When learning about Greek myth, many people tend to notice that the gods often take actions that are regarded as bad or evil. Given that they are gods, people often wonder why the Greek gods are bad. After all, as deities, they should be perfect, correct?
The Greek gods are bad because they were never meant to be perfect. They were intended to reflect human faults and follies, which included making decisions that can be regarded as cruel, evil, or bad.
The rest of this article will look at whether Greek gods can be considered evil and who can be considered to be the most wicked Greek god. It will also look at why the Greek gods were shown to be flawed.
Also see Why Are Greek Gods Dead? to learn more.
Were Any Greek Gods Evil?
There were no evil gods in Greek mythology. Each god was both bad and good, and while some gods were more just than others, none were considered truly wicked. Even gods regarded negatively, like Ares and Hades, had positive stories told about them.
The two major gods most commonly regarded as evil in Greek mythology are Ares and Hades. Hades was the god of death and the Underworld and was the one to dole out eternal punishment to wicked mortals in Tartarus.
However, despite his negative reputation, Hades also had a softer side to him. He plays a crucial part in one of the best-known Greek myths – that of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Orpheus was the son of the Muse Calliope and was considered the best musician and poet in Greece. He was taught to play the lyre by Apollo, the god of music. He was also married to Eurydice.
When Eurydice was killed after being bitten by a poisonous snake, Orpheus fell into deep despair. In his grief, he traveled to the Underworld, where he begged Hades and his wife Persephone to return Eurydice.
Orpheus’s plea and his grief-stricken song moved even the god of the dead, who agreed to let him take his wife back to the upper world with him – however, Orpheus would have to lead her out of the Underworld without ever turning to look back at her.
Orpheus would go on to fail in his task, giving his story a tragic ending. However, the fact that Hades was willing to return Eurydice to life out of pity for her husband shows that not even the god of the dead is truly evil.
Ares is probably regarded as the least favorable Greek god. As the representative of the more distasteful and brutal aspects of war, he was perhaps the least popular of the twelve Olympians in Greece.
However, Greek myths often depict him as a caring father despite this lack of popularity. In the Trojan War, Ares was convinced by his lover Aphrodite to support the Trojans.
Despite this, when his son Askalaphos (who was fighting with the Greeks) was killed, he rushed to the battlefield to try and avenge him. He did this even though Zeus had forbidden the gods from interfering in the war until he said otherwise, and Ares’s intervention was only prevented by the actions of Athena.
Also see Why Are Greek Gods Popular? to learn more.
Who is the Most Wicked Greek God?
As discussed above, no Greek god can be said to be genuinely evil. However, it is possible to pinpoint which god is the most wicked.
The most wicked god is probably Hera. While the other gods often act negatively, Hera is the most malicious and spiteful of the gods. She specifically targets both her husband’s mistresses and his children, despite many of them not being truly part of Zeus’s adultery.
While Ares is regarded as negative, his negative traits are usually a result of him acting according to his godly domain, war. On the other hand, Hera is the goddess of marriage, family, and childbirth, and does not have a similar reason to react as she does.
Some of the best-known stories of Hera’s cruel behavior towards her husband’s mistresses and children include:
- Leto: Leto is the mother of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis. When she was pregnant, Hera banned her from giving birth on all land, a power she had due to her position as goddess of childbirth. It was only due to Poseidon’s intervention in raising the island of Delos that resulted in her being able to give birth.
- Hercules: Hera had a particular grudge against Hercules, even though his mother, Alcmene, was tricked into having an affair with Zeus. She used her position as the goddess of childbirth to rob him of his birthright as king of either Tiryns or Argos. She tried to kill him as an infant by sending snakes to kill him in his cradle and drove him mad as an adult, resulting in him murdering his wife and children.
- Semele: When the mortal Semele was pregnant with Dionysus, Hera manipulated her into asking Zeus to appear in front of her in his true godly form, knowing the sight would destroy Semele, and likely her child. Though Semele was indeed burned to ash, Zeus was able to save the child Dionysus, carrying him in his thigh until he was ready to be born.
Also see Why Were Greek Gods Blonde? to learn more.
Why are Greek Gods So Flawed?
As discussed above, Greek gods were meant to be imperfect. However, knowing this fact does not answer the question of why the ancient Greeks wanted their gods to be flawed.
The Greek gods are flawed because this allowed the ancient Greeks to explain the existence of negative things in the world. Perfect gods would create a perfect world. As the world of the ancient Greeks was chaotic and imperfect, they reasoned the gods who created it were flawed and imperfect too.
The Greeks had no perfect model on which to base their gods. Instead, they created the gods by observing the chaos and power of the natural world, such as storms and death. The main attribute of the gods was power, not perfection.
Additionally, the Greeks reasoned that the gods were immortal and could not be affected by illness or death. This allowed them to act in ways that humans, who were constantly afraid of their own security, would not.
The gods could not understand mortality and were often bored by immortality – which led them to treat humans as chess pieces, moving them around a chessboard for their own entertainment.
The Greek gods are not completely bad, nor are they completely good. They are a flawed reflection of how chaotic the ancient Greek world was.
Also see Were Greek Gods Immortal? to learn more.