How the Greeks saw their gods

For the Greeks, the gods were a species of being superior to humans in three main ways: they were immortal; they lived lives of ease and abundance; and they were extremely powerful. By contrast, human life, even that of the rulers, was short and hard, plagued by disease, famine, and natural calamity. The gods were primarily involved in their own world, with their own affairs; only rarely did they intersect with the human world. They did not create human beings and did not particularly care what happened to them. Sometimes they took humans as lovers, but humans were simply not interesting enough to hold the gods” attention for very long; the gods were partial to their children and sought to advance their interests.

The most serious fault–we would probably use the term “‘sin”–of human beings was to forget their limitations as mortals. As superior beings, the gods demanded honor and respect from humans; they (usually) rewarded those who honored them and punished slights, even inadvertent ones, severely. As immortals, the gods had long “memories,” and often punished or rewarded humans for acts of long-dead ancestors. Justice was important, especially to Zeus, and would be done, but not necessarily in the lifetime of the victim.

Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths by Paula L. Reimers
review of: Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn From Myths. By Mary Lefkowitz. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003.304 pp. $30.00.