The Complexities of the Roman God Jupiter
Jupiter is an extensively discussed deity in the ancient and modern worlds. He is the most divine of the Olympic Gods but despite this possesses many ‘ungodly’ characteristics. While to many people Jupiter’s various actions may appear to be in contradiction with his position as chief of the gods, others view all his actions collectively and describe his actions as contributions to the development of a complex persona influenced by the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.
When analyzing Ovid’s Metamorphoses we see several aspects of Jupiter. For e.g. in Book 1, “Giants”, Jupiter’s power is portrayed when he defeats the uprisings of the Giants against Olympus. Jupiter is described to possess magnificent amounts of power when he uses lightening against the Giants. The arduous tasks achieved by Jupiter and the unchallengeable nature of Jupiter both give legitimacy to the leadership of Jupiter. Jean Shinoda Bolen describes Jupiter to be an archetype of a powerful, exhibitionist, and ambitious King. She also describes Jupiter’s thunderbolt to be a symbol of his punitive power. Jupiter’s thunderbolt allowed him to be decisive, a quality associated with supreme leaders. Here we see the straightforward representations of a strong and capable ruler.
In Book 1, “Lycaon”, Ovid expresses Jupiter’s role as the supreme judicial power. Jupiter’s judgment of mankind and his reaction to Lycaon’s treachery were the deciding factors in deciding the fate of mankind. Jupiter says that more houses of humans deserved to be destroyed and that they eventually would be destroyed. This conclusion was purely the work of Jupiter. The remaining Council of Gods submitted to Jupiter’s will in a way despite their concern about who would worship them when the humans would be wiped out. Jupiter felt it necessary to destroy mankind because he was mistreated when he descended from the Heavens but one might argue that in this case the punishment was too extreme and might simply be a consequence of Jupiter’s thirst for revenge. Lycaon enraged Jupiter by feeding him human meat secretly and hence was turned into a wolf by Jupiter. This might be an incidence of Jupiter’s judgment being influenced by his ego, which would compel him to act boldly and irrationally. Along these lines the story of Lycaon might contradict perfect embodiment of law associated with Jupiter. Jupiter might not be completely fair in his actions despite representing fundamentals of justice. Charles Segal says that Ovid in The Metamorphoses attempts to subtly emphasize how “the ruler of the world has become fixated on punishing a single human criminal”. Also Jupiter seems to be an unopposed dictator in his interactions with the Council of Gods in the story of Lycaon. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (4 ed.) states “Jupiter was patron of the violent aspect of supremacy”. It is indeed true that Jupiter is a dominant deity with dominion over the skies, but how much supremacy did Jupiter really have? Was Jupiter’s personality just a parallel to Totalitarianism or is it more complex than that? Homer’s Iliad, Book 1, encourages the idea of Zeus’s divine will being the future. Since Zeus had intended for the formation of the Roman Empire by Aeneas, the Trojan War at Troy was part of his plan. Achilles decided to live a short life for glory when he decided to fight at Troy. Achilles recognized his fate as being the will of Zeus. While Zeus did carry out his will in most cases, there are incidents where he would consent to fate and disregard his own will. For e.g. in the Iliad, Book 6, during the Trojan War, Zeus did not want his son Sarpedon to die but Sarpedon was fated to die. Zeus did not save his son because he had to consider the reaction of the rest of the gods, who had their own sons’ fighting in the war. In this way Zeus was bound and his supremacy was proven to be limited. By analyzing the death of Sarpedon, we can infer that Zeus’s will is not fate and the two are distinct. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (4 ed.) also states “But Jupiter was also a political god, who agreed to exercise power within the limits imposed by law and good faith”. This gives us the indication that Jupiter’s supremacy could be applied to his political influence among other gods instead of an outright control over the rest of the gods.
The analysis of Jupiter will always be incomplete without addressing Jupiter’s relationship with women. Jupiter had many affairs with humans and nymphs on Earth and one such example is presented in Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book 1, “Io and Jupiter”. Inachus, the River God is worried about his daughter Io who is missing. Ovid tells us how Jupiter forces himself on Io and then turns her into a heifer in order to conceal her from Juno. Jupiter’s actions can be determined to be selfish as he is willing to sacrifice and torment who he chooses in order to satisfy his sexual desires or hide his affairs from Juno. Jupiter’s numerous affairs tell us how he is only looking for sexual satisfaction and is not interested in any further sort of affection. Jean Bolen explains his behavior by stating that is part of his ‘eagle nature’. Jupiter is always on the lookout for something he wants and when he pinpoints something he wants, he refuses to let it go. He felt that he was entitled to the beauty present on Earth. When considering Jupiter’s affairs, the idea of a divine marriage between him and Juno is made invalid. Ken Dowden explains how the lack of legitimate offspring sheds light on Juno and Jupiter’s relationship. It exposes how Jupiter’s marriage is not an ideal marriage expected of a chief of gods. Ken Dowden concludes that Jupiter’s adultery can be interpreted to be either a portrayal of Greek and Roman male psychology or an irresistible duty to acknowledge beauty. He also brings up that Jupiter’s popularity could be because of the ancient society’s interest in the struggle between giants and gods. Jean Bolen says “The god Zeus behaved like an alpha male in acquiring and consolidating his power and in impregnating numerous women and fathering numerous offspring.” Jean Bolen continues to discuss how Zeus is not the good lover because of him being emotionally distant and because of him being rather sexually violent. It is true that Zeus falls short of the standard of being a good lover but is still a glorious figure in the eyes of Greek and Roman men. Greek and Roman men looked up to the falsely conceived idea of masculinity exhibited by Zeus. Greek and Roman men valued Zeus’ ability to make offspring and obtain sexual desire over Zeus’ absence of compassion or absence of loyalty towards Juno. Above all Greek and Roman men valued Zeus’ power and legitimacy over his self-serving and cruel actions.
I have come to understand that Jupiter’s personality is a complex web of attributes, which do not always cohere together. This is evident when his responsibility as the chief of God’s contradicts with his concupiscence. Despite having so much power Jupiter could not help but fall victim to lust repeatedly. This is why his various affairs cause much trouble in the mythical world. Jupiter’s conflicting attributes are also evident when his ego and machismo contradict his role as the uniting figure of the gods. These various flaws of Jupiter tell us that the ancient Greek and Roman societies valued legitimacy over character. Jupiter’s power, control and actions against Kronos gave him legitimacy to be the leader of gods, which was more important than having the qualities of a ‘Leader of Gods’. These ancient societies were obsessed with Jupiter’s lineage and power more than character. This obsession extended to the societies’ perceived heroes too. For e.g. most of the notable heroes were sons of gods and hence had legitimacy, which is why they were widely regarded as heroes, even though their personalities were not very ‘hero-like’. This Greek and Roman idea of divinity is reflected in the social hierarchy of the ancient times and how much importance was given to lineage. Family names and reputations were considered sacred. Ovid has a habit of referring to Jupiter as son of Saturn. This tells us how much importance Jupiter’s genealogy carried in the ancient world. Jupiter’s sexual affairs tell us how the Greeks and Romans both considered god, divine nature and the ‘alpha male’ to be connected if not overlapping. Ancient societies being patriarchal saw Jupiter as a natural figurehead. Considering all these judgments, I have concluded that Jupiter represents a difficult and devious personality, which is highly influenced and representative of ancient Greece and Rome.
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