In the ancient world a common greeting among travelers was, “Which gods do you worship?” Deities were compared, traded, and adopted in recognition that strangers had something of value to offer. Along with the accretion of ancestor gods into extensive pantheons, an exchange of earthly ideas and useful articles took place. Pantheons were insurance providers who covered women, children, tradesman, sailors and warriors – no matter how dangerous or risky their occupations; no matter how lowly. Multiple gods meant that everyone had a sympathetic listener, one that might increase a person’s chances for a favorable outcome to life’s ventures, large and small.
In The Iliad …
…the gods are manifestations of physical states; the rush of adrenalin, sexual arousal, and rage. For the Homeric male, these are the gods that must be obeyed. There is no power by which a man can override the impulse-to-action of these god forces. The gifts of the notorious killer Achilles originate in the divine sphere, but he is human like his comrades; consumed by self pity and emotionally erratic.
In Ancient Greek culture, consequences accompanied individual gifts. Achilles must choose an average life (adulthood) and obscurity, or death at Troy and an immortal name. Achilles sulks like a boy, but we know that he will submit to his fate, because fate is the body, and no matter how extraordinary that body is, the body must die. Immortality for Homeric Greeks did not mean supernatural avoidance of death. To live forever meant that one’s name and deeds were preserved by the attention and skill of the poet. In Ancient Greek culture it was the artist who had the power to confer immortality.
There was no apology for violence in Homeric time. The work of men was grim adventure. Raids on neighbors and distant places for slave women, for horses and gold, for anything of value, was a man’s occupation. The Iliad is packed with unrelenting gore, and yet we continue to this day to be mesmerized by men who hack each other to death. Mundane questions arise: were these Bronze Age individuals afflicted with post traumatic stress disorder? How could women and children, as well as warriors not be traumatized by a life of episodic brutality? If they were severely damaged mentally and emotionally, how did they create a legacy of poetry, art, science and philosophy? Did these human beings inhabit a mind space that deflected trauma as if it were a rain shower? Was their literal perception of reality a type of protection?
Women will forever be drawn to the essential physicality of Homeric man. He is the original sexual male; the man whose qualities can be witnessed in the flesh. His body was a true product of nature and habit. Disfiguring scars proved his value in battle. Robust genes may have been his only participation in fatherhood.
Time and culture have produced another type of man, a supernatural creature with no marked talent, one who can offer general, but not specific, loyalty. Domestic man, propertied man, unbearably dull man, emotionally-retarded man. In his company a woman shrivels to her aptitude for patience and endurance, for heating dinner in the microwave and folding laundry. Her fate is a life of starvation.
Noble Penelope reduced to a neurotypical nag.