The Gods of Ancient Greek Lives
Alysandra Bui Hist 010 Professor Chrissanthos TA: David Shanta July 18th 2018 The Gods of Ancient Greek Lives Starting from the Dark Ages through the Archaic period of ancient Greece, various aspects of Greek life had changed with the addition of a writing system and the development of the Greek polis as the political backbone of the civilization. However, one thing that seemed to be constant and unaffected was the religious attachment that they had to the divine beings living on Mount Olympus, whose existence predated the Bronze Age. Through examination and observation of artifacts and fictional works,knowledge has accumulated, revealing the function of the civilization from inception until its end.
The ancient Greek religion of mythological polytheism regarding the nature of society, such as natural occurrences, human thought and interaction, and war pervasively affected the typical daily life of the Greeks; their beliefs organized and gave authority to the ideas, actions, and even material objects in Greek culture and society. The actions of these gods were apparent in all parts of the Greeks’ lives, but the most well known display of this can be found in the literature of the time period. The Odyssey by Homer exhibits this, where Ulysses and his men get obstructed by the natural difficulties that came with sea voyages by Poseidon, the god of the seas and earthquakes.Through several clever tricks from Ulysses to escape a horrible fate on the land of the one-eyed cyclops, he injured and angered one of them, who was Poseidon’s son named Polyphemus. Due to Ulysses’s actions, Polyphemus prayed to his father and said, “ ‘Hear me, great Neptune; if I am indeed your own true-begotten son, grant that Ulysses may never reach his home alive’…Thus did he pray, and Neptune heard his prayer. Then he picked up a rock much larger than the first, swung it aloft and hurled it with prodigious force…The sea quaked as the rock fell into it, and the wash of the wave it raised drove us onwards on our way towards the shore of the island.” A simple prayer from a son for some type of ill wishing upon Ulysses and his crew’s journey back home automatically garnered a response from Poseidon to wreak havoc on the sea waters. In reality, there isn’t substantial proof of Homer’s epic to be truth, but many Greeks consider the works of several writers during the time period to not only be adventure stories, but also to teach a lesson to not mess around with the gods. This instilled an idea of “getting what is coming for you” based on the actions of humans as well as the will and the power exerted by the gods.
Another significant example involved the Thesmophoria, which was a ceremonious festival to honor the goddess Demeter in hopes of having fertile crops during the harvest season. The practice of mixing parts of a sacrificial pig along with corn seeds are interpreted to be linked with the agriculture goddess’s blessing for the corn harvest to be abundant and sweet. Although such a ritual may seem completely preposterous due to today’s knowledge on agricultural practices, the Greeks truly believed that the annual festival would bring forth what they wanted if done correctly. The separated corn seeds and pig are virtually useless in the Ancient Greek society on their own. However, once combined, they collectively had some type of authority over the Greeks that resulted in several gatherings across the civilization without fail annually for the Thesmophoria. In addition, one notable point in regards to the ritual during the festival is the fact that it is always done in the presence of only adult women, with the men not even being allowed to speculate or listen to it. This could be due to the fact that the festival was for a goddess and even the daughter of Demeter, Persephone. The most believable reason is also the fact that women were often portrayed as the gender that was involved with the theme of fertility as a whole concept. Certain adult women had the sole job of being a priestess in which she would perform rituals and communicate with the gods on Mount Olympus, like an ancient version of the modern day witch.This indicated a set of principles in which the gods and the Greeks alike stuck to with their rituals.
Things like going on hunt,war, or sea faring seemed to be related to the men and the males gods such as Zeus and Ares. On the other hand, things regarding motherhood, the family, and farming were linked to the women and the female goddesses. Although not absolute,like the exception being the god of death was a male named Hades, this not only shaped the way they worshipped them, but also set precedent for societal and social rules that can be seen even in today’s modern time. Furthermore, these observations link the idea that the Greeks’ thoughts and interactions with one another were somehow led by the role that their gods had the authority to meddle within their domains. The Greeks honored the gods, not entirely due to the lack of understanding, but due to the inherent fear that the divine beings were in charge of every single aspect of their measly mortal lives. Even though the gods do more bad than good to the ancient Greeks, the power of the Gods outweighed all the suffering that they went through, showing that the “myths teach us[mortals] must struggle to appreciate and understand the advice the gods choose to give them.” Although powerful and seemingly supreme in all matters, the Gods were also flawed and dealt with many things that human beings deal with.
One human quality they possessed came with the Gods having partners who came from the mortal world. This clearly originates from the power and nature of attraction, being that their human lovers were usually very desirable in contrast to many. In spite of there being unlimited options on Olympus for polygamous partners, there have been several additional theories as to why they mixed with humans. The main one dealt with the overseeing of the mortal world, due to the reason that their mixed children wouldn’t have different loyalties being born to only one godly parent. The division of loyalties happened usually when it came to full blooded gods who sided with one parent at a time depending on the disagreement, or even other immortals, such as titans and nymphs who would slip when charged with certain tasks under the bidding of certain gods. When it came to the half mortal and half immortal children, they were better than the average human, creating an ideally good person in which the myths of “fourth generation heroes of humankind” would sprout from. As these heroes reproduced, the rest of the Greeks from then on would have some sort of belief that they were descendents of the Gods in some way. Several of these sexual interactions between gods and humans themselves spewed countless other emotions that can be shown through several different stories. In the myth, Zeus talks to Prometheus after he has stolen fire and given it to humans by saying “…surpassing all in cunning,  you are glad that you have outwitted me and stolen fire—a great plague to you yourself and to men that shall be. But I will give men as the price for fire an evil thing in which they may all be glad of heart while they embrace their own destruction.” Later on, the readers will eventually find out that Prometheus was eternally tied to a rock with an eagle eating his daily regrown liver. As for the fate of the humans on earth, Zeus got back at at them by sending down the infamous Pandora and her “box” as a so called “gift” from the gods. The mortals then become horribly plagued with all the disastrous things inside the box as punishment.
Not only does this story explain how the humans got fire and how the world had been exposed to things such as famine and sorrow, but it shows how much of an impact that the Greeks believed that gods had. Zeus’s authority was relentless, being driven by anger and revenge, causing the Greeks to “learn from their lessons” and never attempt anything like it again. Along with the speculation and coexistence of gods amongst each other and also with humans, success and failures in wars were associated with their satisfaction or disapproval.. Even the outcomes of war, although fought by two opposing human sides for different reasons, were still in the hands of the gods and which side the gods chose to be on. This is mainly exhibited with the myth of the Trojan War, famously written about in Homer’s Iliad. The story follows along as the beginning started with quarrels and prophecies and ending with the war in which is thought to define one of the most division for the humans and for the Gods supporting either the Trojans or the Greeks. The rituals practiced by the Greeks in myths to be successful in wars also played a large role because it was decisive in who would win before any bloodshed even occurred. Functioned as sacrifices, two girls gave up their lives due to a Thebes versus Orchomenos war for the triumph of Thebes to win. This was brought on by request of an oracle, predicting that sacrifices were needed if Thebes wish to succeed in their conquest.
Furthermore, the role of the oracle was one of the most prevalent aspects of the Greek religion. Perhaps the most famous one was the Oracle of Delphi, at a major temple dedicated to Apollo. Written in about twenty pieces from various authors, the oracle “predicted and stated” over five hundred things in several anecdotes, with the most famous one being “Go, return not die in war.” Depending on the wording, the statement was ambiguous and the oracle continued to aid those who were searching for answers up until the Classical Period of Greece. People’s dependence on the oracle justifies once again how the Gods had a role in basically every part of their lives. Without the guidance and authority of the gods, the ancient civilization would be drastically changed and have a disparity from what is known about it today. As Herodotus simply said:“The Greeks lived with gods in the world, and the gods were believed to interpose constantly in the course of events,” accurately depicted what religion was like during the Dark Ages into the Archaic era for the Greeks. Although perhaps not a necessity for some in today’s world, religion was a keystone in organizing and upholding civilizations of the past. Several things, including natural processes, communication and human thought, as well as conquests of war were all believed to be affected by the Olympians and mythological creatures in the ancient Greek religion. These beliefs, in turn, allowed for certain ideas, actions, and even certain material objects to play a significant role in the Greek culture and society that is so well known today.
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Alysandra Bui Hist 010 Professor Chrissanthos TA: David Shanta July 18th 2018 The Gods of Ancient Greek Lives Starting from the Dark Ages through the Archaic period of ancient Greece, […]