Sunday, June 17, 2012

Greek gods

This is a totally random post (unlike all the other carefully orchestrated posts that build to a sublime whole, right?).  I was running today (went very well, thanks for asking) and was thinking about the Greek gods.  No, I have no reason for this, you do weird stuff when you run.  Anyway, what occurred to me is that I doubt the Greek pantheon (Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, et al.) were all invented at the same time.  What I imagine happened is that there were different groups, tribes, towns, what have you, and each of those groups had one or a few gods.  As the groups came together, and started to communicate, they would naturally talk about their gods and as they did this, they would have to make some sense of the plurality of gods being brought together.  Unlike modern Christianity, which would just say "sorry, you're deluded, your gods don't exist and ours does" it seems plausible that any one group/town/tribe may have felt a need to account for the existence of their own local gods and the newer gods they were learning about.  Either as godly relations, allies, etc. (oh, your god is probably the brother of my god!) or enemies or whatever.  I'm just making all this up, of course, but as I am imagining it, assuming that there were "lore keepers" or priests or whatever caste claims ownership of divine knowledge, those individuals may have been the one with the task of reconciling or assimilating the different gods.

Taking  a step back, it would seem that as one group is confronted with a new version of the divine, it has several options.  Hostility (you don't believe in our god, we'll kill you now), benign disavowal (those silly heathens don't know the true gods, poor them), or perhaps some form of assimilation (fitting their gods into your system without changing it much) or accommodation (changing your system dramatically to fit with the new information, perhaps even to the point of resembling the new system).  This latter point is a bit tangential, but it does relate to how I am imagining the Greek pantheon would have been formed.  Based on my very spotty knowledge of Christian history, I believe that all of those approaches have been used over time.  The crusades to an extent exemplify the hostility angle, benign disavowal is the current "party line," and certainly if you look at the saints of the middle ages (I had "middle aged saints" there for a bit - think that lost something in the translation), the Christmas tree, Easter bunny, and so forth you'll find plenty of assimilation and perhaps a bit of accommodation (depending on which camp you're in about that last part).

So, getting back to the whole Greek pantheon thing, I suppose what struck me and motivated me to write this out was the realization that it is probably very unlikely that the pantheon was born whole cloth from one tribe/group/city.  It was probably a conglomeration that gradually developed but then was written down and enshrined through their art, literature, and so forth, and that I, as a relatively uneducated lay person, took initially to be a relatively constant, and always fully formed, set of ideas.

Although my thinking did not go this way at all this morning on my run, an obvious extension of this line of thinking is to wonder about how existing faiths, Christianity among them, will evolve over time.  There seem to be some very strong forces in place, have been for centuries, to try to prevent drift or evolution of ideas.  Christianity, which I am most familiar with, has its whole "canon" versus "apocrapha" thing, for example.  Depending on your sect, to be Christian means to believe very specific things, and to do otherwise gets you cast out from the group.  But even with that, there is undeniable change in even modern religions over time.  Very easy example (almost too easy, feels like cheating) - anyone been burned for not believing the teachings of Aristotle were 100% accurate lately?  Cheap shot, I know, but it illustrates the point.

Do I expect that any of this is revelatory to those who study this stuff and know about it.  Nah.  Just some random thoughts that I haven't taken the time, since I had them an hour or two ago, to look up and fact check. But there ya have it.

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