Although a large bloc of the major religions of the world today include monotheistic religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism among them, this was not always the case. Many religions arise from cultural myths and creations stories, developing in themseleves a pantheon of gods that explains the world around them – there is the traditional Chinese panetheon, the Norse pagan gods, the Egyptian gods and the Mezoamerian deities.
Then there are the Greeks and their pantheon of gods. Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Artemis, Ares, Demeter, Dionysus and the like have been the subject of countless games and modern re-tellings. Because the greek myths are full of drama, emotion and intrigue – incest, murder, affairs, betrayal, civil and family war.
Even the story of Athen’s naming, named after Athena, is one of drama.
The myth goes that the ancients when they dealt with the gods have a choice of Poseidon and Athena to name their city after. A competition was put up where each god would give a present to the people, who would then decide which present they liked more and name the city after them. Athena gave the people olives (after the many olive trees found around the Attica Region), while Poseidon (god of the oceans) gave them salt water. The people chose the olive oil and Athena. But gods are emotional and jealous, Poseidon was not happy he had got the snub – why play the game when you can’t take the loss is my response – and to appease him the people built a temple to him on the Acropolis.
Greek gods are not paragons of wisdom, well not all of them, that’s for sure.
So what is the story behind the Greek Gods? The complicated story has been expertly told in this video below.
There are many greek gods, but the ones who matter are twelve who are thought to live on top of Mount Olympus.
The Twelve Olympians (Source)
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in all the ancient Greek lands, and so naturally was the place by which myths and traditions were located. The myth behind Olympus is that the palace was created after an epic war between the Olympians and the Titans (the titans were led by Zeus’ father), essentially a son had rose up to backstab and betray his father.
Although each god has a power, there is a hierarchy to the gods and at the head of the pantheon of the God of Mount Olympus, is Zeus the god of sky and thunder, and therefore controls the weather according to his mood.
Zeus was a strong god, just look at the phenomena he patronages.His power to control the weather meant that the humans in Athens and everywhere in the Greek world had to pay significant homage to him. Being strong comes with disadvantages too, since Zeus was also mythologically full of erotic escapades – bearing children out of wedlock with humans and gods. This wikipedia page has a full table with each of his ‘consorts’ and his offpsrings. The easiest way of understanding it, is that almost everyone who is anyone in Greek mythology has a connection to Zeus.
Wanting to please Zeus, the Athenian leaders in the 6th century began the construction of the largest temple in the world to Zeus, it would take 683 years when Athens was under Roman control for the temple to be completed. The completed temple was a great one, historians of the 2nd Century AD described it as such:
“Before the entrance to the sanctuary of Zeus Olympios [in Athens]–Hadrian the Roman emperor dedicated the temple and the statue, one worth seeing, which in size exceeds all other statues save the colossi at Rhodes and Rome, and is made of ivory and gold with an artistic skill which is remarkable when the size is taken into account—before the entrance, I say, stand statues of Hadrian, two of Thasian stone, two of Egyptian. Before the pillars stand bronze statues which the Athenians call ‘colonies.’ The whole circumference of the precincts is about four states, and they are full of statues; for every city has dedicated a likeness of the emperor Hadrian, and the Athenians have surpassed them in dedicating, behind the temple, the remarkable colossus. Within the precincts are antiquities: a bronze Zeus, a temple of Kronos and Rhea and an enclosure of Gaia (Earth) surnamed Olympias. Here the floor opens to the width of a cubit, and they say that along this bed flowed off the water after the deluge that occurred in the time of [the mythical king] Deukalion, and into it, they cast every year wheat meal mixed with honey. On a pillar is a statue of Isokrates . . . There are also statues in Phrygian marble of Persians supporting a bronze tripod; both the figures and the tripod are worth seeing. The ancient sanctuary of Zeus Olympios the Athenians say was built by Deukalion, and they cite as evidence that Deukalion lived at Athens a grave which is not far from the present temple. Hadrian constructed other buildings also for the Athenians: a temple of Hera and Zeus Panellenios (Common to all Greeks).”
It’s time in the sun, was significiantly shorter than its construction period since the temple was destroyed in 267 AD when it was sacked by East German tribes. It still stands today however, 16 columns that remind people of what once used to be. Even today, when you see the humans in comparison, you are reminded of what this powerful structure would have been and would have told to the average Athenian.
Greece is today a strong Christian country, but its also one of the cultures where its pre-Christian gods always remained lurking in the popular imagination. As Christianity in Europe has declined overall, people have turned to other means for their spiritual salve, and for some the rediscovery of the Greek Gods is that new source.
Might we see a new Temple of Zeus being rebuilt in Athens one day?
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