chapter  5
29 Pages


If religion is often a serious thing in our modern cultures, it is not surprising if we find it hard to understand the more playful parts of Homer’s writing about Zeus. Thetis appeals to Zeus to help her son Achilles; Zeus promises but is worried that this will annoy Hera, who already gives him a hard time for helping the Trojans; indeed Thetis had better go before Hera notices – but he is too late, she already has (Iliad 1.517-61). Meanwhile, we think of the story that Zeus only gave up Thetis because her son would be more powerful than his father (p. 46). Now Zeus threatens violence, as though it were a case of wife-beating in heaven, and Hera’s son Hephaistos the bronze-smith says gods should not fight over men; he tells how he was flung from heaven by Zeus on an earlier occasion and landed in Lemnos where the ‘Sintian men’ looked after him. Now, she smiles and the gods roar with ‘unquenchable laughter’ as they watch lame Hephaistos bustling around serving wine. These are not the stories we tell of gods in modern credal religions (‘faiths’). Perhaps the Greeks took their religion less seriously?