Research Paper On Understanding The Greek Mythology

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: History, Greece, Athens, Greek, Mythology, World, God, Literature

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/10/23

The ancient Greeks were renowned scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, politicians, and many more. They excelled in various fields more than the Romans. They left a legacy of high valued literary documents, word origins, and interesting history. It is universally acknowledged that the ancient Greeks contributed a lot of things in the history of mankind. Many scholars of the Greek literature and history study their language in order to understand the country itself. It is a common knowledge that Greece contributed a lot to the world that even though they did not became the world’s superpower, they dominated the world with their ideas; which is especially true because their teachings are still studied even in the modern times. However, in order to fully understand the Greek culture, a researcher must be aware of the Greek Mythology first. In this paper, I would like to argue that the ancient Greeks developed a variety of myths to explain certain circumstances, situations, and things that they do not know. Illiteracy was high in the ancient times; most of the Greek population worked as slaves, craftsmen, musicians, prostitutes, and ordinary laborers. They did not have education, only the sons and daughters of the wealthy families can afford the tutelage of a renowned philosopher at school. Because of this, the Greeks became highly dependent on myths in terms of explaining their history.
The great woman classicist Edith Hamilton once stated that the ancient Greeks created their own version of gods based in their own image1. The evidence of this is seen on the surviving artifacts left by the sculptors of the various eras. Despite the changes in portrayals, one common feature of the ancient Greek sculptures is the appearances. All Greek gods are closely portrayed to appear as humans whom Hamilton notes that putting the human gods above the heavens provides the humans with a pleasant and familiar place2. Despite the barbaric age, the Greeks destroyed the typical belief of ancient people about the heavenly deities. The ancient Egyptians and some gods of the Hinduism and Mesopotamian religions depict their gods in a way that were immobile, animalistic, and utterly not ‘human’ at all. Just like the Great Sphinx of Giza, although the head of the monument is a human head, still the half-part of it is an animal. Perhaps the Greeks thought that it might be weird if their gods were animals, because ‘they’ [the ancient Greeks] were not animals to begin with. It is possible that due to their rational thinking that they argued inside their heads about the possible looks of their deities. Hence, modeling a god out of one’s personal appearance was probably their own way of comfort on to which the ancient Greeks find satisfaction and security. “On Earth too, these deities were exceedingly humanly attractive in the form of lovely maidens and men. They peopled the woodlands, rivers, seas, forests and thus, creating a harmonious symbiosis that sets the Earth in balance.”3
Edith Hamilton, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (Grand Central Publishing, 1942) p. 15.
Ibid., p. 17
Ibid., p. 17
The unique features of the Greek gods set them apart from the ancient gods of the Egyptians. One of the most well-renowned Egyptian deities is Ra, the god of the Sun who is the counterpart of the Greek god Apollo. Despite having a human shaped body, Ra is a deity represented by a human body and head of a bird. For the ancient Egyptians, Ra’s presence brought them the sunlight, which is important in growing crops. Furthermore, many scholars of the ancient history believed that it was an interesting innovation that the Greeks modeled their Gods as humans as well. Mostly, the topic concerning about the heavenly deity refers to the ‘unknown being’. Throughout the ancient civilizations, there was no historical record left about the exact description of a God. For the Egyptians since they worshipped the nature, they believed that their Gods took the animal forms so that they can interact with humans. As a result of this, the majority of the Egyptian deities were half-human and half-animal, which is a large contrast to the humanized form of the Greek gods.
“These and their like were what the pre-Greek world worshipped. One need only a place beside them in imagination any Greek statue of a god, so normal and natural with all its beauty, to perceive what a new idea had come into the world. With its coming, the universe became rational.”4
The Greek mythology is the collection of stories derived from the age-old tales of the bygone era, long before the mortals came to inhabit the land. One of the most important stories of the Greek mythology is the creation of the Olympian gods. In contrast to the ancient religions, the Greeks believed that the universe created their gods, rather than the opposite. As Hamilton noted, before the gods entered the scene, the universe and the planet Earth were already formed.5 People believed that before the Olympian gods, there existed a ‘parent gods’ who eventually gave birth to the Titans, thus giving birth to the Greek gods that the people know as of today.6
The birth of the Titans became essential to the birth of the Olympian Gods. As Hamilton declares, the history of the Titans was untold for many ages, which makes them the ‘Elder Gods’ of the Greek mythology. Records of their tales were long gone and quite forgotten by many, since only few surviving records exist as of today. Prometheus was the father of Deucalion and the savior of mankind. He aided Zeus in his war against Kronus. The origin of fire at the ancient times was highly unexplainable; and so the story of Prometheus became ever popular. After he aided Zeus to dethrone Kronus, Zeus became the chief of the Olympian gods. Throughout the blissful Golden Age, only males roamed the lands.7 Zeus later created the women due to his wrath against Prometheus. Prometheus was punished for caring so much for the men. He stole the fire from the Olympian gods in order for them to survive. To further fuel his hatred, Prometheus even arranged that men should be the first to get the best parts of the animal sacrifice. He wrapped the eatable parts of the ox into its hide and eventually gave the remaining parts to the gods. Prometheus cunningly wrapped the ox bones with the animal fats and allowed Zeus to choose on his own. Hence, the bones and fat were burned to the gods upon their altars whilst the edible parts of the animal sacrifice were kept by the humans for their own consumption.8 Zeus ordered his servants named Might and Violence to capture Prometheus to chain him into a rock locate in Caucasus. Zeus also went to the smith-god Hephaestus and ordered him to create a chain that would nail the traitor god on to the rock. Every day, Zeus sent out an eagle to eat Prometheus liver which grew each night. This continuous punishment was eternal for Might and Violence told the pitiful god:
“Forever shall the intolerable present grind you down. And he who will release you is not born. Such fruit you reap for your man-loving ways. A god yourself, you did not dread God’s anger, but gave mortals honor not their due. And therefore you must guard this joyless rock. No rest, no sleep, no moment’s respite. Groans shall your speech be; lamentation your only words.”9
Perhaps one of the reasons why the ancient Greeks were misogynists was due to the fact that Zeus created Pandora in order to obtain his revenge against the mankind and Prometheus’s treachery. He made a creature as sweet and lovely that no one and even the discerning eyes of men will know the wickedness of her nature. Pandora was given a box by which Zeus told her not to open. However, due to her curiosity, she lifted the lid of the box and eventually all the diseases flew out, causing plagues and sorrows for mankind10. The stories of Greek mythology were passed down through the word of mouth. However, sometime around 750 B.C., scholars of the ancient Greek culture debated the identity of the person who organized and compiled these myths or whether only one author or many author were involved in the process. Some scholars consider the Greek poet Homer as the one who compiled these stories and incorporate them in his two great epics namely Iliad and Odyssey11. In a documentary about the ancient Greece, Professor Thomas Scanlon from the University of California noted that the Greek mythology became widely popular during the time of Homer, which was around 750 B.C. “Homer gave the Greeks their gods; Homer was effectively the closest thing the Greeks had to a Bible”12. Moreover, fifty years after Homer’s death, the Greek poet Hesiod wrote his Theogony, a short piece of literature which explains that the world began with Chaos, or emptiness.
Ibid., p. 16
Ibid., p. 24
Ibid., p. 24
Ibid., p. 72
Ibid., p. 74
Ibid., p. 75
Ibid., p. 73
11. The History Channel: Gods and Goddesses, narrated by Stanley Bernard and Maggie Soboil (2001; New York, NY: Filmroos Inc., 2001), DVD.
12. Professor Scanlon, The History Channel: Gods and Goddesses.
The myths became the basis of the daily life of the ancient Greeks. It allows them to have a concrete explanation of the unknown phenomenon they experience. During their time, priest and priestesses spoke oracles which were believed to be messages from Gods. The ancient Greeks often asked the help of their gods through praying at their temples or visiting oracles such as the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. A typical Greek prayer follows a three-part pattern. Invocation is the way of addressing a god through the use of his or her honorific titles or thereby mentioning their names in a successive chant in order to gather their attention to acknowledge one’s presence.13 This part usually forms the beginning of the praying ceremony of calling their attention by repeated chants or songs that continue to state their name, their greatness and holiness. The second part of the prayer is the sanction; in this part, the person who seeks the help of the gods must prove themselves worthy of their attention and aid. It is similar to proving one’s credentials before granting a favor. Some sanctions often include the sacrifice mostly of animals, depending on the message of the oracle. Although animal sacrifices were common, human sacrifices were also popular as people believed that live mortals such as a girl’s virginity can invoke a god’s interest. For example, according to Serrano and Lapid, a farmer sought Apollo’s help in removing the plagues of his town. As an offering, the Sun-god asked the farmer to offer him his daughter’s virginity in exchange for the welfare of his beloved town. The farmer eventually agreed to offer his daughter’s virginity as a proof that he [the farmer] was worthy of his [Apollo] attentions14. The last part of the prayer is the entreaty which grants the seeker the liberty of stating their wishes in return to offerings they had given. “Greek prayers contained neither regrets nor promises of amendment; they contained only a practical appeal for help.”15
Unlike in the modern times, the Greeks have high regards toward their gods and their prophecies. To them, the prophecies are their lives. Perhaps the main reason that the ancient Greeks created these stories of gods and goddesses was to provide salvation for their adversaries. During Homer’s time, Greece was a patchwork of city-states who were in constant war with one another. The only thing that links them all to one another was the worship of the gods and goddesses that provide them salvation. In times of adversity, people often seek out the answers and began to question the mystery of life. Heroes became ever more popular because the weak see them as the embodiment of the gods in the humanized form who descended on the land to help them with their troubles. The ancient Greek’s thirst for knowledge to understand the reality of the world made them create these supernatural deities out of frustration. Perhaps it was their unconsciousness that dictated them to create a heavenly deity that they can seek out for help during turbulent times. In short, gods and goddesses of the ancient Greek mythology provides people not only with salvation, but also a reward of faith; that even through hard times, people can have the consolation that above them, there were gods who look upon them and dictate their course of life. Until today, the legacy of the ancient Greek mythology still lives on, in today’s culture; several elements of the Greek mythology were incorporated in various literatures such as the fictional novels. One famous author was Sherrilyn Kenyon. The majority of her novels explore the themes of immortality, vampires, time-traveling, and mythology. Her novels were basically a crossover of some mythologies such as Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Celtic, and Roman. Interestingly, the topics about the immortality and Greek mythology seem to gain popularity amongst readers, especially the female. Kenyon’s novels tell the readers of a certain possibility and a question that continued to bug many scholars throughout the century. What was it like to have these gods and goddesses roam the lands? What would happen to the Earth if they really do exist? Kenyon combined the themes of sex, romance, mythology, time-travel, supernatural powers, and religion in order to create an environment wherein the ancient Greek gods intermingled with mortals either to procreate, or somehow to abolish the evil. It is really fascinating to think how the world and the people would behave if these gods really do exist. However, the answer to this question remains unknown. As the continuing hunger to understand the ‘unknown’, the legacy of the ancient Greece still remains. It speaks to us even today, the Parthenon, the oracle of Delphi and even the statues of the bygone age. They speak to us of a silent history that has been buried undergone through many centuries.
13. Josephine Serrano and Milagros Lapid, English Communication Arts and Skills through World Literature (Phoenix Press Inc., 1987) p. 8
14. Ibid., p. 8
15. Ibid., p. 9

Works Cited

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1942. Print.
Serrano, Josephine, and Milagros Lapid. English Communication Arts and Skills through World Literature. Quezon City: Phoenix Press Inc., 1987. Print.
The History Channel: Gods and Goddesses. Perf. Stanley Bernard, Maggie Soboil. Filmroos Inc., 2001. DVD.

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