Fri Apr 3 12:31:27 2009
In some respects it is very difficult to describe the Greek relationship with the gods. There wasn’t really any official religion and certainly nothing close to what we would regard as dogma or creed. There were many gods and divine beings many of which are associated with specific places. There was a generally agreed upon set of twelve Olympian gods, but even these took on many local variations. A temenos (sanctuary, sacred grove or precinct) ostensibly belonged to a particular god but other statues could be set up and one could make votive offerings and pray to other gods there. Most religious activity centered around the calendar of heortai or festivals. Each city had a different calendar based on a lunar month with each month associated with a different god or festival. The Attic calendar, perhaps our most complete and well documented surviving list, included about 60 religious festivals through the year. (There is a list here if you want to see them: http://www.winterscapes.com/kharis/calendar.htm) At each festival, sacrifice was made to a whole series of gods. The gods were not jealous or exclusive, but it was bad to overlook a god. At the Eleusinia festival, for example, sacrifices were made to: Themis, Zeus Herkeios, Demeter, Pherephatta, Hestia, Athena, Hermes, Hera & Zeus, Poseidon & Artemis, the Charities and the seven heroes. Note that Zeus appears in two forms, in his association with Hera and as Zeus Herkeios, the protector of the house or family. There were many others. Zeus Kataibates (for protection from lightening), Zeus Ktesios (protection from thieves) and Agoraios Zeus (protection of the marketplace) were all specific attributes and manifestations to be worshiped to insure the particular desired result. Other epithets helped to specify which local version of the deity they were addressing, for example Aphrodite Kypris (from Cyprus) or Aphrodite Paphos (from Paphos). As a result there was no standard Greek religion. The deities, festivals and religious practices would all vary a great deal from place to place.