Ancient Greek Culture, Religion, and Customs
In ancient times, the Greeks had absolute and undeniable respect for their gods. They demonstrated their admiration by putting in place many rituals and celebrations to reverence the gods that they loved and feared in order to ensure harmony with them. Ancient Greek culture was melded by their religion and the customs performed to appease the Gods. Examples of how religion affected their way of include the way they prayed, the sacrifices they gave to the gods, and the festivals and games they had to honor the Gods. These aspects of their culture made a significant contribution to their quality of life.
The ancient Greeks practiced a religion that was in effect, a building block to many ensuing pagan religions. This religion revolved around their reverence to the gods, and occasionally their fear of them. Essentially, the Greeks worshiped numerous gods, making their religion polytheistic. They believed that exercising the opportunity to choose between a wide array of gods to worship offered them a great sense of freedom that they treasured. After all, the Greeks were known for their intellectual distinction of which their means of worship played a huge part. Each city-state, or polis, had an affiliated god who protected and guided its residents. Within a given polis, the belief in common gods unified the people. Ultimately, the Greeks yearned for this unity and order in the universe, which is a characteristic that is not unlike that of people today. It might seem contradictory that they believed in many gods and sought organization at the same time, for larger numbers are inherently unstable. But, to the god-fearing Greeks, each god represented a different part of life that together upheld an organized universe if each of these gods was properly appeased. To satisfy these gods, the Greeks participated in activities such as prayer and sacrifice and erected divine temples and centers for oracles in honor of specific gods. There is evidence of this institutionalization early on in the reign of the Olympian gods, thus forming the Olympian religion.
The Olympian religion lacked the presence of true sentimentality, and the gods were not seen as forgiving or "flawless" as the Christian God is often portrayed. The Greek gods were portrayed as humans, which meant that they were not perfect. That is, the gods made mistakes, felt pain (e.g. Aphrodite in love with the mortal Adonis), and succumbed to anger and their tempers (e.g. Hera seeking vengeance on Zeus' mistresses). Moreover, the religion was ritual based and had flexible beliefs that had no regular clergies, no hierarchical system (except with Zeus as king of all gods), and no sacred text or moral code. Many scholars believe that the religion and culture consisted of tales told and survived through oral tradition, which are the myths that we know today.
In the myths that have survived through the ages, the Greeks used the gods as a means to justify anything that they could not understand or scientifically explain. For example, when thunder and lightning fell from the sky accompanied by rain, it was believed that Zeus, the god of the sky, was responsible for it. And, it was potentially a sign that he was irate with the humans for some wrongdoing or inadequate worship. In that respect, the Greeks believed that Zeus and his Olympian gods, also known as the Pantheon, were of the greatest importance. There were constant reminders such as temples and shrines everywhere to represent the unseen, but ever-present powers of the gods. The Olympians were in fact the most powerful gods according to their religion. They overthrew the Titans who overthrew the first generation, and were themselves never overthrown. Nevertheless, the Greeks also worshiped the lesser divinities, oracles, demigods, and heroes as well.
The major form of worship occurred through prayer and sacrifice at temples, at the oracles or in the homes of the...
Bibliography: Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.
Dowden, Ken. The Uses of Greek Mythology. New York: Routledge, 1992.
Hadas, Moses. Hellenistic Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959.
Hesiod. Works and Days. ?
Jenkins, Ian. Greek and Roman Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.
Kitto, H.D.F. The Greeks. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1951.
Perseus Project at Tufts University: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/
Plato. Symposium. ?
Quotes page: http://www.allaboutsuccess.com/quotes.htm
Walters, H.B. A Guide To The Exhibition Illustrating Greek and Roman Life. London: British Museum Order of the Trustees, 1929.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document