Anthropomorphism in Greek Myth

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Paper #1: The role of anthropomorphism in Greek mythology.

"God created man in his image, and man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment." -Mark Twain

In his beginning, man was part of nature. He knew little about the causes of natural phenomenon and certainly knew of no way to control them. This is perhaps the reason for his creation of ritual and later religion. As man evolved he began to consider the possibilities of gaining some type of control over his environment. If nature was simply a random set of events ruled only by chaos than this wouldn't be possible. However, if something or better yet someone was in control, one could acquire what they desired by pleasing this entity. In the beginning, according to some theories, man worshiped many deities. These deities were usually assigned to a specific aspect of nature such as the sun, wind, or darkness. It seemed to them that at times the sun was presenting the humans with the gift of light, and warmth while other times it hid. The wind at times was soft and cooled the region, and others it was fierce and deadly. Darkness seemed somewhat evil; it was mysterious and brought about other animals and sounds. Humans, while complex, are still limited in what they can understand. What is easy for them to comprehend is that of which they are; their emotions, their actions, their personalities. By assigning nature human characteristics, it was then understandable. This personification of nature eventually evolved into the creation of deities. These deities continued to posses the human characteristics assigned to their "nature" counterparts. This practice of assigning human characteristics to non-human entities is called anthropomorphism. The Greeks took this humanism to a whole new level by adding more complexity to the characters. Through their myths they assigned emotion, personality, lineage and history to the gods. This use of anthropomorphism in Greek myth serves several roles; it enables the stories to be understandable, relatable, interesting and most of all it allows a diverse body of myths to exist.

In order to evade the perception of being foreign, the Greek myths had to be relatable to the audience. The best way to do this is to focus the stories on what the audience already knows and understands. By making the gods human-like it was possible for the audience to relate to them, and enabled them to picture them in their minds. One must remember that while there were plays in this era, they still required the audience to have an imagination, not like television today where the scenery, plot, and characters are force fed to the viewer. The image of the gods was imaginable by the audience because they were similar to the humans in many ways. The gods were portrayed as having a human-like body. These bodies were usually portrayed as nearly perfect, the men muscular and handsome while the women were of the utmost beauty. These attributes can be seen in the surviving Greek art. The gods are usually portrayed as larger than humans, often taking up the whole height of the piece. For identification purposes they usually have some attribute to distinguish them from the other gods, such as Zeus' thunderbolt, or a certain hammer or staff. The gods, while human-like, were considered a vision of what humans could be like, if somehow freed from their flaws. Beauty and perfection was key. There are exceptions to this rule of course. There was Typhoeus, the son of Gaea and Tartarus, who had a body consisting of muscular arms, one-hundred heads, dark tongues, fire shooting eyes, and an unbearably loud voice. The straying from human characteristics may aid in the portrayal of Typhoeus as an evil character. Those beings with multiple heads, arms, or legs seem to be categorized as evil. Another example of non-human attributes would be of the Satyrs, the male followers of Dionysus. They are portrayed as half man, half horse. They...
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