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IE Mythology 2, Requirement 5

Show two examples in one IE culture of a deity engaging in actions that are unethical or unvirtuous, and speculate on why the deities sometimes engage in this type of behavior. (100 words min.)

Apollo and Coronis: Coronis was a mortal who Apollo loved, and was pregnant with the god's child. Apollo, finding out that she was sleeping with a young Thessalian, strunk his bow and shot Coronis, killing her and (presumably) the child as well, though he would snatch the child from Coronis' funeral pyre and send him to Chiron, who would raise him as Asclepius. Apollo also cursed the raven who had told him the truth about the affair. (Morford, 177)

Apollo and Cassandra: Cassandra became a lover of Apollo, and gained the power of prophecy as a result. When she changed her mind, though, Apollo spit in her mouth and, while leaving her with the gift, made it so that no one would believe her prophecies. (171)

Here are two examples of jealousy driving the gods to actions that are clearly unethical (killing mother and nearly killing her child, and tainting a gift given in such a way that it becomes a curse). Why do the gods engage in this behavior? There are many possible reasons, from the simple joy that humans get from soap opera style stories to deeper notions of reflections of ourselves in the gods. The primary reason for the unethical nature of the gods in some instances seems, to me, to be a result of the polytheistic notion of "limited" gods: deities are not omnipotent or omnipresent, and so it stands to reason that they would occasionally make decisions without understanding (or wanting to understand) the consequences. It's less about good storytelling, and more about understanding that, in many ways, the gods are like us, and thus can occasionally make mistakes.

And, importantly: this provides us with the knowledge that it's perfectly natural to make mistakes.


  • Lincoln, Bruce. Death, War, and Sacrifice.
  • MacDonnell, A. A. Vedic Mythology.
  • Mallory, J. P. In Search of the Indo-Europeans.
  • Morford, Mark and Lenardon, Robert. Classical Mythology6th Ed. Addison-Wesley Publishers. 1999.
  • Phuvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology.


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