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The Mortal Deity: Helen and the God-like Trait

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The relationship between the gods and mortals of ancient Greece is one of the most interesting topics to analyze. These gods watch over their favorite mortals, meddle in their business, and have love affairs with them. At times selfish and conniving, the gods often appear to be as flawed as the humans who worship them are. There is, however, still a distinct separation between deity and mortal. From the evidence I have seen in The Iliad, I believe that this distinction is based on something I call a god-like trait. If a human reacts towards this trait in the wrong way, and believes he embodies this trait at the level equal or surpassing to that of the gods, tragedy occurs to the human. This mistake in self-recognition will lead to severe consequences unless the mortal repents and accepts his humanity. In The Iliad, Helen makes the mistake of false divinity, and it is her error in associating herself as the paragon of a god-like trait and in refusing to repent that leads to her ruin.

The definition of a god-like trait must first be established before the analysis of Helen’s behavior can be entirely understood. The gods in The Iliad present themselves as having at least one specific trait that they alone can boast of. These gods are the standard for excellence for whatever trait it may be. For example, Zeus was the model of strength, Aphrodite the standard for a beautiful woman, and Apollo the master of archery. For a human to display god-like behavior, the human declares he is the best, conflicting with the premise that the gods are the best at what they do. If the human tries to step beyond his status in his declaration or display, the gods would be offended and severe consequences usually follow. Hubris also plays a large role in god-like behavior, intertwining with it and causing a vicious circle. A god-like trait causes hubris because the mortal thinks that he displays the standard of excellence actually found in the gods. This hubris then would cause the trait to become even more divine and less mortal, leaving the man believing that he is above the gods due to this outstanding trait. Because of the trap this trait creates, it is important to be able to identify it.
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