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The Greeks had a perfectly reasonable religion and belief system. To be clear, this is not a defense of Greek superstitions, as superstitions are irrational, and plague nearly every religion both modern and ancient. The defense of the Greeks can be first outlines through the telling of “The Trick at Mecone”. An apparent superstition of burning bones to Zeus, through animal sacrifice, is easily viewed as contrary to a reasonable practice. However, through exploring the context and roots of this myth Hellenism can be clearly seen as rational, practical, and objective.
To begin an adequate defense an examination of “The Trick at Mecone” and its effects are needed. The myth is an explanation of sacrifice between gods and Man.
In Mecone Prometheus killed an ox and divided it into two portions. Prometheus made one portion by wrapping bones in fat so as to trick Zeus and another smaller portion without deception. Zeus was then asked to pick a piece and was angered when finding the larger portion to be a trick.
Enraged with Prometheus’ trickery Zeus vented his anger on man by keeping fire from them. Prometheus later delivered fire unto man. This then set the precedent for why the Greeks felt obliged to burn fat covered bones each time they ate meat. Thus forming a very practical covenant with gods and Man. This covenant is the first step in understanding why this myth is rational. Now it is not relevant whether or not Zeus perceived the trick as Hesiod claims but that the Greeks had an oddly practical sacrifice.
A good point against the rationale of this animal sacrifice was, why would Zeus be satisfied with only bones? The ancient Greeks had the myth to justify keeping meat and burning away the undesired bits.
This myth then is completely rational as it does not harm their society and can only curry favor with their deity. This then invites the foil; Is it not irrational to believe that there are multiple gods to be sacrificed to or even just one God? If you are of the understanding that the Greek gods themselves are irrational then the myth collapses. This is very important to discuss because it brings us to the roots of the Hellenistic religion as one that isn’t irrational but objective. It would be easy to then say that the Greek gods must be purely symbolic to make rational sense. This would be completely wrong. The Greeks almost indefinitely believed their gods were real. However, the start of their worship is hard to detect as many written documents are either lost to history or were never recorded.
However, the Greeks certainly had a symbolic attitude towards their gods. The Goddess Arete is the exemplification of Virtue and Themis is later the influence for Lady Justice commonly used in the United States. The argument here is that the Greeks knew certain principles to be true and greater than themselves, justice and virtue being excellent examples. They then personified them and made temples to these ideas. This roots Hellenism is a strong objective pursuit of knowledge and it is completely rational to know there are ideas greater than yourself. The myth of wrapping bones in fat then symbolizes a society that submits to higher truths, worships them as divine concepts, and then finds ways to advance in their faith with practical sacrifices. The Greeks aren’t starving themselves with an impractical sacrifice to Zeus, they follow objective truths such as virtue and justice, and are perfectly rational in wanting to believe they are lesser than these concepts. This is why the myth of “The Trick at Mecone” is justifiable as well as all the Hellenistic religion. They simply wanted to understand and they made a pantheon to attempt to know something greater than themselves. Word Count: 532
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