This essay will be answering about the relationship between gods and morals in Homer’s Odyssey and particularly how do the lives of mortals differ from those of the gods and also how similar they are, then drawing a conclusion from this.
In Homer’s Odyssey, the major gods that share significant roles are Athena, Poseidon, Calypso, and Circe with minor gods such as Zeus that has a supporting role in the story. Whilst Odysseus is one of the warriors that fought alongside the Greek heroes and the protagonist of the story, he is also a favorite of Athena but an enemy of Poseidon, which was shown at the start of the story where it said ‘All the gods pitied him [Odysseus], except Poseidon’ and Athena making a statement about Odysseus, ‘But it’s Odysseus I’m worried about.’
. From these two quotes, it can be safely assumed that the references Homer made about gods and humans certainly imply that not only will there be an existing relationship between the gods and mortals, but it will also become more and more prominent as the story progresses. Hence, seeing how they perceive each other to know whether the relationship is merely a mutually beneficial one, a hostile one, or neither of the above would certainly provide an answer.
First and foremost, I believe that the relationship between gods and mortals is a rather complex one that does not fall to either of the side, as some mortals and gods do completely blame each other for things that go wrong. For example, to comfort Ajax, Odysseus told him that his death was caused by Zeus in the quote, ‘Zeus alone is to blame. He persecuted the Greeks.’
Which supports Zeus’s complaint of mortals in page 2. This shows a lack of self-reflection coming from Odysseus himself and also distrust towards the gods, especially Zeus who holds the most power amongst them. Consider how the lack of trust is there to begin with, it is also the reason why gods are rather indifferent to the mortals, believing that mortals is the sole cause of problems as they are the ‘divine beings’ that ended up having to solve the disputes. On the other hand, it is because that gods having powers to control the aspects of life that allow a majority of mortals to held them in high regard and sacrifice food; if not, disaster might bestow upon them. Even though Odysseus sacrifices to Poseidon in fear of knowing that he would punish them as the god of sea on page 161, it does not necessarily mean that gods completely overpower mortals as Odysseus did managed to capture Proteus, also a sea god as a result. Some could say that mortals intend to find and restore balance in their relationship as they belong in a disadvantage due to being the weaker side. Yet, human emotions can be complicated, and especially with revenge being glorified and hence seen as revenge in Greek culture, hostility will always be there. No matter if gods are able to empathize with humans such as the White Goddess Ino taking pity on Odysseus through the line, ‘She pitied Odysseus his wandering, his pain.’
Or also admiring mortals with similar traits like how Athena favors Odysseus due to being a reliable tactician with the knowledge of wisdom and strategy, there is no doubt that negativity prevails over positivity. Therefore, it is clear that the relationship between gods and mortals is constantly varying between a supportive one and one that is harmful.
Second of all, other than judging the relationship between mortals and gods in terms of whether they work out or not and the influence mortal has upon the gods, the purpose of the gods is also something that deserves to be looked upon, as each side has their own role that needs to be fulfilled in a relationship. As divine beings, gods has the power to serve as law and guidance to all mortals equally, no matter if there is trust or not. For example, Menelaus was the one who introduced hospitality to the Greek culture in fear of gods being seen as selfish and cruel and also Zeus himself, which could be seen in the quote, ‘How many times have you and I enjoyed the hospitality of others, hoping that Zeus would someday put an end to our hard travelling?’
- This proved that gods also have a heavy influence towards the tradition mortals have around that time, benefitting their lives in a long-term basis. Despite both sharing emotions, humans tend to suffer more from them and since gods, especially Athena are also known for their rational way of thinking in The Odyssey, their role of guidance also gives the mortals a positive image of themselves that not all of them thinks they’re a nuisance to all the problems that occur. For example, the relationship between Athena and Telemachus not only shows that some gods do use their power and knowledge for their own good but also telling the readers that the act of kindness from gods does not always come from luxuries such as food that they receive from mortals putting them on a pedestal and also for their own safety; rather, like humans, they have control of their own emotions and does not act from pure hatred like Poseidon does. Other than guidance on a mental aspect, gods also give ideas to guide mortals through the long journey; for example, when Hermes met Odysseus on Circe’s island, he told him ‘I will keep you out of harm’s way. Take this herb with you when you go to Circe.’
- Therefore, it can be concluded that gods and mortals share different kinds of relationships depending on how they see each other, whether it is negative or positive, as not all treat mortals equally like Athena while not all solely act on the desire to revenge like Poseidon.
In terms of how the lives of mortals differ from those of the gods, it could be seen through delving into the important relationships between gods and mortals, such as Athena and Odysseus, Athena and Telemachus, and also Zeus’s admiration towards Odysseus, as it is a fact that despite sharing a different mind-set, it all worked out in the end. What is it about their way of living that made gods and mortals stand out consecutively? What about the hostility between Poseidon and Odysseus that gives out a different image of gods and mortals to the readers?
Throughout the journey of Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Odysseus himself, Athena the goddess acted as a catalyst to the story and this is where the contrast of the lives of gods and mortals kicks in. As mortals in The Odyssey, there is always an important goal in their mind that needs to be fulfilled, which for Telemachus’s case is searching for ‘the truth about his father who mysteriously disappeared on his return from the battle at Troy’
and reuniting with his wife and family for Odysseus’s case. This proved that other than the usual praying and sacrificing for gods, there are mortals that are practical and realistic, only focusing on what’s in front of them. However, despite the determination, it could be seen that the things mortals can achieve is limited and therefore discloses how they are inferior to gods in first impression. With Athena’s appearance, not only does it reveal the gods’ superiority in this world, but also the way they live; with empathy as their trait, they inspire to bring help upon mortals that share a heart of gold and truly deserve it. This exhibits mortals putting themselves as top priority throughout their lives while gods are willing to put mortals’ will above theirs as there is nothing they do not have or wanting to achieve as gods. Also, it seems that the lives of gods tend to proceed smoothly without a hitch whilst it is the opposite for mortals as they suffer more from both physical and emotional problems in this story; the focus tends to direct more towards the humans such as Odysseus and Telemachus while gods serve as the backbone, guiding them just so they won’t stray from their path. For example, Telemachus has to constantly receive reassurance and support from Athena to continue his journey to find the truth in book 2, such as, ‘Telemachus, you either lack courage nor sense from this day on.’
Additionally, Athena was able to convince Zeus to send Hermes to Calypso by arguing in front of the Olympian court to free Odysseus from prison with little to no problems. Not only does this tell the readers that mortals themselves can’t begin their own story without a mentor, but also emphasizes that gods live perfect lives and the reason why they’re suitable mentors and protectors for mortals is because of the wisdom and knowledge they were born with.
However, when it comes to how similar both of their lives actually are, this is not always the case as Poseidon acts as the antagonist in this story and is known for causing trouble to Odysseus due to his desire for revenge from Odysseus blinding his son the Cyclops Polyphemus. This is clear on page 78 where Poseidon makes it hard of Odysseus to return home in quote, ‘He gathered the clouds and gripping his trident he stirred the sea. And he raised all the blasts of every wind in the world and covered with clouds.’
Similar to humans, gods share emotions and from here, it is evident that gods also act upon their emotions and is not in full control of it. As it was mentioned above, revenge tends to be seen as justice in Greek culture and hence this shows that gods do contain flaws like mortals do; not every one of them is mature or intelligent or kind enough to offer the support that is needed like Athena and the White Goddess Ino.
In conclusion, through understanding that the relationship between gods and mortals is perhaps one that is complex and one that could not exactly be pinpoint on with a single word and the lives of gods very much differ from mortals through the role they bear in The Odyssey and their way of thinking, though sharing similarities such as unable to completely control emotions in their actions, I was able to draw a conclusion that despite there being an imbalance of power between gods and mortals in The Odyssey, I believe that it is trying to express the importance of coordination and how gods and mortals are not exactly different; they also feel and act upon what is right in their own beliefs and are willing to go all out to achieve the goal in front of them, no matter if it’s for their own or someone else.
Word Count: 1808
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016)
- Dsegal900, ‘The Odyssey: Athena’s Assistance’. Owlcation, June 11, 2010, https://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Odyssey-Athenas-Assistance
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016), page 2.
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016), page 2.
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016), page 174.
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016), page 79.
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016), page 45.
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016), page 149 – 150.
- Dsegal900, ‘The Odyssey: Athena’s Assistance’. Owlcation, June 11, 2010, HYPERLINK 'https://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Odyssey-Athenas-Assistance' https://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Odyssey-Athenas-Assistance
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016), page 102
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles. (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016), page 78.