The relationship between gods and mortals in mythology has long been a complicated topic. The gods can be generous and supportive, and also devastating and destructive to any group of humans. Mortals must respect the powers above them that cannot be controlled. The gods rule over destiny, nature, and justice, and need to be recognized and worshipped for the powerful beings as they are. Regardless of one’s actions, intentions, and thoughts, the gods in Greek myth have ultimate power and the final decision of justice over nature, mortals, and even each other. Justice is a very important ruling power for both gods and mortals.
For instance, in Sophocles’ tragedy, Antigone, justice prevails over king Creon’s actions. He sentences his own niece to death for giving her deceased brother, a pronounced enemy of Thebes, a proper burial. In return for his rigid ruling he loses his wife and son to tragic deaths. Creon puts his own city’s justice before the determined justice of the gods, and pays dearly for it. Antigone also receives justice for her actions even though she dies. She did go against the law of her mortal king, but did obey the law of the gods, and therefore died a hero and martyr.
The laws of the gods gives dishonor to those who do not properly respect their family members. In order to keep her honor and self-respect, Antigone had to break her city’s law, even if it meant death. “Justice” can also be associated with the goddess of Earth, Justice. Antigone follows the laws of the gods that will live on forever, not Creon’s mere proclamations of power. Antigone will not let her sister die with her because Justice does not allow people to die heroes if the do not deserve it. Order is more important than justice to Creon, and it is one of the causes of his eventual downfall.
Zeus and the other sky gods like order and law. Antigone looks to the gods and goddesses of the earth that live in the underworld, and will not take a mere mortal man’s rules over the gods. She says the she does not fear any mortal’s words enough that she “would pay the price the gods demand from those who break their laws” (Antigone, 458). The gods do recognize courageous and just people, but these people do not always come to a happy end, as in Antigone’s case. Justice may not rule the gods as entirely as it rules mortals, because the gods ultimately decide what is just or unjust.
Antigone also speaks of the power of Hades when she refers to her brothers. She tells Creon that Hades will apply equal laws to both, even though one is an enemy of Thebes. Antigone realizes that Thebes’ laws and enemies are not necessarily the laws and enemies of the gods. Creon’s regard for the laws of the city causes him to abandon all other beliefs. He feels that all should obey the laws set forth by him, even if other beliefs, moral, or religions, state otherwise. Antigone, on the other hand, holds the beliefs of the gods in high reverence.
She feels that the laws of the gods should be obeyed above all others, especially when in respect to family. Her beliefs in “The sacred laws that Heaven holds in honor” are for more important than those set by the king (Antigone 78). The king cannot, and should not in the gods’ eyes, override her belief in the God. Mortals that hold state law over devine law in Greek myths always come to a dreadful doom, usually by being punished by the gods. The gods have power over the weather, which in turn rules over humans. Zeus, the king of all gods, rules over storms, thunder, and lightening.
He and other gods can produce earthquakes, tornadoes, and other devastating natural disasters at any moment if they see fit. In Euripides’ The Bacchae, Zeus’ power creates a lightening bolt that burns down Semele’s house and kills her. Zeus’ mere presence in the form of a god is enough to kill Semele. Most every god or goddess has power over a vital aspect of human survival, therefore putting humans at their mercy. Mortals that go against the gods inevitably end up in great dispair. In the tragedy, The Bacchae, young king Pentheus, and his mother and aunts meet a miserable doom for disobeying and doubting the god Dionysus.
Pentheus mocked and refused to worship the new god, and remained stubborn and arrogant until he met death in the face. Punished mortals were many a time made an example of to the rest of the human world. Dionysus made Petheus’ death an example by having his mother and aunts kill him and exploit his head for all the city to see. His death also serves to punish his mother, Semele’s, sisters for not believing that Zeus is the father of Dionysus. Insanity possessed the women, and they unknowingly killed their own king.
Their guilt would be an eternal punishment, along with banishment from the city. The gods always take terrible revenge on humans who wrong them. Sometimes, the gods take pity on humans for things that happen that are out of their control, but other times, the gods punish the mortals. In The Bacchae, Cadmus and his wife are sentenced to be serpents and roam the world for generations. Cadmus worshipped Dionysus and tried to get Pentheus to so the same, but still ended up with a miserable fate. His daughters were banished, and his grandson and successor to the throne was violently murdered.
Even though Dionysus made Cadmus face a miserable life, he eventually took pity and promised to send Cadmus to the land of the blessed in death. This shows that most of the time, the gods were compassionate to mortals with integrity and fear of the higher powers. The gods also have power over each other. There is definitely a pecking order on Mount Olympus, and it is very clear in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. Prometheus goes against Zeus’ wishes and befriends the rudimentary race of humans. He is bound to a rock for centuries to be pecked at by a bird everyday.
In the play Zeus is depicted as a villainous tyrant, but one with which the other gods give a great amount of respect and fear. Might describes Zeus’ rule perfectly in a conversation to Hephaestus when he remarks that “There is nothing without discomfort except the overlordship of the Gods. For only Zeus is free” (P. B. 49). This shows the power Zeus has over the other gods. The relationship between the Greek gods and the mortals is fairly well defined. Gods can help in a time of crisis, but only if they want to and see it fit to do so. They have power over most everything in a human’s life, from weather to death.
Humans usually recognize this and pay their respects to the gods. If a mortal does not give thanks and worship to the gods they can face a terrible doom, as seen in the plays by Sophocles and Euripides. The higher beings sometimes punish humans for situations that they are not at fault for, and humans are forced to realize that they are under the mercy of the gods. As Prometheus Bound demonstrated, the gods have power over each other as well. Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles have demonstrated that the gods possessed an all-encompassing power over the entire ancient Greek world and culture.