Sacred Landscapes: Religion
and the Natural Environment
in the Classical World
The Greeks had no sacred books. Information about religion is gleaned from the works of poets in hymns, epics and tragedy. Homer defined the Olympic gods through the vicissitudes of the Trojan war and Odysseus’s wanderings. Hesiod was a farmer-poet from Boeotia who, as he tells us, was impelled by the Muses to sing about the family of gods before time began. The narrative that follows is therefore interspersed with quotations to illustrate how the Greeks viewed their gods, goddesses and the natural environments.
Greek women, with few exceptions, as portrayed in the literature, were silent and belonged to the elite, being the wives, mothers and daughters of Athenian citizens. What is known about their lives, feelings and work was written by men, whose thoughts about women were dictated by socio-political mores and private prejudice. Nonetheless, women were essential to the performance of key rituals that ensured human and land fertility. In both Greek and Roman religion there were women priestesses. Women’s link with the Earth was acknowledged by Athenian society, but fell short of any concept of ‘custodianship’. What is more relevant, from a contemporary viewpoint, is that, among the attitudes towards the Earth and its resources in both the Athenian and Roman high culture, one can detect the beginnings of that pride in man’s technological achievements which has animated so many endeavours in Western technological civilization.
This chapter is in two sections. The first illustrates some Greek