James Freeman Clarke.

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writers differed in regard to the connection of Attic and Egyptian
culture, only as to How it was, not as to Whether it was. Herodotus says
distinctly and positively[213] that most of the names of the Greek gods
came from Egypt, except some whose names came from the Pelasgians. The
Pelasgians themselves, he adds, gave these Egyptian names to the unnamed
powers of nature whom they before ignorantly worshipped, being directed by
the oracle at Dodona so to do. By "name" here, Herodotus plainly intends
more than a mere appellation. He includes also something of the
personality and character.[214] Before they were impersonal beings, powers
of nature; afterwards, under Egyptian influence, they became persons. He
particularly insists on having heard this from the priestesses of Dodona,
who also told him a story of the black pigeon from Egypt, who first
directed the oracle to be established, which he interpreted, according to
what he had heard in Egypt, to be a black Egyptian woman. He adds that the
Greeks received, not only their oracles, but their public processions,
festivals, and solemn prayers from the Egyptians. M. Maury admits the
influence of Egypt on the worship and ceremonies of Greece, and thinks it
added to their religion a more serious tone and a sentiment of veneration
for the gods, which were eminently beneficial. He doubts the story of
Herodotus concerning the derivation of gods from Egypt, giving as a
sufficient proof the fact that Homer's knowledge of Egyptian geography was
very imperfect.[215] But religious influences and geographical knowledge
are very different things. Because the mediæval Christian writers had an
imperfect knowledge of Palestine, it does not follow that their
Christianity was not influenced in its source by Judaism. The objection to
the derivation of the Greek gods from Egypt, on account of the names on
the monuments being different from those of the Hellenic deities, is
sufficiently answered by Creuzer, who shows that the Greeks translated the
Egyptian word into an equivalent in their own language. Orphic ideas came
from Egypt into Greece, through the colonies in Thrace and
Samothrace.[216] The story of the Argive colony from Egypt, with their
leader Danaus, connects some Egyptian immigration with the old Pelasgic
ruler of that city, the walls of which contained Pelasgic masonry. The
legends concerning Cecrops, Io, and Lelex, as leading colonies from Egypt
to Athens and Megara, are too doubtful to add much to our argument. The
influence of Egypt on Greek religion in later times is universally

§ 2. Idea and General Character of Greek Religion.

The idea of Greek religion, which specially distinguishes it from all
others, is the human character of its gods. The gods of Greece are men and
women, idealized men and women, men and women on a larger scale, but still
intensely human. The gods of India, as they appear in the Sacred Books,
are vast abstractions; and as they appear in sculpture, hideous and
grotesque idols. The gods of Egypt seem to pass away into mere symbols and
intellectual generalizations. But the gods of Greece are persons, warm
with life, radiant with beauty, having their human adventures, wars,
loves. The symbolical meaning of each god disappears in his personal

These beings do not keep to their own particular sphere nor confine
themselves to their special parts, but, like men and women, have many
different interests and occupations. If we suppose a number of human
beings, young and healthy and perfectly organized, to be gifted with an
immortal life and miraculous endowments of strength, wisdom, and beauty,
we shall have the gods of Olympus.

Greek religion differs from Brahmanism in this, that its gods are not
abstract spirit, but human beings. It differs also from Buddhism, the god
in which is also a man, in this, that the gods of Greece are far less
moral than Buddha, but far more interesting. They are not trying to save
their souls, they are by no means ascetic, they have no intention of
making progress through the universe by obeying the laws of nature, but
they are bent on having a good time. Fighting, feasting, and making love
are their usual occupations. If they can be considered as governing the
world, it is in a very loose way and on a very irregular system. They
interfere with human affairs from time to time, but merely from whim or
from passion. With the common relations of life they have little to do.
They announce no moral law, and neither by precept nor example undertake
to guide men's consciences.

The Greek religion differs from many other religions also in having no one
great founder or restorer, in having no sacred books and no priestly
caste. It was not established by the labors of a Zoroaster, Gautama,
Confucius, or Mohammed. It has no Avesta, no Vedas, no Koran. Every
religion which we have thus far considered has its sacred books, but that
of Greece has none, unless we accept the works of Homer and Hesiod as its
Bible. Still more remarkable is the fact of its having no priestly caste.
Brahmanism and Egypt have an hereditary priesthood; and in all other
religions, though the priesthood might not be hereditary, it always
constituted a distinct caste. But in Greece kings and generals and common
people offer sacrifices and prayers, as well as the priests. Priests
obtained their office, not by inheritance, but by appointment or election;
and they were often chosen for a limited time.

Another peculiarity of the Greek religion was that its gods were not
manifestations of a supreme spirit, but were natural growths. They did not
come down from above, but came up from below. They did not emanate, they
were evolved. The Greek Pantheon is a gradual and steady development of
the national mind. And it is still more remarkable that it has three
distinct sources, - the poets, the artists, and the philosophers. Jupiter,
or Zeus in Homer, is oftenest a man of immense strength, so strong that if
he has hold of one end of a chain and all the gods hold the other, with
the earth fastened to it beside, he will be able to move them all. Far
more grand is the conception of Jupiter as it came from the chisel of
Phidias, of which Quintilian says that it added a new religious sentiment
to the religion of Greece. Then came the philosophers and gave an entirely
different and higher view of the gods. Jupiter becomes with them the
Supreme Being, father of gods and of men, omnipotent and omnipresent.

One striking consequence of the absence of sacred books, of a sacred
priesthood, and an inspired founder of their religion, was the extreme
freedom of the whole system. The religion of Hellas was hardly a restraint
either to the mind or to the conscience. It allowed the Greeks to think
what they would and to do what they chose. They made their gods to suit
themselves, and regarded them rather as companions than as objects of
reverence. The gods lived close to them on Olympus, a precipitous and
snow-capped range full of vast cliffs, deep glens, and extensive forests,
less than ten thousand feet in height, though covered with snow on the top
even in the middle of July.

According to the Jewish religion, man was made in the image of God; but
according to the Greek religion the gods were made in the image of men.
Heraclitus says, "Men are mortal gods, and the gods immortal men." The
Greek fancied the gods to be close to him on the summit of the mountain
which he saw among the clouds, often mingling in disguise with mankind; a
race of stronger and brighter Greeks, but not very much wiser or better.
All their own tendencies they beheld reflected in their deities. They
projected themselves upon the heavens, and saw with pleasure a race of
divine Greeks in the skies above, corresponding with the Greeks below. A
delicious religion; without austerity, asceticism, or terror; a religion
filled with forms of beauty and nobleness, kindred to their own; with gods
who were capricious indeed, but never stern, and seldom jealous or very
cruel. It was a heaven so near at hand, that their own heroes had climbed
into it, and become demigods. It was a heaven peopled with such a variety
of noble forms, that they could choose among them the protector whom they
liked best, and possibly themselves be selected as favorites by some
guardian deity. The fortunate hunter, of a moonlight night, might even
behold the graceful figure of Diana flashing through the woods in pursuit
of game, and the happy inhabitant of Cyprus come suddenly on the fair form
of Venus resting in a laurel-grove. The Dryads could be seen glancing
among the trees, the Oreads heard shouting on the mountains, and the
Naiads found asleep by the side of their streams. If the Greek chose, he
could take his gods from the poets; if he liked it better, he could find
them among the artists; or if neither of these suited him, he might go to
the philosophers for his deities.

The Greek religion, therefore, did not guide or restrain, it only
stimulated. The Greek, by intercourse with Greek gods, became more a Greek
than ever. Every Hellenic feeling and tendency was personified and took a
divine form; which divine form reacted on the tendency to develop it still
further. All this contributed unquestionably to that wonderful phenomenon,
Greek development. Nowhere on the earth, before or since, has the human
being been educated into such a wonderful perfection, such an entire and
total unfolding of itself, as in Greece. There, every human tendency and
faculty of soul and body opened in symmetrical proportion. That small
country, so insignificant on the map of Europe, so invisible on the map of
the world, carried to perfection in a few short centuries every human art.
Everything in Greece is art; because everything is finished, done
perfectly well. In that garden of the world ripened the masterpieces of
epic, tragic, comic, lyric, didactic poetry; the masterpieces in every
school of philosophic investigation; the masterpieces of history, of
oratory, of mathematics; the masterpieces of architecture, sculpture, and
painting. Greece developed every form of human government, and in Greece
were fought and won the great battles of the world. Before Greece,
everything in human literature and art was a rude and imperfect attempt;
since Greece, everything has been a rude and imperfect imitation.

§ 3. The Gods of Greece before Homer.

The Theogony of Hesiod, or Book of Genesis of the Greek gods, gives us the
history of three generations of deities. First come the Uranids; secondly,
the Titans; and thirdly, the gods of Olympus. Beginning as powers of
nature, they end as persons.[218]

The substance of Hesiod's charming account of these three groups of gods
is as follows: -

First of all things was Chaos. Next was broad-bosomed Earth, or Gaia. Then
was Tartarus, dark and dim, below the earth. Next appears Eros, or Love,
most beautiful among the Immortals. From Chaos came Erebus and black
Night, and then sprang forth Ether and Day, children of Erebus and Night.
Then Earth brought forth the starry Heaven, Uranos, like to herself in
size, that he might shelter her around. Gaia, or Earth, also bore the
mountains, and Pontus or the barren Sea.

Then Gaia intermarried with Uranos, and produced the Titans and Titanides,
namely, Ocean, Koeos, Krios, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis,
Mnêmosynê, Phoebe with golden coronet, and lovely Thethys. Lastly came
Kronos, or Time; with the Cyclôpes and the hundred-headed giants. All
these children were hid in the earth by Uranos, who dreaded them, till by
a contrivance of Gaia and Kronos, Uranos was dethroned, and the first age
of the gods was terminated by the birth from the sea of the last and
sweetest of the children of the Heaven, Aphroditê, or Immortal
Beauty, - the only one of this second generation who continued to reign on
Olympus; an awful, beauteous goddess, says Hesiod, beneath whose delicate
feet the verdure throve around, born in wave-washed Cyprus, but floating
past divine Cythera. Her Eros accompanied, and fair Desire followed.

Thus was completed the second generation of gods, the children of Heaven
and Earth, called Titans. These had many children. The children of Ocean
and Tethys were the nymphs of Ocean. Hyperion and Theia had, as children,
Helios, Selênê and Eôs, or Sun, Moon, and Dawn. Koeos and Phoebê had Lêtô
and Asteria. One of the children of Krios was Pallas; those of Iapetus
were Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Atlas. Kronos married his sister Rhea,
and their children were Hestia, Dêmêtêr and Hêrê; Hadês, Poseidôn, and
Zeus, - all, except Hadês or Pluto, belonging to the subsequent Olympian

The Olympian gods, with their cousins of the same generation, have grown
into persons, ceasing to be abstract ideas, or powers of nature. Five were
the children of Kronos, namely, Zeus, Poseidôn, Hêrê, Hestia, and Dêmêtêr;
six were children of Zeus, Apollo and Artemis, Hephæstos and Arês, Hermês
and Athênê. The twelfth of the Olympian group, Aphroditê, belonged to the
second generation, being daughter of Uranos and of the Ocean. Beauty,
divine child of Sky and Sea, was conceived of as older than Power.

These are the three successive groups of deities; the second supplanting
the first, the third displacing the second. The earlier gods we must needs
consider, not as persons, but as powers of nature, not yet humanized.[219]
The last, seated on Olympus, are "fair humanities."

But now, it is remarkable that there must have been, in point of fact,
three stages of religious development, and three successive actual
theologies in Greece, corresponding very nearly to these three legendary
generations of gods.

When the ancestors of the Hellenic race came from Asia, they must have
brought with them a nature-worship, akin to that which subsequently
appeared in India in the earliest hymns of the Vedas. Comparative
Philology, as we have before seen, has established the rule, that whatever
words are common to all the seven Indo-European families must have been
used in Central Asia before their dispersion. From this rule Pictet[220]
has inferred that the original Aryan tribes all worshipped the Heaven, the
Earth, Sun, Fire, Water, and Wind. The ancestors of the Greeks must have
brought with them into Hellas the worship of some of these elementary
deities. And we find at least two of them, Heaven and Earth, represented
in Hesiod's first class of the oldest deities. Water is there in the form
of Pontus, the Sea, and the other Uranids have the same elementary

The oldest hymns in the Vedas mark the second development of the Aryan
deities in India. The chief gods of this period are Indra, Varuna, Agni,
Savitri, Soma. Indra is the god of the air, directing the storm, the
lightning, the clouds, the rain; Varuna is the all-embracing circle of the
heavens, earth, and sea; Savitri or Surja is the Sun, King of Day, also
called Mitra; Agni is Fire; and Soma is the sacred fermented juice of the
moon-plant, often indeed the moon itself.

As in India, so in Greece, there was a second development of gods. They
correspond in this, that the powers of nature began, in both cases, to
assume a more distinct personality. Moreover, Indra, the god of the
atmosphere, he who wields the lightning, the thunderer, the god of storms
and rain, was the chief god in the Vedic period. So also in Greece, the
chief god in this second period was Zeus. He also was the god of the
atmosphere, the thunderer, the wielder of lightning. In the name "Zeus" is
a reminiscence of Asia. Literally it means "the god," and so was not at
first a proper name. Its root is the Sanskrit _Div_, meaning "to shine."
Hence the word _Deva_, God, in the Vedic Hymns, from which comes Θεος and
Δις, Διος in Greek, Deus in Latin. Ζευς Πατερ in Greek is Jupiter in
Latin, coming from the Sanskrit _Djaus-piter._ Our English words "divine,"
"divinity," go back for their origin to the same Sanskrit root, _Div_. So
marvellously do the wrecks of old beliefs come drifting down the stream of
time, borne up in those frail canoes which men call words. In how many
senses, higher and lower, is it true that "in the beginning was _the

This most ancient deity, god of storms, ruler of the atmosphere, favorite
divinity of the Aryan race in all its branches, became Indra when he
reached India, Jupiter when he arrived in Italy, Zeus when in Epirus he
became the chief god of the Pelasgi, and was worshipped at that most
ancient oracular temple of all Greece, Dodona. To him in the Iliad (XVI.
235) does Achilles pray, saying: "O King Jove, Dodonean, Pelasgian,
dwelling afar off, presiding over wintry Dodona." A reminiscence of this
old Pelasgian god long remained both in the Latin and Greek conversation,
when, speaking of the weather, they called it Zeus, or Jupiter. Horace
speaks of "cold Jupiter" and "bad Jupiter," as we should speak of a cold
or rainy day. We also find in Horace (Odes III. 2: 29) the archaic form of
the word "Jupiter," _Diespiter_, which, according to Lassen (I. 755),
means "Ruler of Heaven"; being derived from Djaus-piter. _Piter_, in
Sanskrit, originally meant, says Lassen, Ruler or Lord, as well as Father.

In Arcadia and Boeotia the Pelasgi declared that their old deities were
born. By this is no doubt conveyed the historic consciousness that these
deities were not brought to them from abroad, but developed gradually
among themselves out of nameless powers of nature into humanized and
personal deities. In the old days it was hardly more than a fetich
worship. Hêrê was worshipped as a plank at Samos; Athênê, as a beam at
Lindus; the Pallas of Attica, as a stake; Jupiter, in one place, as a
rock; Apollo, as a triangle.

Together with Jupiter or Zeus, the Pelasgi worshipped Gaia or Mother
Earth, in Athens, Sparta, Olympia, and other places. One of her names was
Diônê; another was Rhea. In Asia she was Cybele; but everywhere she
typified the great productive power of nature.

Another Pelasgic god was Hêlios, the Sun-God, worshipped with his sister
Sêlêne, the Moon. The Pelasgi also adored the darker divinities of the
lower world. At Pylos and Elis, the king of Hades was worshipped as the
awful Aïdoneus; and Persephonê, his wife, was not the fair Kora of
subsequent times, but the fearful Queen of Death, the murderess,
homologous to the savage wife of Çiva, in the Hindoo Pantheon. To this age
also belongs the worship of the Kabiri, nameless powers, perhaps of
Phoenician origin, connected with the worship of fire in Lemnos and

The Doric race, the second great source of the Hellenic family, entered
Greece many hundreds of years after[221] the first great Pelasgic
migration had spread itself through Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. It
brought with it another class of gods and a different tone of worship.
Their principal deities were Apollo and Artemis, though with these they
also worshipped, as secondary deities, the Pelasgic gods whose homes they
had invaded. The chief difference between the Pelasgic and Dorian
conception of religion was, that with the first it was more emotional,
with the second more moral; the first was a mystic natural religion, the
second an intellectual human religion. Ottfried Müller[222] says that the
Dorian piety was strong, cheerful, and bright. They worshipped Daylight
and Moonlight, while the Pelasgians also reverenced Night, Darkness, and
Storm. Funeral solemnities and enthusiastic orgies did not suit the Dorian
character. The Spartans had no splendid processions like the Athenians,
but they prayed the gods "to give them what was honorable and good"; and
Zeus Ammon declared that the "calm solemnity of the prayers of the
Spartans was dearer to him than all the sacrifices of the Greeks."[223]

Two facts are to be noticed in connection with this primitive religion.
One is the local distribution of the different deities and modes of
worship through Greece. Every tribe had its own god and its own worship.
In one place it was Zeus and Gaia; in another, Zeus and Cybele; in a
third, Apollo and Artemis. At Samothrace prevailed the worship of the
Heaven and the Earth.[224] Dione was worshipped with Zeus at Dodona.[225]
The Ionians were devoted to Poseidôn, god of the sea. In Arcadia, Athênê
was worshipped as Tritonia. Hermês was adored on Mount Cyllene; Erôs, in
Boeotia; Pan, in Arcadia. These local deities long remained as secondary
gods, after the Pan-Hellenic worship of Olympus had overthrown their
supremacy. But one peculiarity of the Pre-Homeric religion was, that it
consisted in the adoration of different gods in different places. The
religion of Hellas, after Homer, was the worship of the twelve great
deities united on Mount Olympus.

The second fact to be observed in this early mythology is the change of
name and of character through which each deity proceeds. Zeus alone
retains the same name from the first.[226]

Among all Indo-European nations, the Heaven and the Earth were the two
primordial divinities. The Rig-Veda calls them "the two great parents of
the world." At Dodona, Samothrace, and Sparta they were worshipped
together. But while in India, Varuna, the Heavens, continued to be an
object of adoration in the Vedic or second period, in Greece it faded
early from the popular thought. This already shows the opposite genius of
the two nations. To the Hindoos the infinite was all important, to the
Greeks the finite. The former, therefore, retain the adoration of the
Heavens, the latter that of the Earth.

The Earth, Gaia, became more and more important to the Hellenic mind.
Passing through various stages of development, she became, successively,
Gaia in the first generation, Rhea in the second, and Dêmêtêr (Γή μήτηρ),
Mother Earth, in the third. In like manner the Sun is successively
Hyperiôn, son of Heaven and Earth; Hêlios, son of Hyperiôn and Theia; and
Phoebus-Apollo, son of Zeus and Latona. The Moon is first Phoebe, sister
of Hyperiôn; then Selênê, sister of Hêlios; and lastly Artemis, sister of
Apollo. Pallas, probably meaning at first "the virgin," became afterward
identified with Athênê, daughter of Zeus, as Pallas-Athênê. The Urania
Pontus, the salt sea, became the Titan Oceanos, or Ocean, and in another
generation Poseidôn, or Neptune.

The early gods are symbolical, the later are personal. The turning-point
is reached when Kronos, Time, arrives. The children of Time and Earth are
no longer vast shadowy abstractions, but become historical characters,
with biographies and personal qualities. Neither Time nor History existed
before Homer; when Time came, History began.

The three male children of Time were Zeus, Poseidôn, and Hadês;
representing the three dimensions of space. Height, Breadth, and Depth;
Heaven, Ocean, and Hell. They also represented the threefold progress of
the human soul: its aspiration and ascent to what is noble and good, its
descent to what is profound, and its sympathy with all that is various: in
other words, its religion, its intelligence, and its affection.

The fable of Time devouring his children, and then reproducing them,
evidently means the vicissitudes of customs and the departure and return
of fashions. Whatever is born must die; but what has been will be again.
That Erôs, Love, should be at the origin of things from chaos, indicates
the primeval attraction with which the order of the universe begins. The
mutilation of Uranos, Heaven, so that he ceased to produce children,
suggests the change of the system of emanation, by which the gods descend
from the infinite, into that of evolution, by which they arise out of the
finite. It is, in fact, the end of Asia, and the beginning of Europe; for
emanation is the law of the theologies of Asia, evolution that of Europe.
Aphroditê, Beauty, was the last child of the Heavens, and yet born from
the Ocean. Beauty is not the daughter of the Heavens and the Earth, but of
the Heavens and the Ocean. The lights and shadows of the sky, the tints of
dawn, the tenderness of clouds, unite with the toss and curve of the wave
in creating Beauty. The beauty of outline appears in the sea, that of
light and color in the sky.[227]

§ 4. The Gods of the Poets.

Herodotus says (II. 53), "I am of opinion that Hesiod and Homer lived four
hundred years before my time, and not more, and these were they who framed
a theogony for the Greeks, and gave names to the gods, and assigned to
them honors and arts, and declared their several forms. But the poets,
said to be before them, in my opinion, were after them."

Online LibraryJames Freeman ClarkeTen Great Religions An Essay in Comparative Theology → online text (page 23 of 47)