generic θεός

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bcrowell
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generic θεός

Post by bcrowell »

Iliad 6.228: [ἐμοὶ...] κτείνειν ὅν κε θεός γε πόρῃ καὶ ποσσὶ κιχείω,

Here Diomede is saying that he and Glaucus shouldn't fight, because their ancestors were guest-friends, and among the Trojans there are many "for me to kill, whom [a god? the god?] may offer..."

What is the meaning of "θεός" in this context? Ares has just been mentioned at line 203 as being implicitly the god who is in control of who gets killed in war, so is there an implication that it's Ares? Or, without clearer context, do we take it to mean Zeus, because he's the boss? Or does it just mean "a god," on the theory that everything that happens must happen because it's the will of some god? Or is it sort of like inshallah, a polite way of being modest when expressing the possibility that he will continue to have success in war, so as not to come off as hubristic (like his ancester Bellerophon)? Or is it some impersonal way of talking about "the divine" rather than implying some personal deity?

I seem to recall similarly confusing singular "god" references in Plato, but that was a long time ago. I think it seemed to me like the translator was Christianizing the text. Is it clearer in Attic what's going on, because they use articles more?
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jeidsath
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Re: generic θεός

Post by jeidsath »

Cunliffe has the following:
Without reference to any particular god, the divine power, heaven: θεός που σοὶ τό γ’ ἔδωκεν Α178. Cf. Β436, Ζ228, Η4, Ι49, Ρ327, Φ47, etc.: οὐκ ἄνευ θεοῦ β372. Cf. γ131, θ170, ι158, λ292, ρ399, σ265, etc.
The verses with giving and providing make me think of "providence".

Ρ327 has a D-scholia entry though which might come closer to an "ancient" explanation though.

Image

How ever could you save your city absent the the divine will, when you lose Zeus' aid to you by your own weakness? (or something like that)
"Here stuck the great stupid boys, who for the life of them could never master the accidence..."

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Paul Derouda
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Re: generic θεός

Post by Paul Derouda »

References to an unspecified divine agency are pretty common in ancient Greek literature. ”Providence”, ”the divine” or ”Heaven” are probably pretty close English equivalents. In Homer δαίμων is especially common in this impersonal sense, I’m not sure if its use is different in any particular way from θεός. Beside Homer, I’ve seen references to the unspecified ”divine” at least in Herodotus and tragedy. This does not imply monotheism, though I’ve wondered if this sort of idea facilitated the idea of monotheism later on.

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bcrowell
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Re: generic θεός

Post by bcrowell »

Thanks, Paul and Joel!

I wonder if this could be similar to carving "to the unknown gods" on an altar.

Googling turns up lots of discussion of Greek philosophers, but their ideas are probably atypical. But this quora post is interesting: https://www.quora.com/When-Ancient-Gree ... ferring-to
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Re: generic θεός

Post by Andriko »

Paul Derouda wrote: Tue Aug 23, 2022 11:06 am This does not imply monotheism, though I’ve wondered if this sort of idea facilitated the idea of monotheism later on.
My (limited) knowledge of polytheistic religions suggests that most of them believed in a greater divine force, beyond even 'the gods'. Think of the Hindu Brahma, for example. There was no organised or systematic religion for the Ancient Greeks, and from what I can gather, each place had their own favoured God (I have been told this is also true for Hindus), and practice and behaviour seems to appear a lot more monotheistic in a very lose sense and from our perspective.

We moderns run into the problem that we think of ancient 'religion', and think we understand it, and think that the ancient Greeks thought their Gods sat on mount Olympus and had a neatly defined pantheon. They didn't, it was a lot more complicated than that.

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Paul Derouda
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Re: generic θεός

Post by Paul Derouda »

I agree with you, Andriko. While reading Homer we might get an idea of a fixed pantheon, I think Homer isn’t really representative at all of ancient Greek religion in this respect. Actually, it has been argued that the whole idea of a ”divine family” that gathers in a ”divine council”, sitting in Mt Olympus etc. in Homer and Hesiod is mostly a literary motif borrowed from the Near East and not an important part of actual Greek religious practice.

I don’t know enough about other polytheistic religions to be able to tell how pervasive this idea of a ”generic divine principle” is. You may well be right that it’s very common.

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