Greek Mythology (952 words) Essay

Greek Mythology
Greek Mythology, beliefs and ritual observances of the ancient Greeks, who
became the first Western civilization about 2000 BC. It consists mainly of a
body of diverse stories and legends about a variety of gods. Greek mythology had
become fully developed by about the 700s BC. Three classic collections of myths-Theogony
by the poet Hesiod and the Iliad and the Odyssey by the poet Homer-appeared at
about that time. Greek mythology has several distinguishing characteristics. The
Greek gods resembled humans in form and showed human feelings. Unlike ancient
religions such as Hinduism or Judaism, Greek mythology did not involve special
revelations or spiritual teachings. It also varied widely in practice and
belief, with no formal structure, such as a church government, and no written
code, such as a sacred book. Principal Gods The Greeks believed that the gods
chose Mount Olympus, in a region of Greece called Thessaly, as their home. On
Olympus, the gods formed a society that ranked them in terms of authority and
powers. However, 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, usually called the Olympians, 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 people. His wife,
Hera, was the 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 the 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.

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Dionysus, god of wine and pleasure, was among the most popular gods. The Greeks
devoted many festivals to this earthly god, and in some regions he became as
important as Zeus. He often was accompanied by a host of fanciful gods,
including satyrs, centaurs, and nymphs. Satyrs were creatures with the legs of a
goat and the upper body of a monkey or human. Centaurs had the head and torso of
a man and the body of a horse. The beautiful and charming nymphs haunted woods
and forests. Worship and Beliefs Greek mythology emphasized the weakness of
humans in contrast to the great and terrifying powers of nature. The Greeks
believed that their gods, who were immortal, controlled all aspects of nature.

So the Greeks acknowledged that their lives were completely dependent on the
good will of the gods. In general, the relations between people and gods were
considered friendly. But the gods delivered severe punishment to mortals who
showed unacceptable behavior, such as indulgent pride, extreme ambition, or even
excessive prosperity. 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. Although the Greeks had no
official church organization, they universally honored certain holy places.

Delphi, for example, was a holy site dedicated to Apollo. A temple built at
Delphi contained an oracle, or prophet, whom brave travelers questioned about
the future. A group of priests represented each of the holy sites. These
priests, who also might be community officials, interpreted the words of the
gods but did not possess any special knowledge or power. In addition to prayers,
the Greeks often offered sacrifices to the gods, usually of a domestic animal
such as a goat. Origins Greek mythology probably developed from the primitive
religions of the people of Crete, an island in the Aegean Sea where the region’s
first civilization arose about 3000 BC. These people believed that all natural
objects had spirits, and that certain objects, or fetishes, had special magical
powers. Over time, these beliefs developed into a set of legends involving
natural objects, animals, and gods with a human form. Some of these legends
survived as part of classical Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks themselves
offered some explanations for the development of their mythology. In Sacred
History, Euhemerus, a mythographer from the 300s BC, recorded the widespread
belief that myths were distortions of history and the gods were heroes who had
been glorified over time. The philosopher Prodicus of Ceos taught during the
400s BC that the gods were personifications of natural phenomena, such as the
sun, moon, winds, and water. Herodotus, a Greek historian who lived during the
400s BC, believed that many Greek rituals were inherited from the Egyptians. As
Greek civilization developed, particularly during the Hellenistic period, which
began about 323 BC, the mythology also changed. New philosophies and the
influence of neighboring civilizations caused a gradual modification of Greek
beliefs. However, the essential characteristics of the Greek gods and their
legends remain unchanged. See Also Aegean Civilization.

“Greek Mythology,” Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 98 Encyclopedia. (c)
1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


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