The mysteries of what occurs after death has created a need for humans to seek religion. This has been a characteristic of humanity throughout ages, but Ancient Greek religion was fascinating and enticing to me. It was characterized by a distinct background that still makes it known today as the poster-child for mythology.
The Greeks were characterized as people who had abundant temples for gods and goddesses, theaters where plays were staged in their honor, treasuries that accepted sacrifices, and objects, like vases, that were decorated with alluring mythical scenes. This allowed religion to become personal, direct, and present in all areas of life. Religion was not only a form of worship but a way for socialization, progression, and art.
Religion as Social Structure
The Ancient Greeks reflected unification through their worship; because it was so sufficiently widespread it allowed the Greek government and society to function. This worship could only occur because all of the people agreed on certain fundamentals. Such as: that the gods existed, they could influence human affairs, and they welcomed and responded to acts of piety and worship. These ideas reflected unity upon the Greek people and contributed the development of common festivals and sacrifices.
It’s interesting to note that the worship between gods and goddesses had no difference because all of them represented different facets of the overall human condition. The Greeks rejected any moral leadership or guidance from their gods because they were capricious and amoral, but the Greek population understood their influence and if all of them contributed to festivals and sacrifices society as a whole could gain benefits.
Religion as Progression
Ancient Greece is remembered for profound architecture that is an inspiration to government buildings to this day. At first, sacred sites were merely simple outdoor altars but over time they became massive temples like Zeus’ at Olympia and Athena’s in the Parthenon, on the acropolis in Athens. Their structures display an essence of power and importance. Though the Ancient Greek Empire eventually fell, they left behind is incredibly memorable works of architecture.
Religion as Art
The demigod Hercules was definitely a work of art! 🙂 One thing agreed on is that the visual representation of gods and goddesses were ones of idealized beauty. The gods were described as human but were yet “endowed with superhuman strength and ageless beauty.”
Not only is the beauty of the worship seen physically but also in literature. This is seen through Homer’s epic works of the Iliad & Odyssey (we read the Iliad in class). These are distant parts of literature that were immensely impactful and showed the results of interference of the gods and goddesses, along with the emphasis on idealized beauty, as seen in Helen of Troy.
- Hemingway, Colette. “Greek Gods and Religious Practices.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Published on October 2003. http://www.metmuseum.org/TOAH/hd/grlg/hd_grlg.htm.
- Wilkinson, Philip, and Neil, Philip. Mythology. Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2007.
- “Religion and Death.” University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Published in 2002. http://www.peen.museum/sites/greek_world/religion.html.
- Cartwright, Mark. “Greek Religion.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Published on April, 11 2013. http://www.ancient.eu/Greek_Religion/.