Xenophanes, Greek poet and thinker who flourished around 500 B.C., was skeptical about the traditional conception of divine beings. In the few fragments of his that survive, we find him ridiculing fellow Greeks for imagining that the gods look like human beings. In the following passage his views are succinctly summarized by the modern French theorist, Jean-Pierre Vernant. Vernant believes that Xenophanes was being too literal, that, in fact, the Greeks only used anthropomorphic language as a practical means for talking about the gods in relation to their own selves, other gods, and humans (just as Christians might speak of the "hand of God" or the "face of the Almighty" without intending to physically limit his divine being).
The body of the gods. How does this expression pose a problem for us? Can gods who have bodies--anthropomorphic gods like those of the ancient Greeks--really be considered gods? Six centuries before our era, Xenophanes already protested the possibility of such a thing, denouncing the foolishness of mortals who believe that they can measure the divine by the yardstick of their own nature: "Men believe that, like themselves, the gods have clothing, language, and a body." An identical body for gods and men? "The Ethiopians claim that their gods are flat-nosed and black-skinned; the Thracians, that they are blue-eyed and have red hair." Why not an animal's body, then, Xenophanes ironically asks: "If oxen, horses, and lions had hands with which to draw and make works like men, horses would represent the gods in the likeness of a horse, oxen in that of an ox, and each one would make for them a body like the one he himself possessed."
From Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Mortals and Immortals: The Body of the Divine," in Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays, ed. Froma I. Zeitlin (Princeton, 1991), 27.