The Pride of Zeus
In Greece and Asia Minor around 2000 B. C. there existed a common belief in a group of deities.
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Of this group of deities were twelve Olympians who were immortal. From that group of Olympians came the most dominant and commanding God known to immortals and mortals alike. That Olympian god was Zeus; the son of Titans Cronus and Rhea. When Zeus had grown to maturity, he waged war against his father with his disgorged brothers and sisters as allies. The battle was of epic proportions, Zeus fighting from Mt.
Olympus, Cronus from Mt. Othrys. This is Mark Morford’s interpretation of Zeus’ rise to power, which he’d argue is a story of, “The Hero and the Quest” (Morford, 76). While there is no arguing Zeus’ supremacy, it is easy to argue his intentions. Zeus has been labeled as a selfish God; a God who looks only after his bests interests. There is no arguing Zeus is an egocentric God. But being the most powerful God, it’s difficult to place blame on him. However, there is more to Zeus than his powerful facade.
Zeus may always be looking out for his best interests as seen in the poem, Leda and the Swan, but he is aware of the existence of the other Gods and mortals. It is because of this that I believe Zeus not only tries to appease himself, but also every other living soul on Earth at the time, whether they be brothers or sisters, sons and daughters, or Gods and mortals. While others may declare these are patterns of evilness and destructiveness, I believe it’s more than anything the pride of Zeus which justifies his actions.
In Homer’s great Epic, “The Iliad,” the presence of Zeus affected every action taken or avoided in some shape, way, or form. His allowance of other gods intervening in the war at times strengthens the idea that he is all-seeing and all-powerful, due to the fact that the other gods’ intervention inevitably led fate back onto its original course. But, we’re talking about Zeus; God of all Gods. He refuses to be undermined, and if ever he needed could destroy the Earth with a single creation. That frightening thought was almost made a reality in Hesiod’s “Pandora” from his poems Works and Days.
In the myth, Zeus creates the first woman, who is capable of the destruction of mankind. Obviously Zeus is a very contradictive character. On the one hand, he possesses a number of powers that mankind can benefit from, as seen in his role in, “The Iliad. ” On the other hand, he owns a number of negative qualities, among which greed probably the most significant one, made significant in his role in, “Pandora. ” Through it all, Zeus remains true to himself. And while at times he may be viewed as chaotic, the prideful Zeus never backs downs from any God or any mortal.
In the era of Homer, divine intervention was thought to be typical, and one of his foremost works, “The Iliad,” reflects this. Nearly all of the Greek gods are involved in the outcome of the Trojan War, which happens to be the background story of this epic poem. The gods are used by Homer to add twists on an otherwise standard plot of war. Zeus, very untypical of a Greek god in his lack of involvement in the Trojan War for his own reasons, was portrayed as the father figure, being impartial and fair to both sides of the war. He remains this way to serve as a check for each god’s involvement in the war.
Without his presence at the head of the inner circle of Olympus, it is likely that the activity of the Trojan War would become chaotic, possibly even becoming a recreational war for the gods. With Zeus’s majestic power, above all of the other gods combined, along with his experience, he is quite befitting to his role in the storyline of The Iliad. The role of Zeus in Homer’s Iliad is one of moderator and the overall director of all that occurs in this story. His position was to ensure that whatever fate decreed would happen. Without his presence, the story would likely become a war for the gods instead of the Greeks and Trojans.
Zeus stayed impartial throughout almost the entire epic in contrast to the other gods, who would scheme and contrive plans for the sides that they chose to ally with. For example, Hera, his wife, chose to display the more typical actions of a Greek divinity. Paris, a Trojan prince, chose Aphrodite as the fairest over Hera and Athena, and this infuriated her, and she went to no end to try to help the Greek army defeat the Trojan side. However, Hera recognizes the superiority of Zeus over herself as well as the rest of the Olympian gods.
Hera is obviously the subservient god, even becoming afraid and ceasing speaking when Zeus orders her under the possible occurrence of him laying his “invincible” hands on her. She does try to undermine his power by trickery, slyly getting him to sleep while her and her brother, Poseidon, god of the seas, influence the war in the favor of the Greeks (Homer, 201).
However, when Zeus awakens, his reemergence into the picture effectively eliminates the other gods from intervening in the war due to his sheer will and backing power. This is another of your evil schemes, you unmanageable creature! ” said Zeus (Homer, 210). “You shall soon find out if you get any good by your loving and your bedding and by coming all this way to deceive me! ” (Homer, 210). The opposing gods were mainly Apollo and Artemis, twin brother and sister. They favored the Trojan side, and were constantly turning the tide in favor of the Trojans. Apollo respected Zeus and his enforcing of the laws of fate, however, and kept fate as it was deemed to be. An example of this is when Achilles’ servant, Patroclus, tries to take the city of Troy.
Before Patroclus was allowed to wear Achilles’ armor into battle, he promised only to drive the Trojans away from the ships and not to take an offensive against the city of Troy. Only the reflection of Patroclus by Apollo’s shield three times prevents this. This lack of moderation shown by Patroclus, as well as the deeming of death before the end of battle by fate, granted by Zeus, leads to his death. Patroclus replied, half fainting, “For this once, Hector, make your proud boast; for you are the victor, by help of Zeus and Apollo, who mastered me an easy thing” (Homer, 245).
Zeus serves as an enforcer of fate in the epic, giving no ground to anyone, even his blood relatives. Zeus also shows no mercy to mortals in The Iliad. His own son, Sarpedon, was allowed to die at the hands of Patroclus while Zeus looked on, unwilling to break fate and save even his own son. Zeus was debating whether or not to take him from the battlefield, but Hera convinced him by expressing the feelings other gods would have, namely anger. She told him that he would not be praised and that other gods would possibly take their loved ones out of battle as well.
Zeus was confined to his own sorrow because he was not willing to take his son out of the battle. Zeus was able, however, to have Apollo take his body from the battlefield and take him back to Lykia, where he could be buried as a hero. Zeus also wanted a respectable and honorable death for Hector, the Trojan hero, and was infuriated when Achilles decided to desecrate the body of Hector. This epic ends when Hector’s body is ransomed back to the Trojan side to the pleasure of Zeus, making prevalent the presence of all-powerful Zeus.
Zeus has an overriding presence in The Iliad, sometimes not directly present, but always in the mix. He is the only presence in the epic that stresses the Greek ideals of moderation and fate. The Greeks believed in the ideal of moderation, and the essence that moderation was the key to becoming a better person. Fate also could not be avoided in the eyes of the Greeks, and when fate was trifled with, bad things happened, as they did when fate was trifled with in The Iliad. The presence of Zeus in the epic affected every action taken or avoided in some shape, way, or form.
His allowance of other gods intervening in the war at times strengthens the idea that he is all-seeing and all-powerful, due to the fact that the other gods’ intervention inevitably led fate back onto its original course. In the eyes of the Greeks, the Trojan War was a spectacular event to the mortals, but to the gods, it was nothing more than a mere petty struggle. However, the idea of fate must be kept under all circumstances, and Zeus was the overseeing power in that ensured this in “The Iliad. ”
While Zeus’ role in the Iliad can be viewed as more passive or submissive, his role in Hesiod’s creation myth “Pandora” can only be viewed one way: oppression. When Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods, was young and trying to establish his rule, he was challenged by a group of ferocious Titans, who tried to keep him from gaining power. A long and terrible war ensued, with all the Olympian gods joined against the Titans, who were led by Cronus and Atlas (Morford, 76). After ten years of fighting, and with the help of the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires, Zeus and his fellow Olympians defeated the Titans.
Only a few Titans, including Themis, Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus, fought on the side of Zeus – against their fellow Titans – and once Zeus won, he rewarded them. But soon Prometheus made Zeus very angry by stealing fire from Mount Olympus and giving it to the race of mortal men living on earth, who were cold and hungry. Zeus had warned Prometheus not to give fire to men, and was outraged that anyone had the nerve to ignore his command. In the Theogony (507-616) Hesiod tells the stories of Prometheus and his conflict with Zeus, with the human race as the pawn in this gigantic clash of divine wills.
Hesiod goes on to describe the dread consequence of Zeus’ anger at Prometheus for his theft of fire (Theogony 570-616): Immediately he contrived an evil thing for mortals in recompense for the fire. The renowned lame god, Hephaestus, fashioned out of earth the likeness of a modest maiden according to the will of the son of Cronus. When he had fashioned the beautiful evil in recompose for the blessing of fire, he led her out where the other gods and mortals were, exulting in the raiment provided by the gleaming-eyed daughter of a mighty father. Unlike his role in “The Iliad,” Zeus is now acting in a state of vengeance.
Hesiod provides another account of Prometheus in the Works and Days (47-105); the evil is now specifically named. She is Pandora, which means, “All gifts,” and she has a jar. Zeus is viewed as the oppressor to mankind in “Pandora,” while Prometheus can be viewed as the benefactor. Pandora was created for one reason, to punish mankind as a goal for revengeful Zeus. Zeus cannot and will not tolerate anybody going behind his back for any circumstances. He will go to such great lengths to ensure he remains the leader of all Gods, again, showing the pride he has for himself.
From the beginning he was faced with opposition, and once he overcame that, he proved his worth. For the rest of his life, he was not going to let anyone be of aggravation to him. Another side of the many faces of Zeus is shown in William Butler Yeats’ poem Leda and the Swan. The poem is based on the mythological story about the rape of Leda, a mortal woman who was married to the mortal man, Tyndareus, but the god of gods, Zeus, wanted to have her. Zeus was known for taking advantage of women by posing as various animals, like a bull, or like objects, such as a shower of gold.
When he chose to have Leda, he took the form of a swan. The poem tells of the actual situation of Zeus having sex with Leda in the shape of a swan. The lines “How can those terrified vague fingers push the feathered glory from her loosening thighs? “(Yeats, 25) show that his power is far greater than hers, and she cannot fight to stop him, and “A shudder in the loins engenders there” (Yeats, 25) describes Leda becoming pregnant with Helen, who is to become the most beautiful woman alive, and is courted by thousands of men. Zeus has many affairs with beautiful women and goddesses, even if they are unwilling.
Even though he hides his evil intentions in the form of a swan, he will stop at nothing to accomplish his goals, and takes great pride in doing so. To try to put an explanation on all of Zeus’ actions would be an impossible task, as classical scholars and philosophers have dedicated entire lives to it. My interpretation of all of Zeus’ actions seems to have one underlying theme, and that is Zeus is a very prideful person. He is the Supreme Being among the gods of Olympia. He is capable of anything, but yet allows those who spoil him to live.
He sends harsh messages to those that need to be put in check, and even helps mortals live a balanced life. While many of Zeus’ good deeds go unnoticed, his character remains unscathed to all of those around him. The pride of Zeus always remained at an elevated level. Quite simply, he is the most powerful being in Greek mythology, and his motive for all his actions could be summarized in a quote from C. S. Lewis: “Pride is a personal commitment. It is an attitude which separates excellence from mediocrity. ” Being the God of gods, Zeus has no room for mediocrity. Only excellence will be accepted, and his pride is correlates directly to that.