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To any one person, the differences between human and divine are easily described by that one person. Convention allows us to recognize the difference between the divine and the human because of certain customs we have learned. But does the notion of justice apply to both parties, or is there a definite difference in the levels of justice between the human and the divine? In Homer’s The Odyssey, justice is a theme that Homer makes us pay attention to with his language and plot. I believe that there is a difference in the levels of justice between the divine characters and the human characters in this book. The gods took a different role in the demise of the suitors than Telemachus and Odysseus. But does this necessarily suggest the justice is different in its generality? I believe that even though the gods can manipulate in different ways than the human characters in this book, it is most certainly unjust for them to do so, and the same is for Telemachus and Odysseus when manipulating the suitor’s ability to fight against them.
There seems to be some ambiguity with claim that the gods are subconsciously involved in the suitors minds. Athena plays a large part in the demise of the suitors because she chooses to help Telemachus and Odysseus plan their attack. “…Athena helped him plot the slaughter of the suitors. He turned at once to Telemachus, brisk with orders: “Now we must stow the weapons out of reach, my boy, all the arms and armor- and when the suitors miss them and ask you questions, put them off with a winning story: ‘I stowed them away, clear of the smoke…’ (19.2)” I asked if this was the first evidence that Telemachus and Odysseus were acting unjustly against the suitors. One could argue that Telemachus was acting in defense of himself, since the suitors had been plotting to murder him. But one could also argue the instance of unfair advantage since Telemachus and Odysseus hid all of the suitor’s weapons and also had Athena on their side. So to say that Telemachus and Odysseus were acting unjustly against the suitors could be argued in many different directions. But last time I checked just fighting had not happened very often in history. To act justly is to act correct or to give action to what is merited. Now this raises a new question, did the suitors deserve what they got? Death? I would say that the action of Telemachus and Odysseus against the suitors to hide their arms so they would not be able to use them in their fight against the father and son duo is justly, simply because the suitors were acting to plan Telemachus’ murder in the first place. And with both father and son and also Athena knowing that, they saw that they needed defense. The lies and deception to any normal person would be unjust and that is an issue of nature and convention, but to go deeper into the issue, I would say that by analyzing the actions of both sides, Telemachus and Odysseus were acting completely just.
This is not to say that Telemachus and Odysseus did not act just in other means. The curious role of Athena in this book is what is most interesting to me. Athena is very manipulating throughout the book and more so during Book Twenty. This manipulation of the suitors and of Odysseus himself suggests that Athena had her own motive for Odysseus and Telemachus winning the fight against the suitors. It is obvious in my last citation when it says that Athena helped Odysseus with the plot against the suitors. So why was she so adamant about helping Telemachus and Odysseus? And is she using her divine powers against the suitors? Is that considered unjust in a whole other level because she is a divine power? When Odysseus asks for help from Athena she replies with this, “Impossible man!” Athena bantered, the goddess’ eyes ablaze. “Others are quick to trust a weaker comrade, some poor mortal, far less cunning than I. But I am a goddess, look, the very one who guards you in all your trials to the last. I tell you this straight out: even if fifty bands of mortal fighters closed around us, hot to kill us off in battle, still you could drive away their herds and sleek flocks! So, surrender to sleep at last. What a misery, keeping watch through the night, wide awake- you’ll soon come up from under all your troubles.” With that she showered sleep across his eyes… (20.47).” It is very obvious that Athena is manipulating both parties in the conflict. For a reason that can be debated in a whole other paper, she wants Odysseus so badly to win this fight against the suitors. She went into the minds of both parties with her words and her actions. Some of those words included lies and instigation on her part. “But Athena had no mind to let the brazen suitors hold back now from their heart-rending insults- she meant to make the anguish cut still deeper into the core of Laertes’ son Odysseus (20.316).”
In my opinion, Athena had control of this whole situation. And her being of divine power, she had a very unfair advantage over both parties. I believe that the issue of justice is at a higher level with divine powers. I believe that the power that gods have to get into the minds of humans is acting in an unjust way. The humans have no way of gaining that particular power. Yes humans can be manipulative but the way that Athena and even Zeus can have power to make things happen with the snap of fingers is a power that is only unique to gods. This being said, the usage of those powers against the suitors on Athena’s part is unjust I believe. Her ability to put Odysseus to sleep and to control the minds of the suitors so they become disorganized with themselves and their thoughts is a power that can only be possessed by a god, not a human. So in that case it is not fair for Athena to use that power against the suitors. In that instance alone, the suitors were treated unjustly.

20 Responses to “Justice and the Gods (Moorhead)”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Julie,

    I think you do a decent job of addressing several different claims. I think it might have been better to stick with just one or two of them, but your mode is loosely exploratory and so the form of your paper might have had something to do with its flow. As best as I can make it, you allude to at least four separate issues here: whether justice is natural or conventional; whether human justice is the same as divine justice (although this may just be another version of the first point); whether the suitors deserve death (that is, whether Odysseus et al justly kill them); and what the role of Athena is. I can’t take up all of those in depth, but I will offer some remarks that might help tie things together.

    I wasn’t sure what you meant about the “generality” of justice, but I think what you are driving at is whether justice holds univocally for gods and men. I think this has to do with issues in several other papers, e.g., whether the will of Zeus is coextensive with justice or whether even divine agency is somehow superseded by fate.

    Part of what is at stake is the difference between humans and gods. Is it the case that convention allows us to reocognize the difference between gods and men? Might this distinction also be conventional? Some men are also part god (e.g., Achilles, Heracles). And the Odyssey is rife with lines in which men or women at least appear to be gods (e.g., the several references to Penelope appearing like Artemis or Aphrodite in the final few books) or gods appear to be humans (e.g., Athena as Mentor as early as Book 1). Odysseus even mentions that “they say” that he himself is a “man like a god” (19.307). So I think the line can get blurry.

    I like your remark about Odysseus and his crew having what appears to be an unfair advantage–that is, the suitors are unarmed (at first) and caught by surprise. But it may only appear unfair to us due to our context (see Kathryn’s essay) or because, as you point out, divine justice may be different. Remember Book 10 of the Iliad? That is some pretty shady stuff involving Odysseus (deceiving and killing a POW, stealing stuff during the night, being implicated in murdering sleeping men, etc.). So it isn’t as though he doesn’t have prior actions in this regard. Maybe the slaughter scene shouldn’t be so shocking to us.

    Athena’s role is something that deserves further reflection. Why is she mad? Who is she mad at? Why “must” the suitors die? I think Allissa’s paper might be profitable and provocative reading on this topic.

    At any rate, you make several solid points, but I think a tighter flow to the paper and a sharper focus would improve it.

    KH

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