Homer’s Theological positions – What was his opinion on ‘atheism’?

In this post we present and analyze excerpts from Homer’s “Odyssey”, which reveal some of his substantial theological positions.

NovoScriptorium: Our analysis is aided by the Liddell & Scott Lexicon.

Other sources used: Homer in English, Homer in Greek.


Excerpt 1 – Odyssey, 14th Rhapsody, v. 330-332

Athena speaks to Odysseus:

Ancient Greek (henceforth A.G.): «αἰεί τοι τοιοῦτον ἐνὶ στήθεσσι νόημα· τῷ σε καὶ οὐ δύναμαι προλιπεῖν δύστηνον ἐόντα, οὕνεκ᾽ ἐπητής ἐσσι καὶ ἀγχίνοος καὶ ἐχέφρων.

Official English Translation (henceforth O.E.T.): You are always taking something of that sort into your head,” replied Minerva, “and that is why I cannot desert you in your afflictions; you are so plausible, shrewd and shifty.

Proper English Translation (henceforth P.E.T.): constantly/always this is the νόημα in your chest. That is why I cannot abandon the unfortunate you; because you are επητής, αγχίνοος and εχέφρων.

νόημα means: the way one thinks/understands. Directly related to the word Νους/Nous. Very interestingly, this activity is described as happening ‘in the chest‘/ἐνὶ στήθεσσι. Thinking with the chest? Well, if one is familiar to Orthodox Theology & practice, can recognize here the ‘region of the Heart (Καρδία)’, where the meeting of Man with God takes place – this meeting does not take place with mental efforts, in the brain or by using Logic; God, who is above Logic (Υπέρλογος), can only be truly met through the Heart. ‘The pure in Heart shall see God’; indeed, the cleansing of the Nous is directly related to the cleansing of the Heart in Orthodox practice. In our opinion, it is not at all coincidental that the above words are said by Athena, the personification of Divine Wisdom. The Absolute Wisdom, that is, God, sees in the Hearts of Men and checks them constantly for their deeper intentions and motives. It is rather obvious that Athena is placed masterfully here by Homer to confess doing the same thing with Odysseus.

επητής means: prudent, savant, true, just, mild/gentle, virtuous/decent

αγχίνοος means: astute, ingenious, with a fast mind

εχέφρων means: prudent, careful, sensible, modest

We notice the obvious connection between Nous and Heart; between brain-functioning (referring to the health status of the physical brain), way of thinking (mentally and cordially), behavior, motive and intention.

The Man who owns the above characteristics will not be abandoned by God, Homer suggests. On the contrary, Divine Wisdom shall guard and lead him constantly.

Excerpt 2 – Odyssey, 15th Rhapsody, v. 83-84

A.G.: οὐ μὲν σχέτλια ἔργα θεοὶ μάκαρες φιλέουσιν, ἀλλὰ δίκην τίουσι καὶ αἴσιμα ἔργ᾽ ἀνθρώπων.

O.E.T.: but the blessed gods love not such shameful doings, and respect those who do what is lawful and right.

P.E.T.: but the μάκαρες gods do not love σχέτλια deeds, but they honour justice and the αίσιμα deeds of Men.

μάκαρες means: blissful, happy, but also: apathetic, unruffled, unperturbed

Σχέτλιος means: cruel, hard, unmerciful, inhuman, adventurous

Αίσιμος means: determined by the will of the gods, in line with the divinely defined destiny, appropriate, correct

From the above it appears without doubt that deep piety/respect for the Divine, in the form of cordially accepting the Divine Will, constitutes a fundamental precondition for the Man who would like to be ‘honoured by the Divine’.  The identification between αίσιμα and the ‘Divine Will’ is evident. Moreover, Man should have justice intention, should abstain from violence and cruelty, should be humanitarian/philanthropist, merciful, prudent, virtuous and measured.

Excerpt 3 – Odyssey, 15th Rhapsody, v. 420-421

A.G.: οὐδὲ συβώτης λήθετ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἀθανάτων· φρεσὶ γὰρ κέχρητ᾽ ἀγαθῇσιν·

O.E.T.: Eumaeus did not forget the gods, for he was a man of good principles

P.E.T.: nor the swineherd forgot the Immortals, because he possessed good brains

Homer here suggests that whoever forgets/neglects the Divine does not have good brains/is not sane, or else, whoever does not honor the Divine is insane. Quite similar opinions were expressed by the vast majority of the ancient Greek Philosophers. It must be boldy said that for the ancient Greek Philosophical thinking, ‘atheism’ was considered as ‘insanity’, ‘brain damage’, ‘problem in the way of Man’s thinking’. Being godly/pious is the foundation stone of Philosophy, as we have already presented in a series of analyses (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

Excerpt 4 – Odyssey, 15th Rhapsody, v. 444-445

A.G.: θεὸς δὲ τὸ μὲν δώσει, τὸ δ᾽ ἐάσει, ὅττι κεν ᾧ θυμῷ ἐθέλῃ· δύναται γὰρ ἅπαντα.

O.E.T.: God grants this, and withholds that, just as he thinks right, for he can do whatever he chooses.

P.E.T.: and God will give this, and will let that, just as he wants to. Because he has the strength to do everything.

Beyond any doubt, Homer speaks about the omnipotence of the Divine Being, God, as one of His distinct idioms. He also states clearly that nothing can take place unless God allows. As for the usage of the word ‘θεός‘/god instead of ‘θεοί‘/gods our reader should not be  surpised. This switching occurs quite often in the writings of Homer – and not only in Homer (e.g. 1, 2). We will not analyze here why this happens as it exceeds the scope of this post.

Excerpt 5 – Odyssey, 22nd Rhapsody, v. 287-289

A.G.: μή ποτε πάμπαν εἴκων ἀφραδίῃς μέγα εἰπεῖν, ἀλλὰ θεοῖσι μῦθον ἐπιτρέψαι, ἐπεὶ ἦ πολὺ φέρτεροί εἰσι.

O.E.T.: do not be so foolish as to talk wickedly another time, but let heaven direct your speech, for the gods are far stronger than men

P.E.T.: don’t you ever say a big word, receding into nonsense/foolishness; but allow the gods to speak, because they are much superior

Not doing what the Divine wants from us to do is clearly considered by Homer as ‘foolishness/nonsense’. This kind of condition gives birth to ‘big words’, i.e. to bombast,  boast, which are external characteristics of conceit, arrogance and pride. We all realize how destructive Pride can be for the individual or for a community. The message from this excerpt, appears to be that Man must never believe, not in the slightest, that his own thinking and will can be superior to the Divine ones. Interestingly, if one is familiar to Orthodox Christianity, he/she can recall here the enormous importance of the ‘humility’ factor in every aspect of spiritual and practical life of the true Orthodox.


Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: P.D.K.

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