TABLE OF CONTENTS
- LITERATURE SOURCES
- Creation of the World
- Greek Pantheon
- Ceremonies & Sacrifices
- CRITICISM & APOLOGETICS
- Ancient Religions
Greek mythology is the system of beliefs that correlate with the ancient Greek societies and cultures. It includes a significant portions of historic, cultural and mythological practices and beliefs of the people of the ancient world.
In order to properly discern the history of ancient cultures or uncover the mysteries of the past, we have to understand the people of that time period and what caused them to develop their traditions.
Classic Greek mythology give clues that it may have originated from an earlier belief system, from the Mycenaean religion, or the Mycenaean civilization, beginning circa 1600 b.c. in ancient Greece, and may have been influenced or been an influence to the Minoan religions.
Ancient Greek historian Herodotus claimed that the Greek mythos and religion back to Egypt, other linguists have over recent decades found more similarities in Greek mythos with Sumerian mythos and pantheons.
Greek literature is the predominate source today of understanding the ancient Greek mythologies, beginning circa 900 b.c. both literature and archaeology give today’s interpretation of how this belief system was practiced and expressed. Most literature is poetic in nature give an allusive interpretation over the mythos they present.
Almost all literature dating back to ancient Greece contain a specified amount of mythos or mystical anecdotes. A few mythographical books, or collections of myths, have survived antiquity, and have been recovered such as the library of Pseudo-Apollodorus. Apollodorus lived in Athens circa 150 b.c. and discussed in length the topics of Greek mythology. Homer’s (circa 700 b.c.) two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey also give a great number of details to the Greek mythos.
Hesiod, a Greek poet writer, circa 700 b.c., wrote the oldest Greek mythological account that talks about the creation of the world, the origin of the gods, the Titans, and the giants in his work Theogony (Origin of the gods) and Works and Days. Pindar’s Odes are also considered among the ‘sacred texts.’
Creation of the World
In Theogony, Hesiod give the explanation of the beginning of the universe.
Beginning with Chaos, which is nothingness, out of the void emerged Gaia (the Earth), and some other primary gods; Eros (love), The Abyss (Tartarus), and Erebus (deep darkenss). Gaia (Mother Earth) gave birth to Uranus (the Sky) who then procreated with her, resulting in the Titans as their children:
Coeus (Titan of intelligence), Crius, Cronus (Titan of time), Hyperion (Titan if light), Lapetus (the piercer, Titan of mortality), Oceanus (personification of the world ocean), Mnemosyne (Titan of memory), Phoebe (Titan of prophecy), Rhea (Titan of fertility), Theia (Titan of sight or the clear sky), Themis (Titan of divine law), and Tethys (Mother of fountains, springs, rivers and clouds).
After Cronus (aka Kronos or Chronos) was born, he was convinced by Gaia to castrate his father Uranus, and afterwards he became the leader of the Titans. He took Rhea his sister as his wife, and gave birth to many sons and daughters. However, he consumed each of his children when they were born because he feared one of his children would overthrow him just as he did to his father.
Zeus, one of Cronus’s children, was saved by his mother Rhea, and when he was old enough challenged his father, after his mother tricked Cronus into spewing up his siblings. Cronus was defeated and all the Titans where imprisoned in Tartarus. This new era allowed for the birthing of many new gods and the children of the Titans began their rule over the universe. Eventually human where created as well.
The gods of ancient Greek where the immortal creators and rulers of the universe. They could not be affected by disease and lived forever, however they could be tricked or made susceptible to various tactics or even imprisoned.
[Comprehensive table of the Greek gods is available at the end of article]
The Greeks believed in an underworld, where the spirits of dead mortal went. The underworld was also known as Hades, placed under the surface of the earth. Each spirit would be judged by the deeds they performed in life to determine if they would be allowed to go to paradise, called Elysium, or be punished in a place of torment, called Tartarus.
It was a common belief that without the proper burial rituals the spirit of the person wouldn’t be able to find the underworld and would be stuck haunting the ‘upper’ world as a ghost.
Ceremonies & Sacrifices
Greek worshipers sacrificed animals to appease the gods, usually with songs and prayers. The animals were burned and eaten by the people and served in banquets. These sacrifices where performed to invoke the gods for a blessing or to gain their favor for some event. The sacrifices could be to the name of any one of their numerous gods.
These ceremonies and rituals where typically performed at an alter to the god they would try to invoke. People, cults or rituals would often be specifically devoted to one, or a p(m)atron, god or goddess. The people would pay tribute to the alters or statues of the gods with food, tokens, or precious objects.
Criticism & Apologetics
Considering that the tales of this ancient mythology are quit fantastic and poetic, there is no indication that any of it should be taken literally. However, just as with any legend or obscured poetry, it may have been based on some historic truth that can be used to parallel literature or facts from other cultures, or findings in archaeology.
Ancient mythologies can also be used to help us understand the people of an ancient time, and to help create a road map, to correctly deduct the possibility that each ancient culture had some sort of significant tie to one another. Then to us this information to “connect the dots” from one ancient civilization to another.
Herodotus of Halicarnassus, a Greek polis in Asia Minor, excerpts from The Histories, ca. 430 b.c.
R.A. Segal, Theorizing about Mythology, University of Mass. Press. 1999, ISBN 978-1-55849-191-5