A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 215 pages of information about A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life.
on the uses of mixing seaweed with manure, also we would be told of the almost equally important process of burying a toad in a sealed jar in the midst of a field to save the corn from the crows and the field mice.  Hybrias laughs at such superstitions—­“but what can you say to the rustics?” Hybrias himself will display with more refined pride the gardens used by his wife and children when they come out from Athens,—­a fountain feeding a delightful rivulet; myrtles, roses, and pomegranate trees shedding their perfumes, which are mingled with the odors from the beds of hyacinths, violets, and asphodel.  In the center of the gardens rises a chaste little shrine with a marble image and an altar, always covered with flowers or fruit by the mistress and her women.  “To Artemis,” reads the inscription, and one is sure that the virgin goddess takes more pleasure in this fragrant temple than in many loftier fanes.[*]

[*]For the description of a very beautiful and elaborate country estate, with a temple thereon to Artemis, see Xenophon’s “Anabasis,” bk.  V. 3.

We are glad to add here our wreaths ere turning away from this wholesome, verdant country seat, and again taking our road to Athens.

Chapter XX.  The Temples and Gods of Athens.

181.  Certain Factors in Athenian Religion.—­We have seen the Athenians in their business and in their pleasure, at their courts, their assemblies, their military musters, and on their peaceful farms; yet one great side of Athenian life has been almost ignored—­the religious side.  A “Day in Athens” spent without taking account of the gods of the city and their temples would be a day spent with almost half-closed eyes.[*]

[*]No attempt is made in this discussion to enumerate the various gods and demigods of the conventional mythology, their regular attributes, etc.  It is assumed the average history or manual of mythology gives sufficient information.

It is far easier to learn how the Athenians arrange their houses than how the average man among them adjusts his attitude toward the gods.  While any searching examination of the fundamentals of Greek cultus and religion is here impossible, two or three facts must, nevertheless, be kept in mind, if we are to understand even the outward side of this Greek religion which is everywhere in evidence about us.

First of all we observe that the Greek religion is a religion of purely natural growth.  No prophet has initiated it, or claimed a new revelation to supplement the older views.  It has come from primitive times without a visible break even down to the Athens of Plato.  This explains at once why so many time-honored stories of the Olympic deities are very gross, and why the gods seem to give countenance to moral views which the best public opinion has long since called scandalous and criminal.  The religion of Athens, in other words, may justly claim to be judged by its best, not by its worst; by the morality of Socrates, not of Homer.

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A Day in Old Athens; a Picture of Athenian Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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