Greek Mythology: From Rome to Todayby Rit Nosotro
Comparative Essay or Change Over Time essay
Describe why Greek Mythology became part of the Roman Pantheon and the influence that has on modern culture.
Through cultural diffusion, Greek Mythology became part of the Roman Pantheon; Greek thought affects us in almost all areas of life, and its end is Humanism. To understand the affects of Greek Mythology it is important to review the origins and development of the Greek ideas. Greek religion originated from the worship of one god, who was called Zeus, and developed into the worship of many gods in human form. Religions prior to the Greeks, like the Hebrews, worshipped an omnipotent god. Idolatry of man made deities corrupted a truer religion. It could be said that many religions of today are twisted versions of the worship of the one true God.
The Greek religion was different. Instead of making their gods great, transcendent, and mysterious, the Greeks, in the words of Edith Hamilton, an honorable citizen of Athens, “…made their gods in their own image.” This is the beginning of humanism, for not only did the Greeks make their gods human-like, but actually glorified the human body in their gods. Humanism was later developed into an anti-God religion. Through an observation of the often contradictory systems of nature, the Greeks created myths to explain nature. Thus the gods often are pictured as quarreling and fighting in often shameful and base actions. This was a novel idea in the ideas of religion; instead of omnipotent gods the Greeks had created limited human gods. They greatly expanded on the humanism that has existed ever since their have been humans.
Some of the deeper thinking Greeks recognized the impossibility of these ideas. Some believed that the gods should not be brought down to the level of man's unrighteousness, but worshipped reverently as above man and his capricious excitements. The poets, without much philosophical thinking, had developed the stories of the gods. Most Greek Mythology was written by poets, like Homer, and had little to do with religion. The philosopher Socrates appears in his writings to express doubt in the mythologies and believed more in a single omnipotent god. Plato wrote about him in a conversation Socrates had with Euthyphro. Euthyphro, who was incriminating his father, used the instance of Zeus killing his father Cronus for murder as a proof for his case. In response Socrates said, “And do you really believe that the gods fought with one another, and had dire quarrels, battles, and the like, as the poets say, and as you may see represented in the works of great artists?” Socrates hints at the unreality of the Greek gods, for they are imperfect, like man, and thus are not an apt standard for piety. Although the philosphers discredited the Greek pantheon, they offered nothing to take it's place.
The Romans were so greatly influenced by the Greeks, that their culture is almost a complete continuation of Greecian ideas. Greece built colonies on the Italian peninsula, thus influencing Etruscan cities. As the Roman army expanded it conquered the Etruscans, who were also influenced by the Greeks, and then the Greek colonies. Although Rome had physically conquered Greece, it was Greek thought that had conquered Roman thought. The great body of Greek Mythology, through the influence of Greek ambassadors, merchants, slaves, and artists, became part of Roman Mythology. Thus Greek Mythology evloved into the Roman Pantheon through cultural inffusion.
Roman views of the gods were different than that of the Greeks. The Romans were practical; they viewed the gods on a contractual basis. If a Roman citizen performed the proper farming purification ceremonies he would get a good harvest. On the other hand the Greeks performed sacrifices as gratitude to the gods, or for forgiveness of sins. The Roman religion had a less beautiful view of the gods than the Greeks. The Greeks had a complicated view of their gods as fickle, even proper sacrificing would not guarantee the favor of the gods. The Romans viewed the gods almost like machines that would grant good or bad depending on what they did. Both cultures tolerated sexual practices that the eariler Jewish Torah specifically forbids.
Athens continued to cultivate its religion, and became the center for new religions. More cults came into view. Here Paul proclaimed the gospel on Mars Hill. He spoke of one true God, the one true religion that had become corrupted over the years to the worship of many strange deities. After so many centuries of an insufficient pantheon, the Mediteranian world was ready for the Christianity. As Christ had come "in the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4), the Roman Empire eventually became Christian, and spread Christianity as far as Hadian's Wall in Britian and across the Spice Roads into China.
Yet Greek Mythology did not die out with the popularization of Christianity. Greek ideas had fallen with the fall of Rome, and the so called "Dark Ages" commenced, but the Crusades brought a rival of old ideas. During the Renaissance especially, Greek ideas were rediscovered from translations that went from Greek to Arabic and back to Europe in Latin. Christians learned Greek knowledge apart from knowledge of the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church accepted as dogma the sythesis of Aristotle and scripture through the pen of Thomas Aquinas. The Calvin Commentaries affirm this saying, “Since all truth is from God, if anything has been said aptly and truly even by impious men, it ought not to be rejected, because it proceeded from God. And since all things are of God, why is it not lawful to turn to His glory whatever may be aptly applied to this use?”
The effects of Greek thinking continue today in higher education where subjects are compartmentalized in a similar way the Greeks had done. The Olympic Games, founded by the Greeks, still take place. Greek Mythology is emphasised and the Bible has been largely set aside. Although forms of such Greek ideals as democracy, art, and architecture can be found, so too has there been an increase in the tolerance of abnormal behavior such as homosexuality.
The American government was influenced by Aristotle’s idea of a mixed government. A mixed government included the best of three forms of government; monarchial, aristocratical, and democratical. The president was the monarchial part of the government, the aristocratical part was the Senate, and the democratical part of the government was the House of Representatives. The founders knew these principles well, and implemented them into a practical government. Not only has the US constitution been widely adopted but also has American cultural influence, with its Greek roots, covered the world.
Modern culture has gone back to Athens and laughed at the same Greek pantheon that Socrates had dismissed in favor of humanism.
"Chapter 11. Classical Greece and the Origins of Humanism, Part II" The Xenophile Historian. October 2003.< http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/worldhis/Hist11b.html >
Edith Hamilton. Mythology Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. New York: Warner Books Inc. 1999
Jackson J. Spielvogel. Western Civilization. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, © 2000.
M. E. Thalheimer. A Manueal of Ancient History. Cincinnati and New York: Wilson Hinkle & CO. 1872
Plato. (Translated by Benjamin Jowett) The Trial and Death of Socrates Four Dialogues. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1992
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