The relationships between gods and mortals are one of the central themes of Greco-Roman mythology. Though gods and goddesses obtain the ultimate power and can rule over destinies of men, they not always are depicted as the voice of justice and sometimes use their might for satisfying their personal needs and compensating for the weaknesses of their character. The popularity of the theme of love affairs between the gods and the mortals can be explained with the peculiarities of the concept of divinity in Greeks and Romans.
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Along with supporting humans during their wars and interfering into the earth conflicts, gods often fell in love with mortals though it was prohibited by the divine laws. On the one hand, it can be explained with the weakness of character of gods. On the other hand, realizing their enormous power and lack of restraints, the divine creatures could be certain that they just could afford themselves violating the rules without fear of future punishment.
There are a great number of examples when the relationships between gods and mortals ended as marriage-type of love. These include, for example, Ariadne marrying ,Dionysus, the Greek god of grape harvest and winemaking, Tithonus marrying Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, and Psyche marrying Eros (Cupid in Roman mythology), the god of sexual love.
At the same time, there is a wide range of relationships between the gods and the humans without marriage, the so-called lust-type of love. These are the couples of the goddess Aphrodite and her young lover Adonis and relationships between Zeus and mortal women Alkmene, Semele, and Leda.
The majority of god-mortal couples bore children who could become a Demigod or a hero. Hesiod, a Greek oral poet even compiled the prolonged lists of mortal women who had relationships with gods and children who were born from divine and mortal couples. “Since many aristocratic families and even entire cities traced their lineages to these heroes, this extensive list acts as a bridge between the Theogony and the world of Hesiod’s audience” (Trzaskoma 131).
Thus, looking for their forefathers in these lists, ancient Greeks and Romans rationalized the beliefs in their own divine origin. The representation of the love liaisons between gods and mortals in Greek and Roman myths removes the distinct line between the divine and mortal origin of heroes and changes the traditional interpretation of the concept of divinity as the voice of justice which is deprived of biases.
Another interpretation of relationships between the gods and the mortals is presented in Euripides’ play Hippolytus in which Artemis as the goddess of chastity rejects to protect her human lover Hippolytus. As opposed to numerous examples of divine lovers who protected their favourites and interfered in the earth affairs, Artemis decides to take revenge on Aphrodite who kills her lover in future by killing Aphrodite’s next mortal favorite.
The goddess of chastity admits that “This is the settled custom of the gods: no one may fly in the face of another’s wish: we remain aloof and neutral” (Euripides 69). This interpretation of the divine rules contradicts a plenty of examples from the Greek and Roman myths in which the gods and goddesses make attempts to ruin plans of other gods for the purpose of achieving their own goals. At the same time, one of possible explanations of Artemis’ choice can be found in the peculiarities of her sphere.
The goddess of chastity is expected to follow the rules even violating her own interests. Still, this perspective on both the relationships between the gods and gods and mortals is valuable for presenting the wide range of existing approaches to defining the concept of divinity in Greeks and Romans.
As opposed to pure and innocent feelings of Artemis, the plot of another Euripides’ play Ion is based on lust kind of relationships between gods and mortals. According to the myth, the god Apollo raped Creusa and she bore a child Ion, one of the main protagonists of the play. Though these events are not depicted in the work, this background information is central for interpreting the following development of the events. The play depicts the destiny of Ion who does not know who his parents are till the end when the truth is disclosed.
The theme of destiny of half-divine children who are sometimes regarded as bastards is central for the play because Apollo’s act ruined lives of several mortals, making them suffer. The Apollo-Creusa liaison can be considered as one of the most disgusting examples of lust kind of relationships between the divine and mortal characters in all the Greek and Roman mythology which, however, adds new shades of meaning to the interpretation of the concept of deity by ancient people.
Instead of separating the worlds of gods and mortals, Greek and Romans depict the numerous examples of liaisons between divine and human characters in their myths, expressing their unique views on deity and the weaknesses of gods.
Euripides, Moses Hadas, John McLean. Ten Plays by Euripides. New York: Bantam Books. 1981. Print.
Trzaskoma, Stephen, Scott Smith, and Stephen Brunet (eds.) Anthology of Classical Myth: Primary Sources in Translation. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company. 2004. Print.