This lecture examines the troubles of generalizing Greek religion, before doing just that. It lists the major Olympian gods and their roles. It then explores the function of heroes in Greek religion. Next, the relationship between gods and men is laid out. Finally, it explores aspects of Greek myth that reemerge in Christianity.
It is difficult to make generalizations about Greek religion. Like so much of Greek culture, Greek religion was a decentralized affair. Unlike monotheistic religions, Greek religion was not unified by a single god or holy text or bible. Though several Greek cults and priesthoods produced holy texts, in a polytheistic culture, it would be inaccurate to assume that the beliefs of one group held true for all of Greece.
The closest things the Greeks had to a Bible were the Iliad and the Odyssey. Yet the Greeks did not enshrine these epics and other Homeric myths as divine revelation. Instead, they looked to these tales for inspiration as they created myths and rituals suited to the specific needs of their communities. These myths and rituals, when taken as a whole, paint a varied picture of Greek religion.
Some facets of Greek religion seem strange as when the boys of Sparta were brutally beaten with flails during a rite of passage in which they tried to steal honey cakes from the shrine of Artemis. Other facets seem quite familiar. The Eleusinian notion of the afterlife as a place of peace and happiness sounds a lot the Christian notion of heaven. Still other facets seem familiar, yet are quite different. The Athenian boule, what we would call a congress, was considered a religious institution as much as a political one.