Why Are Greek Gods So Petty?


Most people think of deities as perfect. Greek mythology, however, is full of stories in which the gods act petty, from Artemis turning Actaeon into a stag because he accidentally sees her bathing to Aphrodite cursing the women of Lemnos to smell foul for not worshipping her. This leads people to wonder why the Greek gods were so petty. 

The Greek gods are petty because they were not meant to be perfect figures. Instead, the ancient Greeks created gods that resembled humanity, which allowed them to use human nature to explain why the universe was so chaotic. Therefore, like humans could act petty, so too could the gods. 

The ancient Greek gods were petty and imperfect, but this depiction helped the Greeks create a belief system that allowed them to better understand the world around them. This article will look at some of the ways in which the gods are depicted as less-than-perfect and why the Greeks decided to depict their deities in this way.

Also see Did Greek Gods Sleep? to learn more.

Why are Greek gods imperfect? See below (Image: Aphrodite)

Which is the Stupidest Greek God?

Aside from being petty and imperfect, the Greek gods could often seem stupid. They would frequently make mistakes that would come back to bite them.

For example, it can be argued that the only reason that the six eldest gods (Hades, Poseidon, Zeus, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera) chose to wage war against their father was because Cronus decided to believe a prophecy and eat them at birth. 

Similarly, in another story, Hera throws the infant Hephaestus from Mount Olympus because he was born ugly. When he returns to Olympus as an adult, he traps Hera on a magical golden throne and only releases her after the other gods intervene. 

However, while all gods make mistakes, some stand out among the others. 

Although there are plenty of candidates, the stupidest Greek god was Ares, the god of courage and war. Of the twelve Olympians, he was the one who acted without thinking most frequently, especially when there was a conflict involved. 

In one version of Hephaestus’s return to Mount Olympus, Ares is the first god sent to convince him to let Hera go free. He attempts to bring the god of smithing back to Mount Olympus by force and is instead “driven back by a flaming volley of metal shards.” [1] In his place, Dionysus, the god of wine, uses cunning to convince Hephaestus to free his mother. 

During the Trojan War, Ares – initially without a side – vows to support his mother Hera and sister Athena and assist the Greeks. However, his passion for Aphrodite allows the goddess of love to easily change his allegiance to the Trojans. 

This leads to conflict between Athena and Ares, and through the Greek hero Diomedes, Athena wounds the god of war. When his mortal son is killed by the Trojans, Ares attempts to rush to the battlefield and support the Greeks, even though Zeus had banned divine interference in the war. It’s only through Athena’s actions that he is thwarted. 

When the gods are allowed back into the Trojan War, Ares – once again changing sides back to the Trojans – attacks Athena but is soon defeated, with Athena calling him a “dogfly” and “child.” 

While there are other stupid gods in Greek mythology, it is undeniable that Ares’s habit of acting without thinking makes him the stupidest when it comes to the twelve major gods. 

Also see Why Are Greek Gods Bad? to learn more.

Mount Olympus Greece
Are Greek gods immoral? See below (Image: Mount Olympus)

Why Are Greek Gods Imperfect?

As discussed above, the Greek gods are petty and frequently cruel. They quarrel and fight amongst themselves and are often ruled by their passions – in short, they are imperfect. 

Greek gods are imperfect because they are a reflection of the people who created these myths. Their lack of perfection allows them to be understandable and familiar to the people who worshipped them. Their imperfection also explains why a lot of the world came to be. 

A lot of the parts of Greek myth would not have taken place had the gods been perfect. For example, according to Greek mythology, a number of animals and plants were created because the gods were jealous, bitter, petty, or imperfect in other ways.

  • The first spider was said to be Arachne, who Athena turned into an arachnid because she, Arachne, beat the goddess in a weaving contest and then had the temerity to boast about it.
  • Daphne, a nymph, was transformed into the first laurel tree as she ran to escape Apollo, who wanted to take her as his lover.
  • Mint was created after either Persephone or Demeter turned the nymph Minthe into the plant after she became a lover of Hades (or claimed she was more beautiful than Persephone).
  • In one version of the myth, the Trojan king Tithonus was transformed into a cicada after his immortal lover Eos asked Zeus to grant him eternal life – but forgot to ask for eternal youth as well. [2]

Other natural events, such as thunder, rain, disease, and even death, were introduced to the world because the Greek gods were imperfect. If they were perfect, they would have no reason to act as harsh and petty as they did – and it would have been challenging for the Greeks to explain why the world around them was as chaotic and cruel as it was.

Also see Why Are Greek Gods Dead? to learn more.

Greek Parthenon
Greek Parthenon

Are Greek Gods Immoral?

The Greek gods are immoral. They do not act based on an innate sense of morality and are often ruled by the passions and lusts instead. If humans want to ask for divine punishment for wrongdoing, they first need to do something to catch the gods’ attention, and they rarely step in on their own.

The Greeks were well aware that their gods were immoral – the gods were never meant to be the moral authority over humanity in the first place. [3] While the gods did offer punishments without first being petitioned to do so, these happened only in rare cases and for the worst offenses – or if humanity failed to offer them sufficient prayers. These incidents included:

  • The above-mentioned incident when Aphrodite cursed the women of Lemnos for not worshipping her enough.
  • The punishment of Tantalus, in which he was cursed to reside in Tartarus, with fruit and water near him. However, he would never be able to reach the apples or drink the water. This punishment was a result of Tantalus’s murder and sacrifice of his son, who he served to the Olympian gods in a stew as a way to test the gods.
  • Athena cursed Medusa, transforming her hair into snakes and cursing her to turn everyone who saw her face into stone, after she caught Medusa and Poseidon in bed together in a temple to Athena.

Conclusion

The Greek gods were never meant to be perfect. They were petty because they were a representation of the chaotic world where the Greeks lived.

Also see Why Are Greek Gods So Popular? to learn more.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source

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