How Greek religion influenced development of intellectual thought especially literature and medicine


Introduction

Although much of modern philosophy and thought is attributed to the Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates the ancient Greek religion has played significant role in the influencing the modern day intellectual thought including literature science and medicine and philosophy.

Unlike modern religions such as Christianity and Islam that do not provide room for alternative thoughts, Greek religion incorporated alternative thought. People were allowed to question the practices, rituals and other religious practices. In addition, they were allowed to have their own gods, heroes and rituals based on their individual beliefs. Greek traditional religion was therefore unique and its tolerant and inquisitive nature has made it to retain influence in modern day societies. This essay strives to examine how Greek religion and mythologies and influenced intellectual thought.

This essay shall delve into the examination how the ancient religion influenced development of intellect especially in regard to literature, science and medicine. This essay investigates how the religion influenced literature, science and medicine. The first part of the essay discusses the ancient religions gods that were associated with knowledge and how ancient people used religion and religious practices to advance thoughts in areas such as literature, science and medicine.

Athena | Myths, Symbols, Facts, & Roman Name | Britannica
Athena: The goddess of knowledge, Source: Britannica

The influence of Athena the goddess of intellect

In the traditional Greek mythology and religion, those that were after knowledge worshipped Athena who was the goddess of wisdom, knowledge, war, art and craft and pottery (Hemingway and Hemingway, 2000). The goddess was believed to the source of knowledge and wisdom among Athenians and the city of Athens was named after her. The Greek people associated certain polis or cities with some gods and the city of Athens was associated with the god of wisdom because it was the city where most wise people resided. Also sophists who were people concerned with the acquisition of knowledge and skills resided in Athens. Unlike previously where other gods were involved in the physical matter such as water, fire, air or wind, the god of Athens was concerned with non physical matters which were matters of knowledge and wisdom.  Athena the goddess of knowledge was worshipped by people who loved knowledge. They believed that the Athena was a daughter of Zeus the god of thunderstorm and her mother was Metis (Deacy and Villing, 2001). It was believed that Athena was born from the head of Zeus. It was also believed in the mythology that worship of Athena gave the worshippers uncommon knowledge in craft, science, war and other crafts. Therefore the worshippers of Athena paid homage to her by coming Athens city where her temple was domiciled (Murray, 1924).  Other than the rituals offered to the gods in the temple, and unlike in other religions and deities, the worshippers in temple of Athena were allowed to ask questions and debate issues with each other. In addition, the seekers were allowed to question, make observation and deductions.

Contribution of Greek religion to intellect

It is through these practices that people of Athens became more knowledgeable and interested in intellectuality (Bowden, 2005). People were allowed to share thoughts irrespective of how ridiculous they were. It was in this city that famous philosophers such as Pythagoras. Socrates, Plato, Archimedes came from. The philosophers sought for observable or empirical evidence of various phenomena. Instead of purely relying on myths and unfounded explanations, the scholars and seekers of wisdom in Athens were known to seek for provable and proven ways of explaining phenomena. Green (1997) noted that for instance, the phenomena of rain were deconstructed in Athens by identifying that the formation of rain followed particular patterns. They noted that it resulted from sea water evaporating, forming vapour, which led to condensation of vapour into clouds which resulted into rain. The enlightenment aroused enthusiasm and interest in intellectuality as way as way of explaining matter. The city of Athens also housed scientists who discovered that there were small elements in every matter than constituted every matter. These theories constituted the earliest scientific basis which helped in identification of molecules in an atom which was basic foundation of science.  It is in Athens that worshippers and lovers of knowledge and wisdom emerged. This people would mostly be concerned with understanding knowledge and metaphysics. It is to this people that the current knowledge of language is attributed to as they developed the alphabet. Bowden (2005) noted that Greece was the city that developed the current form of alphabets that are used in modern day language. The development of alphabet transformed language and allowed significant amounts of information to be held through writing for future reference.

Contribution of Greek religion to literature

Greek religion has contributed immensely to literature. The Greek mythology which forms part of the components of literature is attributed to the Greek religion. The characters discussed in the famous Greek mythology Homer and Iliad such as Odysseus encounter various gods and goddesses such as indicated the influence of Greek religion on the literature. The religion has mostly influenced the literature especially in relation to myths and mythology in the study of literature (Baron, 2013). Myths cannot be described without taking the examples of Greek mythology as they were the most influential kind of myths that have lasted up to date.  It is also essential to note that Greek mythology has contributed significantly to literature through stories and such as Odyssey which is considered to be one of the greatest pieces of literature (Burkert, 1985). The story depicts how Odysseus wrestled with gods in order to return to his homeland. The Greek mythology especially the ones explained in Iliad and Odyssey remains classical and historical forms of literature that explain humans nature, as well as the nature of gods. The classical have been instrumentals in the development of English literature especially in use of metaphors and synonyms as well as idioms such as ‘Achilles heels” (Murray, 1924).  The most significant contribution of Greek religion to literature was in poetry and play writing. Some of the earliest plays that have been discovered were written by the Greek. Harrison (2010) noted that terms used in plays such as protagonist, antagonist, nemesis originated from the Greek ancient literature. Bowden (2005) noted that Greeks were also first to set the rules of writing plays such as having characters, setting the stage and the audience. The earliest plays were acted and done by Greek in their Olympus theatres.

Contribution of Greek religion to science

Greek religion especially has contributed immensely to science through the worship of Athena. Great mathematicians such as Pythagoras came from Athena and were responsible for the formulation of the Pythagoras theorem (Jones, 1946). The religion played a significant role in the development of science by bringing together people who were interested in knowledge of all kinds such as sciences together. The tolerant nature in the Greek religion allowed freedom of thought at a time when freedom of thought and contrary opinions was prohibited in most of the ancient societies. According to Burkert (1985) most of the ancient societies ascribed to creationist theories without interrogation. However, in the ancient Greek religion people were allowed not to be worshippers of one god. This enabled such people to interrogate nature without religious inhibitions. Burkert (1991) noted that in the Greek religion was made up of stoics and cynics as well as atheists. In fact according Bowden (2005) the ancient atheists were found in Greece due to the tolerant nature of the religion. The detachment from religion was foundational to the development of science. The tolenace of religion allowed people like Archimedes to develop scientific principles through their use of deduction approach to issues.  Burkert (1985) noted that Greek religion and traditions allowed people to make claims and then prove those by testing the statements or phenomena in order to determine whether the theory was true or not. This created scientific advancements because it allowed people to be inquisitive and to test phenomena in order to find the truth. The truth was supposed to be verifiable and observable. However, the limitation of technology and knowledge meant that most of the statements made at those medieval times could not be proven. Nevertheless, the statements and theories became foundation for modern day scientists especially in the areas of astronomy, mathematics, physics and chemistry.

Contribution of Greek religion to medicine

The other significant influence that Greek religion has had on intellect and intellectual development is in the field of medicine. The Greek religion believed in the Apollo the god of youth, healing, truth and sunlight (Wedlake, 1982). This god was believed to be responsible for restoration of wellness. However, those who believed in Athena the goddess of wisdom believed that the healing could also be explained naturally without invoking the supernatural. Therefore through the inquisitive nature of cynics espoused by Greek religion and culture there were those who did not believe that healing was supernatural. They believed that healing was biological and that ailments were a result of imbalances in the body (Jones, 1946). They therefore believed that by balancing the body fluids, they could restore the balance of the human body and thus restore the health of the ill person. This viewpoint led to significant biological research and writings especially by Hippocras who wrote the Hippocratic Oath and other biological writing such as Hippocratic Copernicus. In addition, there was increased scholarly work on the fields of medicine especially human anatomy where the ancients were able to discover the various parts of the body and the roles which played in the body. They also studied various types of ailments and how they affected the different parts of the body (Burkert, 1991). In addition, the adherents of the Greek traditional religion contributed significantly to modern day medicine not only by identifying the various types of illnesses as well as identifying the parts of the body. They also developed code of practice for doctors and people who practiced medicine. Most importantly they developed significant knowledge of human body which has been applied up to date (Longrigg, 1998).

Conclusion

Greek religion has played significant role in the influencing the modern day intellectual thought including literature science and medicine and philosophy. Unlike modern religions such as Christianity and Islam that do not provide tools for alternative thoughts, Greek religions incorporated alternative thought. People were allowed to question the practices, rituals and other religious practices. In addition, they were allowed to have their own gods, heroes and rituals based on their individual beliefs. Greek traditional religion was therefore unique and its tolerant and inquisitive nature has made it to retain influence in modern day societies and religions. The polytheism attributed to the Greek religion also contributed to intellectual development. The conflicts among gods as well as conflicts between the adherents of different gods brought about competition in thought as way of worship and veneration to different kind of gods. For instance those who worshipped Athena resided in Athens and tended to incline to intellectual curiosity and deductive approach to issues. Those who ascribed to Apollo were inclined towards healing, music and sought and their competition with those who ascribed to Athena led to the development of knowledge that pertained to healing of the human body which has led to the development of the modern day medicine practices which are evident today.

References

Allen, W. (2004) ‘New Gods of Greek Tragedy’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 5(4), pp. 21-44.

Baron, A. (2013) Timaeus of Tauromenium and Hellenistic Historiography. Cambridge University Press.

Bowden, H. (2005) Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle: Divination and Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Burkert, W. (1985) Greek Religion. London: William Heinemann.

Burkert, W. (1991) Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical. London: William Heinemann.

Deacy, S. and Villing, A. (2001) Athena in the Classical World. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill.

Green, M. (1997) Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. London: Thames and Hudson.

Harrison, J. (2010) Themis: A study to the Social origins of Greek Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hemingway, C. and Hemingway, S. (2000) ‘Greek Gods and Religious Practices.’ In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jones, W. (1946) Philosophy and Medicine in Ancient Greece. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.

Longrigg, J. (1998) Greek Medicine From the Heroic to the Hellenistic Age. New York: Sage. 

Murray, A. (1924) Homer, The Iliad with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann.  

Wedlake, J. (1982) The Excavation of the Shrine of Apollo at Nettleton, Wiltshire, 1956–1971. London: Society of Antiquaries of London.

Published by Samuel Ng'ang'a Mwangi

One day I had too much to tell but there was no one to tell the story. I had to write articles, print them and then give them out to anyone who cared to read. Author of "So You Want To Get Into Courtship?" A Guide To Purposeful Christian Courtship. I write and rewrite on my blog www.mwelisa.com.

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