The Formation of the Greek Religion Part II

Especially for the major gods the problem arises of their original relevance to one or the other of the ethnic components of the Greek religion, while in later developments it can be said that each of them incorporated elements of another origin and provenance. Protogreco is Zeus, the supreme god, as it appears from the name; but the myth of Zeus as a child is of Cretan origin. Hera is the wife of Zeus, but it may be that an Helladic and Mycenaean divinity (βοῶπις ad Argos) survives in her. Gea-Demeter, the Earth-mother, Posidon, the god of the humid element circulating in the earth and embracing the earth (Ποτειδάων: “the husband of the earth”), Hermes, the god of travelers, represented by herm or from the pillar, Hestia, the goddess of the home. Athena, from the non-Greek name, it is probably of non-Greek origin: the shield and the serpent especially mention Minoan connections (cf. the “snake goddess” of Knossos); but the name could have extended to an early Greek goddess. Minoan and Mycenaean in Artemis is at least the figured type according to the heraldic scheme of the “lady of the animals” πο0τνια (ϑηρῶν). Cretans are Dictinna and Britomarti, later assimilated to Artemis. Elladic of origin is Hyacinth, ancient god of Laconia, later absorbed by Apollo; perhaps also Ilizia (Eleusia; cfr. Eleusís), Persephone, Enialio: all non-Greek names. Apparently Apollo and Artemis are also not Greeks in name, which does not imply a pre-Greek origin, if it is true that they are Asian-oriental divinities adopted by the Greeks of Asia Minor and through them propagated in their own Greece.

Of Helladic origin are likely to be many local deities that have occurred had to take, if only because they were ab antique divine protectors and gentlemen of the places that we wanted to occupy, and as such had to pacify them. However, in general, they remained absorbed or in any way attracted into the orbit of some of the major divinities (Hyacinth attached to Apollo, etc.).

Even more important and equally difficult is the problem of the survivals of the Mycenaean religion, however constituted, within the Greek religion of historical times. Significant is the superimposition of the oldest temple of Athena on the acropolis of Athens, as well as of the temples of Era in Tiryns and Argos, on the site and on the ruins of the respective Mycenaean royal palaces. But this does not imply without the fact that the ancient Mycenaean goddess of private royal house worship has transformed into the polyiad goddess of the respective city. It is true that the Greek temple originated from the mégaron of the Mycenaean palace: it was the most splendid and largest part of the royal palace that provided the type for the abode of the sovereign deity, in the way that two thousand years later it will be a profane, but splendid, building of the Roman world – the basilica – to provide the prototype of Christian temples. But this same finding seems to imply, rather, also for that ancient period, a change, rather than a continuity, of religious conceptions. It would consist in the advent of a more human conception of divinity, which would express itself precisely in the need for a royal abode to house the great divine simulacrum: two things – the temple and the simulacrum – extraneous to the Mycenaean (and Minoan) religion, the whose sanctuaries were not temples and whose divinities were conceived and represented also in anthropomorphic form, but, apparently, in the outside the cult. On the other hand, the partially still visible splendor of the royal palaces of the Mycenaean era or the antiquity of their ruins appear sufficient or even preponderant reasons to explain the locationin situ of the cults of the new occupants, especially if rendered to ideally similar divinities.

The Mycenaean origin of much of Greek mythology seems better established. It has been observed (Nilsson) that the major centers of the Mycenaean civilization are also the centers of the major Greek mythical cycles: Mycenae of the cycle of the Atrides and of that of Perseus, Tiryns of the cycle of Heracles, Thebes of the cycle of Oedipus and of the Seven in Thebes, Orchomenus of the Minia cycle, etc. This makes it likely that Greek mythology was largely formed already in the Mycenaean era. Primitive elements contributed to its formation, as archaic and ethnically undifferentiated (prenational) as the aforementioned elementary forms of belief and worship, especially those typical motifs which in a given number belong to universal folklore. Perhaps also dating back to religious origins, but prey (their characters are perhaps ancient demonic gods), they decayed and survived on the fringes of religion when it changed. In Greece, where many local (pre-Hellenic) gods and demons were absorbed by the great divinities, also the connected folkloric mythical elements were inherited by the gods and incorporated into the true divine myth of a currently sacred and religious character, not without important consequences for history of the Greek religion and for its understanding up to modern times.

Ancient gods deprived of their original divine qualities and functions survive in several heroes, who are, alongside the gods, the main figures of Greek mythology. But the cult of heroes, together with the very concept of the hero, belongs to the religion of the dead and dates back to the Mycenaean age. In fact, the Mycenaean kings and the other characters of the princely houses were in death objects of veneration and worship, as shown by the numerous magnificent tombs discovered in Mycenae: the domed ones outside the city and those of the round enclosure on the acropolis, where the dead lay adorned with gold, with gold masks on their faces, “lords” in death as they had been in life, that is to say “heroes” (ῆρως “lord”, see “Ηρα). What were the beliefs of the Mycenaean age on life after death, we don’t know: it is likely that the heroes were assigned a different condition in the hereafter than that common to other mortals (cf. the transfer of heroes to the “islands of the blessed”). According to some, this belief is already expressed in the funerary scenes painted on the sarcophagus of Hagía Triáda. Even in certain myths, it seems that the human element, that is the reflection of historical events, is not to be excluded, p. ex. in those of the Trojan cycle and others (the Cretan thalassocracy would be overshadowed in the myth of Minos). On this point, new perspectives have recently opened up following the attempted deciphering of some cuneiform texts by Boğazköy, where it was believed (E. Forrer) to be able to read the name of the Achaeans (A ḫḫ iyava), as well as that of heroes such as Atreus (Attarissiyas), Eteocles (Tavagalavaas) and others. But these readings are much discussed (E. Meyer, Gesch. Des Alt., II, 1, 2ª ed., P. 546 ff., 537 ff.).

The origins of some mystery cults probably also date back to the Mycenaean age, apparently including the Eleusinian mysteries (see Eleusis).

The Formation of the Greek Religion 2