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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 9. June 27, 1957

Visiting Cambridge Prof: — Greek Religion

Visiting Cambridge Prof:

Greek Religion

On Friday, 7th June. Professor Guthrie, of Cambridge University, lectured on Ancient Greek Religion. The scope of the talk was very broad and in the space of an hour this necessitated only a slight touching on the many issues involved. As Professor Murray said. "Whole books have been written on each of the points mentioned." However. Professor Guthrie drew these many aspects together with facility to produce an extremely interesting and in formative talk.

An important factor in the Ancient Greeks' thought was the negligible difference between their philosophy and their religion. Religion had a strong intellectual bias and was fused with patriotism in both its main strains, fertility—the earth, and ancestor worship. Among the Dorians the latter produced the idea of the gods as seen in the Iliad and the Odyssey. In this form of polytheism the gods were ordered into a patriarchal hierarchy. Zeus was the father of the great family which included all the gods and goddesses who ruled over men and earth. Many brave warriors could trace their genealogies back to a god (see, for instance. Achilles in the Iliad) This was the basis of divine power and hence, immortality.

Ancestor worship. Professor Guthrie said, could be regarded as a masculine principle. There was too the [unclear: worship] of the feminine principle in earth the mother of all life. Embodied in this was a belief in a possibility of union between the worshipper and the worshipped. This gave rise to orgies where Dionysus was worshipped, chiefly by women, as the symbol of youth and strength. These ceremonies were frowned upon by the authorities, so in order to suppress them the orgies were given official status, but were to be held only biannually high up on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. There is evidence that upon one occasion the frenzied women lost their way in the snow.

With the exception of the Orphics, who emphasised personal salvation, most Greeks had a corporate religion. Religious festivals were enjoyable affairs, often of a worldly and everyday character, fostered by the city corporation.

After Alexander there was a disintegration of the Homeric and a growth of the mystery religions.


There was an old man of [unclear: Karori]
Who vowed he would always vote Tory
Till a J.N.P. bod.
Put his daughter in pod,
And now It's a different story.