The Morality of the Greek Gods

In Ovid’s poems of the gods and the history of Rome, the gods are immoral and relentless in their domination of mankind. In the story of Arachne and Minerva (Athena), Arachne was the greatest weaver in Greece, and challenged Minerva to a weaving contest. Minerva accepts, and Arachne beats her. Minerva, instead of accepting her defeat, destroys Arachne’s work and turns her into a spider.

Apollo and the Satyr
Apollo and the Satyr

In all of the other stories, we see the same pattern. In the story of Jupiter and Io, Jupiter is a lusting brute who cannot control his lust and incurs his wife’s anger repeatedly. In the story of Apollo and Satyr, the Satyr challenges Apollo to a music contest, but Apollo was decreed to have won, and Apollo flayed the Satyr alive. Thus, we see that the gods are unfair and extremely brutal in their retribution towards mankind’s rebellion, and they’re all morally lacking in some way; Jupiter lusts for women, Apollo and Athena for pride and their place in the hierarchy.

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Greek Gods and Cause and Effect

During the existence of the ancient city state of Athens, playwrights would write plays concerning the Greek religion and culture. One of those plays, called Works and Days, talked about ethical cause and effect. The poets message; the gods reward those who do good, and punish those who do wrong, but they do not do this on a consistent basis. For instance, a man could of stolen something, but then sacrifice to the gods and clear his case. Thus, the gods are inconsistent, and cannot be trusted.

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Pandora’s Box

For example, the story of Pandora. Prometheus, an Olympian god, is favorable to men. Man is suffering in the cold, unable to make tools or better themselves beyond rough implements made of wood or stone. Prometheus decides to benefit them by first teaching them to offer sacrifices to the gods. However, man doesn’t have animals to sacrifice, so he tries to decieve Zeus into accepting a meatless sacrifice. Zeus isn’t fooled, and punishes Prometheus. No problem here. Then, Prometheus decides to sneak in a reed a little of the sacred fire that burned on a sacred hearth in Olympus, and gives it to men. Suddenly, man is no longer suffering, and can make advanced tools and weapons and better their knowledge of the world. Zeus punishes Prometheus again by chaining him to a rock and having his liver eaten out by eagles every day. For man, he gives a special punishment. Even though they didn’t do anything wrong, he orders his fellow gods to create a woman, named Pandora, and gives her rich clothing and ornaments, and gives her as a pretended gift to a leader of men. This man takes her, and with her came old age, and all the other ills that plague mankind. Man didn’t deserve this treatment; it was Prometheus, and Prometheus alone who “sinned” against Zeus.

The inconsistency of the gods in Works and Days is reversed somewhat in The Eumenides. The Furies, underground goddesses of revenge, are consistent. They revenge murders, especially family murder, and the Greeks lived in absolute surety of these Furies pursuing them to their deaths if they committed a serious infraction. However, the gods of Olympus are still inconsistent. For instance, for Athena to be favorable in Odeseus’s cause, the Greeks give Athena land around defeated Troy. So, she can be bribed, and she is one of the final Olympian gods of justice.

So, in Works and Days as well as The Eumenides, we see the same themes. Though the Furies are consistent in punishing murderers until Athena pursuades them overwise, the Olympian gods are untrustworthy and are not consistent in terms of justice, and will punish those undeserving if they are unhappy that another god gave them blessings.