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Athena and Odysseus

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The relationship between the goddess Athena and Odysseus encompasses aspects of many different relationships rather than one single type, such as protector and protected or mother-figure and son-figure. One the most significant level, the relationship is between that of immortal (Athena) and mortal (Odysseus), which is primary in import because of the fact that we are continually reminded by Homer that Odysseus is as close to an immortal, or god, as a mortal gets (Finley, 1978). Odysseus is constantly referred to as the strongest, most cunning, wisest and most beautiful man, i.e., as close to being a god as a mere mortal can get. Athena, therefore, shares a protector-protected relationship with him

Athena’s relationship to Odysseus is also akin to that of a mentor as she schools him and protects him while he develops into the heroic ideal. She is his patroness and he is her benefactor, a relationship which helps him achieve his potential to represent the highest level of skills in battle, domestic relationships and all that represented the heroic ancient Greek ideal. We see this come relationship come full circle when Odysseus returns home and resumes his rightful place, now being tested in a battle (Steiner et al,1962).

Job was an upright man whose integrity is put to the test. The hero is chastised and tormented for no apparent reason. All along, he insists on his innocence and pleads for justice. Job is temporarily alienated from his God and undertakes a journey into the profane where he is totally segregated from the world. But before he is finally restored to a greater glory, he becomes the outcast of outcasts. He becomes the innocent victim repudiated by the whole society. This is quite different from what we see in the relationship of Athena and Odysseus, Job is punished by God for several reasons whereas Odysseus is not. Instead we see Athena plead the case of Odysseus.

It is now ten years since Troy was captured, but Odysseus, shipwrecked on his way home, is stranded on an island where the goddess Kalypso keeps him as her mate. The sea-god Poseidon—angry with Odysseus because the hero had blinded Poseidon’s son, the Kyklopês Polyphêmus—is absent from the council; Athena has her way, and Hermes, the messenger god, is sent to Kalypso with the order to release Odysseus (Steiner et al, 1962)

Athena goes to Odysseus’ home in Ithaka to encourage his son Telémakhos, whose household is occupied by the young and violent suitors of his mother and advises Telémakhos to visit old Nestor at Pylos and Menélaos at Sparta to see if they have any news of his father (Steiner et al, 1962) However, the relationship between God and Job is quite different than that of Athena and Odysseus in that where as it was based on Job’s trust in God, the other one was based on friendship and similarities between Athena and Odysseus. Job displayed great trust in God as a Father whom he could bring his doubts, anger, confusion, despair, and even naive arrogance, trusting in His character and in the relationship he had with Him.  Without a deep sense of trust, in God and in their relationship, Job would have never come to God in the way that he did. On the other hand Athena and Odysseus’ relationship seemed to be that of best friends although she was a god and he was a mortal. Athena fought tooth and nail to help Odysseus, and probably it was because she saw traits in him, a mortal that so greatly mimicked her own traits. They were both great storytellers, both leaders, and both believed in taking action. These were the attributes that Athena probably saw in Odysseus enough to make her show such great favor as she did throughout (Lloyd-Jones, 1971).

The comparison suggests a lot about the religious attitudes of the Hebrews and the Greeks. Homer's divine universe of beautiful gods contrasts markedly with the Old Testament vision of God. Not only are there many gods, as opposed to one, the gods are remarkably like humans and highly visual. The Old Testament God is never seen. We hear only His voice. There are also important associations between the gods and the forces of nature. Interestingly Zeus and Yahweh are both gods of thunder. But there is a difference. In the Greek scheme Zeus in a strange way is thunder. Yahweh, on the other hand, is the maker of thunder. The Hebrew God is clearly over nature. The Greek god(s) is (are) in nature. The religions derived from the Hebrew tradition including Christianity preserve these distinctions and consider heretical practices such as nature worship. The Hebrew God is building a historical relationship with a chosen people. There is certainly nothing like this unfolding in the Greek gods (Lloyd-Jones, 1971).

The Greek Gods and the God of Abraham in the Bible both play the feared and respected role of the master while the humans act as their subordinates. Although the Gods are similar in their master-servant relationship with humans, their nature and moral values differ sharply from god to god.

The destiny of humans is driven by Athena’s passionate personality or the God of Abraham’s just and forgiving tendency. Even the power humans supposedly have over their own destiny is based on the amount of freewill given to them by each of the gods (Stanford, 1968). The tragic journey faced by Odysseus, the exile of Cain, and the rewarding life given to Abraham, Moses and Job are instances where clashes between gods or a consistent agreement with the god’s beliefs shape human lives.

The Greek Gods and the God of Abraham are powerful beings that demand service and sacrifice from humans and favor those that satisfy their requirements. However, the demands of all the Greek Gods are hard to satisfy as there is a lack of agreement of what makes a human more favorable over another or what is necessary for a human to repent a sin because of the gods’ different natures.

The Greek Gods' impulsive human-like nature leaves victims themselves with practically no chance for redemption, such as the death of Odysseus' crew after they killed Helios' cattle. The God of Abraham is consistent in his method of rewarding his people. Although hospitality is favored by the gods, Poseidon unjustly punishes the Phaiakians for transporting Odysseus back to Ithaka not because the Phaiakian's actions were sinful but because they did not acknowledge Poseidon's blind hatred towards Odysseus.Equally, the fact that Poseidon did not pursue the truth of what occurred between Odysseus and Kyklops demonstrates injustice.

"You must not commit adultery" and "You must not testify falsely as a witness against your fellowman" (Exodus 20:14,16) are both violated by the Greek Gods. The fickle and biased nature of the Greek Gods led to extreme consequences faced by humans - ranging from tragedy if rebuked by the gods to wealth if favored.

Rather than inflicting punishment in order to lead humans away from sin or to teach moral lessons, the Greek Gods merely use their power to satisfy their own desires. In addition, chastity is cherished in the Bible, as illustrated by the incident where Sechem's people were killed for "defiling their sister, [Dinah]". The God of Abraham places judgment on Cain not when he feels anger towards God but after He gives Cain an opportunity to redeem himself.

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