Tag Archives: Achilles

“Gods play a part in humans’ affairs, which I think is unfair…”

The plural “gods” suggests (accurately) that he was writing about the Greek and Roman gods, who certainly did play a part in humans’ affairs, and frequently were the humans’ affairs. Zeus in particular was pretty busy in the affair department. Less literally, many of the other gods took sides in human conflicts and manipulated events to suit themselves, or their adherents (or whoever had provided the most fragrant barbecue).

Readers who admire Hector and have little sympathy for Achilles in The Iliad tend to feel strongly about the gods’ meddling. They are probably inclined to find it unfair.

My student isn’t just taking sides, though; he has a good reason for his opinion:

“Gods play a part in humans’ affairs, which I think is unfair because they are inevitably immortal and won’t be affected.”

I agree with him! Intervening in a situation in a way that is sure to victimize—perhaps severely and irrevocably—one side may sometimes be justified; but when the intervenor knows all along that he or she cannot be harmed in the process or as a consequence, “unfair” is a word that can reasonably come to mind.

What gives a reader pause here is the word “inevitably.” Perhaps my student meant “invariably”? Actually, if the lore, legends, and teachings are to be believed, not all gods are immortal. Pan dies. Nietzsche even proclaimed of the great Western god (although he and countless thinkers since have made the statement far more nuanced and complex than it sounded), “Gott ist tot.” Ragnarök gets rid of them wholesale. So, depending on the god or gods one chooses, that immortality may not be “inevitable.”

And usually when we say “inevitably,” we imply that efforts have been made or could be made, all in vain. So have any gods tried to avoid being, or stop being, immortal? We might mention Jesus here, but his death was the precondition for his resurrection and therefore although painful, risk-free. Yes, death certainly affected him in the moment, and changed his physical being; but it didn’t alter his immortality.

Would my student yell “NO FAIR!” at someone who claimed to “have God on our side”? Should we recall all those championships and medals won, according to their winners, “with God’s help”? Didn’t they have an unfair advantage?

Next time some god shows up at your house wanting to kibbitz, should you tell him or her to move along and stay out of the affairs of mortals, “go back to your own kind”? Well, being human, I’d probably feel that my side was the right side, and welcome the aid of the divine to make sure things turned out “right.” That would be only fair.

Worked for Achilles.