Why Are Greek Gods Flawed?


Greek mythology is full of interesting characters, mortal and immortal alike. From a modern perspective, the gods of Greek mythology may seem strange and fickle. But to the ancient Greeks, the gods were reflections of humanity who were supposed to be flawed. 

The Greek gods were flawed because they weren’t the arbiters of morality. Instead, the gods were complicated and emotional, like humans. The Greeks viewed the gods as an explanation for natural phenomena, not the deciders of right and wrong.

This article will examine some of the gods’ biggest flaws and their relationships to the Ancient Greeks. Keep reading to learn which Greek gods were the most complicated and whether this trend was unique to the Greek religion.

Also see Why Did Greek Gods Marry Their Siblings? to learn more.

Greek gods flaws
Why didn’t the Greeks make their gods perfect? See below (Image: Achilles)

Which Greek God Was the Dumbest?

The Greek gods all have flaws, including pride, rage, infidelity, drunkenness, and a propensity for violence. But one god stands out from the rest as unintelligent in addition to his wrath and insatiable appetites. He doesn’t think before he acts, and his actions often harm others.

The dumbest Greek god is Ares, the Greek god of war. Ares is the least intelligent of the gods. His thoughtless actions lead to violence and suffering for himself and others.

The Iliad and Odyssey contain several passages that depict Ares as a powerful but unintelligent god. The Iliad, in particular, paints Ares in a poor light, as it’s an epic poem about war, Ares’s domain.

Several gods speak ill of Ares, calling him names and telling stories about the trouble he has gotten into. According to the Iliad, most of the other gods do not care for Ares.

The goddess of wisdom, Athena, laments in the Iliad that Ares is crazy and bloodthirsty, calling him a “raging madman” who changes sides. [1] He first promised Athena he would help the Greeks, but then he changed sides to assist the Trojans. Ares appears to be so caught up in the thrill of battle and killing that he loses all reason. 

Dione, Aphrodite’s mother, recounts that the Aloadae trapped Ares in a jar for thirteen months. Ares was entirely at the mercy of the Aloadae, and he might have died if it weren’t for Hermes. This story shows that Ares isn’t untouchable, despite being the god of war. He can be hurt, captured, and humiliated.

The Odyssey features one of Ares’s dumbest mistakes. Ares has an affair with Aphrodite, who is married to the god Hephaestus. The pair gets caught by Helios, the sun god, who reports the infidelity to Hephaestus. Hephaestus, the god of smithing, creates a trap that will capture the lovers in bed together.

Ares returns to Aphrodite, and the pair go to bed, where they fall victim to Hephaestus’s trap. Ares is caught in the snare and shamed for sleeping with another man’s wife.

This story highlights Ares’s poor judgment. He’s not the only Greek god to commit adultery, but he’s the only one to be caught and publicly embarrassed for it.

In both of these epic poems, Ares thinks with his physical passions (bloodlust in battle, lust for Aphrodite) instead of with reason, earning him the title of the “dumbest” Greek god. 

Also see Did Greek Gods Have Last Names? to learn more.

Greek god Eros
Are gods in other mythologies flawed? See below (Image: Eros)

Why Didn’t the Greeks Make Their Gods Perfect?

There are several theories as to why the Greeks told myths. [2] Some myths explain natural phenomena, some detail the origins of human rituals, and some have moral lessons. The Greeks used myths to make sense of the world around them and understand their place in the cosmos. 

The Greek gods aren’t perfect because they were created as a reflection of mankind. The Greeks used stories about the gods to understand themselves and the chaotic world they lived in.

Stories about the fickle, angry, and imperfect gods helped the Greeks make sense of their world. Zeus’s anger explained lightning. Athena’s pride led to the creation of spiders who weave webs. Humans who committed adultery or murder could attribute their actions to the influence of the impulsive gods. 

The Greeks believed that the universe began in chaos. Most of their stories about creation and the universe’s early days involve gratuitous violence and sex. Gods maimed, killed, and ate one another. In the Greeks’ view, this lawless, chaotic world gave rise to the Olympian gods of myth and the world as the Ancient Greeks knew it.

If the Greeks made their gods perfect, the gods wouldn’t accurately reflect the world the Greeks lived in. The Greeks didn’t use their belief system to imagine the world as it ought to be; they used it to describe the world as it was. 

Also see Why Are Greek Gods Depicted As White? to learn more.

Greek mythology Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus in Greece

Are Gods in Other Mythologies Flawed?

The Greeks weren’t the only civilization to have complicated, flawed gods. Greek mythology may be the most widely-known mythology, but it’s not the only one with gods who make mistakes.

Many other mythologies feature gods with flaws, including Norse and Roman. Even the Judeo-Christian god of the Old Testament is occasionally angry, jealous, and impossible to please. 

In Norse mythology, Odin is a benevolent father figure, but he also protects and encourages outlaws. [3] Thor is brave and relentless, but he, like Ares, is prone to rage and gluttony. Loki regularly causes problems for the other gods and will be instrumental in causing Ragnarok, the end of the world. 

The Roman gods are very similar to the Greeks, with many myths repeated in both religions. The two mythologies aren’t identical, but their gods share most of the same flaws. Mars, Ares’s Roman counterpart, inspires men to commit acts of violence, and he can be violent, angry, and lustful. 

Conclusion

The Greek gods are flawed because the Greeks themselves were flawed. The Greeks made their gods in the image of man, which reflected the imperfections and immorality of the world as it is. Unlike other belief systems, Greek deities don’t set the standard for righteousness but act as humans do.

Also see Did Greek Gods Come Before Christianity? to learn more.

References:
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