The Greeks had many gods that personified aspects of life and the natural world. The daimones could represent emotions, actions, states of being, or the parts of society as a whole.
Among the hundreds of minor gods and goddesses, some personified negative traits or emotions. These were sometimes scorned by the other gods, although many served deities whose domains aligned in some way with their own.
According to some sources, however, one of these minor gods was more disliked by the Olympians than any other. They found his presence so unbearable that he was cast down from Mount Olympus and never allowed to return.
Momus was not a particularly violent god, but he was one of the most dangerous nevertheless. As the personification of criticism, blame, and complaint, Momus had the power to make even the mightiest gods of Mount Olympus look foolish!
In Greek mythology, Momus was one of the daimones, or personifications of an idea. He was the embodiment of mockery and criticism.
He was said to be the son of Nyx, the primordial goddess of night. According to Hesiod, Momus had no father.
Many sources said that Momus had a twin sister. This was Oizys, the goddess of depression and misery.
According to the stories that were told about him, Momus was the most contrary of the gods. While many of the Olympians had quick tempers and harsh personalities, Momus was known for never having a kind word for anyone.
At times, the god’s mockery seemed lighthearted. To belittle Zeus, for example, he once graffitied Olympus with messages glorifying the greatness of Cronus.
At other times, however, Momus could be dangerous. A source from the 8th century BC said that he had initiated the conflicts of the Trojan War for no reason other than that he disliked humanity and wished to see the population decrease.
While the full story does not survive, some writers even mentioned that Momus was expelled from Olympus for his constant negativity. The gods were unwilling to endure the endless criticisms and sharp words leveled at them by the contrary god.
The only one that Momus had nothing negative to say about, according to the poet Callimachus, was Aphrodite. When he could find no fault with the goddess of beauty, he resorted to saying that her sandals squeaked when she walked.
The most well-known story of Momus and his sharp tongue, however, is not a true myth. He was prominently featured in one of Aesop’s fables.
The story said that three of the most powerful gods, Zeus, Athena, and Poseidon, argued over who could make the most truly good thing. They decided to each create something new and have Momus judge their work.
Poseidon created the bull. When Momus saw it he remarked that it should have been given eyes beneath its horns so it could take better aim when it gored something.
Zeus created man, but Momus found fault with this as well. He said that a man’s heart should be visible so others could discern his true thoughts.
Finally, Athena made a house for man to live in. While Momus acknowledged its excellent construction, he believed that it would have been better with wheels attached so a person could move as they wanted.
The fable illustrated Momus’s most prominent trait. In any situation, he was able to find fault and happy to point it out.
Momus was known for his biting words and constant criticism, but not everyone believed that this was an entirely negative trait.
The satirist Lucian, who wrote in the 2nd century BC, actually took inspiration from the god of criticism. He believed that Momus could be used to level valid critiques at society.
In his work “The Gods in Council,” for example, Lucian had Momus take a leading role in a debate among the gods. He argued that the foreign gods that were being invited to Olympus were making the home of the gods less perfect and divine.
With this, the harsh opinions of Momus became a stand-in for the writer’s own criticisms of society. The imagined critiques of barbarian gods reflected Lucian’s own feelings about non-Greek foreigners becoming more prominent in his society.
During the Renaissance, political and social critiques embraced Momus as part of the era’s trend toward looking to Greek and Roman culture. With the proliferation of new ideas in Europe, many of the leading minds of the time saw the god of criticism as a source of inspiration.
In the 16th century, for example, Erasmus commented that Momus was unpopular among the ancient gods not because he was unkind, but because most people were unable and unwilling to accept criticism of themselves.
Rather than a source of ill-will, Renaissance writers saw Momus as a renegade who was willing to challenge the established authorities of Mount Olympus. Criticising Zeus and the other Olympians was not an injustice, but a legitimate questioning of their superiority.
Using Momus as a stand-in for themselves and other thinkers, writers of the Renaissance were able to craft allegorical tales that leveled criticism at the political and social leaders of their own societies. Nobles, the Church, and powerful merchants became the new targets of Momus’s scorn.
Not all of these works were serious pieces of political commentary, however. Writers in other genres took inspiration from the more light-hearted tone of Aesop’s fables and the lyric poetry of ancient Greece.
In comedy, Momus became a more light-hearted figure. In many parts of Europe, he took on a role similar to that of Harlequin in French and Italian comedies.
In these plays, Momus was a clever character who used his quick wit and biting insults to overcome those with more power than himself. The character used the humor favored by common people against well-bred, noble men.
In both serious and comedic works, Momus was used as a way to criticise those in positions of power. The ill-mannered ancient god became a tool for political and social change during the Renaissance.
Momus was the daimone, or personified god, of criticism, complaint, and mockery in ancient Greece. His constant criticisms of the other gods were so galling that he was expelled from Mount Olympus for them.
In ancient literature, Momus was typically depicted with a very negative attitude. He found fault with everything and everyone.
At times, he also instigated disputes for seemingly no reason other than to cause strife. One author claimed that he started the Trojan War because he disliked humanity, while another story said that he praised Cronus just to undermine Zeus.
Momus’s most well-known appearance in ancient literature was in one of Aesop’s fables. When judging the creations of the gods, he found fault with everything they did.
Some Greek writers, however, saw use in the criticisms of Momus. Satirists used his interactions with the gods as an allegory for their own complaints about the social and political structure they lived in.
This use of Momus as a vessel for the author’s critiques grew in the Renaissance, when classical mythology was used to reflect contemporary culture. Writers like Erasmus saw Momus as a way of levelling valid criticism toward the elite people and institutions of their own society.
Momus also became a comedic figure in the Renaissance. Using common language and quick wit, he mocked more powerful figures in allegorical plays.
While the earliest idea of Momus was as an unpleasant and unbearable god, the view of the daimone changed over time. In both the ancient world and later eras, he became a character that could freely speak the unpleasant truths others did not wish to hear.