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Anthropomorphism In Greek Myth

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Paper #1: The role of anthropomorphism in Greek mythology.

"God created man in his image, and man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment."

-Mark Twain

In his beginning, man was part of nature. He knew little about the causes of natural phenomenon and certainly knew of no way to control them. This is perhaps the reason for his creation of ritual and later religion. As man evolved he began to consider the possibilities of gaining some type of control over his environment. If nature was simply a random set of events ruled only by chaos than this wouldn't be possible. However, if something or better yet someone was in control, one could acquire what they desired by pleasing this entity. In the beginning, according to some theories, man worshiped many deities. These deities were usually assigned to a specific aspect of nature such as the sun, wind, or darkness. It seemed to them that at times the sun was presenting the humans with the gift of light, and warmth while other times it hid. The wind at times was soft and cooled the region, and others it was fierce and deadly. Darkness seemed somewhat evil; it was mysterious and brought about other animals and sounds. Humans, while complex, are still limited in what they can understand. What is easy for them to comprehend is that of which they are; their emotions, their actions, their personalities. By assigning nature human characteristics, it was then understandable. This personification of nature eventually evolved into the creation of deities. These deities continued to posses the human characteristics assigned to their "nature" counterparts. This practice of assigning human characteristics to non-human entities is called anthropomorphism. The Greeks took this humanism to a whole new level by adding more complexity to the characters. Through their myths they assigned emotion, personality, lineage and history to the gods. This use of anthropomorphism in Greek myth serves several roles; it enables the stories to be understandable, relatable, interesting and most of all it allows a diverse body of myths to exist.

In order to evade the perception of being foreign, the Greek myths had to be relatable to the audience. The best way to do this is to focus the stories on what the audience already knows and understands. By making the gods human-like it was possible for the audience to relate to them, and enabled them to picture them in their minds. One must remember that while there were plays in this era, they still required the audience to have an imagination, not like television today where the scenery, plot, and characters are force fed to the viewer. The image of the gods was imaginable by the audience because they were similar to the humans in many ways. The gods were portrayed as having a human-like body. These bodies were usually portrayed as nearly perfect, the men muscular and handsome while the women were of the utmost beauty. These attributes can be seen in the surviving Greek art. The gods are usually portrayed as larger than humans, often taking up the whole height of the piece. For identification purposes they usually have some attribute to distinguish them from the other gods, such as Zeus' thunderbolt, or a certain hammer or staff. The gods, while human-like, were considered a vision of what humans could be like, if somehow freed from their flaws. Beauty and perfection was key. There are exceptions to this rule of course. There was Typhoeus, the son of Gaea and Tartarus, who had a body consisting of muscular arms, one-hundred heads, dark tongues, fire shooting eyes, and an unbearably loud voice. The straying from human characteristics may aid in the portrayal of Typhoeus as an evil character. Those beings with multiple heads, arms, or legs seem to be categorized as evil. Another example of non-human attributes would be of the Satyrs, the male followers of Dionysus. They are portrayed as half man, half horse. They possessed the torso and head of a human, the body, legs, tail and ears of a horse. In this case the attributes may not be so much for evil but to assign a somewhat greater sense of strength, speed, or even more so, a closer relationship with animals or nature. It is obvious therefore that there are, as always seems to be the case, exceptions; however in most cases the gods are seen as similar to man's image. Aside form the human form, gods speak the same language as the Greeks and use the same organs to do so, in other words, no telepathy. While they are able in some cases to reproduce asexually, sexual reproduction seems to be the more often used method. The asexual reproduction of Gaea produced Uranus, the Mountains, and Pontus. Later her sexual reproduction with Uranus produced numerous offspring. While the use of sexual reproduction was human-like (obviously not exclusive to humans but still human-like), the use of alternative reproduction was represented in the myths. An example of such an alternative would be the conception of the Giants and Erinyes by Gaea when the blood of Uranus fell onto her. While the Greeks seem to have known that human reproduction was related to the sperm entering the woman, they also seem to think the Gods had ways to bypass this requirement. Going along with this observation of sperm into woman, they Greeks recognized the woman as the vessel in which life developed, whether she attributed to this life's origination is another question. However there are some exceptions to this such as when Zeus eats his pregnant wife, thus becoming the vessel in which Athena develops. Later instead of bearing the offspring as a woman would, Zeus bears Athena through his head and in a fully clothed and developed stage. Gods are also human-like in that they posses a circulatory system, however this system is not filled with the inferior human blood, instead inside flows a divine fluid called ichor (Powell 153). In addition, this ichor can be spilled during injury much as the humans, however this injury and loss will not result in death, as the gods are immortal. Although the gods are sometimes smarter, stronger, better looking or possess superior weaponry, it is the immortality which truly sets them apart from the humans. Death is perhaps the greatest worry on the mind of a human. Freed from this burden the gods are free to live their lives in a more happy state of mind. According to Powell this creates an environment which is light-hearted and comedic. It allowed the gods to perform extreme, humorous, or even burlesque acts which to a human would be wrought with consequence (Powell 153). This can be compared to the entertainment of today, soap operas for example are filled with deviant acts of love and betrayal which the normal person



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