(RELIGION, MYTH and the ANCIENT GREEKS – continued)
Greeks from different cities were aware that they worshipped gods with names that were the same as the gods of other cities, the gods of Homer and Hesiod, but the cities were likely to have twists to the stories about these gods that were special to their city. Each city, it has been said, had a story of creation that was a little different. But they held more or less in common that Zeus was the Lord of the heavens, the father of the other gods. They saw him as a god who became angry, and they feared his thunderbolts.
The city of Athens had its goddess Athena, who was said to have sprung from the forehead of Zeus. She was a virgin goddess of war and peace, of wisdom and a patron of arts and crafts. Various stories about her would come and go, while in marble form she dominated a temple built for her, where, after it was burned down by the Persians, the Parthenon was to be built.
At Delphi was the temple of Adonis. Greek myth described Adonis as a beautiful youth with whom both the goddesses Aphrodite and Persephone fell in love. Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and a goddess of fertility in competition with Aphrodite. She presided over Hades, the place where the spirits of the dead resided. According to the myth of Adonis, Persephone, wanting Adonis, held him captive in Hades, and Aphrodite, also wanting Adonis, freed him from Hades and Persephone's captivity. Then, while hunting, Adonis was killed by a wild boar, which sent him back to Hades and Persephone. Aphrodite bitterly mourned his death and pleaded with Zeus to restore Adonis to her. Zeus decided to be impartial between the desires of Persephone and Aphrodite, and he decreed that Adonis would spend his winter months with Persephone – an annual death. And he spent his summer months with Aphrodite – an annual resurrection. These deaths and resurrections coincided with the seasonal cycles and the growth of crops. Adonis had become a fertility god. Every year, Greeks celebrated Adonis' death and resurrection, often with wailing and the beating of one's own breast with one's fists.
At Delphi was an "eternal" and sacred fire, and a woman at the temple's core, served as the Pythia, an oracle who communicated with Apollo. She was a local woman, maybe young or old, maybe poor and illiterate or perhaps not. People, including statesmen, came as pilgrims to Delphi from various parts of Greece to put questions to Apollo, questions such as whether they should marry, whether their spouse was unfaithful, whether their city should go to war. The pilgrims would receive messages in the form of riddles that would leave them with the task of interpretation.
Religious concerns influenced politics, including war. When Athenians removed an aristocratic oligarchy from power, the aristocrats went to Delphi and were encouraged by being told that Apollo was on their side. The Spartans wanted to join the other Greek cities against the Persians and Marathon, but they had to wait for the passing of a full moon. By the time they arrived at Marathon the battle had ended.
Spartans celebrated their victory at the close of the the Peloponnesian war at Delphi, believing that Apollo had delivered their victory. Meanwhile, on the losing side the Athenians viewed their goddess Athena as having judged them as deserving defeat because they had been insufficiently pious.
A History of Science and Its Relations with Philosophy and Religion, Chapter 1, "Science in the Ancient World," by Sir William Dampier, 1948
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