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Ancient Greek Civilization and Mythology: An Overview

By Anantinee ‘JHUMPA’ Mishra

Ancient Greek civilization was the period following Mycenaean civilization, which ended about 12000 BCE, to the death of Alexander the Great, in 323 BCE. It was a period of political, philosophical, artistic, and scientific achievements that formed a legacy with unparalleled influence on western Civilization. This article is an attempt to present an overview of the ancient Greek civilization and its mythology.

Demography

The geography of Greece greatly influenced the culture, with few natural resources. It is surrounded by water, for which people gradually took to the sea for their livelihood. Mountains cover almost eighty percent of Greece and only small rivers run through a rocky and uneven landscape which, for the most part, provides little encouragement for agriculture. Consequently, the early ancient Greeks colonized neighboring islands and founded settlements along the coast of Anatolia (also known as Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey). The Greeks became skilled seafaring people and traders who, possessing an abundance of raw materials for construction in stone, and great skill, built some of the most impressive structures in antiquity.

Early History

Ancient Greek history is most easily understood by dividing it into time periods. The region was already settled, and agriculture initiated, during the Paleolithic era as evidenced by finds at Petralona and Franchthi caves (two of the oldest human habitations in the world). The Neolithic age (c. 6000-c. 2900 BCE) is characterized by permanent settlements (primarily in northern Greece), domestication of animals, and the further development of agriculture. Archaeological finds in northern Greece (Thessaly, Macedonia and Sesklo among others) suggest a migration from Anantolia in the ceramic cups and bowls and figures found there, as they share qualities distinctive to Neothilic finds in Anatolia. These inland settlers were primarily farmers, as Northern Greece was more conductive to agriculture than elsewhere in the region, and lived in one room stone houses with a roof of timber and clay daubing.

 The Cycladic Civilization

The Cycladic civilization flourished and thrived in the islands of the Aegean Sea (including Delos, Naxos and Paros) and provides the earliest evidence of continual human habitation in the region. During the Cycladic period, houses and temples were built of finished stone and the people made their living through fishing and often trading. This period can be easily categorized into Early Cycladic, Middle Cycladic and Late Cycladic with a steady development in art and architecture. The latter two phases overlap and finally merge with the Minoan Civilization, and differences between the periods become indistinguishable.

 The Minoan Civilization

The Minoan Civilization developed on the island of Crete, and rapidly become the dominant sea power in the region. The term ‘Minoan’ was coined by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who uncovered the Minoan palace of Knossos in 1900 CE and named the culture for the ancient Cretan king Minos. The name by which the people knew themselves, is sadly, lost in the winds and unknown to all.

 The Mycenaean and their Gods

The Mycenaean Civilization is commonly acknowledged as the beginning of the Greek culture, even though we know almost nothing about the Mycenaean save, what can be determined through archaeological finds and through Homer’s accountant of their war with Troy as recorded in the Iliad. They are credited with establishing the culture owing primarily to their architectural advances, their development of a writing system (known as Linear B, an early form of Greek descended from the Minoan Linear A), and the establishment, or enhancement of, religious rites. The Mycenaean appear to have been greatly influenced by the Minoans of Crete in their worship of earth goddesses and sky gods, which, in time, became the classical Greek pantheon.

 Greek Mythology

Greek mythology provided a solid paradigm of the creation of the universe, the world and human beings. An early myth relates how, in the beginning, there was nothing but chaos in the form of unending waters. From this chaos came the goddess Eurynome who separated the water from the air and began her dance of creation with the Serpent Ophion. From their dance, all creation sprang and Eurynome was, originally, the Great Mother Goddess and Creator of All Things.

By the time Hesiod and Homer were writing (8th century BCE), this story had changed into the more familiar myth concerning the titans , Zeus’s war against them, and the birth of the Olympian Gods with Zeus as their chief. This shift indicates a movement from a matriarchal religion to a patriarchal paradigm. Whichever model was followed, however, the Gods clearly interacted regularly with the humans who worshipped them and were a large part of their daily life in Ancient Greece. Prior to the coming of the Romans, the only road in mainland Greece that was not a cow path was the Sacred way which ran between the city of Athens and the holy city of Eleusis, the birthplace of the Elusinian Mysteries celebrating the goddess Demeter (agriculture dominantly) and her daughter Persephone (wife of Hades, god of underworld).

 Conclusion

When we know about the culture, beliefs, linguistics and heritage of different people, we tend to understand that despite having different stems, our roots are all the same. Learning and knowing our history, knowing what makes us the people we are today, what makes the united front we are today is the same as knowing about identity. Like for the Greeks, their mythology is their identity. And learning about the others’ identity, it helps us in our on quest for it. As I believe, the things we know about, we are most likely to repeat or not repeat it (respectively).

There isn’t a single history, which hasn’t had faults. Which hasn’t has all the wrong decisions, and the wrong consequences that followed. But then maybe, those wrongs are the thing which makes us what we are today. As it is very popularly said, two wrongs make a right.

It is important that we all learn something from our pasts. We should never forget our pasts, as somewhere, somewhat, they only shape up or present and our upcoming future.

About the Author:

Anantinee ‘JHUMPA’ Mishra is a prodigy author, poet and TED speaker. She is twelve years old studying in std.8th at Apeejay School, Saket, New Delhi.  She has published two books and many stories and articles in magazines and journals. At the age of ten, she published a 21,000 worded anthology of stories called ‘Treasure of Short Stories’. Last year her debut Novel ‘Manhattan to Munnar’ got released. Recently she has been conferred with a title ‘PRODIGY AUTHOR’ and an ‘HONORARY DIPLOMA’ by the Hon’ble Vice President of  India Sh. M Venkaiah Naidu.  

2 Comments

  1. Anantinee tries to depict about an European civilization which has left many things for posterity. It is short but informative for all.Let the child educate us in this way.

  2. J N Padhy

    Excellent contribution of the Author JHUMPA’ Mishra

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