Last update
2023-05-28 04:14:03

    One thing that's strange about the first book of the Iliad is that at the end there's a whole quarrel emphasizing the notion that the other gods cannot overpower Zeus. And yet the whole action of the poem, not two hundred lines earlier, is predicated on the fact that the other gods did overpower Zeus and that only Thetis saved him.

    Possible answers include:

    • This is a "mere" inconsistency introduced by different textual layers [very boring]
    • You're meant to understand that Thetis is lying and that Zeus never was bound at all [nonsensical]
    • The quarrel scene is a distraction/appeasement of listeners scandalized by the earlier recounted myth.
    • In addition to the previous, the quarrel scene is a satire of the scandalized listeners' overly monarchical/monotheistic notion of Zeus. Note that the premise is almost self-contradictory- Zeus here does not save himself, but is saved from Héré's wrath again by another god, this time Héphæstos. [this is the most interesting reading imo. I do have to ask why Héphæstos was chosen- fire as opposed to Thetis's water?]
    • The point is that Zeus became, or was first shown to be, unconquerable during the Thetis Incident.

    A few other points on the myth itself:

  • The gods Achilleus specifically names as trying to bind Zeus- Héré, Poseidaón, Athéné- are all the main partisans of the Achæans.
  • The myth bears some loose resemblance to the Ugaritic Ba'al Cycle, in that the Storm-King is saved by a lady (Anat/Thetis) in a battle for his supremacy. I used to thus think that the Thetis myth was derived from a Phœnician source, and in fact that the theme of Zeus's supremacy over his brothers the Sea-King and Death-King was taken from Phœnician mythology well. But this is a very tenuous link, and Yam & Mot are not gods with cults in the way Poseidaón & Haidés are. Thus, if anything, the directionality should be the opposite (Hellenes -> Phœnicians), and even more likely both are derived from an unattested East Mediterranean tradition (Minoan?)
  • The Epic poetic idiom is often a bit materialist in imagery about overlapping identities, phrasing them as separate beings rather than one acting with/as another. I think that if we heard the Thetis myth from a different source, the meaning would be clearer- that the Hundred-Handed One is a wrathful form of Zeus that was unlocked in him by Thetis the primordial feminine of the sea- a Shaktist myth.
  • (I do have to wonder if Thetis & Téthys aren't doublets borrowed from different Pre-Greek languages on different occasions, or something like that)
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