This week something completely different, we are wandering away from talk of bread and circuses, of town and traffic, of highways and byways, of litter and louts and the like. Instead we will stray back into the mists and myths of time to the very pantheon of classic times.
Each civilisation has felt the need to create an array of super beings or is it the other way round? They abound in the mythologies of ancient Japan, China, Mexico, Norse, Celtic peoples and that of so many more. But in terms of western culture the classic eras of Greece and Rome and their respective pantheons of gods have proved enduring and influential in many formative ways. So today for a change from the mundane, the minutiae of daily life, let me introduce you to a few gods – it’s not often we have the opportunity!
From Chaos To Titanic
In Greek myth, at the beginning of all things Mother Earth emerged from Chaos and bore a son Uranus. Uranus fathered the Titans upon Mother Earth. The Titans were giants, the best known being Cronus and Atlas. Cronus and his brothers attacked Uranus and killed him. Cronus then became the chief god. Subsequently Crinus had a son called Zeus who in turn engaged in a great struggle with Cronus and his brothers, eventually overcoming them. Titanic’ then is aptly applied to a struggle between mighty forces.
Did you know, by the way, that the ‘Olympic’ and ‘Brittanic’ were sister ships of the much more famous ‘Titanic’. According to Classical-era mythology, after the overthrow of the Titans, the new pantheon of gods and goddesses was confirmed. Among the principal Greek deities were the Olympians (The limitation of their number to twelve seems to have been a comparatively modern idea residing atop Mount Olympus under the eye of Zeus. Besides the Olympians, the Greeks worshiped various gods of the countryside, the goat-god Pan, Nymphs (spirits of rivers), Naiads (who dwelled in springs), Dryads (who were spirits of the trees), Nereids (who inhabited the sea), river gods, Satyrs, and others. In addition, there were the dark powers of the underworld, such as the Erinyes (or Furies), said to pursue those guilty of crimes against blood-relatives. In order to honour the ancient Greek pantheon, poets composed the Homeric Hymns (a group of thirty-three songs). Gregory Nagy regards “the larger Homeric Hymns as simple preludes (compared with Theogony), each of which invokes one god”.
In the wide variety of myths and legends that Greek mythology consists of, the deities that were native to the Greek peoples are described as having essentially corporeal but ideal bodies. According to one scholar in this area, Walter Burkert, the defining characteristic of Greek anthropomorphism is that “the Greek gods are persons, not abstractions, ideas or concepts”. Regardless of their underlying forms, the ancient Greek gods have many fantastic abilities; most significantly, the gods are not affected by disease, and can be wounded only under highly unusual circumstances. The Greeks considered immortality as the distinctive characteristic of their gods; this immortality, as well as unfading youth, was insured by the constant use of nectar and ambrosia, by which the divine blood was renewed in their veins.
Music of the Muses
Each god descends from his or her own genealogy, pursues differing interests, has a certain area of expertise and is governed by a unique personality; however, these descriptions arise from a multiplicity of archaic local variants, which do not always agree with one another. When these gods were called upon in poetry, prayer or cult, they are referred to by a combination of their name and epithets, that identify them by these distinctions from other manifestations of themselves (e.g. Apollo Musagetes is “Apollo, [as] leader of the Muses”). Did you know that the word music comes directly from that word – music or musique – the technique of the self same muses. Many artists traditionally looked to their ‘muses’ for inspiration or consolation but that’s another day’s story altogether! Most gods were associated with specific aspects of life. For example, Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, Ares was the god of war, Hades the god of the dead, and Athena the goddess of wisdom and courage. Some deities, such as Apollo and Dionysus, revealed complex personalities and mixtures of functions, while others, such as Hestia (literally “hearth”) and Helios (literally “sun”), were little more than personifications.
The most impressive temples tended to be dedicated to a limited number of gods, who were the focus of large pan-Hellenic cults. It was, however, common for individual regions and villages to devote their own cults to minor gods. Many cities also honoured the more well-known gods with unusual local rites and associated strange myths with them that were unknown elsewhere.
Big, Very Big Words
Colossal is a synonym for gigantic. It derives from the Greek word ‘kolossos’/Latin, ‘colossus’, meaning a giant statue. The most famous colossus was the Colossus of Rhodes – a bronze statue of the god Apollo that stood over one hundred feet near the harbour. It finds mention in Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser. The eponymous hero was described thus: he doth bestride the narrow world/like a Colossus; and we petty men/Walk under his huge legs, and peep about ..It was also one of the 7 wonders of the world. The Colosseum in Rome was a huge amphitheatre – a building with tires of seats around an open space/arena – it was opened in 80 AD by the Emperor Titus. Those were the days when it was thought sufficient to keep the masses happy by ensuring they had plenty of bread and circuses (chariot racing ,gladiators even throwing Christians to the lions). This policy was/is referred to in Latin as ‘panem et circenses’. There are cynical people out there who perceive this practice still being deployed by various governments in this the 3rd millennium against there people. When researching for this article I unexpectedly (serendipity like) came across this strong piece on this subject by a chap called Mike Wasdin. Is he on the ball or is he being carried away in a flood of his own verbosity? Let you be the judge!
Panem et Circenses
Bread and circuses became the method that the ruling class of ancient Rome used to maintain their power and control of the people. This method kept their sheep fat and happy, even as they fleeced them and sent them off to plunder the free world.
The circuses have changed from the gladiator contests live in the coliseum, to the good vs. evil games on our modern televisions. No longer do we need to leave our homes to watch the games in person, as they are delivered to our homes in full Technicolor.
Every four years the power brokers put on an audience interactive game, where (in theory) the sheep have a chance to direct the path of government and decide who will be their master for the next four years. This guise is referred to as a Democratic Election, when in truth it is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
It is all a big chess game and the moves are carefully planned. As with the Romans, the sheep have become more interested in the game itself than their own freedom. In these modern times, a football or basketball game draws more attention than a protest against an illegal war, where our children are being slaughtered. Ancient Rome has fallen and been replaced by the power elite in the capital, but the game is the same: keep the sheep fat, happy, and stupid as you send them off to die for the enrichment of the State. There seems to be no greater honour than sacrifice for the State, as long as it is someone else’s son or daughter.
Nothing has changed in 2,000 years, and nothing will change in the future. The sheep are stupid and will never see the boot on their face, as they are too busy watching the games. As long as the State never attempts to take away their football or beer, the mindless sheep will continue to be content.
Well what do you think? A load of you know what or bang on the money? Well that was the Greek and Romans for ya – so much for Pax Romanis and all that! Back to the leafy glades of the DMR next week.
Go aeachtain eile, slan.