The Oxford English Dictionary defines 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 worshipped by a people. The first definition reflects Modern Americas connotation of the word god. The latter 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 ortray gods with limits and weaknesses. The contemporary Christian god is able to demand things of his followers, readily expecting wholehearted and unquestioning obedience. This was not the case with his ancient counterparts. Rather than exacting demands upon their followers, occasionally the ancient gods were limited to requests. Often they were refused. In the Odyssey, the goddesses Circe and Calypso both expected lifelong commitments from the mighty Odysseus. Both promised great things to the hero, including godhood.
Odysseus was able to refuse both goddesses. Human obstinacy beat out the whims of goddesses. If the Protestant god were to make sexual demands upon his followers, more than likely, he would not be refused. 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.
And 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. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, another goddess whims are put down. Ishtar, goddess of war and love becomes attracted to the mighty but mortal Gilgamesh. But rather than jumping right into the sack with the goddess, Gilgamesh thought it out and refused. Thus, a second hero also refuses a god.
Sometimes the gods only wanted honest opinions from the umans. 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 cease 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 Aphrodites gift, and Her and Athena become bitter and spiteful because of the judgment.
If the goddesses were equivalent to the Christian od, 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 modern god would not need to ask the opinion of the human because his omniscience would already give him the opinion. The current Christian god is omnipotent and in turn never feels threatened by the ant-like humans below him. In contrast, 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.
The very premise of the Epic of Gilgamesh involved a hero who nearly equaled the gods. In the beginning of the epic, the gods sought to control and/or destroy Gilgamesh by creating an antihero to defeat him. Later, the equals join, building the insecurities of the gods. Eventually, they gods afflict Enkidu, compatriot of Gilgamesh with a fatal disease, thereby stopping the power of the dynamic duo. In the Odyssey, Poseidon developed a grievance against Odysseus. He sent waves to alter the course of the her and many times attempted to dash the hero against the rocks or drown him. Always, though, Odysseus won out.
Although his ship, crew, and ideals were destroyed by the wrath of Poseidon, the man could never be stopped. However, should the Christian god wish to destroy a human, he easily could with a thought. His process would not take nature or antiheroes. Simply, he could think a persons entire existence away. Perhaps the gods were justified in their fears of strong heroes.
The Iliad depicts a Diomeds who rallied against many Trojans. When Aphrodit stepped in his way, he stabbed the goddess, and she fled to Olympus in order to cry on her mothers lap: Oh my wound! Diomeds hit me! that(sic) bully! ecause(sic) I was trying to save my own son Aineias, my darling favourite! This war of the Trojans has become a war of Achaians against gods (64)! In response, her mother, Dion 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. Ars made the best of it, when Otos and Ephialts 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, … had not] Herms 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. Part of the strength of the god of the Bible comes from his unwavering nature. He has no internal conflict and his opinions are consistent. In contrast, 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 he humans escape from the gods wrath.
In the Iliad, the gods disagreed on which side should win the Trojan war. Often, they would descend to earth in order to aid each faction. Eventually, Zeus, the s trongest god, put a stop to the intervention. Consequently, the war continued to drag on. In turn, the gods strived to divert Zeus. Hera developed an elaborate plan to seduce Zeus in order to make him fall asleep. She enlisted the aid of Sleep and Aphrodit. Zeus fell to slumber, and the gods were able to further influence the war. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods contrived to destroy humanity because of heir inconvenient dispositions.
Like in the Bible, a flood was sent to destroy the bulk of humanity. But in the Epic of Gilgamesh, another god was present to thwart the plan. The biblical god saved a select group of humans out of grace. In the pantheist version, the cunning of a protective god saved the small group of humans. Going against the will of his comrades, Anu gave Utnapishtim directions to build a watertight ark and instructions on what to bring. Because of this humanity survived. Homers 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 Calypsos 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. 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. The realized that the gods were not all-powerful. Today that is a given with Christianity. Humans challenged the ancient gods, while the contemporary Christian god is infinitely great. All in all, the gods of Greco-Sumerian antiquity were powerful, but in comparison to the modern Christian god, they were only a step above the ant-like humans.