The Ancient Greeks regarded their religion and mythology with much respect and loyalty. Although the Ancient Greek Gods are now seen as an explanation created by man, for natural forces and the world around us, there has been much evidence both for and against the debate that these Gods were real. The Greeks believed that the Earth was created with the birth of Gaia, or Mother Earth, from the dark void known as Chaos. It was believed that Gods were all-powerful giants and heroes, who were responsible for our creation.
The Olympians were a younger race of Gods led by Zeus, who eventually overthrew the formidable Titans, led by Zeus’ tyrannical father Cronus. Once in power, the Olympians, named after their home Mount Olympus, were each given certain responsibilities and powers over natural forces and aspects of life. Such as the sky, ocean, death and war. Many have debated that the Gods have made their presence clear, through their influencing and intervening with our history and punishments that they have cast upon us. Whereas others argue that they were mere stories told to inspire others, teach morals and explain the unknown.
The mythology of the Gods were mainly passed on through stories and supported with archaeological evidence, the main literary account was by Homer and his two epic poems. Although they mainly accounted for the events surrounding the Trojan War, they include much proof on the impact and influence the Gods had on Ancient Greek history. In Homer’s epic poem Illiad, Zeus is shown sending Agamemnon a false dream, thus influencing his military decisions during the Trojan war in an attempt to depopulate the Earth. Although the existence of Agamemnon cannot be proven, the city of Troy can be.
The archaeological ruins of the city can be found in what is now known as Turkey and shows signs of being destroyed and rebuilt several times, most likely due to an earthquake and even a war, from which there was evidence of much slaughter. The Ancient Greeks worshipped the Gods, believing they had power over everything around them and perceived them as almighty deities. The Gods were believed to have normally taken on human form, exhibiting the same emotions and traits. They were also known for regularly intervening in human history.
Many people have argued that like some Ancient Chinese deities, many Gods were in fact based on actual figures of history and that over time, like the Chinese gods, their true identities were simply forgotten and they were continually perceived as almighty gods. Such as Guan Yu, a Chinese general who was deified as the Taoist God of War, during the Sui Dynasty (581-618) for his contributions to the civil war. He continues to be worshipped by the Chinese and is a figure of Chinese folk religion. Like the Greek Gods, Guan Yu is worshipped with alters, ceremonies, sacrifices and festivals.
However after many centuries of being seen as a God, many are unaware that he did in fact exist. The Historical Theory, continues to support the idea that all people mentioned in mythology were once real people, only their story is passed on and changed over time. Comparisons have also been drawn with the similarities between the basis of Ancient Greek mythology and its factual history. The Greeks believed that there were three generations of Gods; Uranus and other creation gods, the Titans and the Olympians.
Many believe that this is merely a reflection of the three major Ancient Greek civilisations; Minoan, Mycenaean and Hellenic. Even with the Gods, they portray heavy social struggles between threatening communities. Professor Martin P. Nilsson concluded that the Gods were a mere reflection and dramatization of Ancient Greek civilisation. Although the Gods were worshipped for their allegiance, they were also known for their wrath and harsh punishments such as the Minotaur, a ferocious monster with a thirst for blood and the result of a God’s punishment.
It all began as a sentence cast by the God, Poseidon, onto the King of Crete, Minos for not sacrificing a prized white bull. To punish him, fellow goddess Aphrodite made Minos’ wife Pasiphae fall in love with a bull hence resulting in the birth of the Minotaur, the unnatural offspring of man and bull. The Minotaur was infamous for its human body and bull head. Uncovered representational arts such as vases, alters and ruins have proven the high amount of bull worship in Crete and even parts of Spain, possibly due to the existence of the Minotaur.
However many argue that it was from the bull sensation that came the origins and inspiration for the tale of the Minotaur. The creature eventually grew for a horrific taste for blood, forcing Minos to imprison it in a twisting labyrinth under his palace, Knossos. Several years ago, Oxford university geographer Nicholas Howarth uncovered an underground cave complex consisting of a dark, twisting network of tunnels on the island of Crete, just miles away from the ruins of Knossos.
Locally, it is even known as Labyrinthos Caves. The Minotaur was eventually slain by Theseus, a demi-god, further supporting the argument that the Ancient Greek Gods existed. As mentioned, over time people have come to accept the Ancient Greek gods as something the Greeks created to understand the world around them. The Physical theory reinforces this argument, claiming that all mythology and religion is formed from the basis of the natural elements; air, fire and water.
Similarities can be seen with that of the Ancient Greek gods, such as Poseidon who was “God of the Sea” and was believed to have domain over the ocean. Many argued that the Gods were mere symbolic personifications of the uncontrollable nature around us, from which the Ancient Greeks found hope and security. Sigmund Freud’s symbolic communication and dream interpretation suggested that with the proper psyche and desperation, the Greeks could have used the Gods as a verification of control.
Many have continued to attempt to interpret the mythology of different ancient civilisations. One of the most successful would be Herodotus, who uncovered the relationships and connections between Ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythologies. He believed that the Ancient Greek Gods were directly inspired by Egyptian mythology. Gods such as Zeus were paired with the Egyptian god Amun. Through historical linguistics, it was believed that these gods actually derived from common archetypes of the Proto-Indo-European religion.
Thus concluding that Gods were a mere copy of other cultural religions and myths. Despite the scepticism that many feel towards the argument, the evidence is overwhelming and reinforces the debate that the Gods did exist, whether they were immortal Olympians or simply heroic human beings. As immortal wrathful giants, the gods were able to influence entire battles and punish those they believed evil, whereas if they were only human beings, their story would be able to inspire and teach others heroism and bravery.
Although the argument involving the Physical theory and Herodotus is viable, the natural elements are the foundation of life and therefore can be twisted to fit any argument and have similarities found anywhere if one simply looked hard enough. Although we may never learn the truth, the existence of the Ancient Greek gods are more realistic due to the possibilities faced with the idea that they could have been either almighty gods or average human beings.
Courtney from Study Moose
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