Love, Sex, and the Gods in World Literature

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Love, Sex, and the Gods in World Literature
Literature throughout world history contains many of the same themes and motifs. The works that will be discussed in this paper: Homer’s The Iliad, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, and Ovid’s Metamophoses, all contain common themes. The first theme is love, whether it is the love between a man and a woman, parent and child, or the love of siblings. Love is a driving force for many of the characters in these works. The second theme is sex, whether it is symbolic or literal, forceful or complaisant. Sex is not always the main theme of a story, but the sexual overtures are dominant in many of these works. Finally this paper will discuss the intervention of the gods. The gods play a major role in world literature. Sometimes a character acts in a certain way so the gods will not be upset. Other times, the gods intervene personally to alter the way life is lived by the mortals. This paper will discuss how love, sex, and the gods are the driving forces of many of the characters in the works of historical literature.

In Homer’s The Iliad, the gods are the motivation of many of the characters. In fact, the gods play major roles in The Iliad. The gods speak to the mortals, they watch over them, and they even fight alongside them. The gods favor certain sides and certain warriors involved in the Trojan War. For instance: “Aphrodite… was on the side of Paris. Equally… Hera and Athena were against him. Ares, God of War, always took sides with Aphrodite; while Poseidon, Lord of the Sea, favored the Greeks, a sea people, always great sailors. Apollo cared for Hector and for his sake helped the Trojans, and Artemis, as his sister, did so too. Zeus like the Trojans best… “ (Hamilton 81) The gods went out of their way to fight for and support the mortals they favored.

The first intervention of the gods comes in the subplot of Chryseis. Chryseis was the daughter of Apollo’s priest. Agamemnon had taken her as a prize of war. The priest went to Agamemnon and begged for his daughter to be given back to him. The priest then prayed to Apollo to curse the Greeks until Chryseis was returned. Apollo heard him, and “from his sun-chariot he shot fiery arrows down upon the Greek Army, and men sickened and died so that the pyres were burning continually” (Hamilton 80). The prophet Calchas tells Achilles at an assembly that the reason they are ailing is because of the priest and his daughter. Agamemnon agrees to give back Chryseis, but because his prize was taken from him, he takes Briseis, Achilles’ prize, as his own. This angers Achilles, and he swears revenge and stops fighting with the Greeks. Agamemnon causes other gods to get involved. Achilles’ mother, Thetis the sea nymph, asks Zeus to return Briseis to Achilles. Zeus is hesitant because it will anger other gods. The actions of Apollo triggered a chain of events that caused Achilles to clash with Agamemnon, Achilles to stop fighting, and eventually caused Zeus to get involved. (Hamilton 80-81)

Another intervention that changed the events of the Trojan War was the fight between Menelaus and Paris. Menelaus and Paris decided to fight to settle their dispute over Helen. Menelaus hurled his spear at Paris, piercing his shield and his breastplate, but not wounding him. Menelaus then drew his sword and swung it at Paris’ helmet. Upon impact, the sword shattered into pieces. Menelaus then seized Paris by his helmet and began to drag him back into the ranks. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, broke the strap of the helmet. When Menelaus went after Paris again, Aphrodite hid Paris in a dense mist, and brought him back to his bedroom in Troy. It is clear that if Aphrodite would not have helped Paris, he surely would have perished under the sword and spear of Menelaus. (Hamilton 83)

There are many instances of love in The Iliad. For instance, it is the priest’s love for his daughter that causes him to pray to Apollo and curse the...
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