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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
I. THE LANDS OF THE WEST AND THE RISE OF GREECE TO ABOUT 500 B.C.
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EARLY GREEK RELIGION
THE OLYMPIAN COUNCIL
We may learn from the Homeric poems what were the religious ideas held by the early Greeks. The greater gods and goddesses were not numerous. Less than a score everywhere received worship under the same names and in all the temples. Twelve of the chief deities formed a select council, which was supposed to meet on the top of snow-crowned Olympus. The Greeks, however, did not agree as to what gods and goddesses should be included in this august assemblage.
ATTRIBUTES OF THE DEITIES
Many of the Olympian deities appear to have been simply personifications of natural phenomena. Zeus, "father of gods and men," as Homer calls him, was a heaven god, who gathered the clouds in storms and hurled the lightning bolt. Apollo, a mighty god of light, who warded off darkness and evil, became the ideal of manly beauty and the patron of music, poetry, and healing. Dionysus was worshiped as the god of sprouting and budding vegetation. Poseidon, brother of Zeus, ruled the sea. Hera, the wife of Zeus, represented the female principle in nature. Hence she presided over the life of women and especially over the sacred rites of marriage. Athena, who sprang full-grown from the forehead of Zeus, embodied the idea of wisdom and all womanly virtues. Aphrodite, who arose from the foam of the sea, was the goddess of love and beauty. Demeter, the great earth- mother, watched over seed-time and harvest. Each deity thus had a kingdom and a function of its own.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy