Greek Mythology and Religion

Greek Mythology
and Religion

Mythology is the study and interpretation
of myth and the body of myths of a particular culture. Myth is a complex
cultural phenomenon that can be approached from a number of viewpoints.

In general, myth is a narrative that describes and portrays in symbolic
language the origin of the basic elements and assumptions of a culture.

Mythic narrative relates, for example, how the world began, how humans
and animals were created, and how certain customs, gestures, or forms of
human activities originated. Almost all cultures possess or at one time
possessed and lived in terms of myths.

Myths differ from fairy tales in
that they refer to a time that is different from ordinary. The time sequence
of myth is extraordinary- an "other" time - the time before the conventional
world came into being. Because myths refer to an extraordinary time and
place and to gods and other supernatural beings and processes, they have
usually been seen as aspects of religion. Because of the inclusive nature
of myth, however, it can illustrate many aspects of individual and cultural

Meaning and interpretation

From the beginnings of Western culture,
myth has presented a problem of meaning and interpretation, and a history
of controversy has gathered about both the value and the status of mythology.

Myth, History, and Reason

In the Greek heritage of the West,
myth or mythos has always been in tension with reason or logos, which signified
the sensible and analytic mode of arriving at a true account of reality.

The Greek philosophers Xenophanes, Plato, and Aristotle, for example, exalted
reason and made sarcastic criticisms of myth as a proper way of knowing

The distinctions between reason and
myth and between myth and history, although essential, were never quite
absolute. Aristotle concluded that in some of the early Greek creation
myths, logos and mythos overlapped. Plato used myths as metaphors and also
as literary devices in developing an argument.

Western Mythical Traditions

The debate over whether myth, reason,
or history best expresses the meaning of the reality of the gods, humans,
and nature has continued in Western culture as a legacy from its earliest
traditions. Among these traditions were the myths of the Greeks. Adopted
and assimilated by the Romans, they furnished literary, philosophical,
and artistic inspiration to such later periods as the Renaissance and the
romantic era. The pagan tribes of Europe furnished another body of tradition.

After these tribes became part of Christendom, elements of their mythologies
persisted as the folkloric substratum of various European cultures.

Greek religion and mythology are
supernatural beliefs and ritual observances of the ancient Greeks, commonly
related to a diffuse and contradictory body of stories and legends. The
most notable features of this religion were many gods having different
personalities having human form and feelings, the absence of any established
religious rules or authoritative revelation such as, for example, the Bible,
the strong use of rituals, and the government almost completely subordinating
the population\'s religious beliefs. Apart from the mystery cults, most
of the early religions in Greece are not solemn or serious in nature nor
do they contain the concepts of fanaticism or mystical inspiration, which
were Asian beliefs and did not appear until the Hellenistic period (about

323-146 B.C.). At its first appearance in classical literature, Greek mythology
had already received its definitive form. Some divinities were either introduced
or developed more fully at a later date, but in Homer\'s Iliad and Odyssey
the major Olympian gods appear in substantially the forms they retained
until paganism ceased to exist. Homer usually is considered responsible
for the highly developed personifications of the gods and the comparative
rationalism that characterized Greek religious thought. In general Greek
gods were divided into those of heaven, earth, and sea; frequently, however,
the gods governing the earth and sea constituted a single category.

Principal Divinities

The celestial gods were thought
to dwell in the sky or on Mount Olympus in Thessaly. The Earth, or chthonic
(Gr. chtho n, "earth"), deities were thought to dwell on or under the earth,
and were closely associated with the heroes and the dead. The lines separating
these divine orders were indefinite, and the deities of one order were
often found in another. The gods were held to be immortal; yet they were
also believed to have had a beginning. They were represented as exercising
control over the world and the forces of nature. Ananke, the personification
of necessity, however, limited this control, to which even the gods bowed.

At the head of the divine hierarchy
was Zeus, the spiritual father of gods and men. His wife was Hera, queen
of heaven and guardian of the sanctity of marriage. Associated with them
as the