As always, welcome, dear readers.
With a background in the Greco-Roman world, I’m never surprised that the divine seems always a part of human endeavors in ancient literature and even history. Gods are regularly assumed to be behind the actions of humans, either to benefit human worshippers (and sometimes their own semi-divine children) or to act on their own behalf (often to oppose the actions of their divine opponents). Gods are always being worshipped, prayed to, sacrificed to, or blamed.
It has always puzzled me, then, that the movie Troy (2004),
with the exception of Achilles’ mom, Thetis,
left out the entire pantheon of gods,
who actually make up half the cast of major characters in the original story.
(This is a part of what would have been a pair of writing tablets
recovered from Egypt, c.400-500AD. It contains lines 468-473 of Book 1 of the Iliad.)
In fact, the Trojan War itself was caused by gods when:
1. Zeus forced Thetis to marry a mortal, Peleus.
(in one version of the story, Thetis is a shape-shifter and Peleus has to catch her)
2. At the wedding of the two, the goddess Eris, who, because, she is the divine form of strife, wasn’t invited, rolls in a golden ball/apple which is labeled “for the most beautiful”.
(there is a wedding procession on the top band of the vase here)
(Eris is dropping the ball/apple from above, rather than bowling it.)
3. Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite all claim it.
4. When Zeus wisely refuses to choose, they go to a (presumably) unbiased mortal, Paris, a shepherd
5. who is offered, by Aphrodite, Helen,“the most beautiful woman in the world”, but who just happens to be married to Menelaus, the younger brother of the main king of the Greeks, Agamemnon. Helen, depending upon the version you prefer, is stolen/elopes with Paris, who turns out not to be a shepherd, but a Trojan prince.
(clearly a stolen Helen version here)
6. Menelaus calls on his big brother for help, and suddenly there are those 1000 ships.
(by Jon Hodgson—have a look at his webpage at Deviant Art: https://www.deviantart.com/jonhodgson/gallery He seems able to paint/draw/design anything in fantasy—see his website at: https://jonhodgsondesign.com/about-jon-hodgson/ for more.)
7. The war which follows is on two levels, the humans—Trojans versus Greeks—and the gods, roughly divided between Hera, Athena, and Poseidon on the Greek side and Apollo, Aphrodite (surprise!), and Ares on the Trojan, with Zeus in the middle.
The Iliad is full of the gods’ interference, one of the saddest moments being when Zeus is forced to watch one of his favorite mortal children, Sarpedon, be killed and is warned by Hera not to intervene lest all of the other gods begin favoring their children (which they sometimes do anyway).
(Here Sarpedon’s body is being carried off by the twins, Sleep and Death, while Hermes directs.)
The Iliad is not the only ancient story with such divine/human interaction. The Indian epic, the Ramayana, has, as its main character the god Vishnu,
who has himself born as a human prince, Rama,
in order to combat Ravana, the 10-headed king
of the Rakshasas, or demons,
as the demons have made themselves invulnerable to the gods, but have foolishly allowed a loophole in their agreement with them, so that humans and–certain animals–have not been included.
(If you’d like an easy introduction, my favorite is the very sophisticated children’s version by Bulbul Sharma.)
And then there is the actual war among divine figures which we see in the Judeo-Christian Bible, with the Archangel Michael and his angels on one side and Satan (sometimes in the form of a dragon) and his angels on the other. This is depicted in a series of fragmentary scenes scattered between Old and New Testaments, but John Milton (1608-1674)
produced a wonderfully dramatic and coherent version in Books V and VI of his long poem, Paradise Lost (1667/1674).
(Here’s a LINK to the 1667 edition: https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/767/lost.pdf?sequence=1 If you read this blog regularly, you know that I always prefer original texts, especially for Renaissance works, as, using them always makes me feel a little closer to the author and his/her original intent.)
What isn’t surprising, then, is to see an author who had originally intended to become a Classicist and who was a practicing Christian, when creating his own world and its mythology, depict the same sort of struggles as in Homer and the Bible, if not in the Ramayana. Consider the situation: on the one side, there is a fallen angel, a Maia, Sauron,
(JRRT’s unfinished drawing)
and, potentially on the other, five more angels, the Maiar Istari, on the other.
(These are Hero Forge miniatures—I wonder what they would look like painted?)
The five have been sent to counterbalance the one, but, whereas the one builds up fortresses and vast armies of men and others,
two of the five disappear before the story begins, one has a connection with the animal world, one leads and counsels but rarely commands,
(an Alan Lee)
and the fifth is corrupted and attempts to imitate the fallen one, with his own fortress
(the Hildebrandts at work)
and his own armies.
(a Ted Nasmith)
The one—and his imitator—are both eventually defeated and, when they are, much of it is through the agency of the counselor, who then appears to return to the Middle-earth equivalent of heaven.
(another beautiful Ted Nasmith)
To someone who is also steeped in the Classics, what could be more satisfying?
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Be as pius as Aeneas,
And believe—that there is always