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Hesiod was a priest in the temple of the Muses, on Mount Helicon. He seems to have been desirous to inculcate religious reverence, and a love of agriculture. He condemos licentiousness, irreverence to parents, and riches procured by fraud or violence. He strongly insists on the sacredness of an oath, and the laws of hospitality. He teaches to love those who love us, and to return gifts to the generous. He recommends withholding friendly offices from enemies ; but declares that Jupiter will certainly punish those who refuse to pardon a suppliant offender. He gives a rather unintelligible account of the creation of the world from chaos. One of the most conspicuous agents in the work is Love, by which he probably meant the Principle of Attraction, drawing the elements into union, and producing a series of offspring; thus by the marriage of Heaven and Earth, Ocean was born. The deities, whom he describes as intermarrying, fighting, and plotting against each other, were the popular Gods of the country, the Spirits supposed to preside over planets and elements. He tells of huge giants called Titans, born of Heaven and Earth. One of them, named Chronos by the Greeks and Saturn by the Romans, dethroned his father Coelus, or Heaven, and governed the universe. He is represented as devouring his own children ; an allegorical way of saying that Time, whose Greek name is Chronos, destroys whatever he produces. One of his sons, named Jupiter, who escaped by artifice of his mother, expelled his father, and reigned in his stead. The Titans made war upon him, but he succeeded in chaining them all in the dungeons of Tartarus. These legends are supposed to be symbolical of the struggle of the elements when the world was formed.
Hesiod describes the administration of Saturn as the Golden Age of the world. Men lived like gods, without vices or passions, vexation or toil. In happy companionship with divine beings, they passed their days in tranquillity and joy, living together in perfect equality, united by mutual confidence and love. The earth was more beautiful than now, and spontaneously yielded an abundant variety of fruits. Human beings and animals spoke the same language, and conversed freely together. Men were considered mere boys at a hundred years old. They had none of the infirmities of age to trouble them, and when they passed to regions of superior life, it was in a gentle slumber. Then followed the Silver Age, when the lives of men were shortened on account of their neglect of the gods, and injustice toward each other. This was succeeded by a Brazen Age of turbulence and insecurity. This degenerated still more into the Iron Age, corresponding to the Cali Yug of the Hindoos. Hesiod laments that his own birth happened in this unfortunate period of time, when the life of man is but a span, when fraud, violence, calumny, and all manner of crimes and diseases, everywhere abound.
Homer resembles Hesiod in his ideas of vice and virtue. Superior power, not moral excellence, is the essential element in his conception of divine beings. He represents them as very human in their passions, motives, and actions. They enjoy oblations of bread, wine, fruit
, and the sacrifice of animals, as one man enjoys the hospitality of another. They are wrathful and relentless when offended, and can be appeased only by prayers and gifts. They fall in love with mortal women, by whom a race of demi-gods are produced. They resort to all manner of trickery and violence to accomplish their purposes. Thus Pallas Athenæ is represented as obtaining permission from Zeus to tempt Pandarus to violate a treaty solemnly sworn to. Such treachery is described as meritorious, by the Greek poets, because it was exercised in favour of their own nation.
A direct supernatural agency guides and controls all things, great and small. Birth, death, health, beauty, riches, all that a man is, and all that he has, are attributed to the gods. Every phenomenon of nature, every great thought, and noble impulse, is ascribed to divine agency. Any person highly gifted is supposed to be peculiarly dear to the deity who presides over that gift. Poets and prophets receive their inspiration from Phoebus, and Helen
owes her extraordinary beauty to the partiality of Aphrodite. Even a hearty laugh is ascribed to the genial influence of the gods. A constant living intercourse is supposed to exist between them and mortals. They descend visibly to this earth to converse with mankind. They often visit cities in the disguise of travellers, to inspect the conduct of men.
Wrong and foolish actions are likewise attributed to supernatural influence. Helen ascribes her elopement from her husband to an infatuation implanted in her heart by Aphrodite. A man, who goes out without his cloak in a cold night, is represented as saying: “A god deceived me that I did this thing."
The rewards of vice and virtue in another life, and all that is said of the condition of departed souls, is exceedingly dim and shadowy.
Succeeding poets enlarged and embellished the history of the gods, sometimes from their own imagination, sometimes from the traditions of various other nations; and the populace received it all with the ready credulity of bright, elastic, youthful natures. Many of the subordinate deities are obviously mere personifications of the elements and the forces of nature. Thus the violence of the ocean is represented as Poseidon swallowing thousands of victims. It is to be presumed that most of these legends were intended to convey, in allegorical form, some truth, physical or metaphysical, astronomical or moral; but at this distance of time, and with altogether foreign habits of thought, we can with difficulty perceive here and there a gleam of meaning; especially in the numerous amours of the gods, which, if taken literally, would make them appear more sensual than mortals.
A religion composed of such various and flexible fragments, of course left great freedom of construction to the worshippers. But the conservative principle which prevents all erratic things from flying entirely out of their orbits, came in, to check the excess of Grecian freedom. Gods from other countries were continually adopted into their Pantheon, but this was never done until the formal sanction of the state had been obtained. When rites and festivals were once established, and the populace had invested them with the sacredness which belongs to timehallowed usages, it was extremely difficult for government to abolish them. Thus the custom of running naked through the streets at the festival in honour of Pan, called Lupercalia, was continued long after a large portion of the community had come to regard it as indecent.
All their deities bear traces of a foreign origin, and the histories told of them are obviously the mixed legends of various nations. That their prominent deities were Spirits of the Planets, is indicated by their names: Apollo the Sun, Diana the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Mercury, and Venus. Like Hindoos and Egyptians, they consecrated the days successively to these Planetary Spirits. The seventh day was sacred to Saturn, from time immemorial. Homer and Hesiod call it the holy day.
Zeus, whom Romans called Jupiter, was differently represented at different epochs of their history. As the Son of Heaven, with Metis, the wisest of deities, for his wife, he resembles Brahma of Hindostan, and Amun of Egypt. Hesiod and Homer describe him as the Supreme Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, the Father of Gods and men; strengthening the weak, sustaining the strong, seeing past, present, and future, at a glance, and subject to nothing except the unalterable decrees of the Fates. He alone never appears in person on the stage of human affairs. He is so highly exalted above all beings, that he needs the agency of mediators to converse with mortals. Greeks, as well as Hindoos and Egyptians, believed in an element above the air, called ether. Some descriptions of Jupiter represent him as Son of Ether, armed with a thunderbolt, surrounded by moon and stars. This is a reappearance of Indra, the Hindoo god of the Firmament; and in this capacity he is married to his sister Juno, who represented the Air, and had Iris, the Rainbow, for her attendant and messenger. According to another account, Jupiter was the
Son of Saturn, or Time, and Rhea, the Earth. Cretans were accustomed to show the grotto on Mount Ida where he was said to be born, and the sepulchre where he was buried. But these traditions excited the ridicule and indignation of other Greeks. “All this is fiction," exclaims Callimachus; "for thou, O Father, livest forever.” "
Pallas Athena, whom Romans called Minerva, resembles the Hindo Sereswati, and the Egyptian Neith. She was goddess of wisdom, presiding over philosophy, poetry, arts, sciences, and military tactics. She is represented as for ever by the side of Jupiter, from whose brain she was born.
Dionysus, or Bacchus, was god of wine and vintage. He resembles Osiris in one department of his beneficence; namely, that of introducing the cultivation of vines. There is great similarity between Rama, Osiris, and Bacchus, in several of their adventures, and the ceremonials of their worship. They are all represented as having taught men agricultural arts, and performed great exploits in India.
Demeter, or Ceres, is Isis limited to the cultivation of the earth and the protection of harvests.
Hermes, or Mercury, was god of merchants, orators, and thieves. Like Thoth, he was messenger between gods and men, and conducted departed souls to the Judges of the Dead.
Pan, god of generation, was represented, like the Egyptian Kham, with the body and legs of a goat. His name signifies All, and was bestowed upon him because the generative principle pervades all things in the universe.
Rhea and Cybele were two very ancient goddesses, whose worship was introduced from different countries, and in process of time mixed together. They both represented the Earth, or Nature in her productive power. One of their names was Maia, the Hindoo name for the goddess of Nature.
Apphrodite, or Venus, goddess of beauty and pleasure, like the Hindoo Parvati, was born of the foam of the sea, and was the mother of Love.