The unenviable life of the Gods

In the Homeric epics, the life of the Gods is portrayed as a life of unending pleasure with lots of feasting and other activities, punctuated by the occasional dispute. The life of men on the other hand is short and for the most part their life is full of pain and sorrow. It would see obvious that the life of a God is preferable. Yet I would say that the mortal’s life is preferable.

Take the feasting for example. Like everyone else I enjoy feasting but supposing at every meal the only thing on the menu was nectar and ambrosia. That might be OK for the first million years or so but for all eternity? You would have a side dish of the smells wafted up in the smoke from sacrifices but that’s not really a substantial meal. And as for the endless bonking if you are a male God. Sounds good but you would miss the joys of a close and faithful relationship with a single individual.

But perhaps the worst thing about being a Greek immortal is the relationship with mortals. The Greek gods looking down on Troy seem to leading a proxy life through the lives of the mortal heros. They have an occasional foray into the action but are never themselves at risk. They are like those that spend their lives at computer screens playing games. It’s the men who have the real emotions and who have the real pleasures, short lived though they be, and the real pains.

Of course this is the wrong way to read Homer. We, the readers, are also proxy viewers. The role of the gods is to enhance the sufferings and triumphs of the mortals by giving them divine sanction.

Here, when Hera and Zeus are arguing, Hephaistus gets worried that the gods’ dinner will be disturbed.

τοῖσιν δ᾽ Ἥφαιστος κλυτοτέχνης ἦρχ᾽ ἀγορεύειν
‘μητρὶ φίλῃ ἐπίηρα φέρων λευκωλένῳ Ἥρῃ:
ἦ δὴ λοίγια ἔργα τάδ᾽ ἔσσεται οὐδ᾽ ἔτ᾽ ἀνεκτά,
εἰ δὴ σφὼ ἕνεκα θνητῶν ἐριδαίνετον ὧδε,
ἐν δὲ θεοῖσι κολῳὸν ἐλαύνετον: οὐδέ τι δαιτὸς
ἐσθλῆς ἔσσεται ἦδος, ἐπεὶ τὰ χερείονα νικᾷ.

Hephaistus the well-known craftsman, started to speak among them, with goodwill towards his mother, Hera of the white arms.

These deeds will be dreadful and it cannot be tolerated that you two are are quarrelling about mortal men like this and that you are continuing your argument among the gods. We won’t get any pleasure from our splendid feast when bad situations get the upper hand.

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