaged the splendid fields, to carry off the women and little children, and to kill the men.“ [Odysseus]
Even after that the goddess Athena praises him for lying and sees him charming. She tells him: „Cunning must he be and knavish who would go beyond thee in all manner of guile, aye, though it were a god that met thee. Bold man, crafty in counsel, insatiate in deceit, not even in thane own land, it seems, wast thou to cease from guile and decetful tales, which thou lowest from the bottom of thane heart“(Odysseus). Virtues of Homeric civilization are the ones of war, not those of peace. A good man is not a gentleman, honest, sober, kind. Bad man is not the one who murders, drinks too much, lies or betrays. A good man is the one who is brave and fights well.Human life is cheap. Life is poor in art, unphilosophical, full of violent action.There is only one mention of writing a letter in Iliad and its context is characteristic: it instructed the recipient to kill messenger of the letter Bellerophon.Gods are occasionally immoral, irresponsible, jealous, envious, they quarrel with one another. "For no longer are the gods who live on Olympus arguing the matter, since Herahas forced them all over by her supplication, and evils are in store for the Trojansby Zeus‘ will." [p. 78, line 67-70]
Zeus is the king among the gods, other gods are afraid of him; but occasionally even Zeus is afraid, fearful that he might be overthrown as he overthrew his own father. Zeus is a little bit better than other gods, but he is not perfect either. He sends, for example, a false dream to Agamemnon. “Now to his mind this thing appeared to be the best counsel, to send evil Dream to Atreus’ son Agamemnon. He cried out to dream and address him in winged words: ‘Go forth, evil Dream, beside the swift ships of the Achaians. ..Bid him arm the flowing – haired Achaians for battle in all haste; since now he might take the wide – wayed city of the Trojans.” [page 76, line: 5-13]
Agamemnon takes it to be prophetic and on the basis of this dream makes a military decision that turns out to be disastrous. Zeus begets children on an indefinite number of females other than his wife, some of them goddesses, many of them human. Neither Zeus nor other gods are too much occupied with the wellbeing of people. This was the message which was passed by Homer to Greeks and soon he became the authority comparable in Western tradition only to combination of Bible and Shakespeare. In this form it was passed to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle some three centuries later. If Homer was a Shakespeare of Ancient Greece, Socrates was her Isaac Newton, except that he did not discover physical gravity but gravitational force of happiness through moral and ethical behavior. Socrates felt a vocation as a philosopher to examine ethical questions. His Universe was moral one. He could not avoid clashes with traditional Homeric views which led to his condemnation to death by an Athenian court that had found him guilty of impiety and of corrupting Athenian youth through his teachings – claim that Socrates denied.
This was the message which was passed by Homer to Greeks and soon he became the authority comparable in Western tradition only to combination of Bible andShakespeare. In this form it was passed to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle some three centuries later. If Homer was a Shakespeare of Ancient Greece, Socrates was her IsaacNewton, except that he did not discover physical gravity but gravitational force of happiness through moral and ethical behavior. Socrates felt a vocation as a philosopher to examine ethical questions. His Universe was moral one. He could not avoid clashes with traditional Homeric views which led to his condemnation to death by an Athenian court that had found him guilty of impiety and of corrupting Athenian youth through his teachings – claim that Socrates denied.
Socrates had a dialogue with Euthyphro before the trial for impiety. Euthyphro was an Athenian religious official. Socrates asked Euthyphro to define piety for him. Euthyphro has a problem, but at some point he says that piety is what pleases the gods and impiety is what displeases them. This is a problem for anyone who believes the myths of Homer and Hesiod. The gods of the poets often quarrel with one another; in the Trojan War. The Greek success pleased the gods aligned with the Greeks, but displeased those aligned with the Trojans. If we use Euthyphro’s definition, then the same thing must be both pious and impious, both good and bad or both right and wrong.
Socrates this way promotes idea of acts favored by gods on the grounds that those acts are inherently right. It is hard to tell how many of Socratic dialogues in Plato’s works really come from Socrates and how many were completely written by Plato himself. In Plato’s Republic Socrates really criticizes poets and concretely Homer “the great story-teller of mankind“ for giving false picture of gods, “as when a painter paints a portrait nothaving the shadow of a likeness to the original.“ He believes writings like „all the battles of the gods in Homer“ are unsuitable for the education of guardians destined to become political elites of his ideal state „whether they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not.“ Plato knows that ideas have consequences and that is whyhe insists that „it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.“