Page:The Mythology of the Aryan Nations.djvu/35

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SOCIETY OF THE GREEK HEROIC AGE.
CHAP. I.

Perikles and Aspasia, we see men and women mingling together in equal and pure companionship, free alike from the arrogance and servility of Oriental empires, and from the horrible vices which, if even then in germ, were not matured till the so-called heroic ages had long passed away.

Character of "Homeric" mythology.But these epic poems tell us also of gods, some of whom at least had all the vices and few of the virtues of their worshippers. They tell us of a supreme ruler and father of gods and men who had not always sat upon his throne, of other gods deposed and smitten down to dark and desolate regions, of feuds and factions, of lying and perjury, of ferocious cruelty and unmeasured revenge. They tell us of gods who delight in sensual enjoyments and care for little more than the fat of rams and goats, of gods who own no check to their passions and recognise no law against impurity and lust And even those gods who rise to a far higher ideal exhibit characters the most variable and actions the most inconsistent. The same being is at different times, nay, almost at the same time, just and iniquitous, truthful and false, temperate and debauched.

Contrast between mythological and religious belief.As describing the origin and attributes of the gods, the whole series of Greek myths may be said to form a theology; and with the character of the people this theology stands out in marked contrast. It is impossible for us to determine precisely the extent to which this mythical theology was believed, because it is not in our power to throw ourselves back wholly into their condition of thought; but if the absence of all doubt or reflexion constitute faith, then their faith was given to the whole cycle of fables which make up the chronicles of their gods. If, however, we look to its influence on their thoughts at times when the human heart is stirred to its depths, we can scarcely say that this huge fabric of mythology challenged any belief at all: and thus we must draw a sharp line of severance between their theology and their religion, if we use religion in the sense attached to the word by Locke or Newton, Milton or Butler. If the poet recounts the loves of Zeus, the jealousies of Hêrê, the feuds and the factions in Olympos, it is equally certain that Achilleus does not pray to a sensual and lying god who owns no law for himself and cannot be a law for man. The contrast is heightened if we turn to the poems known as the Hesiodic. If the poet narrates a theogony which incurred the detestation or disgust of Pindar and of Plato, he tells us also of a Divine King who is a perfectly upright judge, and loves those who are clean of hand and pure of heart.[1] If he tells
  1. The identity of authorship for the Hesiodic Theogony and the Works and Days is very doubtful: but the question is immaterial. Both poems exhibit the