What offerings were given to Zeus

The Religious Life of the Greeks: Sacrifice and Oracle

ZeusLightning and thunder, thunderstorms
PoseidonSea, earthquake
HephaestusFire, metal, blacksmithing
HadesRealm of the dead
DemeterFertility, growth, agriculture
AthenaScience, bravery
HestiaHearth fire
DionysusIntoxication, wine

Why did the Greeks have so many gods?

Because of the multitude of natural phenomena. Like many other religions, the Greek one also has its origin in the fact that people tried to explain their environment to themselves and to domesticate it. Phenomena such as lightning and thunder, the growth of plants, the tremor of the earth were inexplicable to man. One suspected higher powers as the cause. At first these were abstract and impersonal. But through the human endeavor to deal with them, to be able to influence them, they gained personality. So Zeus became the god who threw the lightning. These personal gods were given a human appearance in their cult images.

When did the gods get human traits?

Between 1200 and 900 BC With the development of hierarchically ordered city-states, the so-called Homeric religion emerged, in which the gods were not only given a human shape, but also human characteristics and how people lived in a strict hierarchy. They were subject to feelings and passions, loved, hated, were full of envy or pity. They were like humans and associated with them, with the difference that they were mighty and immortal gods.

The gods also maintained relationships with one another, lived in families, fathered children, cheated, fought and supported one another. The gods opened up the whole cosmos. Apollo was responsible for art. Athena promoted science. Hera protected the marriage. Poseidon ruled the sea. Hades ruled the realm of the dead. The world consisted of divine effects and human life was based on the gods. According to Greek belief, the gods had chosen the summit of Mount Olympus as their seat.

How were the gods worshiped?

Through sacrifices and prayers. The gods depended on these sacrifices and competed for them. If people neglected their homage, the gods were angry and brought suffering and misfortune to the world. Compliance with the rules of worshiping the gods was of the utmost importance. In certain places they were particularly present and accessible to people. Such places could be springs, groves or lightning marks. The great sanctuaries were created here.

Powerful priesthoods developed, which enjoyed great social and political influence because of their special closeness and familiarity with the gods. All areas of life were integrated into the cult. There was a god and a cult for all situations.

Every city had its sanctuary, in which the deity was worshiped, to which the city felt particularly indebted. The cult of this deity was a civic duty. Elaborate church services were held by the state.

What was the function of the oracles?

They were supposed to help reveal the will of the gods and give directions for all kinds of questions. The priests knew how to delimit a sacred area that the gods also respected, how to offer a sacrifice so that it could be enjoyed by the gods, and what signs the gods put on the bowels of the sacrificed animals when they wanted to warn of disaster . The gods revealed their will in the flight of birds, and chosen priests like the Pythia of Delphi were able to grasp this will in ecstatic states.

The Delphi priesthood was made up of educated people who, in their counseling, demonstrated a considerable understanding of the political situation at hand, without being clearly defined. They liked to keep their oracles ambiguous. When the king asked Croesus whether it would be wise to attack his neighbors, the oracle prophesied that if he crossed the border river Halys, he would destroy an empire - what was meant was his own, as it turned out. The Oracle of Delphi was consulted on all questions of a private and public nature. It represented one of the elements that united and united the entire world of Greek states.

Was the Olympics also a religious event?

Yes. The games took place every four years in Olympia, a sanctuary of Zeus. These competitions of all Greeks were far more than just a sporting competition, they had a concrete religious function. The Olympics were dedicated to Zeus, and the services rendered represented a sacrifice.

What other gods were there?

Generally speaking, singing, poetry, dancing and acting were considered worship services. In Athens, the drama competitions were also a religious task. One wanted to positively influence every area of ​​the cosmos. The gods had to participate in the happiness of the people so that they could keep harm away from them.

This is how Herodotus tells the story of the ring of Polycrates. Polykrates, the successful and widely recognized ruler of Samos, sacrificed a particularly precious ring which he threw into the sea so that the gods would not be jealous of his luck. Some time later, when the ring was found in a fish that had been caught and prepared for Polykrates, there was great dismay. The gods had not accepted this tribute and Polycrates consequently fell into disaster.

What was the sense of justice based on?

The foundations of human coexistence have been affirmed by divine authority. The Greek religion was not alone in this. The ten commandments of the Old Testament also contained the provisions for maintaining social coexistence and were just as much God's mandate as the divine right of the Greeks.

Greek mythology provides numerous examples of divine law and the consequences of disregarding it. Medea, daughter of the King of Colchis, helped her lover Jason steal the Golden Fleece. There was a sacrilege in that. Medea was punished by fate for it. Jason married her, but turned to another, and Medea, out of desperation and jealousy, killed their sons. The Greeks saw this as the punishment for Jason's iniquity and betrayal.

Was it possible to influence fate?

No. In the minds of the Greeks, fate was an omnipotent authority from which one could not escape. The cycle of legends about the family of Agamemnon shows this particularly impressively.

Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, was the leader of the expedition against Troy. Because the gods prevented the departure due to adverse winds, Agamemnon decided to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis. His wife Clytemnestra did not know that the girl had been saved and killed the husband with her lover Aigystus after his return from Troy. Her daughter Elektra got her brother Orestes to avenge the murder of the father and to kill the mother and her lover. None of the participants could escape the entanglements and guilt.

Who did fate hit particularly hard?

The fate of Oedipus is extraordinarily impressive. His parents had been prophesied that their child would kill his father and marry his mother. The parents abandoned the child, found it and raised it. The young man later received the same oracle as his parents and, frightened, left them to avert this fate. On his hike he met his birth father without recognizing him and killed him in an argument.

He came to his hometown and, as a reward for helping the city against the Sphinx, was married to his mother, the king's widow, and made king. Although this was intended by fate, the involuntary injustice persisted. The couple had two sons and two daughters. Oedipus and his mother learned of the oracles and research revealed the truth. Oedipus blinded himself and his mother committed suicide. The sons killed each other in a fratricidal war.

Was that fate fulfilled?

Not yet. Antigone, one of the daughters, was sentenced to death for not refusing to refuse the renegade brother's funeral - that too would have been an outrage. The curse still worked a generation later.

These examples are characteristic of the Greeks' conviction that they were subject to a powerful fate which even the gods could not escape. The cases described in mythology all represent basic psychological situations. They illustrate the human instincts and passions, which no one can escape and which can bring inevitable harm and guilt upon each individual.

Did you know that …

Was sacrilege against the deity and its sanctuaries a state crime? That was only logical, because an angry deity withdrew its benevolence from the city and its existence was endangered.

worshiping the gods also included observance of divine law, hospitality, respect for the hearth fire and respect for parents?

Did you know that …

not only sporting but also artistic competitions took place in Olympia?

the inevitability of guilty when fate so chooses is the central theme of Greek tragedy? Again and again a cruel fate occurs there that entangles people in culpable deeds without being able to defend themselves against it.

How did philosophy deal with fate?

By dethroning the gods. The development of Greek philosophy, which was trend-setting for Western philosophy and scientific thinking in general, was essentially rooted in the discussion of the question of how man can act well and become happy, i.e. counteract his threatening fate. This is the last, late reaction of the Greeks to the awareness of being at the mercy of adverse powers.

At the beginning of this development is the worship of the forces of nature, which eluded human influence. With prayers and sacrifices, the gods should be softened. The Greek natural philosophers then tried to fathom and understand the various phenomena of the world. With the anthropocentric turn of philosophy, man placed himself at the center of his search and found himself confronted with the same questions and problems that he had already posed to the gods. With that the ancient religion had come to an end.