The Greek Myths Themes

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History of Religion

This book is devoted to the history of the Grecian pagan religion/s. It is treated as one religion, but by current standards this might be viewed as an abundance of religions. Within this great diversity a new unity emerged. It is this unity with its surprisingly consistent methods that the attitude towards the religious sects seems to have been a mixture of competition and mutual tolerance.

One of the basic methods for practicing religion was to create and to use a temple. The first one of these is described in the book as having been made of beeswax and feathers. The use of mountains and high places, as well as the journeys up and down them are also well known locations for making divine contact. Deserts have also been able to do this, when people survive. Temples developed in their complexity over the course of centuries. By late in the book, a good thousand years after the beginning, the metal bronze is described as being used to make a temple. Churches, synagogues and the rest are the modern temples.

The origin of the gods and of religion is touched upon briefly. Gods seemed to have derived from natural sources or to have been present the entire time but would only sometimes reveal them. The idea of gods and Titans being incarnate or anthropomorphized visions of abstract concepts is presented as the normal interpretation. This is dependent upon the Christian and post-Christian assumption that all the Grecian deities are false gods and dead deities. Here, they are presented as artifacts and cultural forces rather than as dynamic definitively real entities. There are also cases where they are considered to be a 'twist' on realities: that is - truth presented in a false form. There is a Moon, and she is real, but she is a Moon, not a goddess. There is such a thing as foresight- thinking ahead being able to draw conclusions, but foresight does not have the living form of Prometheus the Titan. Cronus is Time, which is extremely powerful but not, by modern standards, "a god".

The book reports about deities and how over the course of centuries a variety of truths are revealed, including that the god Pan was Arcadian; many of the deities emerged from Libya, that there are many offspring of deities, and that deification is a process. In short, during the course of The Greek Myths Complete Edition, various features of the history of religion become clear to readers. This perspective is very helpful in general, although it leaves a few new perplexities in its wake.

The Oral Tradition

The Greek Myths Complete Edition makes it clear that there is a separation between the authoritative versions of history and unauthorized versions. This is in part a scholarly pursuit, in that the need to preserve history accurately requires special care after the manner of restoring ancient artworks found in museums. In referring to this, Robert Graves directs attention to something which we often take for granted, that our society has a set of systems in place for the preservation and perpetuation of knowledge through the generations. This is in addition to the systems designed for knowledge acquisition. While most of these have been institutionalized in one way or another, there are two simple categories which are of great value. One of these is the written tradition, the alternative is oral.

Greece and her ancient history has in part survived because the culture came up with a written language which was not only used but somehow preserved over the course of the millennium. However, one of the first events is that what was written down were stories viewed of great importance to the people. There is one major challenge, in that people have been forced to speculate, to some extent, on the best way to interpret the myths. Myths are known as special stories. They focus on the religious history of the local people. Myths are stories about the god/s - goddesses included, of a people. They contain an element of philosophy in them and are also often political. It is quite clear that there is an official set of myths, which together formed an unwritten tradition of sacred literature. These are known to have been taken into the written tradition and then preserved. The effort to maintain the standards of truth within the context of a given story or set of stories is now showing up whenever one reads about scholars ensuring that they have used the best sources of the classical material.

Robert Graves explains the difference in a few places between the official myths and other tales of a similar ilk. Later in the book there are stories of how Prometheus is rescued. Prometheus is foresight, according to Graves. What is typically overlooked is that the reason God, or the gods, or Zeus may have tried to deny humanity the use of fire is due to the deity's own far reaching foresight. This would be a natural reaction; most people know what it is like to be denied something they want in a short-sighted manner. No one likes this, especially when the denial does not seem justified. Even today, most humans would tend to agree with Prometheus. Christians grow uncomfortable when the suggestion is made that Lucifer brought fire to humankind - though in that later version of the story, the Devil did that as a servant of God prior to having fallen out of divine favor. Everyone is glad humans have fire, so the idea that this was a big mistake remains dubious but a surviving rumor to this day. Similarly, in her work on depth psychology, Jean Shidon Bolen has intentionally rewritten sad endings of old myths into happy endings. Her purpose is psychotherapy, but this is the kind of variant Graves' earlier work teaches that must not be confused for the 'true version' - that classical form of the myth. In mythology, especially in the oral traditions, there are key elements to the story which must be preserved for them to continue as 'true myths'.

Classical Literature

This work is part of the body of knowledge known as classical literature. This was done as a selection process and can be done repeatedly. Classical literature is a specialty of the Penguin publishing company, who put out the edition of the book used to create this summary. For many, the classics are introduced and proliferated through the society's educational system. This is so self-evident, but within this context, as it is our topic, it is well worth mentioning.

It is possible for the classics selected to be changed. However, the Greeks have succeeded in having so much of their writings preserved, translated, and shared because of how well they developed written language and then used it extensively. Through their cultural conquests, they perpetuated the language and the official myths of the people. It still seems to be the case that the culture had relatively small sects devoted to deities. Today, serious religion tends to have one deity - often the same one, but different attributes are focused upon within a denomination or subsect. The Greeks would have competition over the deity itself. However, many had a polytheistic outlook and may not have assumed that the other gods were false, but simply, not local or not the favorite.

There are many casual observations that may be made today that reveal a continuing relationship between society and classical knowledge. Here is one example. Thanks to the educational system's encouragement of knowledge about the ancient Grecian religions, people today can look upon those who tend towards intoxication as followers of Dionysus of the Greeks or Bacchus of the Romans. This seems to be the case without anyone needing to mention the archaic deity by name, but thanks to the perpetuation of knowledge, many contemporary people are able to see it this way. In this manner, it can be viewed as a perpetuation or variation from the Dionysian religion of three thousand years ago.

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