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Mythology: Differences in Gender Regarding Divine Vengeance

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In Greek mythology, there are many stories pertaining to divine vengeance and mortals. There are many different reasons as to why the gods penalize humans, and likewise, an assortment of punishments cast down upon these offenders. Throughout the book, Powell gives many examples of the wrath of the gods and the differences in their punishment styles based on their gender. Male gods do not usually punish male offenders with a quick and easy death. They prefer to use a more prolonged and torturous style of punishment; where as female gods use a quick, more destructive punishment that affects more than just the offenders themselves.

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The pattern that emerged from myths that were comprised of male gods punishing male and female offenders alike was one that involved an unforgiving and eternal sentencing. Not only were these interminable, many of the punishments were very harsh and monotonous. One example of this is when Zeus punishes Sisyphus for his trickery, when he outsmarts death.

While imprisoned in the underworld, Sisyphus manages to trick Death and imprison him, allowing himself to escape and rejoin the upper world to live out another life.

Zeus retaliates by returning Sisyphus to the underworld, forcing him to forever push a boulder, with all his might, up a hill, only to have it roll back down again. Another myth where an offender suffers the same horrible fate is that of the Danaids. They were the fifty daughters of Danaus, who were to be wed to the fifty sons of Aegyptus. However, they refused proper marriage and pregnancy, and all but one of the daughters murdered their husbands on their wedding night. As punishment, they were sent to the underworld where Hades condemned them to carry out an endless task of filling a trough full of water using broken jugs.

Perhaps one of the most famous myths involving a brutal and repetitive penance is that of Prometheus. Zeus decides to take fire away from humans; but Prometheus being the protector of mortals, cleverly steals fire back by hiding it in a fennel stalk, thus returning it to the humans. Zeus finds out and is very angry with Prometheus for not only disobeying him, but also besting him and making a fool out of him. To pay for his crime, Zeus binds him to a pole and sends an eagle to eat away at his liver every day; and at night, it regrows only to be re-eaten the next day, and the next day, and the next, turning into a viscous cycle.

Another well-known example of eternal punishment is the story of Atlas and Zeus. During the Titanomachy, Atlas foolishly sides with the titans during the war. Once Zeus and the other gods defeat the titans, he sentences Atlas to carry the world on his shoulders. Although male gods’ vengeances lasted for eternity, there were occurrences when they would take pity on their offenders, making their punishments less torturous. The story of Cronus and Uranus illustrates this well. Cronus hates his father because he would not allow Gaea’s children, his brother’s and sisters, to leave her womb.

Consequently, Cronus takes a sickle and castrates Uranus, separating him from earth and sending him upwards where he would remain forever. While this is still an example of eternal damnation, it is an instance where the gods are more merciful. Female gods on the other hand, have a different technique when it comes to punishing their offenders. The wrath of female gods is not drawn out and unending, like those of male gods. They preferred a hastier, but more devastating style of castigation that would impact more than just the offenders themselves.

An example of this type of punishment occurs in the myth of Hera and one of Zeus’s many lovers, Semele. Zeus visited her often and eventually impregnated her, enraging Hera; which lead her to persecute Semele. Hera, disguised as an old, frail lady, went and paid the young princess a visit. She started questioning her about her pregnancy and began putting doubt in Semele’s head that Zeus was not really who he said he was, knowing full well that she would ask him to prove it to her. When Semele asked this of Zeus, he could not refuse and appeared to her in his glorified form; as a result, it was too much, and it incinerated her.

Once Hera, got rid of her, she moved on to Ino and Athamas, Semele’s sister and brother-in-law. She turned them insane and subsequently, the couple murdered their children before taking their own lives. The story of Aphrodite and Metharme is also a great example of female gods using widely destructive punishments. Metharme’s sufferings all arise from her arrogance towards the goddess. She claimed that Myrrha, her daughter, was more beautiful than Aphrodite herself. In doing so, she brought about the untimely death of her daughter and husband, Cinyras.

When hearing Metharme’s claim, Aphrodite reacted by making Myrrha fall in love with Cinyras. Confused, he committed incest and slept with his own daughter for twelve nights. After realizing what he had done, he tried murdering Myrrha, but instead she was turned into the myrrh tree. Next, he took his own life. Even though Aphrodite did not directly harm Metharme, she took away everything that she loved and cherished, ruining not only her life, but her husband and child’s life as well. Another example where female gods punish not only the offender, but also many other people associated with them, is they myth of Athena and Ajax the lesser.

As he is committing rape, Cassandra calls out to Athena for her help. Seeing what has happened to the girl, she responds to Ajax’s crime by sending a storm that crushes his entire fleet. A more prominent tale involving Athena using this style of punishment is that of Arachne. Arachne boasts that her skills in weaving wool were equal to Athena’s, and then had the audacity to challenge her to a competition. Athena accepts, but when Arachne’s creation turns out to be flawless, her temper gets the best of her and she takes it out on poor Arachne.

Thus changing her and all of her descendants into spiders. Divine vengeance plays a big role throughout Greek mythology. Many of the stories end in a mortal suffering the tragic fate that the gods decide to thrust upon them. Although male and female gods both punish humans cruelly, each gender has their own style in which they prefer to collect their penance. Male gods like to see endless, often tedious suffering and females enjoy a punishment that involves mass destruction and many doomed destinies.

Cite this Mythology: Differences in Gender Regarding Divine Vengeance

Mythology: Differences in Gender Regarding Divine Vengeance. (2017, Jan 23). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/mythology-differences-in-gender-regarding-divine-vengeance/

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