Greek Mythology Essay, Research Paper
No matter what you think the ancient Greeks were not on drugs. The people of ancient Greece had an extremely intelligent society. They had sophisticated architecture and a very high level of mathematics in their culture. These areas of life dealt with real things that could be controlled. When it came to natural phenomena the Greeks had certain explanations that might look eccentric now, but were reasonable 3000 years ago. In Greece?s history there are several themes that contributed to Greek mythology and reasons it developed. Once Greek mythology was established in the culture an interesting set of gods and beliefs evolved and continued to evolve for hundreds of years. Two of these gods that you are most likely to be familiar with are Zeus and Apollo. If you understand how and why Greek mythology came about, the idea of Greek mythology won?t seem so weird.
The location of Greece itself lends itself to many different cultures. It is centrally located between Europe, Asia and Africa. With all three having extremely distinct and varied cultures. Travelers would share their ideas and thoughts with the locals as they went through Greece. Some ideas were adopted into the Greek culture or they were modified to their specific needs. Greece became a melting pot or crossroad for many different cultures. These factors must be taken into consideration when you are trying to understand Greek culture. Another way Greece was influenced by other cultures was by force. Between the years 2000-1400 B.C. Greece was ruled by several different cultures. These outside forces influenced their culture and religion. One thing that remained a constant was their language. The Greeks maintained to keep their native language and this established great internal uniformity. This became a factor in later years helping them rise to such a sophisticated civilization.
The origins of Greek mythology as we know it today are impossible to trace because there was no structured church or written codes, but the main influence is thought to come from the Aegean civilization. The Aegeans lived on the island of Crete and are thought to be one of the first modern civilizations about 3000 B.C. Aegeans believed that all natural objects had spirits. Over time these beliefs developed into a set of legends involving natural objects, animals, and gods with human form. Some of these legends survived as part of classic Greek mythology. The Greek mythographer, Euhemerus, who lived around 300 B.C. had a contributing theory. He thought myths were distortions of history and the gods were actually heroes that were glorified over time. A Greek philosopher named Prodicus of Ceos who taught during the 400’s B.C. taught his students that the gods were personifications of natural phenomena. Yet another theory of Greek mythology origins came from a Greek historian named Herodotus. He lived in the 400’s B.C. and he believed that Greek rituals were inherited from the Egyptians. Probably all of these theories have some truth in them so they aren?t wrong, but no one reason can explain or trace Greek mythology.
No matter where they originated these myths became a part of Greek culture. Spreading these myths became the job of poets and writers of ancient Greece. Two prominent poets that became instrumental in Greek culture were Homer and Hesiod. One thousand years before Christ Homers Iliad became the first written record of ancient Greece. The Iliad marks the beginning of Greek mythology and is the oldest Greek literature. Later Greek mythology was defined by Hesiod. Sometimes his gods had slightly different powers and stories than Homers account of deities. Gods sometimes overlap and share responsibilities. The gods themselves also took on different personalities in Hesiod poems. Early deity stories often portrayed the gods in a not so flattering way. They were often saw as deceitful or mean. Later in Hesiod poems gods took on different morals. They were more of a model of right and wrong with the emphasis on the right way to live. Greater Greek morals and ethics contributed to the gods changing morals.
The main purpose of these myths early on was to explain natural phenomena. Some myths were just for entertainment, but for the most part mythology was the earliest form of science. For instance the story of Demeter the goddess of agriculture and her beautiful daughter Persephone. While playing with her friends one day Persephone was captured by Hades and taken to the underworld as his wife. In her grief Demeter senselessly destroys all the earth?s crops and brings about a great drought and famine. Hades brother, Zeus, arranges a compromise where Persophone is allowed to return to her mother for two-thirds of each year. She cannot return permanently because she had eaten the food in the underworld. Demeter was then to greet the annual reunion with a replenishing of the earth and to mark Persophones annual descent to Hades the destruction of agriculture. Thus the arrival of Persophone is an explanation of spring and summer with her departure being fall and winter. In this myth Persephone is represents the young, innocent life and Hades is death. She becomes a symbol of lost virginity and the impossibility of ever being a child again.
Less complicated myths explained everything in nature from fire to earthquakes. Of course everyone knew in ancient Greece that thunder and lightning came from an angry Zeus. To explain volcanoes they believed that a terrible creature was imprisoned in the mountain and was struggling to get out. The Big Dipper doesn?t set below the horizon because it angered a goddess once and she declared that it shall never sink into the sea. With the increase of morality in later Greek society these myths took on a different tone. It was not until late in ancient Greece did mythology begin to have a religious tone.
A central element in these myths are the gods the Greeks believed in. The Greeks believed that 12 chief gods lived on Mount Olympus called Olympians. The gods of Mount Olympus formed a society that ranked them in terms of authority and powers. The gods could roam freely and individual gods became associated with three main domains – the sky or heaven, the sea and earth. The 12 chief gods were Zeus, Hera, Hephaestus, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hestia, Hermes, Demeter, and Poseidon.
Zeus was the head of the gods, and the spiritual father of gods and the people. His wife, Hera, was queen of heaven and the guardian of marriage. Other gods associated with heaven were Hephaestus, god of fire and metalworkers. Athena, goddess of wisdom and war; and Apollo, god of light, poetry, and music. Artemis, goddess of wildlife and the moon; Ares, god of war; and Aphrodite, goddess of love, were other gods of heaven. They were joined by Hestia, goddess of the hearth; and Hermes, messenger of the gods and ruler of science and invention.
Poseidon was the ruler of the sea who, with his wife Amphitrite, led a group of less important sea gods, such as the Nereids and Tritons. Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, was associated with earth. Hades, an important god but not generally considered an Olympian, ruled the underworld, where he lived with his wife, Persephone. The underworld was a dark and mournful place located at the center of the earth. It was populated by the souls of people who had died. Other gods and creatures are depicted in Greek mythology, but these are the most popular.
Greek mythology varied widely in practice and belief since there was no formal structure like a church government or no written codes. It is generally accepted that the gods came from the Titans. The Titans were also known as the elder gods and they possessed enormous size and incredible strength. The ruler of the Titans was Cronus whose eventually son, Zeus, dethroned him as ruler of the heavens. The Olympian gods are considered the offspring of the Titans and the offspring eventually took over the world to rule as their own. The Greeks did something that no other culture had done before and that is having there gods in the image of man. This practice was unheard of before. Every other culture before them created their gods to be extraordinary creatures with animal body parts. There statues, like the Egyptians, were enormous that took sometimes a hundred years to build. The Greeks had their gods resemble humans in form and emotion. Also Greek mythology didn?t involve any spiritual revelations or visions which made all mortals spiritually equal.
The mythology was interwoven with every aspect of Greek life. Each city devoted itself to a particular god or group of gods, for whom the citizens often built temples of worship. They regularly honored the gods in festivals, which high officials supervised. At festivals and other official gatherings, poets recited or sang great legends and stories. Many Greeks learned about the gods through the words of poets. Greeks also learned about the gods by word of mouth at home, where worship was common. Different parts of the home were dedicated to certain gods, and people offered prayers to those gods at regular times. An altar of Zeus, for example, might be placed in the courtyard, while Hestia was ritually honored at the hearth. Some gods had cults where these groups of people mainly worshiped a certain god. An example would be Poseidon, god of sea was extremely popular in maritime cities. Which makes sense when the peoples livelihood comes from the sea you better make friends with who ever controls it.
Greek gods and goddesses had elaborate personalities. They had faults and shortcomings along with merit and virtue just like humans. Besides their respected powers the Greeks added other things to the gods personalities such as: Zeus was known as a philanderer, his wife Hera a nagger, their daughter Aphrodite a loose woman, their son Ares a bully. While the Greeks praised and worshiped the gods to their ?faces? at the same time making them the butts of countless stories. Many stories depicted them as spoiled, quarrelsome, stingy, jealous, and lacking concern for the human race. Which is pretty much the story for humans in general.
If there was one God in Greek mythology it would be Zeus. He is considered the father of the gods and mortals by the Greeks. His origins and influences have been traced back to ancient Indo-Vedic traditions. Zeus and the Vedic sky god, Dyaus, share many similar powers and stories. Zeus is loosely translated to ?housemaster? and that is how the Greeks viewed him. The Greek creation stories of Zeus vary, but one is generally accepted. Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea and the brother of the deities Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera. According to one of the ancient myths of the birth of Zeus, Cronus, fearing that he might be dethroned by one of his children, swallowed them as they were born. Upon the birth of Zeus, Rhea wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes for Cronus to swallow and concealed the infant god in Crete, where he was fed on the milk of the goat Amalthaea and reared by nymphs. When Zeus grew to maturity, he forced Cronus to disgorge the other children, who were eager to take vengeance on their father. In the war that followed, the Titans fought on the side of Cronus, but Zeus and the other gods were successful, and the Titans were consigned to the abyss of Tartarus. Zeus henceforth ruled over the sky, and his brothers Poseidon and Hades were given power over the sea and the underworld respectively. The earth was to be ruled in common by all three.
In Greece his powers were greater than all deities put together, although he was not omnipotent or omniscient. It was common for him to be opposed or deceived. Zeus was commonly considered the god of sky, rain, justice, mercy, oaths, he was the cloud-gatherer, protector of the weak and punisher of the wicked. The reason Zeus became the head god with the most importance is because he is the rain god. In mountainous Greece rain was more precious, including the sun, for crops. If rain is the most desired thing in your life the person who controls is top man on your list. He was a heavy handed enforcer who was said to ?weigh the fates of heros on golden scales?. Since there was no written codes it is not known who decided what should be punished and what should be rewarded.
Despite all his divineness Zeus had somewhat of a stained reputation. He was seen as a bully and wife beater in certain stories. In the beginning with the writings of Homer, Zeus is pictured in two very different ways. He is represented as the god of justice and mercy, the protector of the weak and the punisher of the wicked. At the same time, Zeus is described as falling in love with one women after another and resorting to all kinds of tricks to hide his infidelity from his wife. Stories of his escapades were numerous in ancient mythology, and many of his offspring were a result of his love affairs with both goddesses and mortal women. It is believed that with the development of a sense of ethics in Greek life, the idea of a lecherous, sometimes ridiculous father god became distasteful. So later legends tended to present Zeus in a more exalted light. His many affairs with mortals are sometimes explained as the wish of the early Greeks to trace their lineage to the father of the gods. Also the actions of this majestic god is explained by the combining of many gods. When his worship was spread to a town that already had a divine ruler the two were slowly fused into one. Zeus would then take on the stories of the earlier god.
Zeus had numerous offspring with both gods and mortals as mentioned earlier. His legitimate children with Hera included Ares, god of war; Hebe, goddess of youth; Hephaestus, god of fire; and Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth. Affairs with deities produced other notables such as Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and sexual desire; Apollo, god of prophecy, medicine and archery; Artemis, goddess of the hunt; Hermes, messenger of the gods; and Athena, goddess of the arts and crafts and war. He also fathered Hercules with the mortal Alcmene.
One of Zeus?s offspring, Apollo, became one of the most popular gods in Greece. Apollo is said to be the most Greek of all gods, he is also one of the most complex. Like his father he also has his roots in Indo-Vedic traditions. The Vedic god, Rudra, share similar stories and powers. They even share the same animals the rat or mouse and mole. Apollo was the mouse god, but it is unclear whether he protected them or destroyed. In Greek mythology Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto, who was also a daughter of a Titan. He was born on the little island of Delos, but his oracle was at Delphi where he killed a python guarding a shrine on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. Apollo was the special protector of young men and his twin sister, Artemis, was the special guardian of young women.
In Homeric legend he was primarily a god of prophecy, but over time he took on many more roles. His spheres of power included healing, lustration, legislation, incarnation, archery and poetry. In later Greek mythology he was also the sun god. Apollo was also the god of light and truth. It is said that he has never seen darkness and has never lied. A gifted musician who delighted the gods with his performance on the lyre Apollo was popular among the gods and mortals. Apollo was also a master archer and a fleet-footed athlete, who was credited with having been the first victor in the Olympian Games. His shrine was the most popular of all the gods and thousand of people would make pilgrimages to it every year. No other deity was represented more in poetry and art because he was thought of being such a beautiful figure.
Some tales depict Apollo as stern or cruel. According to Homer?s Iliad, Apollo answered the prayers of the priest Chryses to obtain the release of his daughter from the Greek general Agamemon by shooting fiery, pestilential arrows into the Greek army. He also abducted and ravished the young Athenian princess Creusa and then abandoned her and their child.
People are fascinated be Greek mythology even in todays scientific society. There are television shows that Greek mythology plays an important part in the episodes. There is even a mini series that is to air in the near future called the Odyssey. In theory Greek mythology should have been long forgotten history, but human curiosity keeps it alive. Greek mythology has created such good characters that people relate to their situations and actions. The television shows are extremely popular for this reason. People also like to put themselves in the world of giants, cyclops and gods. What makes Greek mythology so fascinating is the gods, not the morals. Maybe modern religions should learn from the Greeks and make their religions more interesting. They might gain more following.