The Contribution Of Greek Literature To The World’s Religious Thought -- By: James Lindsay
BSac 64:255 (July 1907) p. 443
The Contribution Of Greek Literature To The World’s Religious Thought
The religion of Greece was the dawn of a new era in the world’s religious development. An external cast the popular Greek religion wore, with plenty absurd legends of the gods The Orphic songs or legends seem to have exerted some higher influence on their mystic god-lore. In their gods man becomes, in a word, divinized. In the Homeric god-world, we find monarchical polytheism! clearly developed. Zeus is king of kings. Moira, or fate, may seem to be’ set above him, and yet fate is really regarded as his own will. His βουλή, or council of the gods, may meet at Olympus, but only to learn his will. And the gods were in being long before Homer: if Greek religion was fixed by Homer’s poems, that is not to say that pre-Homeric religion was unimportant or is unknown. Homer and Hesiod but “composed” the “generations” of the gods. Plato tells us that early Greek religion had earth, sun, moon, and stars, for its gods. But the early Greek poets believed the gods to reward the good and punish the wicked. Homer and Hesiod alike regard Zeus as punishing the man who sins against δίκη, of which he is guardian. Pausanias and Herodotus alike tell us what Homer did for the early Greek religion, with its undifferentiated gods—its Pelasgian worship of fetich stones and pillars—by transforming its symbols into persons. Pelasgian religion was helped by Egypt—so Herodotus plainly tells us—in the effort to give
BSac 64:255 (July 1907) p. 444
form and personality to its gods. But theirs was a mere beginning of things, to await, for long after, the varied and complex forms of the Homeric pantheon. Much help in these matters has in recent years been derived from prehistoric archaeology. Pelasgian religion was taken up by the Hellenes of the North, to whom, according to Thucydides, Greek national unity was first due. From this unity sprang the Pantheon, with its differentiated deities. Greek theology was shaped by literature, as we see in Homer, who certainly did not take his gods—made, as they were, in the likeness of men— very seriously. These Homeric gods, however, have clearly overpassed everything that savored of conflict with hostile powers of nature, for Olympic rule over nature and man has been placed beyond dispute. What conflict obtained among the gods themselves is often seen to be due to the racial character of the Homeric gods. Plastic art had its share, as well as literature, in giving form and expression to Greek religious thought. What perplexed that early thought was the fact that the gods could do evil, guardians though they were of the moral law. It was this perplexity which, under the gr...
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