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Greek Mythology

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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.
In Prometheus Bound, Zeus is “betrayed” by Prometheus and as a result of his actions Prometheus is punished. In this tragic work Zeus is shown to be a very harsh leader. For example when Hephaestus tells Prometheus, “You'll cry out often, in sorrow, pain, regret it will do you no good. Zeus is not to be won over. He is harsh, as all those new to power are harsh” (Aesch. Prom. 36-38). Here Hephaestus is trying to explain to Prometheus that the punishment that he is to endure will be terrible and no matter how much he suffers and begs he will not convince Zeus to free him. This whole exchange shows that Zeus is not interested in the welfare of his fellow gods, but he cares more about the fact that he be view as a ruler with an iron fist. This most certainly shows Zeus in a tyrannical and abusive way. In addition to being characterized as tyrannical in tragedies Zeus is also shown to be only interested with himself and threats to his power. For example when Prometheus revels that he knows of a prophecy that could lead to Zeus’ demise, Zeus sends Hermes to tell Prometheus, “Expect no limit to such suffering until some god proves willing to take on 
your struggles and descend to sunless Hades
and the murky depths of Tartarus. 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” (Aesch. Prom. 52-53). This conjecture that only Zeus has freedom is a testament to that way that even his loyal servant Power feels about his leadership. Power feels that he has to follow Zeus’ order because it is the only way, not because he believes it is the right way. Also having Zeus send Power and Hephaestus to do his bidding it shows that Zeus himself doesn’t feel like he should be concerned with this problem and instead sends his “henchmen” to take care of it. On the converse side of that, in Amphitryon we see Jupiter not really using his power so much for the punishment of others, but for his own gains. For example when Jupiter appears to Alcmena disguised as Amphitryon he does not do so to exert power, but instead changes his form so that he can more easily sleep with Alcmena. By having the use of power seem much more lighthearted in comedy we see a far different Zeus/Jupiter than we would in tragedy.
In addition to the differences in how Zeus/ Jupiter uses his power there are also marked differences in the way that he treats Hermes/Mercury, his mortal lovers and the welfare of humanity. In Prometheus Bound we see Zeus using Hermes to try and extract the prophecy from Prometheus (Aesch. Prom.). Though not explicitly stated it seems as if Hermes is there not by choice by because he too fears the wrath that will befall him were he to disobey Zeus. While in Amphitryon we see Mercury simply telling the story of what is happening involving all characters including Jupiter, but he has a much more jovial tone about his speech regarding Jupiter (Plautus Amphi.). The vast difference in the way that Hermes/Mercury speak about Zeus/Jupiter goes only to show that in tragedy Zeus/Jupiter is ruling more with fear than respect, while in comedy he seems to have a more relaxed and less terrifying rule. Not only are the differences present in the way he teats fellow gods, but there are vast differences in the way he treats his mortal lovers. In Prometheus Bound Io tells Prometheus and the Chorus the story of how Zeus turned he into a cow and now torments her throughout the land by making he insane (Aesch. Prom.). In tragedy again we see Zeus taking action that is cruel, but this time it is to torment a mortal lover with whom he wants to have sex with. Really the torment of Io has no justification only that it is Zeus’ will and because of that he deems it an acceptable action. In contrast to Io we have Alcmena who is not tormented at all, rather Jupiter takes the form of her husband so in a sense he is absolving her of any wrong doing because she is now none the wiser. Finally the difference in Zeus/Jupiter’s view of human kind is apparent in both stories over all. In Prometheus Bound he is punishing Prometheus for helping humanity, while in Amphitryon he really is only looking out for himself by sleeping with Alcmena and not truly regarding humanity as a factor at all.
Zeus/Jupiter can only be described as a tyrant. He abuses his power whenever possible, and very rarely act out of the good of anyone but himself. There is however a stark contrast between how he abuses that power in tragedy and comedy. In tragedy he uses his power as a tool to strike fear and gain following from his subjects, while in comedy he uses merely for his own gain without regard to his subjects.

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