If only we were Ageless and Immortal: Human Existence under the Immanence and Transcendence of the Gods of the Iliad
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Homer’s portrayal of the gods in the Iliad has long been a source of scandal. Traditionally problematic depictions of the gods have been those that attest to their divine immanence, their similarity to human beings in character and behavior. While the gods of Homer’s Iliad are undeniably immanent by traditional standards, they are also notably transcendent, that is, immune to the consequences of their interventions in the human world and sharply differentiated from human beings in their ontology. This divine imminence and transcendence has significant consequences for the gods’ relation to the human characters of the epic. The gods, because of their immanence, share many of humanity’s values and thus engage with humans frequently where these values are at play. However, because of their transcendence, the gods enjoy special ontological privileges that disadvantage humans in these interactions. This theology makes the primary crisis of the epic, the inhibition of the best from becoming what he or she was meant to be, the primary crisis of all humanity in the epic. Though the human characters of the epic recognize the tragedy of this condition, they do not condemn it as morally unjust, but accept it. This resigned acceptance follows from Homer’s theology and reveals the power only a few ontological facts about gods and humans hold in the world of the epic.