« ForrigeFortsæt »
New conceptions. For centuries the old religions had sufficed. The gods had given to the individual the good things of this life, health, happiness, and longevity; and to the state, protection and prosperity. With the development of new conceptions came a great diversity and broadening of religious thought and purpose. The Orphic thiasoi spread their doctrines, the cult of Dionysos found a purpose beyond the celebration of the fruit of the vine, the Mysteries and worship of Demeter and Kore were developed at Eleusis, and other religious centers were established. The Greek mind was awakened to the needs and aspirations of the soul, to its divine nature, to the hope of a closer communion with the saving deity, and even of salvation, with a happier lot after death than that of others who descended to the prison house of Hades. Themistios, in the later period, interpreted the initiation into these great mysteries as in the nature of a rehearsal of the experiences the soul was supposed to undergo at the time of death. Referring to the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were exceedingly popular with the Athenians, Sophokles, in one fragment (719), exclaims : “O thrice blessed those mortals, who having beheld these mysteries descend into Hades; to them alone it is given to live; for the rest all evils are there." The nature of deity, of cults and practices, became subjects of infinite speculation by philosophers; and theories, naturalistic and agnostic, were constantly formulated. Whatever the trend, political events intervened; and the old gods, to whom people and states had appealed in their extremity, gave moral judgment for Hellas, granting victory over their enemies and preserving the country from foreign
3 Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, iii, 179 f. 4 Cf. Homer, Hymn to Demeter, 480.
domination. The land was purified of the polluting presence of the Persian barbarians by fire brought from Delphoi, and the Greeks “raised an altar to Zeus the god of the free, a fair monument of freedom for Hellas” (Pausanias, IX, ii, 5). The simpler faith of the tried and beloved deities revived, and the populace celebrated and honored them with great national festivals, stately processions, and decorous rituals; while the highest æsthetic sense interpreted their gods before the eyes of the multitude in terms of majesty and ideal beauty.
Absence of dogma and moral restraint in religion. The multiplicity of gods, of cults, and of cultic practices resulted in a complexity of religious ideas that defies close analysis. The philosophers were perplexed, and Plato characterized "one who undertook to unravel the tangled web of Greek polytheism as a ‘laborious, and not very fortunate man'” (Phaidrus, 229 D). Religion
" was an affair of rituals, not beliefs. There was never in Greece a systematic theological belief or doctrine. There were no religious opinions, merely traditional usages that everyone was expected to observe, and sacrifice was the recognized expression of piety from early times. There was no orthodoxy or heterodoxy in the ordinary acceptance of these terms, although it was not permitted to deny or neglect the gods. There was little or no moral restraint on the conscience, and the religion has been subjected to “the monstrous reproach of a theology altogether without moral distinctions and a religion altogether without reverence.” Family life and the worship of its 'good daimon' may have engendered a moral sense,
5 A fragment, attributed to Terpander, expressed the majesty of the god (Zeus) as: "the primal cause of all things, the Leader of the world” (Bergk, Poete lyrici Græci, iii, frag. 1).
6 Blackie, Hore Hellenice, p. 78.
and the sanctity of the oath enforced by Apollo and other gods is believed to have influenced both public and private morality. In the fourth century B.C. came a tendency to eliminate the immoral stories of the deities and to create an ethical sentiment. Epicharmos expressed the idea of purity which was the basis of the cathartic ritual, “If thou art pure in mind, thou art pure in thy whole body” (Clemens Alexandrinus, Stromata, p. 844). From whatever source it came, there appears from the age of Perikles onward a gradually deepening sense of the influence of religion on morality. Although religion exercised so little restraint upon the individual, the impiety of defaming or denying the divinities was punished. There was a certain obligation of deference and sacrifice to the deities for bounties received, and loyalty was due to the family, the tribal, or the state god which called for the ritual forms; but beyond that, each one was free and independent to worship when and whom he pleased.
Shrines and religiosity. The primitive custom of recognizing a natural cave, a tree trunk, a post, or a mound of stones as a “holy pillar,' the residence of a god, and erecting there an altar for worship, and the later wayside shrines, the numerous temples, and the splendid sanctuaries, monuments, and festivals all testify to the religiosity of the people, their every-day dependence on their gods, and their constancy in observing the forms of worship. Their attitude toward the deities was not timorous, but intimate and friendly, as on a basis of quasi-equality with the supernatural world. Their religion and worship of the celestial divinities was joyous and bright, not solemn. Herakleitos may have reflected this close sympathetic relation in his remark that “men are mortal gods, and gods are immortal men.''
Chthonic deities. There was, however, a phase of their religion which was connected with the dark and hidden powers of the earth and Underworld and which was not genial or cheerful. These chthonian powers and their gloomy worship were referred to briefly by Homer and Hesiod. The poets, dramatists, and philosophers make frequent allusions to them, but treat the subject vaguely. Plutarch remarked (de Defectu Oraculorum, xiv) that it was from the mysteries that they had gained their best knowledge of the daimonic elements of life. Something is known of the rituals of these "mysteries of which no tongue may speak," but if anything was taught by them, very little is known of it. It is from later records and excavations that philological and archæological studies have disclosed the primitive features, the great antiquity, and many details of the chthonian worships. These cults, which then included that of the dead, were not prominent in the early period, but in the later days of Greek religion they became a distinctive feature. Many of the primitive rites of the cults, based on old superstitions, endured and were observed side by side with the more advanced conceptions of later religious thought.
Chthonic character. The divinities of the earth and Underworld were numerous and varied. Some were beneficent and had functions that were essential to life and the happiness of mankind, but all were potential powers for evil and many were “fearsome and awe-inspiring.” They ranged from
? Cf. Harrison, Prologomena to the Study of Greek Religion, pp. 337 ff.
8 Cf. P. Gardner, "Mysteries (Greek, Phrygian, etc.)," in ERE ix, 77-82.
9 L. R. Farnell, "Greek Religion," in ERE vi, 398-399.
Hades, the great death-god, and his consort, the dread Persephone, rulers of the Underworld realm (Hesiod, Theogonia, 765), to daimons, demigods, heroes, and the vast horde of the spirits of the dead. The religion of the chthonioi has been called the “religion of fear” as contrasted with the “religion of duty” of the uranic deities.10 The powers of the nether-world avenged the broken oath, punished sinners after death, and were able to bring all misfortunes and death upon those who incurred their enmity. Although conscious of these dread potencies, as were the people of Argolis of Poine, the evil spirit which ravaged their homes (Pausanias, I, xliii, 7), the Greeks do not appear to have been oppressed in their daily lives by the terrors of the daimonic Underworld, nor were they subject to morbid fear and anxiety concerning their destiny and the after-life. The myths of early Greece were not overburdened with goblins and specters, nor do the relics of the early cult of the dead suggest any spirit of terrorism. The temperament of the people had not been tainted with the morbidity of their neighbors of Mesopotamia. The powers of darkness had to be reckoned with, and the chthonic rituals of prayer and sacrifice were faithfully performed to appease the wrath or to placate and to gain the good will and favor of these dread powers that evil might be averted, present misfortune removed, and purification obtained from pollution and guilt. These gloomy ceremonials over, the people resumed their ordinary cheerful relations to the life about them. These rites were of the nature of 'riddance' or 'aversion' addressed to an order of beings entirely alien, as contrasted with those of 'tendance' or “ “service' addressed to Olym
° F. H. Garrison, "The Gods of the Underworld in Ancient Medicine,” in PCC v, 35-36.
11 Harrison, op. cit., p. 7.