Religion in Greece and Rome

Religion in Greece and Rome

Religion in Greece and Rome

Religion in Greece and Rome

Excerpt

The two small books combined in this volume sketch an important part of the history of the two outstanding peoples in European antiquity, the Greeks and the Romans; namely, their religious development from the earliest times of which we have any knowledge, or even plausible guesses, down to the disappearance of the ancient cults before the rising tide of the new world religion, Christianity. When we look at the early history of these worships, we cannot but be struck by a decided difference between them, not the less marked because it is combined with real and considerable resemblances. Thus, both Greek and Roman cults were polytheistic, both were creedless, neither was attached to any system of ethics, both admitted, though neither required, the use of cult images and other visible objects of worship, both had their holy places and, sooner or later, their holy buildings, both had priests and priestesses, yet neither developed a powerful priesthood which could, as such, make its influence felt in politics or even in governing the life of the individual in any great detail; and, perhaps most important of all, both were closely attached to the organisation of the State and, before that existed, to the family, clan, or tribe. Yet the difference is striking and outstanding. The Greek religion, at all events the religion of those Greeks who were articulate enough to have left us records of what they felt and imagined, was that of a people intellectually lively to an extraordinary degree, inspired with a boundless curiosity which extended to the objects of their worship and the ritual with which their cult was conducted. Their most characteristic gods were clear-cut figures, described to us, alike in art and literature, under unmistakable forms (no one for instance would confuse a statue or a legend of Aphrodite with one of Athena), and each attended with a body, often very considerable indeed, of traditional tales, telling how this or that god or goddess was born, who the parents were, through what adventures the deity passed in childhood and later, what were his, or her, likes and dislikes, loves and hates. Such myths were by no means always edifying or to the credit of the divine being of whom they were told.

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