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date: 03 October 2022

religion, Greeklocked

religion, Greeklocked

  • Emily Kearns


Despite the diversity of the Greek world, which is fully reflected in its approach to things divine, the cult practices and pantheons current among different communities have enough in common to be seen as essentially one system, and were generally understood as such by the Greeks. This is not to say that the Greeks were familiar with the concept of ‘a religion’, a set of beliefs and practices espoused by its adherents as a matter of conscious choice, more or less to the exclusion of others; such a framework was not applied to Greek religion before late antiquity, and then under pressure from Christianity. Boundaries between Greek and non-Greek religion were far less sharp than is generally the case in comparable modern situations, but they were perceived to exist. The tone is set by *Herodotus(1) (8. 144. 2), who characterizes ‘Greekness’ (τὸ Ἑλληνικόν) as having common temples and rituals (as well as common descent, language, and customs). Thus, despite his willingness to identify individual Persian or Egyptian deities with Greek ones (a practice followed by most Greek ethnographers), and indeed despite his attribution of most of the system of divine nomenclature to the Egyptians (2. 50–2), he still sees a body of religious thought and practice which is distinctively Greek. Many modern scholars go further and see a certain overall coherence in this body which enables us to speak of a ‘system’ despite the lack of formal dogma or canonical ritual.


  • Greek Myth and Religion

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