Hesiod “Theogony”

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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17 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    A Voegelin quote, if that doesn’t lure Bob out then nothing will.
    I’m with you on the last paragraph, I also can’t imagine what it would have been like to view every natural landscape and event as a consequence of whim on behalf of some local entity. How helpless it must have felt to see the world around oneself as so unpredictable and uncontrollable.Report

    • Avatar Rufus says:

      Yeah, I don’t want to overdo it. There is an order to the Greek world, which is certainly better than nothing. But I’m often struck, especially in the dramas, how easy it is to violate that order and how severe the punishments are for doing so.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The other day, in the computer lab, I was arguing about Superboy. Specifically, Smallville.

    A co-worker tells me that I would absolutely adore the show. I don’t know. I don’t watch television much anyway and though I am a DC partisan, I find Batman far more interesting than Superman (let alone Superboy!). In any case, I asked about how Smallville handled Lex Luthor’s hair loss… specifically, I was wondering if the main cause was Superboy blowing out a chemical fire into a building where Lex was causing it.

    When he told me that some of the Kryptonian debris that showered down and caused Lex to lose his hair, I surprised myself by saying “that’s not what happened!”

    And it dawned on me that I was capable of having a Talmudic discussion over exactly how a guy who didn’t exist lost his hair and getting irritated when a show I didn’t watch devoted to a character I didn’t particularly like screwed it up.

    And I wonder how much analogy there is to this and to how the ancients related to their gods. Not that they believed that they were “really” real and “really” turned chaos into order but that they were a metaphor for what “really” happened. (Shout out to Chris D!!!)

    I explained this theory to Maribou after we saw a “I believe in Harvey Dent” bumper sticker and she shook her head and said “you’re just trying to make the strange familiar. We don’t build temples to Batman.” So maybe that’s what’s going on.

    But it still feels analogous.Report

    • Avatar Rufus says:

      It’s hard to say. There are writings about atheists from back then and they take a rather dimmer view of said atheists than we might about a Batman “non-believer.” One thing that I find interesting about that time is that, if the people in the next city over worship another god, I don’t get much sense that people cared much.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        To expand on the quote above:

        I have the (undereducated and hazily informed) opinion that for the vast majority, they took these things SERIOUSLY. Se. Ri. Ous. Ly. Monuments, sacrifices, ruin your life to suit your understanding of the gods seriously. However, where I think Jaybird’s interpretation does have validity is when you look at the works of some of the major dramatists. Aeschylus, Euripides…. those guys *were* using the gods as literary characters, and did have “canon” type dust-ups about them. Sometimes the self-awareness is so thick it’s practically palpable. And that does make me wonder about what other elite intellectuals of the time thought… it does not strike me as implausible that they were giving good speech to the idea of the gods being Really Really Real and internally thinking of them more as Velveteen Rabbit Real. Sort of crypto-atheists?

        But that’s really quite speculative as I don’t even *read* Greek. Nor even Latin.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          Yeah, I’d actually be interested in finding out if someone’s written a history of atheism. I don’t know how seriously the elite took the gods.Report

          • Avatar maribou says:

            There are a few. We actually own both Thrower’s “Western Atheism: A Short History” and Jennifer Hecht’s “Doubt: A History” (not exactly the same thing but I expect there’s a fair amount of overlap)…. but I haven’t read either of them yet.

            *eyes her many towering stacks of unread books sheepishly*Report

  3. Avatar Mr. Prosser says:

    “And yet, when I consider the myriad examples of environmental devastation we’ve caused; of which I think we can disagree about the extent, but not the fact; it’s hard not to think that something has been lost with all we’ve gained in mastering nature and dethroning the gods.” I’m not convinced the ancients were any more entranced by the natural world than moderns. They may have staked out certain areas as belongng to or having been created by one god or another but it did not stop the overgrazing of Mesopotamia and the Greek peninsula by newly domestiated goats and sheep. It did not stop the eradication of the cedar forests of Lebanon or the erosion and siltification of many of the Mediterranean river deltas. I often wonder if there was more hypocrisy and cynicism in the ancient world than now. Or perhaps it was more an attitude of, “Our gods’ lands are sacred but we can despoil the lands of our enemies since their gods are weak or false.”Report

    • Avatar Rufus says:

      That’s a good point. It might also help to have someone to make offerings to.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Ya wanna make an eco warriors nose scrunch up, point out what the “earthloving ancient cultures” did to their environments. The ancient peoples didn’t lack the will to shape the world to suit them. They just lacked our means.Report

  4. I think one other important thing you can get out of all this is the idea that the more civilized man becomes, the more civilized his God, or his Gods, become. The farther back you go, the more capricious, brutal, and bloodthirsty they seem to appear. By the time somebody came up with the idea that there might just be one God who actually loves people so much he is willing to take on human flesh and suffer a horrible fate, so you don’t have to, its little wonder so many people were willing to say, yeah I can go for that. It didn’t really matter much that the same God was going around exterminating entire population centers in an earlier time. He must have had his reasons, right?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Hrm. I dunno. For every step forward, there seems to be a step back.

      Look at the G-d of the Hebrews. Sure, he wipes out the world every now and again. Genocide is something that happens. Life in the state of nature is something something something. Not terribly subtle nor sophisticated.

      By the time we move forward enough to have an afterlife, we see non-believers given to torment for eternity.

      We have moved from a place where life was a crapshoot and then you got to rest (if you were lucky, rest in the bosom of Abraham) to a place where, after you die, you either get to live in a nice house or torment.

      I understand that the birth of Christianity was bloody and the thought of the gladiator who impaled your children getting torment for eternity (perhaps even while you watch) is a comforting one… there’s a seriously troubling undercurrent there.

      I understand that Hell has also evolved over the past few centuries… we’ve got the whole “God’s face turned away” interpretation, the “annihilation” interpretation, so on and so forth…

      But we did move from a God that only tested you in this life to a God that would torment you for all time. That isn’t exactly a step up.Report

      • Avatar Rufus says:

        I guess one step up was replacing family line curses with eternal damnation. Both of them answer the question of the evildoer who seems to be making out okay. The idea that the family line will be cursed means at least his descendants will get it in the neck; and the idea of eternal damnation means he’ll get it after he’s dead. Admittedly, there’s quite a bit in the Old Testament about the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons, but I don’t think it appears after Jeremiah. So, that’s an improvement.

        But, yeah, I’d note that most of the Greek myths talk about angry gods who can kill you, not punish you for eternity. At least, not if you’re mortal. On the other hand, the Greek afterlife was sort of dark and miserable for everyone as I understand it.Report

  5. Actually, the idea of hell as we understand it today originated with pagan mythology. The Greek Tartarus was the ultimate destination of criminals and miscreants, and it was seen as eternal punishment of a severe form. Whereas the good people were given a lifetime of bliss, free of pain and woe, in the Elysian Fields. There are other examples of a belief in a good or a bad afterlife in other pagan cultures. If anything, the Christians seem to have borrowed a page from their book in this matter.

    The only real innovation of Christianity, as I see it, is a belief in a physical resurrection, and even that might have begun as a belief in reincarnation, it is just unclear. It was actually an adoption and expansion of later, post-Babylonian captivity Jewish belief, which was a bone of contention between rival Jewish schools of thought.

    For example, the Sadducee movement, which was comprised of the upper class, believed it manifested through later generations. Your life and its works would manifest through your descendants. At least some sects of the Pharisees believed it was an actual, physical resurrection from the grave. But its not exactly clear to me how widespread this belief was or exactly what it meant, or what came next.

    The Christians seem to have fused the two beliefs, in a judgment leading to heaven or hell following a resurrection from the grave of the physical body.

    Where their beliefs represent a step up is in the belief that God loves all people equally and gives them the opportunity and an avenue to achieve heaven and avoid hell, the latter of which is seen as a natural consequence of a rejection of God and his laws. In other words, God doesn’t put you in hell, you put yourself there, more or less, by refusing his love and mercy.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I don’t know. Lazarus and the Rich Man seems to display a different dynamic.

      Luke 16:25 seems to come out and explicitly say “the tables have been turned”. There wasn’t a refusal of love/mercy as much as the Rich Man was a dick and he went to Hell. This was Justice, not a repudiation of Mercy.Report