Assess The Significance Of The Gods In — страница 3

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the feeling is always there; a divine quality thence flows into actions shared by gods and men.Divine quality? What kind of quality? What id the religious message of the “>Iliad<-”? There is certainly no providential design in the <+”>Iliad<-”>, no struggle for the transcendental cause. The Homeric gods have a different sphere. Their power lies in the immediate present. What we see is a divine immanence in things. What could be more repellent to common religious feeling than the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon revolving around a question of booty? And yet the deepest instincts are brought into action, passions and resolutions rise to full power; surely the crisis cannot be taken for granted; a god must lurk in these unleashed energies. The gods

watch, witness, participate, and help bring events to a crisis. Their movements are as free as human action is fluid in its ebb and flow. They are poetically conceived according to the needs of the moment, not subjected to any rule. We can find no theology here. Louder and stronger than any ritual prayers, we hear a cry prompted by the occasion – that of Glaucus (16.514ff.) or of Ajax (17.645ff.). The gods listen, and in most cases they respond. But let us not expect them to be just or fair (Athene tempts Pandarus in 4.92ff. and dupes Hector in 22.226ff.). Their strength lies in intensifying the sense of life, and yet in doing so they inevitably increase the poignance of what is at stake, including the issue of right and wrong. All serious poetry of early Greece involves the

gods. The presence of divine agents, visibly at work in what happens, enables the poet to show the meaning of events and the nature of the world. In the”> Iliad <-”we find a rich cast of gods and goddesses. Some take the side of the Achaeans, others that of Troy. There are lively disputes over the nectar on Olympus, as the divine partisans support and oppose their chosen mortals. Sometimes they go down – all save Zeus – and intervene personally on earth, on the battlefield or in private interviews. From moment to moment they seem unedifying: ‘Homer makes his men gods and his gods men’ comments a great critic in late antiquity, and he was thinking primarily of the Iliad. Gods even suffer, and the shady pair Ares and Aphrodite, who are on the Trojan side and whom

the poet seems not to like, are actually wounded by mortal warriors, while even Zeus grieves for the death of his son Sarpedon. Yet the suffering of gods is soon over and lacks the tragedy of that of men, and the phrase ’sublime frivolity’ fits them well. For they can be, at moments, sublime as well as frivolous. The “>Odyssey<-”, too, has some scenes of the assembly of the gods, and Athene comes down constantly to intervene among men. But the divine cast-list is considerably less extensive, with a number of the great gods of the “>Iliad<-” barely appearing, such as Hera, Apollo, Artemis, and Hephaestos, and no more lively scenes of divine dissension. Poseidon does not want Odysseus to return home, and so the subject is simply not raised among the gods

until a day comes when he is away (Book One); and when Odysseus says to Athene that he was not aware of any help from her on his perilous journey, she replies that she did not want to fight with Poseidon her uncle (13.316-19, 339-43). That was not the way of the gods of the” Iliad”. Fewer gods, then, appear, and they do not behave in the old turbulent manner. The frivolity of the gods, indeed, is now concentrated in the story which Demodocus sings to the pleasure-loving Phaeacians: a frankly saucy tale, this time, again with Ares and Aphrodite in an undignified role. As in the “>Iliad<-”, these two are poet’s butts. And even that spicy tale is a variation on the central theme of the”> Odyssey<-”, a wife’s chastity menaced in the absence of her husband.

On earth that ends in tragedy, whether she yields like the guilty wife of Agamemnon or resists like the virtuous Penelope; in heaven there is temporary embarrassment, laughter, and the adulterous pair go off to their existence of splendour. But the gods draw the same moral from this story as men draw from the destruction of the Suitors: ‘Ill deeds come to no good’ (8.329). Odysseus, when he kills the Suitors, spares the herald Meron with the words ‘Fear not, Telemachus has saved your life, so that you may know in your heart, and tell other people, how good deeds are far better than evil-doing’ (22.372-4). Olympus is becoming, if not exactly respectable – we still hear a good deal of the irregular offspring of gods, a story-pattern which originally catered to the