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The Latin word (deus) indeed that we translate god meant hardly more than our word spirit; it was applied to the spirits of the departed, as well as to the gods of the Pantheon. I am to live after death,” Cyrus is represented as saying to his friends (Cicero, de Senectute, 22), “ reverence me as a god.”
” The marvellous imagination of the Greeks speedily developed this fundamental idea into a complete Olympus, with its greater and lesser gods, its gods of the upper and of the lower world, its theogony, its dynasties. The more earnest and practical Roman, on the other hand, preserved to the latest day his custom of deifying even trivial acts and abstract qualities. The vow of a temple to Pallor and Pavor (paleness and panic fear) saved a battle for Tullus Hostilius; Honor, Pudicitia (Modesty), and Fors Fortuna (Fortune) had their temples; every baker's shop contained a shrine of Fornax (goddess of the oven); even mildew (Robigo) and manure (Stercutus) were reverenced as gods. To this practical and unimaginative character of the Romans it is due likewise that they had almost no mythology, - only an earnest sense of religious duty, and a devout observance of forms of worship, which degenerated at last into endless ritual and ceremony.
It appears to me, therefore, that those who undertake to defend the Greek forms of faith, on the ground that their polytheism was after all only a disguised monotheism, or who seek to find in the Greek theology an identity with Christian theology, make a fundamental mistake. It is true that there are glimpses here and there of monotheistic conceptions, and many analogies, especially in the tragedies of Æschylus, with some of the sterner doctrines of Christianity ; but these are only occasional and individual exceptions. We must maintain, first, that their religion, as a whole, was essentially polytheistic; and secondly, that this polytheism was not a corrupted monotheism, but was developed out of a primitive fetichism. It is time lost to try to justify the Hellenic religion from a Hebrew or dogmatically Christian point of view; its real value is in complementing Hebraism by the element it lacked. Thus Hartung remarks (Tom. I. p. 36) that the Jewish and Persian accounts of the creation assume the performance of a specific act at a special time, while the ideas expressed in
the other cosmogonies agree completely with the views of our natural philosophers, according to whom the earth, with its product and creatures, has been forming from eternity in the precise manner in which we see it developing and forming before our eyes"; and in support of this statement he adduces the words dúous and natura, both of which mean “growth.”
It is not my intention at this time to speak at any length of the interpretation of myths. My subject is rather the bearing of the mythological notions upon the religious faith of the Greeks. I desire, however, to express my agreement with a recent writer in this review (January 1869, p. 314) in condemning the habit of the present school of mythology of applying its principles of comparison to all details and incidents indiscriminately. He gives excellent illustrations of the true method of interpretation, in the myths of Charlemagne and the Werewolf, which are shown to contain that combination of ideal and real which K. 0. Müller holds to be the essential character of the myth. Further, it should not be forgotten, as the writer last mentioned shows, that there are two classes of myths; and that, while the oldest and most complicated spring exclusively from a popular and spontaneous interpretation of nature, the second class, although genuinely mythical, approach allegory, and are the results of the later conscious thought of men. Examples of this class (which abound in Hesiod) are Prometheus, Atlas, and Pandora.
The faith of the Hellenic people in regard to spiritual things may be treated from three points of view: as mythology, in so far as it appealed to the fancy; as theology, in so far as it was dealt with by the intellect; as religion, in so far as it was connected with the life. Of course these three views cannot be wholly separated from one another, and it would often be hard to say of any one conception that it was, for instance, theological rather than mythological or religious. But although the material is for the most part precisely the same, it appears to me that we obtain the deepest insight into the mythology of a people, by examining the relation in which it stands to their religious faith.
The earliest Greek religion appears to have been of purely Aryan origin, — the worship of Zeus (heaven or sky), without
temple and without image. This was, as we have said, a heritage from the primeval times of the race; but, as is remarked in the article to which we have already referred, no branch of the race, except that to which the Greeks and Italians belonged, appears to have made this common divinity its chief god. “The people of Iran quite rejected him ; the Teutons preferred Thor and Odin; and even in India there is no evidence that Dyaus took permanent precedence of Indra.” In those earliest times which we call Pelasgian, whatever that may mean,- and it seems certain, at any rate, that the Pelasgians were not foreign to the Hellenes,- Zeus was the one god everywhere worshipped. This universality and pre-eminence of his worship continuing through the periods that followed, and becoming, of course, more firmly established in proportion as the idea of monotheism gained admittance, the chief god might easily become the one only God. By the side of Zeus was Dione (Juno), the feminine side of his being; for the fine sense of the Greeks rejected the duality of the divine nature held by the Asiatic religions, and in its place conceived its gods in pairs, male and female. Hera, the mistress (Herrin), would appear to be only an epithet of the queen of heaven.
What other gods enjoy an equal antiquity with Zeus it is hard to determine. Comparative philology has not yet completed its work, and it must be borne in mind that the higher antiquity of a name does not necessarily carry with it an equal antiquity of eminence. Thus Ouranos, a wholly unimportant divinity among the Greeks, was identical with one of the chief gods of India, Vaduna. Hestia (Vesta), the goddess of the hearth, perhaps the only other deity common to the Greeks and Romans, unquestionably belongs to the earliest period. Her sphere would naturally be widest, and her importance greatest, in those distant epochs when the family was not yet developed into the state. Athene (Minerva), the dawn, daughter of Zeus, the sky, and Hermes * (Mercury), the twilight, are probably well established as a portion of the common Aryan inheritance, even although the Italian races lost the memory of them in
** Hartung, from whose eminently sensible treatise we have derived much of our material, questions (p. 216) this identification of Hermes with Sârameyas, and rejects, indeed, much of the fanciful interpretation in which Max Müller and his disciples abound.
this form. Others of the chief gods, if already recognized and worshipped, would seem not yet to have attained their later rank. The family circle of Olympus did not yet exist. For the Pantheon of the Greeks was full of change and development. A people so intensely local in their attachments and their political institutions could not fail to localize myths and religious institutions. Athene was the special divinity of Athens, Hera of Argos, Zeus of Ægina, Apollo of Miletus, and every town and every district had its own memories of the times when the gods appeared on earth. But, on the other hand, a people so restless and enterprising could not fail to carry abroad these stories, and extend these forms of worship to other neighborhoods; and in the process we can well guess how materially they must have been altered and confused. So arose this minute, intricate, and complex network of mythology, largely modified in later times by poets and artists, and still more by philosophers and logographers.
As I have said, it is my intention to speak of this mythology only in so far as it may throw light upon the religious nature of the Greeks. Of the connection between the two, the point I am about to mention will, perhaps, be found a good illustration. It is a curious fact, which Hartung notices (p. 188), that nearly all the fully developed gods have by their sides elementary spirits of a precisely equivalent range of powers, as Zeus and Ouranos (heaven), Demeter and Ge (earth), Poseidon and Oceanus (ocean), Apollo and Helios (the sun), – the one in each case being an individualized, anthropomorphized god, the other a mere dæmon. How were these two classes related to each other? Were the Olympic gods, as the theogony says, the descendants and successors of the elementary spirits, or were they developed afterwards, for the purposes of the theogony ? It may be remarked that Zeus, Demeter, Poseidon, and Apollo were themselves nothing but elementary spirits at first, just as Dyaus continued to be in the Indian mythology. And the worship of Ocean, Sky, Earth, and Winds (see Æschylus, Prometheus, v. 88) seems too firmly rooted in the popular faith to be a mere invention of theogonists. Perhaps the truth is, that the worship of these elementary spirits was really later, but as genuine and popular as the other. When the meaning of Zeus had VOL, CIX. - NO. 224.
been forgotten, and the name had become that of a personal god, inhabiting the sky and controlling the operations of the weather, what more natural than that the simple-minded people should go over the process again, and deify the sky under its Greek name Ouranos, as their ancestors had once done under the primitive name Dyaus? But Ouranos and the gods of his class were only the objects of individual worship, not of any set and established forms ( Cultus), and were therefore considered to belong to an old dethroned dynasty. Was not this again an indication of newness ? They were recognized as gods, but the time-honored rituals and sacrifices were all attached to the established worship of the older deities. Moreover, a name that was used by a Greek every day with the meaning sky could still be applied to the spirit of the sky, but could not easily be so far disengaged from common associations as to be regarded as a personal god.
These remarks in regard to the worship of the elementary spirits Ouranos, Ge, Helios, as distinguished from the corresponding personal deities Zeus, Demeter, Apollo, lead naturally to the consideration of the more striking movements which established new forms of popular faith, sometimes in the way of introducing a foreign god, sometimes of bringing a genuine Greek divinity into new prominence, by a kind of religious revival. This was the source of much of the variety and complication in the Greek religion, and it opens perhaps the most interesting inquiries in this field.
Ernst Curtius says, in the first volume of his Griechische Geschichte (p. 96):
“A form of worship once established was never laid aside in Greece, but was preserved as sacred, and was united with the later services. Thus in Athens, Olympia, and Delphi an originally Poseidonian period [Poseidon, or Neptune, being the special divinity of the maritime Greeks] is clearly to be recognized, with its ever-enduring usages of sacrifice. In this way were developed different strata, as we may call them, which are repeated in regular succession in all the more important homes of the Hellenic religion, and which, if carefully examined and compared, show the various stages of development of the national consciousness, in the same manner as the gradual formation of the surface of the earth is indicated in the succession of geological strata.