It's been a while since I did a pure mythology post. But in honor of all those students these past two months who googled "Odysseus death" and came to BwP, here's a new one that I think would make for a great paper for your college mythology class.
Image from here.
Last week in school a student asked a brilliant question: "isn't Zeus perfect?"
The question is brilliant because it raises (some would say "begs," but that would be a misuse of the term) so many other questions, among them
- What does "perfect" mean?
- Why would Zeus above all other gods be perfect?
- Why would we think that any god could be perfect?
- What do we know about Zeus that makes it seem like he should be perfect?
Some thoughts follow, rather than complete answers.
If anyone knows anything about Zeus, it's that he's the supreme god of Greek mythology. He's the one with the beard, the thunderbolt, the throne. He's the Big Guy Upstairs, the Father of Gods and Men.
Which makes him a lot like the popular vision of the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, who, despite generations of sermon messages to the contrary, is still thought of by many as a Very Large Dude with a Very Large Stick.
The modern God in whom many still believe is supposed to be perfect. That is, he knows everything, sees everything, always existed, will never go away, never makes a mistake, always does the right thing. This God's son Jesus is a good example of who God is. For some people today, Jesus hovers about six inches off the ground and is utterly "perfect" but not quite human.
So, perfection in this popular view involves traits that regular humans could never have.
Zeus was never perfect in this way. None of the Greek gods ever were, either.
In fact, though Zeus was supreme, his stature never approached that of the one holy God of Judaism and Christianity. Zeus was powerful, but within a system of many divinities. His brothers Poseidon and Hades were nearly as powerful, but in different spheres. Aphrodite, goddess who was in charge of making people fall in love, worked her magic on Zeus a number of times. It could be argued that the Fates are the most important of all Greek divinities, for they presided over those things that had to happen. Zeus himself could not change Fate.
Zeus is, in fact, a god of justice who himself doesn't always do just things, among them cheating on his wife Hera ("Aphrodite made me do it!"). That's why philosophers sprang up in Greece who wanted to convert Zeus into something more like the God of Judaism and Christianity. In any case, philosophers were not interested in the bearded man on the throne who was the original do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do type of guy.
Being perfect is a tough job. The movie "Bruce Almighty" starring Jim Carrey, and Morgan Freeman as God, demonstrates in a light but effective way what it might mean to have 3,000,000,000 conflicting prayers on your plate at any given moment. Remember the "You've Got Prayers!" scene? Not everyone can win the lottery who prays for it.
So, Zeus is not perfect in our sense of being perfect, which is part of the reason why Greeks of later times looked at Christ and the God of Christianity as a perfect alternative. I don't think we can actually grasp what perfection is, but many of us hope that perfection in a God includes love.