The Interaction of Humans With the Gods in Greek Mythology

Zeus took the form of a swan to impregnate Leda.
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The Greek gods often elevated their mortal children or grandchildren to the status of heroes, or even to the status of gods. In contrast, their treatment of humans who could boast no divine ancestry was often exploitative or punitive. Only mortals who behaved in a wholly moral, humble manner could hope to be rewarded by the gods.

1 Desire and Abduction

Many of the gods consorted with humans, though Zeus is perhaps the most notorious for abducting unsuspecting human for sexual gratification. In one of of his best-known conquests, Zeus turned into a swan to impregnate Leda, who laid an egg as a result of the encounter, out of which hatched Helen, Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux. Like many of the gods, Zeus was pansexual, so he also turned into an eagle to abduct Ganymede, an attractive Trojan prince, to serve as Zeus's lover and cupbearer.

2 Vengeance for Voyeurism

Though the gods were free to abduct and seduce the humans of their choosing, they were less lenient when it came to human desire. Actaeon was hunting with his 50 hounds when he found Artemis, goddess of the hunt, bathing in the forest. Transfixed, he stared, and the goddess noticed almost immediately. Furious at his impertinence, Artemis transformed Actaeon into a deer and took control of the minds of his dogs. On the goddess's orders, the dogs trapped and consumed their former owner.

3 An Honor Interrupted

Sexual voyeurism wasn't the only type of curiosity the gods frowned upon. When Demeter was mourning the kidnapping of her daughter Persephone, she lived for some time among the humans, disguising herself as an old woman. She cared for the son of King Keleos and Queen Metaneira, feeding the child ambrosia and breathing the breath of immortality on him. One night, Queen Metaneira found that Demeter had placed her son in a fire. Screaming, the queen ignited the fury of Demeter, who coldly explained that she was making the child immortal, but Metaneira had foolishly halted the process. Demeter visited the earth with a long period of famine to punish Metaneira for her curiosity.

4 Piety and Reward

Zeus and Hermes disguised themselves as humans during a long journey. They came to stay with a poor, elderly couple named Philemon and Baucis, who did everything in their power to treat the disguised gods as honored guests. In return for their hospitality and humility, the gods turned their home into a temple, where Philemon and Baucis served as priest and priestess for the rest of their days. At the couple's request, the gods allowed them to die at the same moment so neither would mourn the other. When this time came, both were turned into trees that grew side-by-side so that they could keep each other company beyond death.

Since 2003, Momi Awana's writing has been featured in "The Hawaii Independent," "Tradewinds" and "Eternal Portraits." She served as a communications specialist at the Hawaii State Legislature and currently teaches writing classes at her library. Awana holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Hawaii, Mānoa.