Greek Mythology Essay

1490 words - 6 pages

The mythological figure of Zeus/Jupiter has been given many different character traits, based mostly on the idealized views of certain human qualities. In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and Plautus’ Amphitryon the god assumes two very different roles. In both works he also shows the various way that he exercises his power, and treats those whom he views as inferior to himself. In tragedy Zeus is typically shown in a more harsh and serious manner, while in comedy he seems to be a less tyrannical leader and more of a foolish and self absorbed one. Not to say that Zeus is fundamentally different in these separate types of work, but he most certainly takes a different stance upon his throne.
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Plan on this: it's no fictitious threat but all too true” (Aech. Prom. 1029-1033). This excerpt shows that once Zeus feels that he has something to lose he in compelled to befriend Prometheus. According to the prophecy Zeus will eventually need Prometheus, and because of that Zeus now seems to be more interested in Prometheus’ well being. By trying to scare the prophecy out of him it only shows that Zeus is not a truly powerful leader, but one that uses fear to proffer respect. To that affect, when Prometheus denies Zeus’ wishes it signifies that perhaps the tyranny of Zeus is misplaced and he could be a much more effective leader if he were to abandon that approach.
In comedy however, Zeus is shown to be far less ruthless, and instead portrayed as a more concerned with his promiscuity and future. For example when Mercury describes the scene as Zeus/Jupiter lays with Alcmena, “Jupiter seems to have the same idea, Lying in there, Alcmena in his arms'” (Plautus Amph. 280-282). In this passage Mercury describes that Jupiter is sleeping with Alcmena. Though not exactly the best thing for a ruler to do, it is in stark contrast to the wrath shown by Zeus in Prometheus Bound. In Amphitryon, there is not much mention of the punishments that Zeus/Jupiter so feverishly threw upon his fellow gods. Instead he is mostly concerned with mating with mortals. This does have an effect because eventually Heracles is born to Alcmena, but by in large there is no real repercussions of this action. In addition to this act, we see that two sons are born to Alcmena one being Jupiter’s and the other Amphitryon’s. Clearly Jupiter does not care about the situation as Mercury observes, “That is the god's that would be most unjust.
Enough of this: I hear the door creak open. Here comes the counterfeit Amphitryon and with him Alcmena, his borrowed wife” (Plautus Amph. 511-514). Here Mercury is nearly mocking the situation between Jupiter and Amphitryon. By calling Alcmena his borrowed wife it implies that she really belongs to Jupiter and that Amphitryon is simply allowed to be with her. This idea that Alcmena truly belongs to Jupiter truly captures the difference in characterization of Zeus/Jupiter in comedy and tragedy. In tragedy we see Zeus doing anything he can to dominate over his subjects no mater how cruel others may view it. While in comedy we see an attitude that can only be described as unconcerned with what his subjects may think because in Zeus’ mind he already owns what he wants and can simply have it when he decides.
All other aspects of Zeus/Jupiter’s existence stem from the initial characterization differences between comedy and tragedy. In both works, Prometheus Bound and Amphitryon, Zeus/Jupiter exercises his power in vastly different ways. For example in Prometheus Bound, as Hephaestus and Power (Kratos) discuss the task of binding Prometheus, Power tells Hephaestus, “Everything’s a burden – except to rule the gods; freedom belongs to nobody but Zeus”...

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