From Homer to Luther: Tracing the Epic Journey of a Reformation Icon with Chat GPT

After some prompting, I asked ChatGPT to create a mock episode of MythVision with guest “Donald MacDennis”, discussing the story of Martin Luther and its parallels to Homer’s work. I was not disappointed by the result. Although I did make some edits for clarity and to add a little personality, the content was largely generated by the AI. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: This is not necessarily meant to be taken as a serious criticism of Dr. Dennis MacDonald. This is just a product of me goofing around. Satire only!

Derek: Welcome to MythVision, the podcast where we explore ancient myths and their relevance to our modern lives. Today, we have a special guest, Donald MacDennis, a renowned scholar of early Christian literature and classics. He is here to discuss his provocative theory that the story of Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, was influenced by the Book of Acts and the Odyssey. Join us as we delve into the fascinating parallels between these ancient stories and the life of one of the most influential figures in Christian history. So Dennis, tell us about your theories on Martin Luther. These are things Lutheran apologists won’t tell you! 

Donald MacDennis: The story of how Martin Luther became a monk is dependent on the story of the conversion of Paul in Acts. Just as Paul was blinded by a bright light from heaven, it was said that Luther’s theologian friend was struck by a flash of lightning that overcame his aversion to becoming a monk. However, the legend goes further than the sacred narrative, with Luther falling to the ground stunned but alive, while his companion was killed by the lightning bolt. In Acts Paul now sees that he’s guilty for approving of the death of a holy man, Stephen. Rather than rocks from the hands of the Jews, Luther’s friend is killed by lightning; but the metaphor here is that Luther is struck like lightning for the guilt of his sins. In Paul’s case his companions fell to the ground, but Paul was blinded and later healed. Luther’s friend dies but knows he will see him healed in the afterlife and like Paul dedicates himself to the service of God. The name Luther is Germanic and means “famous army” where Saul was a king over the famous army of Israel from which the apostle derived his original name from. Both would face intense opposition and persecution as a result of their newfound beliefs. Paul was imprisoned, beaten, and ultimately executed for his teachings, while Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church and declared a heretic. The person telling the story of Luther’s life was making clear parallels here.

Derek: C’mon Lutheran apologists, these are obvious parallels! The stories of Luther are mimicking the New Testament. What more do you want? 

Donald MacDennis: That’s right, Derek. But it’s not just the New Testament. There’s also the works of Homer. To start, there’s the theme of personal transformation and loss. In the Odyssey, the main character, Odysseus, undergoes a series of trials and tribulations on his journey home from the Trojan War. Along the way, he loses many of his men to various dangers, including the wrath of the god Zeus. Similarly, in Martin Luther’s story, he experiences a transformative event when his friend is struck by lightning and killed right before his eyes. This event leads him to make a dramatic change in his life and commit himself to the monastic lifestyle.

In both cases, the loss of a friend or ally is a pivotal moment that sets the protagonist on a new path. Odysseus is forced to confront the dangers of the sea and the wrath of the gods, while Luther is compelled to re-examine his beliefs and values. Both stories also feature themes of perseverance, faith, and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity. These are clear indicators of mimesis. You see, Martin Luther, Melanchthon and others no doubt encountered the works of Homer through translations or commentaries by other writers. Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were widely read and studied in the ancient world and have been translated into many languages over the centuries. By the time of Martin Luther, there were already numerous translations of Homer’s works into Latin and other vernacular European languages. Many of the early Lutherans were highly literate in Latin and deliberately modeled the narrative style and themes on the Iliad and the Odyssey in order to create a new and distinctively Reformed Christian epic.

Derek: Wow, that’s amazing Dr. MacDennis.

Donald MacDennis: But there’s much more! In Book 9 of the Odyssey, Odysseus and his men find themselves trapped in the cave of Polyphemus. Rather than killing the monster, Odysseus hatches a plan to blind him with a hot poker, thereby allowing them to escape. This act of defiance and cunning helps Odysseus and his men survive, but also sets them on a course of conflict with Polyphemus and the other Cyclopes.

Similarly, when Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, he was challenging the authority and power of the Catholic Church. This act of defiance set him on a course of conflict with the Church and its leaders, but also helped to spark a movement that would transform the religious landscape of Europe.

Both Odysseus and Luther’s actions in these scenes represent a bold assertion of individual agency and a willingness to challenge authority in pursuit of a higher goal. They also demonstrate the power of words and ideas to shape the course of history.

One possible symbolic connection between the number 95 and Homer is through the concept of the “shield of Achilles” described in the Iliad. The shield is said to have been adorned with a variety of scenes and symbols representing different aspects of human life and society, including scenes of war, peace, agriculture, and more.

If we take the number 95 and divide it into its factors (5 and 19), we can draw a parallel to the different scenes depicted on Achilles’ shield. The number 5 could represent the five fingers on a hand, symbolizing the physical prowess and dexterity of warriors in battle. The number 19 could represent the different months in a year, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life and the changing of seasons.

But look, it gets even deeper. Consider this, Derek. Another parallel between Luther’s translation of the Bible into German and a passage from Homer’s Odyssey is the scene where Odysseus and his men visit the island of Aeaea and encounter the witch Circe.

In Book 10 of the Odyssey, Odysseus and his men visit the island of Aeaea, where they encounter the witch Circe. She offers them food and drink, but secretly casts a spell that turns them into pigs. However, Odysseus is able to resist the spell and eventually convinces Circe to restore his men to human form. He also stays on the island for a year, during which time Circe becomes his lover and teaches him important magic skills.

Similarly, Luther’s translation of the Bible into German represented a major transformation of language and culture. By making the Bible accessible to ordinary people in their native language, Luther helped to spread his ideas and sparked a movement that would challenge the authority of the Catholic Church and lead to the formation of new Protestant denominations. Like Odysseus learning magic from Circe, Luther’s translation of the Bible helped him to gain new insights into religious texts and spread his message to a wider audience.

Both scenes represent moments of transformation and learning, in which the protagonists gain new knowledge and skills that help them achieve their goals. They also highlight the power of language and communication to shape the course of history.

Furthermore, like Achilles, Luther was a prominent figure who challenged established authority and who was willing to go against the status quo in order to defend his beliefs. Achilles famously withdrew from battle during the Trojan War, refusing to fight until his honor was restored. Similarly, Luther’s refusal to recant his beliefs and his insistence on the primacy of scripture over papal authority challenged the established order of the Catholic Church.

When Achilles refused to fight in the Iliad, he explained that he felt his honor had been insulted by Agamemnon, and he believed it was his duty to defend his honor by not fighting. He said: “I will not fight on behalf of that man. Coward that I am to yield to him in everything. No, let him lead his own troops to battle, he will soon find out whether or not I am of any use to him.”

Similarly, Luther also believed in the importance of duty and standing up for what he believed in and felt insulted by the Pope, even in the face of opposition. He famously declared at the Diet of Worms in 1521: “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.” Later Luther wrote of the papacy: “You are the head of all the worst scoundrels on earth, a vicar of the devil, an enemy of God, an adversary of Christ, a destroyer of Christ’s churches; a teacher of lies, blasphemies, and idolatries; an arch-thief and robber; a murderer of kings and inciter to all kinds of bloodshed; a brothel-keeper over all brothel-keepers and all vermin, even that which cannot be named; an Antichrist, a person of sin and child of perdition; a true werewolf.” This statement indicated his unwavering commitment to his beliefs, to insult those who he believed were cowardly and his willingness to face whatever consequences might come as a result of his actions.

Derek: Wow, Dr. MacDennis, those are some really fascinating parallels you’re drawing between the story of Luther and the book of Acts as well as the works of Homer. It’s almost like the biographers of Luther were drawing inspiration from these classic stories when they were crafting the narratives.

Donald MacDennis: Absolutely, Derek. It’s not uncommon for writers and storytellers to draw inspiration from the stories that have come before them, and Luther was no exception. By using these familiar themes and motifs, the early “Lutherans” were able to create a story that resonated with their audience and helped to spread the message.

Derek: That’s really profound. It’s amazing how these stories from different time periods and cultures can have such resonance and relevance even today.

Donald MacDennis: Absolutely, Derek. These stories have endured for thousands of years because they speak to universal truths and themes that are relevant to all of us, regardless of our time or place in history. And the story of Luther is no exception. And let’s not forget about the similarities between Luther and the hero of the Odyssey, Odysseus. Both were men who went through long and challenging journeys in order to reach their ultimate goals. Odysseus faced many trials and tribulations as he attempted to return home after the Trojan War, while Luther faced numerous obstacles as he sought to reform the Catholic Church and promote his theological ideas.

But there are even deeper connections between Luther and Odysseus. For example, both men faced the temptations of the flesh, with Luther struggling against his own carnal desires and Odysseus facing the seductive advances of the goddess Calypso. Both also had to deal with powerful and often dangerous women, with Luther facing opposition from powerful female rulers such as Queen Catherine of Aragon and Queen Elizabeth I, while Odysseus encountered the witch Circe and the vengeful goddess Athena.

In both cases, it was only through the strength of their convictions and their steadfast commitment to their goals that these men were able to overcome their challenges and emerge victorious. Luther and Odysseus are truly kindred spirits, united by their unwavering dedication to their ideals and their willingness to face whatever obstacles lay in their path.

So, as you can see, Derek, the parallels between the story of Luther and the books of Acts and the Odyssey are truly remarkable. It just goes to show how much influence these ancient texts continue to have on our understanding of faith and history.

Derek: Wow, Donald, those are some truly fascinating parallels you’ve drawn between Luther and figures from the New Testament, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. It’s clear that there’s a lot more to Luther’s story than meets the eye.

Donald MacDennis: Let me share just one more example, Derek. Luther’s marriage and a passage from Homer’s Odyssey is the scene where Odysseus reunites with his wife Penelope after many years of separation.

In the Odyssey, Odysseus is separated from his wife Penelope for many years as he journeys home from the Trojan War. During this time, Penelope is besieged by suitors who are vying for her hand in marriage and the chance to rule over Odysseus’ kingdom. However, when Odysseus finally returns home, he is able to defeat the suitors and reunite with Penelope, restoring order to his kingdom.

Similarly, when Luther married Katharina von Bora, a former nun, it was a significant act of defiance against the Catholic Church’s teachings on celibacy. Luther had long been an advocate for reforming the Church’s teachings on marriage, and his own marriage served as a powerful symbol of this reform. It also provided him with a supportive partner who played an important role in his work and helped to ensure the success of the Reformation.

Both scenes represent moments of reunion and restoration, in which the protagonists are able to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. They also highlight the importance of partnership and support in achieving success, both personally and politically.

Also, there’s a striking parallel between Luther’s involvement in the Peasants’ War and a passage from Homer’s Iliad is the scene where Achilles must decide whether or not to join the battle.

In the Iliad, Achilles is torn between his desire for personal glory and his duty to fight for the Greek army. When his friend Patroclus is killed in battle, Achilles decides to rejoin the fight and seeks revenge against the Trojan hero Hector, even though it means disobeying his commander and risking his own life.

Similarly, when the Peasants’ War broke out, Luther found himself torn between his belief in the equality of all Christians and his loyalty to the ruling princes who had supported his reform movement. While Luther had initially sympathized with the peasants’ grievances, he ultimately sided with the princes and supported a violent suppression of the revolt, even though it meant going against his own principles.

Both scenes represent moments of moral conflict and difficult decision-making, in which the protagonists must weigh their personal desires and beliefs against their responsibilities to others. They also highlight the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of human behavior, even among those who are seen as great heroes or leaders.

Derek: Interesting, these parallels between Martin Luther’s life and the Odyssey and the Iliad are truly striking and reinforce the idea that Luther’s story is not necessarily a historical account, but rather a work of mimesis. It’s so clear.

Superchat question: DarkOne 227 asks “Why do you think these Lutheran apologists are so attached to these stories being actual truth, rather than simply metaphorical or allegorical?”

Derek Lambert: Thank you for the superchat DarkOne 227! That’s a great question! Dennis, your thoughts?  

Donald MacDennis: I think it has to do with the deep faith and conviction that many Lutherans have in the truth of their religion. For them, these stories are not just allegories or myths, but actual historical events that demonstrate the power and truth of their beliefs. Additionally, the Lutheran Church has a long tradition of emphasizing the importance of literalness of the historical events recounted in the Bible, so it’s not surprising that many Lutherans would take these stories at face value. However, the original story writers of Luther were apologists in their own right, and they were telling these stories on purpose to give their community hope and meaning and provide more interesting and inspiring stories of Luther. For them the story was true in an even deeper sense. Apologists insisting on these being literal history are robbing them from their meaning and the genre of how these accounts were written. They’re really being anti-intellectual. I call them anti-intellectual intellectuals. I feel sorry for them. 

Derek: That’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of MythVision. I hope you enjoyed our discussion with Donald MacDennis about the parallels between Martin Luther and the stories of the Book of Acts and the Odyssey. And if you appreciate our content and want to support us, please consider subscribing to our channel and sharing our videos with your friends. Until next time, WE ARE MYTH VISION.

Liked it? Take a second to support Erik Manning on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
Is Jesus Alive?