Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

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Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par helleniste le Sam 20 Oct 2012, 16:19

Bring Back the Greek Gods !

by Mary Lefkowitz

an original op ed


Bring Back the Greek Gods! by Mary Lefkowitz, October 1, 2007

"Religion poisons everything," writes Christopher Hitchens in God is Not Great. Religion is hypocritical, irrational, and (worse) responsible for unending violence and suffering, argues Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion.

On the whole, I agree with them. But the poison isn't religion; it's monotheism. The polytheist Greeks didn't advocate killing anyone just because they worshipped different gods. Nor did their religion pretend to provide the right answers. The religion of the Greeks made people aware of their ignorance and weaknesses, and let them recognize that there is more than one right point of view.

There is much we still can learn from these ancient notions of divinity. Of course I wouldn't want to convert anyone to ancient Greek religion or practice it myself. I can't stand the idea of animal sacrifice. The early Christians were right to get rid of it: messy, expensive, and elitist. Only the rich could afford it. Of course one can't accurately predict the future by watching the flight of birds, or by examining the entrails of sacrificed animals. These, however, are mere peculiarities of ancient religious practice, not its theology.

Most scholars read the Greek gods, incorrectly, as representations of forces in nature. Actually, they were gods just as theologians regard the divinities of the great monotheistic traditions—independent beings with transcendent powers who control our world and everything that is in it.

Some of the gods are strictly local, like the deities of rivers and forests. Others are universal, like Zeus himself, his siblings and his children. In order to become ruler of the gods, a position that for all we know he still may hold, Zeus had to depose his father Cronus, and Cronus in his turn had deposed his father, Heaven. Zeus always needs to be careful not to beget a son who will be stronger than himself. That is one (though not the only) reason he likes to pursue mortal women.

Zeus does not communicate directly with humankind. But his children Athena, Apollo, and Dionysus play active roles in human life. Athena is the closest to Zeus of all the gods; without her aid, none of the great heroes can accomplish anything extraordinary. Apollo, if he chooses, can tell mortals what the future has in store for them. Dionysus has the power to alter human perception and make people see what is not really there. He was worshiped in antiquity as the god of the theater and of wine. If he were worshiped today, he would be the god of psychology. It is because mortals are incapable of following the instructions of these gods that we can begin to understand the limitations and tragic nature of the human condition.

Although at the beginning of his long reign other gods tried to overthrow Zeus, he has remained in control ever since. He retains his power by using his intelligence along with superior force. Unlike his grandfather and father, he did not keep all the power and honor for himself but granted rights and privileges to other gods, first of all his brothers and sisters and children, but also to gods of earlier generations who were loyal to him. His actions are guided by the goddess Justice, who sits at his right hand. He is not an autocratic ruler, but listens to and is often persuaded by the opinions of the other gods.

This openness is a distinguishing characteristic of Greek theology. It encourages discussion and inquiry. It suggests that collective decisions often lead to a better outcome. In this diversity of viewpoints, we can find the roots of the cooperative system of government that the Athenians called democracy.

Unlike the great monotheistic traditions, Greco-Roman polytheism was truly multicultural. The ancient Greeks and Romans did not share the narrow view held by the ancient Hebrews that a divinity could only be masculine. Like many other ancient peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greeks recognized that divinities might be female, and they attributed to goddesses almost all of the powers held by the male gods. Zeus is the most powerful god, but he is prepared to lend his lightning bolt to his daughter Athena. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, has power over all other gods, including Zeus himself.

The world, as the Greek philosopher Thales wrote, is full of gods, and all deserve respect and honor. Such a generous understanding of the nature of divinity allowed the ancient Greeks and Romans to be accept and respect other people's gods, and to admire (rather than despise) other nations for their own notions of piety. They did not fight against other people because they despised their religion or regard them as infidels or atheists just because their customs were different. If the Greeks were in close contact with a particular nation, they gave the foreign gods names of their own gods: the Egyptian goddess Isis was Demeter, Horus was Apollo, Neith was Athena, and so on. In that way they could incorporate other people's gods into their pantheon.

This willingness to accept new gods allowed the ancient Greeks and Romans to recognize as divine any human being who was thought to have accomplished something significant in his or her lifetime, such as a great hero like Heracles, or an emperor of Rome. What they did not approve of was atheism, by which they meant refusal to believe in the existence of any gods at all. People needed to demonstrate in public that they believed in the gods. One reason many Athenians resented Socrates was that he claimed that there was a divinity that spoke with him privately, but whom he could not name and no one else knew anything about. Similarly, when Christians denied the existence of any gods other than their own, the Romans suspected that they had political or seditious motives, and so they persecuted them as enemies of the Roman state.

Believing in the existence of many different gods also offers a more plausible account than monotheism of the presence of evil and confusion in the world. A mortal may have the support of one god, but incur the enmity of another who can attack when the patron god is away (or vice versa). If a young man chooses to worship the goddess Artemis, but fails to honor Aphrodite, Aphrodite will see to it that he is destroyed; Artemis cannot save him. All she can do is promise to retaliate by killing a mortal whom Aphrodite favors. The goddess Hera hates Heracles and sends the goddess Madness, to make him kill his wife and children. Heracles' father Zeus does nothing to stop her, although he does in the end make Heracles immortal.

But in the monotheistic traditions, where God is omnipresent, and always good, mortals must take the whole blame for whatever goes wrong, even though God permits evil to exist in the world he created. In the Old Testament, God takes away Job's family and his wealth, but restores him to prosperity after Job acknowledges God's power.

The God of the Hebrews created the earth for the benefit of humankind, but as the Greeks saw it, the gods have made life hard for humans and don't seek to improve the human condition. That is because Zeus and his family did not create humans, but simply inherited them from an earlier generation of gods. Zeus does not destroy humankind, but he allows them to suffer and die. As a palliative, the gods can offer only to see that great achievement is memorialized. There is no hope of redemption, no promise of a happy life or rewards after death. If things do go wrong, as they inevitably do, humans must seek comfort not from the gods, but from other human beings.

The separation between humankind and the gods makes it possible for humans to complain to the gods without guilt or fear of reprisal. Mortals were free to speculate about the character of the gods, and their intentions. The deity of the Old Testament does not encourage that sort of inquiry. Yet it can be argued that by allowing mortals to ask hard questions, Greek theology encouraged them to learn, and to inquire into all the possible causes of events. Philosophy, that characteristically Greek invention, had its roots in such theological inquiry. As did science.

Paradoxically, the main advantage of ancient Greek religion lies in this ability to recognize and accept human fallibility. Mortals cannot suppose that they had, or would ever have, all the answers. The people most likely to know what to do are prophets directly inspired by a god. Yet in myth prophets inevitably meet resistance, because people want to hear what they wish to hear, whether or not it is true. Mortals are particularly prone to error at the moments when they suppose that they know what they are doing. The gods are fully aware of this human weakness. If they choose to communicate with mortals, they tend to so only indirectly, by signs and portents, which mortals often misinterpret.

Ancient Greek religion gives an account of the world that in many respects is more plausible than that offered by the great monotheistic traditions. Greek theology openly discourages blind confidence based on unrealistic hopes that somehow everything will work out right in the end. Such healthy skepticism about human intelligence and achievements has never been needed more than it is today.

Mary Lefkowitz is Professor Emerita at Wellesley College, the author of Greek Gods, Human Lives, and the forthcoming, History Lesson (Yale University Press).


"Nous ne faisons confiance à aucun homme, mais aux dieux seuls." (l'empereur Julien)

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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Electra le Dim 30 Mar 2014, 17:21

"The God of the Hebrews created the earth for the benefit of humankind"
so i am glad the Hebrews had a god who created them according to their holy boo.
European tradition has also tried to answer the basic questions: who are we? where are we? and what are we doing here?
The Bible is not as old as it pretends to be according to some more recent findings.
Why should Neolithics in Europe have anything to do with the judeo-christian God who set up the jewish faith?
The Bible is based on the 27 000 caly tablets found on the land occupied by ancient Sumerias. it is not orignial but just recuperating what pre-existed. Nothing new under the sun.
Homer wrote some 4 000 years before Christ is that right? So ther was a tradition well alive then.
Prehistoric man in Europe wa said to have acquire a religious conscience chen he realized that he was mortal.
As he saw his brother die he felt the need to ritaize the event and invent a burial ceremony of a kind.
Neither do i think that "Adam & Eve" were just one couple from which we are all issue. The World is a vast place.
So frankly i cannot agree with the assumption that the Hebrew God YHWH or JEHOVAH is older or that Zeus differs from him as he only inherited mankind.
I don't find any logic in this theorizing at all.
In Hellenistic cosmology it is clear that there were other gods and that Zeus was just a reacutalisation of what already existed.
The difference with judeo-christianism being that Greek thinking treats man as an adult and leaves him to deal with his own freewill and destiny (which is not necessarily a contradiction) whereas the middle eastern version of the deity is rather paternalistic and even totalitarian.
It must be noted that before the Jews were monotheistic the were "polythists". In fact many of the biblical stories refer to such a fact.
For instance Rachel sits on the statues of the Dove Goddess whose priestess she was. A persecution was going on against that particular cult at the time.
So who was there god or gods and goddesses of the Beginnings...? and before that?
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par vivius le Mer 02 Avr 2014, 21:30

en français ça serait possible????  Sad 
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Electra le Ven 04 Avr 2014, 16:37

Bonjour,
Excusez-moi le message d'Helléniste est en anglais donc j'ai répondu en anglais.
Une de mes langues "maternelles".
En gros, je dis pourquoi prendre la Bible pour référence en parlant des Grecs et de leur pensée, religion et divinités?
Le Bible n'est que l'histoire des juifs. De plus, elle a puisé ses racines dans les textes sumériens (Gilgamesh et son épopée, la notion de paradis, la création de l'homme et l'Eden,etc.). Dans ces textes dieu est au pluriel.
Si Zeus a hérité du trône olympien d'un panthéon plus ancien; le dieu de la Bible a aussi hérité d'un polythéisme plus ancien.
Le monothéisme juif a été précédé par un polythéisme qui fut fortement réprimé. Les divers épisodes sont contés dans le texte biblique. Un exemple est présent dans la narration de la vie de Rachel qui à un moment est assise sur les statues des dieux pour ne pas que les "inquisiteurs" de l'époque les brisent, elle prétend pour cela être dans l'état particulier aux femmes. Il est question de la destruction de nombreux temples. N'est-ce pas là aussi l’histoire de Samson et Dalila, de la vigne et de Jézabel, et même de la reine de sabat et du roi Salomon.
Bref YHWH ou Jehovah sont encore plus récents que les dieux de Sumer et les polythéismes préhellénique. Moïse aurait été un égyptien qui aurait emporté avec lui la religion égyptienne et l'aurait adaptée. D"autres assimile à un demi-dieu. Il semble plus que probable que les Hébreux "ceux qui errent" ont emprunter leurs croyances aux sumériens et aux égyptiens à l'occasion de leurs divers mises en esclavage par ces peuples.
Ils se définirent alors comme "juifs" (le terme désignant non une race mais l'adhésion a un système religieux).
Abraham qui pourrait être un terme générique pour "les errants" (abrar=errer, en arabe) et qui sortait de Ur serait à l'origine de deux peuples sémitiques; mais ce ne sont que des suppositions.
Il s'enfuit de Ur où était célébrée le culte de la déesse Innana avec son épouse qui était aussi sa sœur. Non seulement l'histoire commence par un inceste mais en plus il l'offre aux hommes de Sodome afin de s'en tirer lui-même. Plus tard, les filles de Lot vont enivrer leur père pour s'accoupler avec lui et refonder une tribu.
Je ne sais pas ce que vous en pensez mais, personnellement, je ne crois pas que les biblistes aient des leçons à donner aux polythéistes.
Il est clair que le texte proposé par un supposé expert américain provient d'un protestant tout voué à la bible.
Un livre qui a apporté beaucoup de misères au monde et qui a été l'émulation pour d'autres religions de plus en plus contraignante et éloignée de la véritable nature humaine.
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Minutio le Ven 04 Avr 2014, 20:52

Very Happy  Allons enfants de l'Agora, le jour de gloire est arrivé, contre nous les anglicismes
 je sors  pardon
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Electra le Ven 04 Avr 2014, 22:07

Est-ce une critique?
Je suis espagnole!!!
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Electra le Ven 04 Avr 2014, 22:08

Je ne savais pas que l'on venait chez vous pour passer des examens de français!
Franchement ce n'est pas très sympa!
Je préfère retourner en Grèce quelque part...
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Electra le Sam 05 Avr 2014, 00:29

Next time i won't bother to translate!

What is is to be a mug!
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Aornis Eleia le Sam 05 Avr 2014, 20:02

Allons enfants de l'Agora, le jour de gloire est arrivé, contre nous les anglicismes
On est ici dans la partie internationale de l'Agora ... Et quand bien même, vive l'anglais!


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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par vivius le Dim 06 Avr 2014, 10:49

je te remercie electra pour l explication que tu as donne en francais il aurait ete dommage pour moi de passer a cote d un sujet si passionnant. il est clair que beaucoup d agoriens possedent des connaissances historiques ou linguistiques que je ne possede pas ayant du tres tot quitter les bancs de l ecole pour aller gagner ma croute....je ne pensais pas vexer qui que ce soit en demandant une traduction etait ce trop demander?
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Electra le Mar 08 Avr 2014, 20:20

Vivius la vie et une école!
Le principal n'est-il pas de savoir vivre.
Quant aux dieux, il ne regarde pas nos diplômes mes nos cœurs, nos âmes et nos vies.
D'ailleurs, il est difficile de se faire une idée de la façon si personnalisée et bienveillante avec laquelle ils se penchent sur chacune de nos destinées.
La spiritualité bénéficie de l'étude mais elle ne l'y est pas une condition sine qua non.
Quant à moi, j'ai peu de mérites à connaître toutes ces langues; ce sont les circonstances surtout qui ont fait que...un don des dieux quoi!
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par vivius le Mer 09 Avr 2014, 12:27

de belles et sages paroles tu as l inteligence du coeur comme tous mes amis et amies de l agora
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Electra le Mer 09 Avr 2014, 15:19

Oui je remercie les dieux de m'avoir conduite jusqu’à l'Agora; car les membres sont des gens gentils, sérieux et harmonieux.

Cela nous aide tous à progresser.
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Re: Bring Back the Greek Gods ! by Mary Lefkowitz

Message par Minutio le Jeu 10 Avr 2014, 23:53

C'était une boutade Electra et si je t'es offensé je tiens en m'en excuser  Embarassed
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