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Jones Greek Mythology 17 May 2010
The Neolithic societies around 3500BC in the areas later to become Greece were inhabited by very rudimentary protocultural non-Greeks. The religion of these villages were a basic animistic religion that asserted everything, all animals, plants, rocks, natural features such as rivers and hills, have a life, force and will. All things with life, force, and will are numina. The life of a numen is observed simply by its existence. The force is observed by the expression of its will. Everything wills to be what it is and to do what it does. For example, a river has life because it exists and shows obviously lively characteristics like rushing and splashing, has force as there is a physical force by its movement, and its will is expressed by going the direction it is, how fast it is, and just by being a river. With this perspective, much of fate is multi-determined. For example, a hunter throws a rock at an animal and misses. That could have happened because the rock did not will to hit the animal, because the hunter did not throw it well, or both. In this world of lives, forces, and wills all around, the Neolithic animists sought to align with numina. In order to do this, the people of pre-Greece used sympathetic magic. There are two basic properties behind this kind of magic. The first of these is once in touch, always in touch, as in, if two things come into contact with each other, they will always have a connection regardless of time or distance.
For example. was essential to the workings of the home. rivers. This simply means that things that are similar have a connection and can affect each other. “turning away” magic. and will. aligning lives.Harris 2 The other property being like things affect other like things. and has a strong life. and wills. and therefore increasing the life of the fire. words had life in that they existed. This makes incantation an excellent and obvious addition to any religious ritual. some villages would have scary looking images to keep away evil spirits. The fire was always a very important spiritual center of the home. and a will in that they mean what they represent. and in return. This makes sense. force in that they can influence the thoughts of whoever hears and understands them. This sort of ritual sacrifice was also done for doorways. to bind. Keeping a fire also necessitated the contractual relationship that was applied to the rest of the religion. To the Neolithic man. The binding agent of many rituals was words. A fire must be given wood and other things to burn and consume. cooking ability. All magic and rituals are attempts at this goal. light. it provides light and warmth (RAGC 31-33). providing warmth. as it was very mysterious to the pre-scientific world. Their religion was that of binding themselves to other numina. or in other words. borders. The logic of the people was to provide for the fire also things that are important for human life. For communal sacrifices to community . They also practiced some forms of apotropaic magic. forces. force. and any numen that the people wanted to be aligned with. This would be any practice that was meant to repel or turn away evil numina. such as food and blood. or mimetic magic. which were also thought to be numina.
They did not know the future and were therefore subject to fate. They were also not omnipotent. there were large migrations of people from the north. form. Sometimes gods from different groups would combine or one would win out over another and so on. and gods themselves. A slew of these “original sin” stories of how mankind lost his rank of righteousness often committed by . This was the belief that man used to be significantly closer to the gods and goddesses in a sort of “golden age”. the Bronze Age. In addition to the universal pantheon. or omnipresent. of greater importance developed and were personified. and flaws. In the range of 1400-1200BC. Certain gods and goddesses were of such significance they were universal. harvest. weather. making feasts and large meals part of their religious practice (RAGC 28-30). man devolved and lost piety. and also their wills were then subject to change. they would share their understanding of the gods. sky.500BC. personalities. The anthropomorphism of the deities led to the gods and goddesses of the pantheon. being everything that has ever happened. helped to create a more universal pantheon of gods in Greece by 2. They took many of the religious ideas and practices of the peoples inhabiting Greece before them. omniscient. These numina. a communal meal would generally follow. but through a series of great sins. These were the Mycenaeans. This syncretism. or amalgamation of religious ideas. likes and dislikes. and the sun. there was a common theme of the devolution of man. the Greeks. or deities. When groups of people would encounter one another. They were characterized as having human psychology.Harris 3 deities. Some deities were very local such as of a local stream or hill. earth. like the gods of the sea.
Tantalus murdered and roasted his son Pelops as a feast for the gods. and his son was restored with iron replacing the missing portion of his shoulder. Zeus realized the situation and stopped any further damage. but was immediately repulsed when she bit into the left shoulder. the truth of a culture. graciously accepted the food. Olympus. even though human meat was forbidden for them to eat. These stories of the devolution of man are examples of aitionological myths. like the “original sin” stories. a whole people committed an “original sin”. The Archaic Greek man lived in an oral culture. stole ambrosia and nectar. and the will. Tantalus was punished eternally.Harris 4 individuals involved men trying to either trick the gods or to obtain godly powers. the food of the gods. were stories that were meant to demonstrate a proverb. In many cases. one of the goddesses who preferred to walk with the mortals. Tantalus decided to take revenge on the gods. a cause story. nature. one without written word. their crime was simply trespassing by crossing natural barriers that they may or may not have been instructed by the gods to not do. tell the history of fate. Demeter. and took it down to Earth to share with the human race. the ways of the ancestors. and traits of the gods and goddesses. One story was that of Tantalus who was graciously invited to dine with the gods. One way the original sinners thought to obtain immortality was to have sex with a goddess. In some stories. The gods were furious and banished Tantalus from Mt. Myths. These cultures inhibit the ability to have long definitions and therefore limit their ability to abstract to a large degree. which never went well for him. Their logic was .
The myths were also the Homeric man’s history. or impiety. or . and each god and goddess of the pantheon has his and her own cycle. to play on the analogous logic of the oral culture. His concept of truth lacked causality. there was a collection of proverbs that were passed down. like the Trojan and Theban Cycles of Troy and Thebes. Everyone in a society would know a repertoire of storylines and characters. images. with certain new twists to make whatever point he wants. Their myths are often inconsistent with each other and not placed chronologically because people did not value causality as necessary. The telling of these myths was a large part of the hymns to the gods and goddess. such as type scenes. This could be done by defacing the gods’ possessions. Asebeia. Doing this is considered perfectly acceptable and not blasphemous even if it contradicts another version. memorizing chunks. He also used appositional elements. certain heroes. like in the Herakles Cycle. the archaic man would receive all versions to be entirely true. There are city cycles. and explained in myths.Harris 5 mostly analogous. there was still condemnation of people in ancient Greek societies for being impious or heretical. understanding things by how they are alike and unalike other things that are known. was the lack of respect towards the common religious beliefs and practices of a city or region. Homer probably lived on the cusp of a literature culture because of how long the Odyssey is. In this oral culture. While there was no defined character to impiousness due to the lack of dogma or doctrine. This allows each teller of myths to tell them in such a way. A collection of related storylines and characters are cycles. respectively. Another theory is that he mentally structured the storyline and major elements and filled in the syllable pattern as he went.
wear clean clothes without knots as that may imply hiding something. Physical dirtiness is considered also a spiritual dirtiness. or pollution. introducing a new god or cult not supported by the community. any act against the will of the gods. hence. participants would have to be clean. Before a religious ritual. participants could not have had sex within a certain amount of time before the ritual. with their hair straight down. Also. and not all pollution can be cleansed (RAGC 9-10). Pollution can come from an error or crime. or claiming some opinion of the gods contrary to popular belief (RAGC 11-12). if one looks unclean. but are not efficacious without a crime committed by the cursed. Pollution never goes away without cleansing. sometimes covered. comes from blaspheming against the gods. they ruin the rituals and religious practices of the entire village or city. the individual relies on the tradition of his city. Miasma. but also from any kind of loss of honor or dirtiness. In special cases. It can spread by location (which falls under the once in touch always in touch property). Curses bring to a god or goddess’ attention a pollution. Kings and aristocrats are at greatest risk for pollution. In cases where it is not clear which god or goddess to go to. he is polluted. and if they commit such a crime. and have the sanctuary cleansed and marked. Personal pollution is brought about the action of an individual and must be removed by a ritual cleansing to the god or goddess related to the particular pollution. the community would sometimes have to make up a cleansing if the pollution was unprecedented. Community pollution is taken care of in the same fashion. This aspect of their culture was very important as a shame culture . and passed down to descendents.Harris 6 rituals.
At this point. and the transcendence of their name. go to the underworld with very few exceptions (RAGC 72). who had the greatest amount of honor in material possessions. but if someone was wronged he would either take care of it himself. or taking the price by force. for example. ancient Greece functioned as an aristocracy. an honor code is the only way to keep functioning. saying that it is insignificant or something that should be dealt with person to person. All people. Transgressions could be paid off. this view of honor. or to decide a fair price. This decided price will either be . by negotiating with the offender a fair price for the crime. The people did not have state prosecution. creating a system of patrons and clients. There was a king of the city and a group of thirty or forty families. The Homeric society was based almost completely on contracts. Honor is acquired by ancestor worship. The motivation for people who do not believe they will be eternally rewarded or forever punished according to how they lived is in the desire to have honor.Harris 7 rather than a guilt culture. They must help their friends and hurt their enemies without exception. a ghost of the person would remain eternally in the underworld. They believed that upon death. In a belief system without judgment. being largely material possession supports the contractual facet of the culture. meaning that motivation was external. and for women. staying out of public view. The aristocrat would either brush him off. regardless of their life on Earth. sometimes very complicated. or going to an aristocrat to mediate. or clans. told that he was not in fact wronged and does not deserve a price. material possessions. a legacy. where there is no joy. to restore the honor of whoever was wronged by paying him and increasing his material wealth. Also.
and sophisticated looking. One of Zeus’s offspring. young. intelligence. order. is the goddess of the hunt. This makes his wife. like intelligence and order. Even so. leaders. and music. was the ruler of all the gods and goddesses.Harris 8 honored by the offender. whose mother is Leda. His images cast him as slightly effeminate. gives prophesy and wisdom to those who come within proximity. His twin sister. The son of Kronos and Rhea. animals. She is the goddess of the home. He was born in Delos andholds sanctuary in Delphi where he established his oracle. oaths. or taken by force by the justified victim. he was not always in power but fought and took it. as sung about in the Homeric hymn to Apollo. Many of the gods have a certain city that they are endeared to because of some occurrence in the past. As a child. justice. very jealous. meaning light or light bringer. childbirth. He is the god of the sky. household. and has a special connection to Crete as a result. same as . This aristocracy and perspective was reflective of how they understood the gods of the pantheon to function. health. Zeus. mothers. and the wilds of the world. and there are many myths about her jealousy. Zeus’s strong political nature and control of cosmic activity seemed to go hand-in-hand to the ancient Greek. Kronos. weather. and young children. They believed that Zeus’s justice would always win out in the grand scale. and hospitality. has some of Zeus’s principals. Artemis. Apollo. he was hidden on Crete to keep from being swallowed by his father. Apollo is the god of prophesy. Hera. Zeus also chose to spread his intelligence on Earth and in the cosmos by having sex with a variety of royal mortal women and goddesses. she does not conflict with the will and order of her father Zeus.
metal smith. She is the goddess of crafts. best smith of any god or goddess. but none with any success. and eventually reconciles with his mother and comes back to Olympus. siding too much with Hera and was thrown to earth by his father. his first wife and goddess of clever thinking. and appears with a helmet. breaking his leg. lance. Semele dies by this. and he was raised by mortals. .Harris 9 all of his children. She is considered the founder and protector of Athens. as he continued to have sex with many other women. but remains the “hobbled god”. but Hera finds out. and Zeus takes the seed of Dionysus. Some myths. she was meaning to take some control from Zeus. In myths that he was born only of Hera. and Athena came out of his head. and intelligence. with an owl or snake at her feet. She is another virgin goddess. became god of fire. tried to stop a fight between Hera and Zeus. for being the greatest power in his body. and shield. Hephaistos is the son of Hera. was nursed back to health by mortals. he has to use an axe to open his head up. wisdom. progress or technology. sometimes on her own and sometimes fathered by Zeus. he was born normal and not misshapen. the daughter of Zeus and Metas. so Hera threw him to earth. She tricks Semele into tricking Zeus into showing his full form to her. Hephaistos was born misshapen. Zeus decided to have sex with a mortal princess of Thebes. but unlike Artemis. Dionysus. Athena. which had survived. is totally unapproachable. He had swallowed her mother. and put it into his thigh. In cases where he is the son of Zeus and Hera. crafts. is another god with a birth story involving Hera’s jealousy. or Bacchus. She is a virgin goddess that is many times approached by men and gods alike. was born out of Zeus’s head.
trying to spread his worship. fertility.Harris 10 After being born. half men and half goat who live to drink and have sex. seeing him as a party god of drink. and is a messenger for the gods. he was taken by Hermes to Nysa in Asia. Zeus chose to spread his principals the genealogy of tricksters. business. the son of Zeus and Maia. slightly effeminate. as he was in most places. which accounts for his appearance: fairly oriental-looking. but he became very fierce whenever fought against. was a success of this endeavor. He is the god of wet elements. Dionysus started to gain a human procession of thiasos. He also is charged with the duty to take souls to the underworld. but often comes to the upper world. the daughter of Atlas. . where he becomes the god of rebirth. This consisted of bacchants. and travel. When first traveling west towards Greece. Men would fight him. invention. but not of water. spring. He is sometimes told as the son of Zeus and Demeter and is torn apart by wild beasts and goes to the underworld. where he was bitterly rejected. Dionysus traveled the earth. He is the god a persuasion. honey. called machotheos. as he has Zeus’s principals of order and justice. Dionysus becomes a god of the underworld. satyrs. men who fought against gods. mostly west. mortals following him banging drums and the like in a very Hindu fashion. free flow of things. vine. but most people were not taking him seriously as a god. new life. rhetoric. appropriate as they often opposed his order. but with a trickster type of cleverness. very young god. women in his procession that had a unique ecstasy and peace of Dionysus’ higher spirituality. and wild animals joined the thiasos. Hermes. he first comes to Thebes. agriculture.
a royal mortal woman. Zeus’s sister. Hera in her jealousy sends two or three. Poseidon. he had to go to the underworld and back. while an Olympian god.Harris 11 Herakles is the son of Zeus and Allmene. sometimes worked against the will of Zeus. with the underworld to his brother Hades. and the seas to his other brother Poseidon. sailors. city protector. fertility. the god of death and darkness. drink. but he. Before Zeus took control of the cosmos. harvest. depending on the version. also had several other offspring. She also is the mother of Persephone. He travels much as the patron saint of mankind. His flawed human nature lets these appetites get the better of him. Tripocemos. trade. who was captured by Hades to make her his wife. which is appropriate . and ends up accidentally killing him. The earth was meant to be shared among the three of them. which is always more likely with a deity not born of Zeus. Demeter. and the exchange of ideas. earth movement. and sex. Kronos and Rhea. as planned by Zeus. and hold Athens dearest. snakes to his crib to kill him. water. is often rejected. even as an infant breaks them. As a hero. fathered by Zeus. but extraordinary. and his quasi-divine quality increases. Herakles slays many beasts and every city had a story of how Hercules came to clean it up. wells. the parents of Zeus. is lord of the underworld and. She spread her worship on Earth by a mortal kid. He had large appetites for food. His mortal wife became jealous when Hercules fell in love with another woman. In one myth. but Zeus quickly took it for himself. Hades. fountains. mortal. and he becomes and Olympian god. he was given control of the sky. is the goddess of earth. which burned away his mortal nature. His name means invisible. the god of the seas. horses.
hymns include numerous titles of the god to cover their bases. is not considered as important in the Greek pantheon as in the Roman because the Greeks have him as only the god of war and strife. The genealogy of the god was nearly always included with mention to his favorite city or . and sometimes of prostitutes. and is shown with a helmet with the visor down. but personal ones not by singers were not necessarily very good. Hymns were sung in honor of the god or goddess the festival was celebrating. the everyday Aphrodite. Prayer was generally said in hymns. Ares. so many times. Certain elements and motifs were always expected in hymns. athletic games. and poetic competitions (RAGC 15-109). Aphrodite was born out of her father. one for every stream and mountain that a village finds importance in. These were big poetic moments and were also meant to be entertainment for the gods and goddesses with contests. “sea foaming”.Harris 12 because he is unreachable by prayer and is told to be mean. hardhearted. but done according to his capacity. Each city had a collection of its own hymns to the gods. to send minds to the higher things of life. another brother of Zeus. literally “all areas”. and early prayer language was full of rhetorical tricks. severed genitals as they fell into the sea. for balance. sex. They hymns including a beseeching of the god or goddess. There are hundreds if not thousands of other deities. hence her name meaning. and Urania. She is the goddess of love. She has temples to her two natures: pandemos. In some myths. the goddess of love. but this had to be done in his correct persona. lust. Ouremos’s. There were religious festivals thrown by communities for the gods and goddess for each of the most important ones to that community. he is actually married to Aphrodite. cold.
the sky. however. Gaia of herself gave birth to Ouranos. then Gaia. Hesiod’s incantation of the muses often frontloads the whole story he is about to tell. or worse. and Tartaros. when there was only Chaos. like a procession or ritual. The understanding that men at the time had of any behavior outside the range of the norm was that it must have been caused by a god or goddess that got inside of him. sins outside the norm. . Ourea. and he claims that the muses can make some men lie but he has been chosen by the muses as a “seer” into the truth of matters. and Pontos. This held true for the better. including Rhea and Kronos (133-52). because it was assumed that if it happened. agonistic actions. appeared. The individual was still considered responsible for the action. Singer would call upon the muses to honor him with a song too good to be of himself. the dark void. Gaia and Tarataros gave birth to Eros. three Kyklopes. There would be a short narrative of the good deeds of the god with a request that those deeds and good graces come to the singer and his community and a promise that the hymns and worship from the people will continue.Harris 13 sanctuary. it was because he deserved it. He started with the very beginning. They were sometimes used at particular religious practices. a contract. he sang to Zeus about how he came to rule and all his victories and good deeds. monstrous and powerful giants. These were sung using epic language not often used in any other scenario. Gaia and Ouranos gave birth to three Hundred-Handeds. as in actions deserving of honor and praise. the earth. and the twelve Titans. In his theogony. the desire for unity (116-22). Singers at the beginning of hymns would call upon the muses to come into them and sing through them.
who had been begotten by Chaos. from his own experience. including Moros (Doom). Poseidon. Zeus then was hidden on Crete until he grew enough to release the Kyklopes and Hundred-Handeds who had been imprisoned in the Earth. In an epic scene. . after which he pulls away. the goddess of the hearth. The blood that splatter on the earth gave birth to the Furies. but with her other mate. but mistook a rock for Zeus. Demeter. Pontos. the first woman. They have their offspring of Hestia. his children are his first threat and must be prevented from overthrowing him as he overthrew Ouranos. Kronos then cuts off his father’s genitals. the battle turned. and the story of Pandora. and the war was won (617-721). The great war is picked up again that has now been going on for a decade. ashtree nymphs. or Discord. and Zeus. Thanatos (Death). Erinyes. knows that if he wished to maintain his place as ruler of the cosmos.Harris 14 Ouranos engulfs Gaia and all their offspring. Hades. not letting them escape. freeing those previously restrained. Her youngest. he returns to the two Titans. Kronos and Rhea. Nyx. Interestingly enough. Hesiod resumes his succession of the Titans. tells of the story of Prometheus’s punishment. and Apate (Deceit). and joined his siblings who had been disgorged. the parents of Zeus. This was the great war of Titans and gods (453-506). night and darkness. Eris. begot fifteen abstractions. Kronos begins swallowing his offspring. Hesiod tells woman as being sent to men as the source of great evil. and the genitals that fell in the sea bore Aphrodite (154-210). parallels her mother and begets fifteen more abstractions. Hesoid then returns to the children of Gaia. Hera. barbaric giants. After another long line of deities and beasts (233-330). or the sea. bloodguilt. Kronos.
Continuing on. At the river. how could he accomplish such a feat? He lied so far as to say he did not even know what cattle were. and reconciles with Apollo by giving him the lyre. fate. but Apollo is quick to track him down.Harris 15 The scene then turns to the underworld with an emphasis on the dark river. and then thanks it. Hermes tries to talk his way out by saying that he is only a day old. The other genealogies. greets it. and educate his listeners in regards to all of history. He firsts comes to a tortoise. and then the goddesses. On the way. Styx. He leaps up almost immediately and goes off to steal Apollo’s precious cattle. Not all hymns were this serious. A song like this was meant to firstly honor Zeus. he invents sandals and a way of jumping around to disguise his footprints as animal tracks. like those beginning with Zeus’s brothers Poseidon. and travel. business. and cooks the meat without tasting any. and illustrates his character of cleverness and playful trickery. It opens by telling of Hermes’s conception and birth. and to give insight into the ways of the gods. Zeus’s son Ares. eventually settling on his sister Hera. and therefore making him the god of music. The Homeric hymn to Demeter is more solemn. he sacrifices two of the cows. driving them to the Alpheios river. Hesiod then tells the stories and offspring of Zeus and his seven successive wives. which suited Hermes who possesses those qualities. telling the story of her . he steals Apollo’s cattle. He hides away the rest in a cave. rhetoric. the tone is very playful and comic. In the Homeric hymn to Hermes. kills it. This hymn hits all of Hermes fortes. but also to tell the entire history of the gods. makes its shell into a lyre. Zeus eventually comes in to settle the confrontation is so impressed with Hermes that he is made an Olympian god. persuasion. invention.
and Artemis. in a field in Enna when Hades came to abduct her. it was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Finally. that all accounts claim it to be long changing. did not occur until Hades abducted her and brought her into it. who sees everything. The story of her abduction is traditionally referred to as the Rape of Persephone.Harris 16 daughter Persephone and her abduction by Hades. stolen by Hades from her mother's side" Thus. which. Persephone was the daughter produced by the union of Demeter and Zeus: "And he [Zeus] came to the bed of bountiful Demeter. Persephone lived a peaceful life before she became the goddess of the underworld. the Homeric hymn says. Life came to a standstill as the devastated Demeter. In the later Olympian pantheon of Classical Greece. Zeus. When Demeter and her . Before Persephone was released to Hermes. There is a long procession and ritual that is performed along with this hymn. searched everywhere for her lost daughter. who bore white-armed Persephone. with supposedly such an extraordinary conclusion. Hades tricked her into eating three pomegranate seeds. bursting through a cleft in the earth. Athena. She was innocently picking flowers with some nymphs. goddess of the Earth. eventually told Demeter what had happened. the nymphs were changed by Demeter into the Sirens for not having interfered. pressed by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities who also heard their anguish. Persephone is given a father: according to Hesiod's Theogony. the sun. Later. forced Hades to return Persephone. who had been sent to retrieve her. which forced her to return to the underworld for a season each year. Helios. However.
but nonetheless supported by the faithful community. generally an aristocrat. or bomos. facing the temple away from the congregation gathered outside. no windows. generally had an image or figure of the god or goddess. Sacrifices to the gods also fulfilled this purpose. sometimes individuals were allowed there. At the end of it. some being earthly blessings. Most cult rituals.Harris 17 daughter were united. and in the hymn is used to worship and ask favor of Demeter. . The mystai were members being initiated. Almost all rituals were performed outside of the temple in the open at the altar. incense. as to be visible to the gods and show that they were not hiding anything (RAGC 112-113). Hymns were used to worship the gods and be the reciprocating act for the gods’ kindness. were done outside in daylight. the priest would enter the naos (RAGC 5558). while epoptai were those already part of it. the Earth flourished with vegetation and color. the earth once again became a barren realm. like other religious practices. The naos. Religious cults were very secretive. or inner room. when Persephone returned to the underworld. torches. but for some months each year. Members were promised different benefits for each cult. a reflecting pool. This is an origin story to explain the seasons. but sometimes even the promise of some joy in the afterlife. The priest performed the sacrifice at the bomos. They were not set apart from the community and in fact aristocrats would even take turns at being a community priest (RAGC 4950). Sacrifices and most religious rituals were performed at temples of the god they were to. Priests were chosen individuals. who lived otherwise normal lives.