Meaning of GREEK RELIGION in English


the complex of beliefs and practices that constituted the interrelation of the ancient Greeks and their gods. Lasting over a thousand years and extending its influence throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond, the religion of the Greeks was extremely diverse. It numbered in its ranks those who, like Homer's heroes, saw little hope of a blessed existence after death and those who, like Plato, expected a postmortem judgment to separate the good and the wicked. It embraced the piety of simple peasants and the speculations of sophisticated thinkers, and its forms of observance ranged from the orgiastic excesses of the worshipers of Dionysus to the dietary restrictions used by those striving for purification. Many Greeks accepted foreign gods provided the local cults were observed as well. The origins of Greek religion are lost in prehistory. Greek-speaking peoples moved south into the peninsula now known as Greece during the 2nd millennium BC. They brought with them the worship of Zeus, a sky-god whose name reveals an Indo-European predecessor shared with the Roman god Jupiter and the Indian god Dyaus. The Greeks assimilated cults of the pre-Greek inhabitants of the peninsula, for example, the primitive oracle at Dodona. They encountered the flourishing Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, whose central divinity, a goddess often depicted with wild animals and holding snakes, contributed many characteristics to several later Greek goddesses. In the latter half of the 2nd millennium BC the Greek Mycenean civilization centred on the mainland replaced the Minoan. Clay tablets written in a script known as Linear B provide records of the offerings-gold vessels, sheep, wheat, wine, honey, and so on-that these Greeks presented to their deities, some of whom continued to be worshiped in later Greece. A decline began about 1100, and the so-called Dark Ages continued until the 8th century BC. With the increase of cultural activity at the opening of the Archaic period (c. 750-c. 500 BC), Greek religion in the established sense began. The Greeks worshiped a multitude of gods, all distinguished from men by their immortality. They were thought to control various natural or social forces: Zeus the weather, Poseidon the sea, Demeter the harvest, Hera marriage, and so on. These and other activities of the major deities were expressed by their epithets: Zeus Maimaktes was stormy; Zeus Xenios protected guests; Zeus Ktesios protected the house. Different deities were worshiped in different localities, but a unified system of thought was created by the bards of the Homeric epics, who portrayed the major gods as living on Mt. Olympus under the suzerainty of Father Zeus. Besides the Olympians, the Greeks worshiped various gods of the countryside, the goat-god Pan, Nymphs, Naeads (who dwelled in springs), Dryads (who dwelled in trees), Nereids (who inhabited the sea), Satyrs, and others. In addition, there were the dark powers of the underworld, such as the Furies, said to pursue those guilty of crimes against blood-relatives. Finally, the Greeks established cults for deceased figures of the past, the heroes. Among the most important were Heracles and Asclepius (the healer). The most important act of Greek worship was the sacrifice. Sacrificial victims varied according to the gods addressed: e.g., cows for Hera, bulls for Zeus, and pigs for Demeter. The procedure of the sacrifice also varied. An offering addressed to an Olympian was made at an altar at dawn. Certain portions were reserved for the god; the rest was shared in a common meal. Sacrifices offered to the chthonian (underworld) deities, however, were performed in the evening. Victims were characteristically black, and, instead of being eaten by the community, they were placed in a pit and burned completely. Cultic activities also included prayers, washing, libations and other offerings, processions, races and other contests, divination, particularly through oracles and birds, and incubation, in which the worshiper spent the night in a temple, waiting to be visited by the divinity in a dream. Religious observances could be private, limited to particular groups, or celebrated by the entire city-state. Among the last were numbered the great festivals, such as the Panathenaea, in which the Athenians offered a new robe (peplos) to Athena Polias, and the City Dionysia at Athens, in the course of which actors performed the now-famous tragedies. Every four years the Greeks observed a festival to Zeus in the Western Peloponnese that, beginning in 776 BC, included the Olympic games, one of four sets of pan-Hellenic athletic contests. Festivals and other acts of worship often centred on temples. In Mycenaean times, only special parts of the palaces were set aside for the gods, but by the end of the Dark Ages they had temples (naoi) of their own. These were originally of simple design and wooden construction, but by 600 BC the massive, colonnaded edifices of marble and other durable materials had fully evolved. The images of the gods underwent a similar development. Crudely hewn prototypes of rough wood were succeeded in some cases by mammoth statues of gold and ivory, fashioned by the greatest sculptors of the Greek world. Not all Greeks adhered to their religion with equal fervour. Already in the 6th century BC philosophers in Ionia were developing a rationalistic critique of traditional beliefs and practices. The criticism was continued by the Sophists and the dramatists Euripides and Aristophanes. Following the conquest of the Greek city-states and the Persian empire by Alexander the Great of Macedon, foreign cults entered the Greek world with much vigour. Although local cults still persisted, the Hellenistic period saw the flourishing of mystery religions, such as the Egyptian cults of Isis and Osiris, and astrology. During the first three centuries following the death of Jesus Christ, the new religion of Christianity slowly but inexorably secured the adherence of growing numbers of Greeks. With the death of the pagan Roman emperor Julian in AD 363, the old religion lost its last great proponent. A triumphant Christianity held the field, but elements of Greek religion survived in the cults of the Christian saints and in local traditions. See also Greek mythology. religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Hellenes. Greek religion is not the same as Greek mythology, which is concerned with traditional tales, though the two are closely interlinked. Curiously, for a people so religiously minded, the Greeks had no word for religion itself-the nearest term being eusebeia (piety). Greek religion, in its developed form, lasted for more than a thousand years, from the time of Homer (probably 9th or 8th century BC) to the reign of the emperor Julian (4th century AD), though its origins may be traced to the remotest eras. During that period its influence spread as far west as Spain, east to the Indus River, and throughout the Mediterranean world. Its effect was most marked on the Romans, who identified their deities with the Greek. Under Christianity, Greek heroes and even deities survived as saints, while the rival madonnas of southern European communities reflected the independence of local cults. The rediscovery of Greek literature during the Renaissance and, above all, the novel perfection of classical sculpture produced a revolution in taste that had far-reaching effects on Christian religious art. The most striking characteristic of Greek religion was the belief in a multiplicity of anthropomorphic deities, coupled with a minimum of dogmatism. The student of Greek religion is naturally concerned to know what the Greeks believed about their gods. They had numerous beliefs, but the sole requirement was to believe that the gods existed and to perform ritual and sacrifice, through which the gods received their due. To deny the existence of a deity was to risk reprisals, from the deity or from other mortals. The list of avowed atheists is brief. But if a Greek went through the motions of piety, he risked little, since no attempt was made to enforce orthodoxy, a religious concept almost incomprehensible to the Greeks. The Greeks had no word for religion itself, the closest approximations being eusebeia ("piety") and threskeia ("cult"). The large corpus of myths concerned with gods, heroes, and rituals embodied the worldview of Greek religion and remains its legacy. It should be noted that the myths varied over time and that, within limits, a writer-e.g., a Greek tragedian-could vary a myth in order to change not only the role played by the gods in it but also the evaluation of the gods' actions. From the later 6th century BC onward, myths and gods were subject to rational criticism on ethical or other grounds. In these circumstances it is easy to overlook the fact that most Greeks "believed" in their gods in roughly the modern sense of the term and that they prayed in a time of crisis not merely to the "relevant" deity but to any deity on whose aid they had established a claim by sacrifice. To this end, each Greek polis had a series of public festivals throughout the year that were intended to ensure the aid of all the gods who were thus honoured. They reminded the gods of services rendered and asked for a quid pro quo. In crises in particular the Greeks, like the Romans, were often willing to add deities borrowed from other cultures. It is frequently difficult to obtain evidence of Greek religious practice, not only within the mystery cults but also more generally. In the latter case, the reason is not one of secrecy; the Greeks simply did not anticipate a posterity that would be different from themselves. Religious practices were universally known-as were such everyday activities as sailing triremes and holding assemblies-and it was not deemed necessary to record these things. It should be remembered that Pausanias, the most important source for a number of topics, was writing in the 2nd century AD, and that even by the 5th century BC the meaning and origins of some of the practices he described were evidently unknown. Additional reading General works include Martin P. Nilsson, Greek Popular Religion (1940, reissued as Greek Folk Religion, 1972), a sound and detailed survey, Greek Piety (1948, reissued 1969; originally published in Swedish, 1946), a general survey, The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and Its Survival in Greek Religion, 2nd rev. ed. (1950, reprinted 1971), the best account of origins, and Geschichte der griechischen Religion (1941-50), the standard history; H.J. Rose, Ancient Greek Religion (1928, reissued 1948), a brief but masterly sketch; W.K.C. Guthrie, The Greeks and Their Gods (1950, reprinted 1985), the best general account, and The Religion and Mythology of the Greeks (1961), a brief sound sketch of origins; and John Pollard, Seers, Shrines, and Sirens: The Greek Religious Revolution in the Sixth Century B.C. (1965). Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, 2nd ed. (1927, reissued 1974), Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, 3rd ed. (1922, reprinted 1973), and a sequel, Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1921, reissued 1962); and Gilbert Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion (1925), are dependent on an anthropology that has gone out of favour, but much may still be learned from them and much has been borrowed from them without acknowledgement. Walter Burkert, Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (1983; originally published in German, 1972), and Greek Religion (1985; originally published in German, 1977), have broken much new ground in discussing the origins of Greek religion. A.W.H. Adkins, Merit and Responsibility: A Study in Greek Values (1960, reprinted 1975), and Moral Values and Political Behaviour in Ancient Greece: From Homer to the End of the Fifth Century (1972), include studies of the religious vocabulary of the Greeks.The copious works of the "Paris school" together constitute an account of Greek religion that combines the structuralism of the French social anthropologist Claude Lvi-Strauss with a detailed attention to the phenomena furnished by the evidence of Greek religion, literature, philosophy, and art. A few examples include Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Thought Among the Greeks (1983; originally published in French, 1965), and Myth and Society in Ancient Greece (1980; originally published in French, 1974); Marcel Detienne, The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek Mythology (1977; originally published in French, 1972), and Dionysus at Large (1989; originally published in French, 1986); Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society (1978; originally published in French, 1974); Pierre Vidal-Naquet, The Black Hunter: Forms of Thought and Forms of Society in the Greek World (1986; originally published in French, 1981); and Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece (1988; originally published in French, 2 vol., 1972-86).Works on oracles and divination include the authoritative W.R. Halliday, Greek Divination: A Study of Its Methods and Principles (1913, reissued 1967); Pierre Amandry, La Mantique apollinienne Delphes: essai sur le fonctionnement de l'oracle (1950, reprinted 1975); H.W. Parke and D.E.W. Wormell, The Delphic Oracle, 2 vol. (1956); Robert Flacelire, Greek Oracles, 2nd ed. (1976; originally published in French, 1961); and H.W. Parke, Greek Oracles (1967), and The Oracles of Zeus: Dodona, Olympia, Ammon (1967). Mysteries and eschatology are treated in Erwin Rohde, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality Among the Greeks (1925, reprinted 1987; originally published in German, 8th ed., 2 vol., 1921), the fundamental work; W.K.C. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement, 2nd rev. ed. (1952, reissued 1967), the best work on Orphism; Ivan M. Linforth, The Arts of Orpheus (1941, reprinted 1973), a hypercritical account; E.R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (1951, reissued 1973), the best account since Rohde; George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries (1961, reissued 1974), a good general survey; C. Kernyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (1967, reprinted 1977), a psychological account; and W.F. Jackson Knight, Elysion: On Ancient Greek and Roman Beliefs Concerning a Life After Death (1970). Works on cults and festivals include Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, 5 vol. (1896-1909, reissued 1969), the best critical survey in English, and Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality (1921, reprinted 1970), a formal and critical account; Martin P. Nilsson, Griechische Feste von religisen Bedeutung (1906, reprinted 1975), the standard work on non-Attic festivals; Arthur Bernard Cook, Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, 3 vol. (1914-40, vol. 1-2 reprinted in 3 vol., 1964-65), a monumental compendium of all the evidence; Ludwig Deubner, Attische Feste (1932, reissued 1969), the standard work on Attic festivals; Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: A Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, 2 vol. (1945-46, reprinted in 1 vol., 1988), the best account in English; C. Kernyi, Asklepios: Archetypal Image of the Physician's Existence (1959; originally published in German, 1956), a psychological account; and Ludwig Drees, Olympia: Gods, Artists, and Athletes (1968; originally published in German, 1967), a full, popular account of the festival. The art and architecture of Greek religion are treated in Vincent Scully, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods: Greek Sacred Architecture, rev. ed. (1979), a full if somewhat fanciful account of temple siting; Helmut Berve and Gottfried Gruben, Greek Temples, Theatres, and Shrines (1963), a detailed survey of the chief buildings; and Birgitta Bergquist, The Archaic Greek Temenos: A Study of Structure and Function (1967), a scholarly survey. John Richard Thornhill Pollard A.W.H. Adkins Beliefs, practices, and institutions The gods The early Greeks personalized every aspect of their world, natural and cultural, and their experiences in it. The earth, the sea, the mountains, the rivers, custom-law (themis), and one's share in society and its goods were all seen in personal as well as naturalistic terms. When Achilles fights with the River in the Iliad, the River speaks to Achilles but uses against him only such weapons as are appropriate to a stream of water. In Hesiod, what could be distinguished as anthropomorphic deities and personalizations of natural or cultural phenomena both beget and are begotten by each other. Hera is of the first type-goddess of marriage but not identified with marriage. Earth is evidently of the second type, as are, in a somewhat different sense, Eros and Aphrodite (god and goddess of sexual desire) and Ares (god of war). These latter are personalized and anthropomorphized, but their worshipers may be "filled" with them. Some deities have epithets that express a particular aspect of their activities. Zeus is known as Zeus Xenios in his role as guarantor of guests. It is possible that Xenios was originally an independent deity, absorbed by Zeus as a result of the Olympocentric tendencies of Greek religion encouraged by the poems of Homer and Hesiod. In Homer the gods constitute essentially a super-aristocracy. The worshipers of these gods do not believe in reward or punishment after death; one's due must come in this life. Every success shows that the gods are well disposed, for the time being at least; every failure shows that some god is angry, usually as a result of a slight, intended or unintended, rather than from the just or unjust behaviour of one mortal to another. The Greeks knew what angered their mortal aristocracy and extrapolated from there. Prayer and sacrifice, however abundant, could not guarantee that the gods would grant success. The gods might prefer peace on Olympus to helping their worshipers. These are not merely literary fictions; they reflect the beliefs of people who knew that though it might be necessary to offer prayer and sacrifice to the gods, it was not sufficient. Greek and Trojans sacrificed to their gods to ensure divine support in war and at other times of crisis. It was believed that Zeus, the strongest of the gods, had favoured the Trojans, while Hera had favoured the Greeks. Yet Troy fell, like many another city. The Homeric poems here offer an explanation for something that the Greek audience might at any time experience themselves. There is no universal determinism in Homer or in other early writers. Moira ("share") denotes one's earthly portion, all the attributes, possessions, goods, or ills that together define one's position in society. Homeric society is stratified, from Zeus to the meanest beggar. To behave in accordance with one's share is to behave in accordance with one's status; and even a beggar may go beyond his share, though he is likely to be punished for it. Zeus, the most powerful entity in Homer's universe, certainly has the power to go beyond his share; but if he does so, the other gods "will not approve." And Zeus may be restrained, unless he feels that his "excellence," his ability to perform the action, is being called into question. Then he may insist on displaying his excellence, as do Achilles and Agamemnon, whose values coincide with those of Zeus in such matters. In Homer, heroI denotes the greatest of the living warriors. The cults of these mighty men developed later around their tombs. Heroes were worshiped as the most powerful of the dead, who were able, if they wished, to help the inhabitants of the polis in which their bones were buried. Thus, the Spartans brought back the bones of Orestes from Tegea. Historical characters might be elevated to the status of heroes at their deaths. During the Peloponnesian War, the inhabitants of Amphipolis heroized the Spartan general Brasidas, who had fought so well and bravely and died in their defense. It is power, not righteousness, that distinguishes the hero; it is the feeling of awe before the old, blind Oedipus that stimulates the Thebans and the Athenians to quarrel over his place of burial. Since they are the mightiest of the dead, heroes receive offerings suitable for chthonic deities. Cosmogony Of several competing cosmogonies in archaic Greece, Hesiod's Theogony is the only one that has survived in more than fragments. It records the generations of the gods from Chaos (literally, "Yawning Gap") through Zeus and his contemporaries to the gods who had two divine parents (e.g., Apollo and Artemis, born of Zeus and Leto) and the mortals who had one divine parent (e.g., Heracles, born of Zeus and Alcmene). Hesiod uses the relationships of the deities, by birth, marriage, or treaty, to explain why the world is as it is and why Zeus, the third supreme deity of the Greeks, has succeeded in maintaining his supremacy-thus far-where his predecessors failed. Essentially, Zeus is a better politician and has the balance of power, practical wisdom, and good counsel on his side. (Whether Hesiod or some earlier thinker produced this complex nexus of relationships, with which Hesiod could account for virtually anything that had occurred or might occur in the future, the grandeur of this intellectual achievement should not be overlooked.)

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