The religion of the Greeks was an integral part of ancient Greek civilization. Nearly all of the activities of Greek life were carried out in the shadow of Mt. Olympus. Yet, despite the many legacies of Greece to later Western culture, Greek religion did not survive beyond the first few centuries of the Common Era(C.E.). Traditional Greek religion was weakened by the Greeks themselves, when the philosophers forced the gods out of the sanctuary of Homeric poetry and into the arena of abstract rational discourse. The final blow was inflicted by Christianity, which eventually became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
But the Greeks managed to have their say despite all of this, for the same Greek philosophy that undermined the gods had a profound impact on the Judeo-Christian tradition, which has formed the religious sensibilities of the West. Thus, our exploration of the role of the Greeks in the history of Western religion will take us from Olympus, to the Athens of Plato's Academy, and then to Jerusalem: we shall begin with the Greeks' own religion, then move to a brief analysis of how Greek philosophy affected that religion, and conclude with a look at the impact of Greek philosophy on Judeo-Christian notions of the divine and the human.
This article is based on a lecture delivered at the The Greeks Institute, a series of lectures presented to secondary school teachers in the Bridgeport Public Schools during the spring of 1989. Co-sponsored by the Connecticut Humanities Council, Sacred Heart University, and the Bridgeport Public Schools, the purpose of the institute has been to provide teachers with an interdisciplinary exploration of classical Greece for the purposes of professional enrichment and curriculum development.
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