The Formation of the Greek Religion Part I

The religion of the “proto-Greek” people contributed to the primitivism of the Greek religion, which in the course of the second millennium BC. C. descended from the north into the Hellenic peninsula and that of the pre-Hellenic or “Helladic” or “Pelasgic” or “Carie” or whatever you want to call peoples, who had settled in the country before those invasions. Culturally, and most likely also politically, these Helladic people depended on Crete: perhaps they were also ethnically related to the Cretans, as well as to the residents of the other Aegean islands. Even their religion will have been in some respects akin to or dependent on the Cretan one of the Minoan era; but it cannot be excluded that in other respects it was original and independent. The penetration of the Protogrecì occurred in successive waves over the course of several centuries: the religion that the first comers brought with them was not identical to that of the last invaders. Those, having imposed their lordship, and with it their language, to the Helladic peoples, partly adopted their civilization for various respects superior to their own. Thus was formed the Mycenaean civilization. Like this, the Mycenaean religion is therefore a composite, syncretistic product, which explains its differences – alongside the many similarities – with respect to the Cretan Minoan religion. (This, like all Minoan civilization, is pre-Greek, and is of interest to Greek religious history only for the influences it exercised on the Mycenaean religion, and for those that the Greek religion then exercised on it at the time of Hellenization). With the’ last invasion of Protogenic peoples towards the end of the second millennium the Mycenaean civilization was dissolved. Even religion, uprooted from the continent, was transplanted by the vanquished fugitives on the islands and coasts of Asia Minor, where over time it became impoverished, while on the other hand it appropriated new elements of eastern Asian origin. But even in the continent it was not completely annulled, because some of its elements survived in latent form and then passed into the historical Greek religion.

It is very difficult to distinguish within the Mycenaean religion what was the contribution of the Protogenic peoples of distant northern origin from what was the patrimony of the primitive Helladic peoples, in which patrimony one should further distinguish what was originally Helladic from what was import or derivation Cretan. The problem does not even arise for those elementary religious forms which are common to all peoples in a phase of not very advanced civilization, and in Greece they can therefore be attributed to an earlier time not only to Homer (where they almost do not appear), but also to formation of the Mycenaean religion: prenational elements and virtually present aboriginein each of the ethnic components of historical Greek religion, both in the religion of the Protogenic immigrants and in that of the Elladics. In Arcadia, shaking an oak frond within a spring, a vapor appeared, which then condensed in the form of a small cloud, which attracted the soaking clouds (Paus., VIII 38, 4). A Crannon, in Thessaly, under drought epoch dragged a noisy metallic wagon with above a vessel to obtain a semblance of the sound of thunder, and then the same thunder, and with it the rain (Antig., Hist. Mir., 15). These are magical rites, intended to produce like with like (sympathetic magic), acting through a mysterious force inherent in the things employed and in the operations and gestures performed and – in other cases – in the words spoken, and therefore essentially independent of the intervention of a divinity (prey), even if eventually aggregated and incorporated into the cult of some god (for example the aforementioned arcade rite in the cult of Zeus Liceo). There are no sure traces of totemism in Greece, despite the attempts made to prove its existence (especially S. Reinach, in several essays: Cultes, Mythes et Religions, vols. 5, Paris 1908-1923). The conception of the soul as ψυχή is frankly animistic, that is, as a breath, breath, spirit: the spirit that comes out of the body when man dies, that goes out, but then re-enters him, if he had simply fainted like Andromache (Il., XXII, 467), or stunned as Sarpedon (Il., V, 696): this congenital lightness of the soul as spirit, breath, breath is reflected in the conception of the soul as a bird (Weicker, Der Seelenvogel in der antiken Literatur und Kunst, Leipzig 1902) or as a butterfly or bee or moth (O. Waser, Ûber die äussere Erscheinung der Seele in den Vorstellungen der Völker, zumal der alten Griechen, in Archiv f. Reliġ ionswiss., XVI, 1913, 336 ff.), As well as in the εἴδωλα reproducing the figure of the deceased, but with wings. The 30 stones that still at the time of Pausanias (VII, 22, 3) were venerated at Fare in Achaia, each with the name of a god, can be traced back to fetishism. Representatives of demonism are the numerous groups of Charites, Sirens, Harpies, Erinyes, Satyrs, Sileni, Centaurs, Loaves, etc., some of which, especially those more or less theriomorphic, recall the numerous hybrid figures that abound on the seals and others Mycenaean and Minoan art objects. These elementary religious forms, although ethnically indeterminable, nevertheless have great importance for the history of Greek religion, also in relation to the conspicuous flowering of analogous forms (especially magic) which took place in the last periods of Greek religious history.

The Formation of the Greek Religion 1