The Power Of Gods Essay

2373 words - 9 pages

The key to a successful Greek society is a balance between faith in the gods and faith in common sense. The Greek gods were simultaneously both responsible for the downfall and success of many Greek city-states. While providing immense support for daily and political life, the gods were often a huge hindrance in foreign affairs, especially in regards to war. In Greek life, the gods were the glue of the society, suppressing the selfish personalities common to Greece and pushing the society to work together as a cohesive unit. On the battle field, however, it was often the side who's sole power was a just faith in the gods who perished. The deities at times provide hope for individuals to accomplish tasks, but the same concept of hope can be detrimental when applied to larger affairs such as war. In Greek society the contrast between the physical and psychological power derived from the gods was incredibly important to society, because while the divine can not tactically improve an army, it is apparent that the deities provided a psychological foundation that held up much of Greek society. Thucydides provides multiple accounts in his history of the Peloponnesian war where over trust in the gods leads to imminent defeat. Plato, in both the The Republic and the Symposium, points out different circumstances in which the belief in the gods maintains an ordered society by fulfilling peoples hubristic notions of life. The Greeks used the gods as tools, yet their lack of full understanding of the gods often led to poor outcomes.
The Melian Dialogue in Thucydides' history is a clear example of the gods undermining human existence. In the dialogue, the Melian society is obliterated due to their unfaltering trust in the gods. The athenian army, sent to Melos to gain their submission, enters into a negotiation with “the few,” the rulers of the society (Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, 5.85). Instead of surrendering peacefully to Athens, the Melians decide to place their trust in the gods and their notion of being the just. The Athenians, however, point out that their faith in the gods is insufficient because of their sheer lack of resources. In addition, the Athenians remind them that they too have gods and in acting like them, the athenians are also just in their campaign against Melos (Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, 5.104-111). The athenians equate themselves to the gods, using their actions, and not their teachings, as a guide to justice. Because the discussion is in front of the few, it is devoid of platitudes and rhetoric simply used to sway the mass of people. Because of this we can assume that what is said is a accurate representation of the view points of both the Athenians and Melians. The Athenians raise a key point in the discussion, one they themselves should have taken to heart in future conquests, that all Greek societies have gods and believe themselves to be legitimate in their actions. While the gods provide a stable society, at...

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