Created Friday 13 May 2016
Readings for Week 1:
Mythology gives us insight into a world where "imagination was vividly alive and not checked by reason". This is romantic in a sense - creativity at the time was limitless and gave rise to many amazing stories.
However, this romanticism can't mask the fact that they lived in uncivilized times - Human sacrifice and "magic" was plentiful, and "escaping the wrath of whatever divinities were then abroad" required an offering of "pain and grief".
The Illiad, the first written record of Greece (about a thousand years earlier than Christ) shows the sophisticatedness of the Greek civilization.
"Greeks, unlike the Egyptians, made the gods in their own image."
Greeks made mankind the "center of the universe", and this was a revolution, as it placed much value on mankind. This probably was what caused the greeks to make the gods in their own image, as the idea was not entertained before the Greeks.
The Greeks analyzed reality and found beauty in it, and most of all, mankind; They had "no wish to create some fantasy shaped in their own minds", and therefore much of their thoughts were "centered in human beings".
Likewise, their version of Heaven has many human pleasures.
Interestingly, Greek gods were approachable; they could be laughed at, even. Of course, they are still extremely powerful and dangerous, but they were much more "companiable" than the Egyptian gods.
I disagree with this part, but the author says that the Greeks were rooted in rationality, even in their most fantastical stories. For justification, he uses the fact that the Greeks had Gods that were not as threatening as gods in other religions. Also, more interestingly, the stories are somewhat rooted in reality: the locations and details in the story are logical. The counterexample is the Genie in Alladin, who comes from nowhere and returns to nowhere.
As said before, threatening supernatural beings are absent in Greek myths, but so is astrology (Astronomy was, however, used by the Greeks). Also interestingly, the priest is never of importance. When a poet and a priest beg for mercy from Odysseus, he kills the priest but spares the poet. The Greeks were also not afraid of the dead; Ghosts did not play any part.
"The early Greek mythologists transformed a world full of fear into a world full of beauty."
Unfortunately, the Greek gods weren't exactly ethical; a lot of the time, humans were more ethical than them. However, bits of "savage belief" were few and far between.
"According to the most modern idea, a real myth has nothing to do with religion", but rather as a cause for events (early "science"), though not all were attempts at explanations, some were for entertainment.
However, religion was still there. For example, Zeus is shown as an agent of justice, especially in the Odyssey. "The swineherd there says that the needy and the stranger are from Zeus and he who fails to help them sins against Zeus himself. Hesiod, not much later than the Odyssey if at all, says of a man who does evil to the suppliant and the stranger, or who wrongs orphan children, “with that man Zeus is angry.”
Originally there were versions of Zeus who were not a protector of the weak. This changed over time.