Monday, December 28, 2015

It's All Greek to Me

The ancient Greeks had themselves a badass religion.

In their origin story, a few primary divine beings emerge from nothingness.  One of them, a female named Gaia (the Earth), needs no male assistance to give birth to Uranus (the Sky).  Uranus then proceeds to fertilize his mother, and from that union the Titans are born, six males and six females.

(Take that, Mary, Gaia immaculately conceived the father of her own children!)

Gaia eventually gets fed up with Uranus, and convinces one of her Titan children, Cronus, to castrate him, which he does, with gusto.  Cronus then becomes the ruler of the Titans, with his sister Rhea as consort.  But wait, there’s more.  So much more.

Cronus feared that one of his children would betray him just as he had betrayed his own father.  So each time his sister / consort Rhea gave birth, Cronus snatched up the baby and ate it.  Rhea eventually got tired of this, and so when she gave birth to Zeus she hid the newborn, and wrapped a stone in a baby’s blanket.  The trick worked; Cronus ate the stone thinking it was the new baby, and Zeus was saved.

Once Zeus grew up, he gave Cronus a drugged-laced drink which caused Cronus to vomit, and out came all of Rhea’s other children (still alive, of course) as well as the stone.  Zeus then challenged Cronus to a duel, with the prize being the kingship of the gods.  Zeus (and his thrown-up siblings) were victorious, and Cronus and the rest of the Titans were banished to Tartarus (the Abyss).  That is how Zeus became King of the Gods.

Just one more, this time rather than paraphrase I’ll quote the Wikipedia article directly:

Zeus was plagued by the same concern and, after a prophecy that the offspring of his first wife, Metis, would give birth to a god "greater than he"—Zeus swallowed her. She was already pregnant with Athena, however, and she [Athena] burst forth from his head—fully-grown and dressed for war.

The enthralling narratives go on and on.  Greek mythology is vast, complex and fascinating, and many of its themes resonate in “modern” religions.  Today, we study the religion of the ancient Greeks (as we study other ancient religions) in order to gain insight into their civilization, but we don’t think of it as sacred, or written by gods, or anything more than a collection of stories made up by people trying to explain the world around them.

Nobody sees the irony in this?  What is the difference between Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. and Greek mythology?  What makes monotheism somehow more “advanced” than polytheism?  Isn’t it really just another, less interesting, version of the same thing?  Will we ever learn to accept that there are things we just don’t understand (yet), instead of making up complex, irrational explanations that don’t even make sense within their own constructs?

Or, perhaps more likely, will the human beings of three thousand years from now study our religions, considering them the mythology of a primitive people, while believing in their own, “new and improved” fairy tales?