Ancient Greek Religion
Delphi decided to stop in the shade of the enormous monument on the street corner. It had suddenly become hot again.
She looked up at it, trying to work out what the pictures carved on the side were supposed to show.
Delphi sometimes wondered why the gods were so vain. Did they really need all the statues, monuments and temples dedicated to them? It seemed they did – after all, the stories were full of examples where the gods had taken offence at some perceived insult. And of course, the people were so terrified of offending the gods that they made sure there wasn’t even the slightest possibility of offense.
Did all the prayers and sacrifices really make that much difference? If the Lysikrates monument hadn’t have been built would the world really be a worse place? Or would it just have less shade? And if monuments didn’t really matter – then what was the point of religion really?
Lysikrates Monument: Fact box
The Greek myths – stories about the gods and heroes of the Greek world – were old even in the age of Classical Greece, when Delphi lives. Many of them are said to be written by the poet Homer (not Homer Simpson!). The Lysikrates Monument had carvings showing the god Dionysus fighting with pirates.
The gods in Greek myths are very different to stories about God found in other religions. The gods were frequently stupid, badly tempered and made the world worse as well as better.
The reason the Greeks took religion so seriously was because they thought the gods had a direct influence on the world, and so they used the gods to explain the mysteries of life that science had yet to explain. This meant that if someone became ill, a harvest failed or a battle was lost, the Greeks were likely to blame the gods for it rather than work out what had actually gone wrong!
Ancient Greek Religion
Festivals and rituals dominated almost every aspect of Athens, and there was barely a day in the year where there wasn’t some sort of festival going on. Sacrifices of animals and precious objects were common. However, these rituals did give women and children a special role in the society as they were often responsible for the offerings or looking after the temples.
It may seem a strange system to us, but the ancient Greeks used their gods to explain and try to control the world around them. Big storm coming? It must be that Zeus is in a bad mood – best say a quick prayer or make a sacrifice! Want to make sure your farm grows lots of food? Best to make regular offerings to Demeter then.
The idea of explaining the world through science was only just starting up and it was the philosophers who first started to explain the world not in terms of gods but in terms of nature. This was one of the things that got Socrates in trouble – one of the charges made against him was that he had ‘introduced new gods’ – in other words, he seemed to believe in explaining the world through reasons and ideas rather than gods.