Monday, March 13, 2017

TFBT: Law of Deification in Greek Literature

I love the literary laws in Greek literature, they make the cosmos such a neat and order place.  Laws like; 
  • ·      Jørgensen’s Law” That is; the Homeric narrator and divine characters are as a rule aware of the divine agent responsible for any given act or circumstances in the narrative. Human characters by contrast, remain ignorant of the actions of the specific gods unless they are informed by a divine character or, in the case of seers and singers, possess special powers.”  J. Marks excellent “Zeus in the Odyssey”.
  • ·       Maya’s Law which says; that Zeus (and the rest of the gods) has a marked preference for mating with Ionians and barbarians.  Or more simply put; “Zeus prefers Ionian women!”
  • ·      Or,   the “Law” that Zeus could not appear on stage in tragedies or comedies. 

So how about we come up with a Law of Deification in Greek Literature?   I see three ways to turn a mortal “deathless and unageing, even as the gods."

1) Get Zeus to do it; 

"Verily wise Zeus carried off golden-haired Ganymedes (Ganymede) because of his beauty, to be amongst the Deathless Ones and pour drink for the gods in the house of Zeus--a wonder to see--, honoured by all the immortals as he draws the red nectar from the golden bowl . . . deathless and unageing, even as the gods." Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite

Zeus did the same for Dionysus’ brown-haired mortal wife Ariadne (Hesiod, Theogony 947 ff) and (according to the Cypria Fragment 1) Castor and Polydeuces.   

2) If, you are a god, make your mortal favorite a god, and don’t tell anyone;

"He [Dionysus] retrieved his mother [Semele] from Haides' realm, gave her the name Thyone, and escorted her up to the sky." Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 38

Artemis did the same for Hippolytus, renaming him Virbius and hiding him in Italy Ovid, Fasti 6. 735  

3) Be a Nereid.  It seems no problem for Nereus’ daughters to make someone or convince someone to make their favorites gods;

"As I [Helle] fell [into the Hellespont Sea from the back of the Golden Ram], Cymothoe [a Nereid] and Glaucus came swift to my succour; this abode too, this realm the father of the deep [Poseidon] himself awarded me [i.e. he transformed Helle into a sea-goddess], willing justly, and our gulf envies not Ino’s sea [the Gulf of Corinth]."  Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 2. 585 ff : 

Likewise Homer and Pindar both testify (Odyssey 5. 333 & Olympian Ode 2. 22) that Ino daughter of Cadmus and her son Melicertes were made immortal by the sea nymphs.   

Summary; to deify your favorite,

  • ·      get consensus from the gods and the nod from Zeus or
  • ·      do it yourself and don’t tell anyone or
  • ·      be a Nereid. 

Admittedly, the marine deities work under a different dispensation than the rest of the younger gods.  Still, what’s the theoretical underpinning on deification? 


  1. The more I think of Semele and Dionysus, the stranger their story seems. Gods cannot travel to Hades and back, except to professional messengers (Hermes) and those subject to an agreement with fixed periods (Persephone, the Dioscuri). Even Demeter, when she heard the whereabouts of her daughter, didn't dare to crash into Hades and retrieve her. In Mesopothamia, this possibility was explored in the myth of Inanna/Ishtar's descent. She ended up hanged on a hook like a piece of meat, and all gods except one agreed that she had it coming.

  2. Maya,

    Yes, the gods have a "law" they cant go down to Hades and back, but they do. The can't cryover the death of mortals, but they, do. Can't interfere with another gods actions, but they do. If you think about it, plenty of gods go back and forth. Cronus and then Zeus rescued the Cyclops and 100-handers. Helios descends into Hades everyday and then out again. When Helios rises, Hephaestus goes below the earth to work his forge. Nyx too comes and goes nightly. Somnus, Thantos, dreams and Erinyes come and go as they please. Hecate wanders around at will. The Fates in theory can go as they please. Gaia is there. Heracles came and went, taking Theseus with him. Odysseus. Aeneas. Orpheus, Zagreus was torn apart and eaten by the Titans, then returned as Dionysus, so he sort of came and went. I did a study ages ago. There are another group of goddesses i am forgetting. The Gates of Hell are not as solid as Lord Hades wishes us to think.