The poet Homer, creator of worshipped literature | The poet Hesiod, Prometheus and Pandora | Cults, Ritual Purifications and the Olympics | Greek Gods, Resurrections and Favoritism in War
Clio, daughter of Zeus. She would become the Muse of History.
Homer. His poetic Iliad became scripture
for the Greeks.
Stories told in the oral tradition might change across generations. Stories put into writing would be reinterpreted and rewritten, but, but across generations they had more continuity and more reach. This is how it was with the work of Homer. Homer was a Greek poet said to have lived on the coast of Asia Minor, and he is credited with having authored the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. Scholars speculate about Homer creating the Iliad and the Odyssey by drawing from the stories that had been told orally. His story, the Iliad, was about war between the Mycenae Greeks and the city of Troy, the Trojan War, which has been dated around 1190 BCE. Homer is thought to have lived in the 800s BCE. Some have argued for the 600s. And there is speculation about rewrittings of the Iliad and the Odyssey in the centuries immediately after Homer.
The Iliad describes events as governed by the gods, as did writings by the Sumerians and those in India who wrote the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. And the Greeks viewed Homer's work as inspired by the gods and Homer as an instrurment of one of the nine artistic daughters of Zeus, a muse (pronounced myooz) – a word to pass into modern literature. For the Greeks, Homer's works became a reference for religious thought. They studied Homer like Jews would study the Talmud and Christians their New Testament.
Homer's Iliad plays on conflicts of will between the gods. Destiny is not the will of one god as it would be in Jehovah worship or Islam. None of Homer's gods lays out a general law of historical development. A chaos of wills presents conflict, uncertainty and mystery. There is no drama in the preordained. Instead, for Homer destiny is uncertain and life is dramatic.
The father god of the Greeks, Zeus, prefers love to war, but, while he is distracted with lovemaking, lesser gods create war. Foremost among these lesser gods is the troublesome goddess of love, Aphrodite, who creates a love affair between a Greek, Helen, and an aristocrat of Troy named Paris.
The story takes place during what is perceived to be an age of heroes – a time when aristocrats led armies and accepted raiding and plundering as normal activity. The most attractive stories were likely to be about men doing big things, and nothing was bigger than war. The Iliad extols soldierly honor and duty, the obligation of revenge, pride, class privilege, military prowess and glory. The Iliad also extols emotional control over surrender to rage. It extols individualism, and it depicts human life as precious. The story describes mortals as making decisions committing acts they did not intend, acts originating in emotion as if emotion rather than reason led men to follow the dictates of the gods. Dreams are messages from the gods.
The story describes Greek leader Agamemnon mistreating a priest of the god Apollo. Agamemon had been holding as a prize of war the priest's daughter. The priest wanted to buy back his daughter. Agamemnon tells him to go away, to forget about his daughter, adding: "I swear she will grow old ... working my loom and visiting my bed." Apollo then punishes the Greeks with a plague. A contingent of Greeks sacrfices one hundred head of cattle in order to appease Apollo.
The tradition of sacrifice among the Greeks is depicted in the Iliad with another tradition: purification. Homer's heroes must wash or purify themselves before a sacrifice, a purification involving disposal of offensive pollutions. The Iliad describes religious rituals that included cremation – which allowed a warrior's remains to be transported home for ceremonial entombment.
According to Homer, after the Greeks beseige Troy for ten years, and after the deaths of many heroes, both Greek and Trojan, the Greeks trick the Trojans with the gift of a large wooden horse, within which arae Greek warriors who open Troy's gates to the Greek army. The Greeks slaughter the Trojans except for some women and children whom they keep or sell as slaves, and they desecrate temples, earning the wrath of gods. The Odyssey is about the return home from the war by the Greeks. Few of them did. That is the way it was with war and the gods who created and directed it, gods in conflict with gods.
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