Theme of Justice in the Odyssey and the Bible
Justice is a theme that differs in many different texts, and this also true in the Odyssey and the Bible. Justice in Homeric texts was served to neutralize a situation and bring things back to the way they were, to a time of stability and respect for authority. The bible has usually been interpreted, however, as serving justice on a moral basis, as a way to punish those who did not respect each other or act in God likeness.
The Greeks in the Odyssey viewed justice as only coming from the gods. They believed the gods punished them because they have fallen out of their favor, and not because they had really done anything wrong by human standards. As Socrates later stated in the Euthyphro, what is holy, and perhaps then just, is what is “approved by the gods.” Although Socrates proved this to be wrong, it still shows the view of most Greeks. Zeus in the opening book of the Odyssey stated, “Upon my word, just see how mortal men always put the blame on us gods! We are the source of evil, so they say- when they have only their own madness to thank if their miseries are worse than they ought to be.” This shows that the Greeks feared justice; they felt it was negative and often undeserved. However, each Greek deserved his punishment because he has a hand in its reason. For example, when Odysseus’s troops killed the cattle of Helios, they deserved Zeus destroying their ships because he had warned Odysseus beforehand not to let the men eat the cattle. When the Greeks disobeyed the gods, they disrupted the right order of things, and when the gods punished them, they made the other Greeks respect them once again, and thus fixed the balance of the world.
Justice seemed to be delivered randomly or excessively in the Odyssey. This is most clearly shown in book eleven, when Odysseus visits Hades. Tityos had the punishment of having vultures eat his liver and flesh eternally, just because he had slept with Leto, Zeus’s consort. Tantalos was denied drink and food for eternity, and Sisyphos had to push a stone up a mountain forever. These men had committed crimes that, if done against other mortals, would not have ended up punished severely, but since they were done against the gods, especially Zeus, the kind of gods, justice was served with a vengeance. Since the Greeks lived in a system where there was no reward for doing good in one’s life, people were free to live life to the fullest. They could do anything but insult the gods, and if they did that, the gods were free to do what they wanted to the transgressors. Since there was no divine moral code or set of rules, it seemed that the gods could punish each individual depending on his or her mood for the day, and each god could punish individuals differently for the same insult. The only backbone of their judgments was that they were restoring the respected they deserved from the Greeks.