Friday, June 26, 2015

Classical Mythology

Classical Mythology

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We will go to worship Zeus
Though his morals are quite loose
He gave Leda quite a goose
And he's good enough for me!

The mythology of ancient Greece and Rome is the Older Than Feudalism namer of many tropes, in addition to well-known gods, heroes and monsters. An important element of Ancient GreeceThe Roman Republic and The Roman Empire.

Classical mythology is sometimes referred to as "Greek Mythology" by people who don't think the Romans contributed much or take the two mythologies separately.

However, contrary to common belief, the Roman version isn't completely identical to the Greek one; Rome's own legends became closer to Greek mythology around the end of the monarchy and the foundation of The Republic. Ancient Greek and Roman religions descent from a common Proto-Indo-European religion, hence the similar characters not only to each-other but also Norse Mythology and Hindu Mythology

That said, Roman mythology was probably (though records are sparse) influenced by that of their closer neighbours - the Etruscans, while Greek mythology was probably influenced by their Near Eastern neighbours - Anatolian or Mesopotamian.

Take, for instance, the emphasis on complicated divination methods that were alien to the Greeks or the fact that some of their gods, such as Mars (his Greek counterpart Ares is a dumb brute, while Mars is a highly competent badass) or Saturn, are largely different from their Greek counterparts. 

The Roman religion (the actual practice of worshipping the gods in question) was also extremely different from the Greek one, dealing more with human representatives of the remote gods rather than stories of the gods themselves.
Essentially, think of the Roman version as a Continuity Reboot if that helps. It's not really, but it's a close enough analogy.

The Aeneid was a sequel to and imitation of the Greek Iliad, which is attributed to HomerThe Odyssey was the original (surviving) sequel to the Iliad, written in Greek and supposedly by the same guy who wrote the Iliad, though we really don't know (especially since Homer was a blind, illiterate poet who relied solely on oral recitations). Both were part of the Trojan Cycle, which included six other lost epics.

The central figures of Greek mythology were the Twelve OlympiansZeusHeraPoseidonDemeterAthenaAresHermesHephaestusAphroditeApolloArtemis, and Hestia. While an important god, Hades lived in the Underworld and thus was not an Olympian; Hestia was sometimes not counted because she gave up her seat to the younger Dionysus.

In Homer's portrayal, they were basically super-powered humans without the super- that comes standard with powers these days. Zeus, for example, was a philandering rapist, responsible for a large share of the god-human hybrids running around. Many of these became great heroes, the most famous of which was Hercules/Heracles/Herakles

Though you'd think Zeus's wife and sister Hera would be a sympathetic character, she spends most of her time taking out her frustrations on said heroes, probably because Zeus, said to be more powerful than all the other gods and goddesses combined, was beyond her ability to take any meaningful revenge on. 

Other gods engaged in similar behavior. Hades, while not as evil as his Theme Park Version, got his wife by kidnapping his niece Persephone (with Zeus's approval and assistance). 

This prompted the girl's mother, Demeter, to create summer in retaliation.note  And then there's Ares... well, he just about defines the word Jerk Ass.

The Titans were a previous generation of gods overthrown by Zeus, though in The Theme Park Version they tend to be treated as another class of beings entirely. There were also minor gods such as the MusesGraces, and countless nymphs, plus various monsters which you can today read about in the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.

Also there are the oft forgotten, primordial gods that preceded the Titans, Gaia being the most well known of them (though often mistaken for a titan).

While the Romans generally tried to identify their deities with the Greek ones, there were a few Roman/Italic ones for which no exact Greek equivalent could be found, e.g. Flora and Bellona. The former was a nymph-like goddess of flowers and spring (most similar to Chloris), and the latter was a goddess of war variously identified as Mars' wife or sister (most similar to Enyo).

It should be noted that Greek and Roman religious ideas were not monolithic. In later years, people began worshiping all kinds of newfangled eastern gods. Plato wanted to outlaw Homer's epics because he thought their gods were bad role-models

Considering their lack of Comes Great Responsibility, he may have had a point. Philosophers exercised various degrees of skepticism towards the old myths, to the point that Socrates and the Epicureans were accused of atheism (though some scholars say that atheism in those days meant a lack of worship for the gods and not a lack of belief). 

Some historians, notably Euhemerus, tried to reinterpret the gods as having originally been great kings. In The Bible book, Acts of the Apostles, the apostle, Paul of Tarsus, invited to explain his religion to a group of intellectuals in Athens, only interested a few converts while the others were apparently asking questions he couldn't answer satisfactorily.

The Epicurean writer Lucian of Samosata was already deconstructing popular religious stories in the second century AD. Belief in classical mythology gradually waned between the second and fifth centuries, largely due to the spread of the then-new religion Christianity

In fact the Romans' dislike of Christians stemmed from the fact that Christians refused to accept any god but their own, which the Romans considered arrogant (as well as treasonous, in a state where the Emperor was also the head of the Imperial cult and many past Emperors had been deified). Later, the Greeks and Romans got tired of what they perceived as their gods' antics and weren't spiritually fulfilled, hence the conversion to Christianity.

In addition to all this, the Greeks (and, later, the Romans) had a habit of identifying and referring to other people's gods by the names of their own deities. So a Germanic tribe might be said to worship Mercury if their principal god was similar enough to the guy; it helped that many of the peoples they came in contact with (the Celts and Germans in particular) were Indo-European and thus their mythologiesshared a common origin

There was also strong regional variation in worship of individual gods, both in emphasizing individual gods and particular attributes of the various gods. See how Mars was the god of War making the Romance languages' Tuesday mardi, marti, and martes and Tiw was the Saxon (English) god of War.

Greek Mythology has been very influential in literature, art, and many other things so it's named a lot of tropes. In fact, of all the pagan mythologies of Europe, it had the largest impact on the modern occidental culture (hence, it is the Greek myths we call "classical", not the NorseCeltic, or Slavic Mythology), as when the European artists and poets sought new inspirations outside the universal (for that time and region) Christian/biblical artistic dogma, they discovered them in the classical antiquity. 

This was particularly prevalent during The Renaissance, which was characterized by the rediscovery of ancient artistic canons and daring mergers of the Christian tradition with the classic paganism (codified by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy).

It's useful to note that a lot of the epics we get from Classical Mythology are some of the biggest Crossovers in history: as an example, Ariadne was helped by Icarus to learn the route of the Labyrinth so the pair and Theseus escaped. Theseus had his ship but Icarus didn't. So he built a pair of wings to get off Crete because his father had been banished there by the Athenians. Minos wasn't too pleased about the escape but good thing his wife's father was the Sun, right?

Characters from this period are universally recognizable to viewers thanks to a dress code heavy in drape-and-cinch unpatterned linens, plus, they've all made the uncanny decision to speak with a British Accent. For further details, see the character sheet.

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