Red-figure vase painting: The Goddess Eos pursuing Tithonus
I read a lot of disparaging remarks directed at the Greek and Roman gods, especially Zeus, and not just here on Tumblr. People with a casual interest in Hellenic mythology, and many polytheists as well, frequently accuse the gods of rape. People say things like, “Zeus is a serial rapist”, and “The myths validate rape and the mistreatment of women”.
Somehow, I don’t think most of those who accuse the gods of rape realize that the goddesses also took human lovers.
Instead of focusing on what these stories mean in our time, perhaps we should be asking what the ancients thought they meant.
Evidence indicates that the ancient Greeks and Romans made a distinction between the rape of mortals by mortals, and the seduction of mortals by gods and goddesses. Yes, it is apparent in the myths that gods and goddesses felt that the consent of the mortal was important, and worked to acheive it.
Lefkowicz makes a convincing argument that the deities put great thought into the choice of a human lover, and used persuasion rather than force, to win over the object of their affections. There is no denying that becoming the lover of a deity had life-changing consequences, for good or for ill, but through a liason with a god a mortal stood to gain a new importance in the world, remarkable children, and lasting fame after death.