Why Do Greek Gods Look Like Humans?


In 2017, the Washington Post ran a story titled “Why We Made God in Our Own Image;” it was a fascinating read about why humans “anthropomorphize the divine.” [1] Perhaps unsurprisingly, modern humans aren’t the only ones who did this. Over a thousand years ago, the Greek gods also looked like humans.

Greek gods look like humans because humans created them, and humans believe in all-powerful beings that look like them. Humans think they’re at the top of the power pyramid; they’re the supreme beings on Earth. Because gods are more powerful, they should look like idealized versions of mortals.

This article will explore these factors concerning human-like gods in more detail.

Also see Did Greek Gods Marry Humans? to learn more.

Greek gods look human
Why are Greek gods anthropomorphic? See below

Why Are Greek Gods Anthropomorphic?

It’s an unfortunate but well-known truth that most people can more easily relate to others who look like them. [2]

Greek gods are anthropomorphic because humans made them in their own image to better relate to them. The Greeks created their gods to look like better, more powerful versions of themselves because that was what they knew.

Additionally, when the Greek gods reigned, their stories were told and passed down orally from generation to generation. They weren’t bound in an easy-to-read book and mass distributed. 

These oral stories needed to be entertaining, easy to tell and understand, and easily remembered. Children learning about the gods were much more likely to understand what was happening when human-looking beings performed very human-like actions and felt human-like emotions. [3]

It would have been more challenging for them to understand the gods’ motivations and decisions if they had been lizards, birds, or rocks. 

Even today, people love to read, watch, and tell stories about the Olympians; however, when they dive back deeper into tales of Tartarus, Chaos, and Gaia — gods who were both beings and places, voids, or emotions, those tales get harder to tell and understand. 

Also see Why Are There So Many Gods In Greek Mythology? to learn more.

Greek god Eros
What human qualities did Greek gods have? See below

What Human Qualities Did Greek Gods Have?

Greek gods had several human qualities beyond simply looking like humans. They experienced human emotions – love, lust, jealousy, hatred, anger, pettiness, kindness, compassion, etc. They also had very human motivations for their actions – greed, longing for power, revenge, etc.

The Greeks didn’t just create their gods to look like them; they genuinely made their gods in their image. Their gods weren’t perfect, and they weren’t entirely good or entirely evil

Instead, there are stories of the Greek gods showing kindness, compassion, and empathy and others showing them behaving viciously and terribly over the smallest of slights. Zeus and Hera were primary examples. They were the ultimate power couple, rulers of all the other gods, and there are stories of both of them doing good, kind things for others. 

However, Zeus was a terrible womanizer; he had seven wives and more consorts than could be counted. Furthermore, he wasn’t someone who knew how to take no for an answer, as evidenced by his rape of Leda

And Hera was just as awful at times, punishing the women Zeus slept with and their children in horrible, unwarranted ways, even if the women weren’t willing participants in the sexual acts. 

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

How Were Greek Gods Different From Humans?

In most ways, the gods were just like mortals. Their appearance, behavior, emotions, and motivations were very human-like. However, there were a few differences.

Unlike mortal humans, the Greek gods were immortal and had extraordinary powers that mortals couldn’t hope to match. Additionally, with few exceptions, the gods were idealized versions of humans; they were strong, handsome (or beautiful), intelligent, clever, and physically speaking, almost perfect.

There were a few exceptions to the “physically perfect” standard among the gods. Hephaestus, for example, is known as “the lame god” and was the ugliest of all of them. 

One version of Hephaestus’ “fall” from Mount Olympus has Hera throwing him off the mountain. (In most versions, Zeus is the one who throws him.)

In this specific version of the myth, Hera, jealous that Zeus gave birth to Athena by himself, decided to have a baby that was just hers, as well. She did, giving birth to Hephaestus. However, Hephaestus was so ugly that she hated him immediately. She then threw him off Mount Olympus so that she never had to see him again. 

Greek goddess Athena
How did Greek gods interact with humans? See below

How Did Greek Gods Interact With Humans?

Greek gods interacted with humans directly at times, coming to them in mortal form. At other times, they visited humans in the guise of animals. They would also accept prayer and sacrifices from humans, sometimes granting those worshippers good fortune or performing a specific task for them.

Sometimes, an oracle would intercede on behalf of the god, speaking to humans for the god, relaying information between the two parties. In short, there were plenty of ways for humans and Greek gods to interact. 

There are also plenty of myths where the gods toyed with and used mortals for their purposes. One of the most significant examples of this is the Trojan War, which started because an angry goddess threw an apple on the table. 

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

The Apple of Discord

The Trojan War began like this: Eris, the goddess of quarrels, wasn’t invited to the wedding of King Pileus and the sea nymph Thetis. That angered her, so she visited the wedding uninvited, throwing a golden apple onto the table with Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. The apple claimed to be for “the fairest one.”

Each thinking herself the fairest, the goddesses began fighting over the apple and turned to Zeus to resolve the conflict. Zeus took the cowardly way out and delegated the task to a mortal prince of Troy named Paris. 

Paris, thinking all the goddesses were beautiful (and not knowing they were goddesses), could not choose between them, so the goddesses tried to bribe him with various gifts. He accepted Aphrodite’s gift of marriage to the most beautiful woman in the world and named her the fairest among the three. 

Aphrodite kept her promise and helped Paris seduce (or steal) Helen of Sparta, wife of Menelaus, effectively starting the Trojan War. During that war, gods and goddesses picked sides. They played favorites, with Athena assisting and guiding Odysseus and the Spartans, Aphrodite continuing to help Paris and the Trojans, and various other gods using the mortals for their own selfish reasons.

While this was one of the most obvious examples of the gods’ interactions with humans, it’s certainly not the only one.

Conclusion

The Greek gods look like humans because humans tend to make their deities in their own image, upright walking position, genders, passions, pettiness, and all. 

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

Related Articles

error: This content is copyrighted.