Individual agency and responsibility are factors that are revealed extensively in Calasso’s, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. Chapter Four particularly reveals the various instances through which the Greeks demonstrated their perceptions of personal responsibility and guilt. Calasso introduces various instances that reveal the close connection between the gods and the Greeks who play a crucial role in their religious world. Personal responsibility is seen through the way that the immortals such as Thetis who refused the gods and their wills. In the case of Thetis, she felt that she could not take the responsibility of mothering a son to Zeus as this would ultimately give birth to a son who would challenge the supremacy of Zeus. Thetis, through her rejection of Zeus showed the power of individual choices and sense of responsibility in controlling factors that affected a whole civilization. Relatively, Calasso reveals that in some situations, the gods realized their mistakes and developed a sense of guilt for their actions. Through the example of Zeus, Calasso writes that every time Zeus approached a woman he represented the supreme danger to his rule over Olympia (Calasso 93). Such instances show the perceptions of guilt among the gods who just as humans faced danger due to their actions.
Through the character of Achilles, Homer paints the reality of all life that tends to prefer the unique over the grand. Homer writes that even after Achilles is provided with the opportunity to have more in the seven girls of Lebsos and Chryseis, he still prefers Briseis who he felt was more valuable. This depiction, of an individual sacrificing his uniqueness and upholding his individual choice over popular opinion is used by Homer to show how humanity distinguishes itself from the gods by making incomprehensible choices influenced by emotions. Through the actions of Achilles, who Homer says chooses to be different, ‘when he refused to kill’, due to his individual beliefs and opinions, humanity appears as a people that refuse to be influenced (Calasso 117). Regardless of the choices he was presented with Achilles chose to remain steadfast in his initial belief. This shows that what was at stake at this instance was his freedom and ability to make his own choices. Through the stubbornness of his choice, Achilles saved his soul and demonstrated the importance of his freedom, which was at stake. His reluctance and choice of Briseis over the other promised favors, Achilles demonstrates the human inclination to self-guidance, belief and independent choice.
Robert Calosso’s interpretation of Greek myths have been particularly informative especially on the theme of male chauvinism and infidelity. Throughout the chapter, the author discusses the gods in new light that reveals them as more womanizing, infidel and of loose morals compared to human beings. The best example of male chauvinism is seen through Zeus who is shown to be a persistent womanizer who chose to continue his actions despite the threat that this action posed to his future as ruler of Olympia. Through his ‘laying’ with various women, most of them immortals, Zeus persistently threatened the place of women in the society. This realization forced me to re-evaluate my understanding of the role that the gods played in the Greek society as seen through other hero stories such as those of Hercules. Hercules, who was the son of Zeus was able to liberate his people through his connection and strength from Zeus. From my previous understanding, Hercules’ connection with Zeus was a positive thing but now; I interpret this as a demonstration of infidelity. Through Zeus’ union with Hercules’ mother, Alcmene, who was married, infidelity was promoted and this goes against the values of family and union. Ultimately, this unity broke Hercules’ family apart as his custodial father became confrontational upon discovery of this treachery.
Calasso, Robert. “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony.” (1994). 89-140.