The word “god” in Homer symbolizes a variety of objects. It applied to persons such as Zeus and all the Olympian deities, to some physical realities, such as the god, Ocean, and to the great natural fatalities that govern all mortal lives, such as Terror and Death (McLean and Aspell 9). These names of the gods all pointed, in Homer’s work such as the Odyssey to living powers possessing a will of their own which affected human lives and destinies. From the somewhat later and less mythical perspective of Plato, the gods became the God, equated with the Idea of Good and assumed to be perfect and lacking in nothing (McLean and Aspell 139). In this brief essay, the Homeric and Platonic construction of the gods will be considered, drawing largely upon Homer’s Odyssey and Plato’s Republic. The thesis to be advanced and explored is that Homer’s emphasis on the mythical interaction of the gods and humans was reshaped by Plato to reflect a new relation between God and man via the Idea of the Good.
For Homer (5), the role played by the gods in the lives of men such as Odysseus is of seminal importance. The gods take personally the actions of men, as is the case with respect to Odysseus, who is prevented from returning home after the Trojan War by Poseidon, who is “still furious with Odysseus for having blinded the eye of Polyphemus, kind of the Cyclopes” and “son to Poseidon.”
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