“Is it better to be feared or loved?” The Italian historian Niccolò Machiavelli believes that while both are important for a leader, fear is more likely to lead to a successful rule. The gods of Ancient Greece emphasize the importance of religion and tell stories of severe consequences if they are not pleased. Books 10, 13, and 17 of the Odyssey, by Homer, demonstrate how the ancient Greeks’ respect for the gods stems mostly from fear of the consequences, explaining multiple characters’ decisions to protect themselves by respecting the gods to avoid consequences.
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The reference of the punishment which results from helping the enemy of a god in book 10 shows the Greeks’ fear of the gods.
In Book 10, Odysseus seeks help from the wind god Aeolus, in order to return home after the long war. Aeolus follows the expectations of hospitality, welcomes guests and provides a way for all the crew to go home, as Aeolus “set the west wind free to blow us on our way… home” (The Odyssey 10.29-30). Disrespecting xenia can result in punishments as Zeus, the king of the gods, is the god of hospitality. When Odysseus makes a mistake and ends up back on Aeolus’s island, Aeolus angrily yells: “Away from my island- fast- most cursed man alive! It’s a crime to host a man or speed him on his way when the blessed deathless gods despise him so. Crawling back like this- it proves the immortals hate you! Out- get out!” (The Odyssey 10.79-83).
By returning to the island, Odysseus unintentionally portrays himself as a curse from the gods, which is why Aeolus is displeased to see him again. If Odysseus is a god’s enemy, then he is everyone’s enemy, no matter how famous he was before. He no longer deserves any respect or help of any kind from anyone. Another example of the punishment resulting from helping the enemy of a god is in Book 13, where the Phaeacians sail Odysseus back to Ithaca, and resulted in being cursed themselves. Even though they supplied Odysseus as they would any guest, they had not had understood that their patron god, Poseidon, was fully against Odysseus reaching his home. Earlier in the story, Odysseus had stabbed Polyphemus, the Cyclops and the son of Poseidon, which had resulted in Poseidon vowing that Odysseus would not return to his home. Poseidon “with one flat stroke of his hand struck [the ship] to stone, rooted her to the ocean floor and made open for sea” (The Odyssey 13.185-187).
Gods are meant to be viewed as efficient leaders, role models and friendly companions to the people, however, Poseidon’s actions show that gods are more like humans, holding grudges and fostering feelings of hatred. Even though he does care of the Phaeacians, stoning them emphasized that they made a critical mistake and should learn how to differentiate his friends from his foes. The consequences of their actions show that although Greeks must display hospitality to all visitors,, they cannot do so to those who have angered the gods. Disrespect to others shows disrespect towards the gods. Book 17 shows Antinous throwing a stool towards Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, which is not acceptable behavior towards guests. Antinous, the ill-mannered of the suitors: “gave him a scathing look and let fly, ‘Now you won’t get out of the hall unscarred, I swear, not after such a filthy string of insults!’ With that he seized the stool and hurled it- Square in the back it struck Odysseus, just under the right shoulder” (The Odyssey 17.507-511).
Injuring others, especially guests, is against the rule of hospitality as gods may be guests in disguise. Antinous portrays his distrust of the gods by not following this rule and shows arrogance as he believes that a beggar is not up to his standards. In addition, even the other suitors fear the consequences Antinous’ behavior as his “fate is sealed if he’s some god from the view” (The Odyssey 17. 534).
This advice shows the common reaction in ancient Greece. Instead of being angered by Antinous’ rudeness, they are scared that the gods will curse them. In ancient Greek society, they did not consider actions morally and personally, instead aiming to merely please the gods. People of Ancient Greece feared and respected the gods. They tried to be on their best behavior at all times in order to please the gods and avoid any trouble. They feared the consequences of helping enemies of the gods or disrespecting the guests or hosts of a house. Even today, people pretend to be generous only to benefit themselves or make themselves look more superior than they actually are. Fear of punishment encourages people to follow strictly under the rule of upper beings.
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