The Greek World
|Passages in the works of Homer and Hesiod indicated that the Greeks had used lunar months. Hesiod, in his Works and Days, had also shown that he often used the constellations to plan when to plant and harvest crops.
The lunar and solar systems were used in the Greek calendar. Like all lunar calendar, the time difference will make the calendar fall out of phase with the solar calendar and the seasons each year, so it was normal to add an extra month to a lunar year to make them realign to the solar calendar; the extra month is known as intercalated month. Sometimes, extra days were added, while at other time they were omitted. This can make the calendar difficult to determine each year.
It appeared that the name of each month was normally named after its main festivals. You will find more detail about the festivals in the next article, titled Greek Festivals. Below is the name of the months that was used in Athens. The first month of the year was called Hecatombaion, beginning in midsummer, which is around roughly in mid-July.
There were other calendars that were used in various part of Greece, such as the Macedonian calendar. Hesiod, who was most likely a Boeotian, had only named one month in the Works and Days – Lenacon, which was around January-February. The name differed from the Athenian Gamelion. So it clear that the Athenian was not uniformly accepted in other parts of Greece. However, I had listed the Athenian months, because it was better documented than the calendar months used by other Greek city-states.
|There are number of festivals that have very little to do with mythology, but has great religious significance.
The rites or events in the festivals varied widely. Some of these festivals allowed everyone to participate, while others were only for the selected few, such as the priests or priestesses. Some required fasting or remaining chaste, while others enjoyed wine, feasts and sexual activities. Or there may be sacrifice of animals to the gods, or a procession through the streets of the city. Contests and games were sometimes held in honour of the gods, or recitals and music were heard.
I have left out some festivals (eg. Olympic Games, Isthmian Games, etc), but these can be found in the Panhellenic Games, which you can read in the next article.
|The ancient Greeks were known for their robust athletic skills and training. Homer had represented most of the heroes as great warriors and athletes. The needs to show off their physical appearance and their manly skills in all manners of sports, was mostly the pastime of aristocrats and the warriors. Portrayal of the Greek gods in arts was seen with powerful and perfect physique, often youthful like that of the Greek sun god, Apollo.
Strength, stamina and speed were of utmost importance to the Greeks. Through exercising and competing, the Greeks hoped to look almost godlike in appearance.
In Greece, four Panhellenic Games were established. Though, these games were set some time in the early 1st millennium BC, some writers placed the establishment before the arrivals in Greece of the Dorians, Ionians and Aeolians, the ancestors of the modern Greeks. These writers had set them in the Bronze Age or the mythical Heroic Age, the time of the Mycenaean and Minoan empires.
Of the four games, the Olympic Games became the most important and sacred, where hostilities between two warring city-states were temporarily curbed during the games, so all men can compete (except for foreigners, women and slaves).
The usual events include footraces, jumping, discus and javelin throwing, wrestling, boxing and chariot races. Victor in contest was usually awarded a crown of wild olive, celery or parsley.
The Pythian Games had introduced music and singing contests. The Isthmian Games and Nemean Games held similar contests as the Pythian Games, with both athletic and music competitions.
There is only one extra “Games”, which was different to others. The four great games were events only men could compete. So there was one Games, which were only held for women competitors, and it is known as the Heraean Games. It was named after the goddess, Hera, which the games honoured. Historically, it is possible that the Heraean Games was older than the others.
There are festivals where games and contests held various parts of Greece, but these tends to be more local, such as the Panathenaea in Athens and Delia on the island of Delos. See the previous article on Greek Festivals.
Then, there are also games that are only held once. Such as the funeral games for a hero or ruler, just after the cremation. Despite the funeral games being smaller than the Panhellenic Games, they were more widespread. In Greek and Roman mythology, games are sometimes held after the funeral.
The Nemean Games, being an exception. The Nemean Games had actually started out as a funeral games to the infant Opheltes, before it became a major event that was held every five years in Nemea.
Perseus competed in the funeral games where he had accidentally killed his grandfather, Acrisius, which thereby fufilled a prophecy. Great funeral games was held for King Pelias of Iolcus, where many heroes took part, including a woman competing for the first time; the heroine’s name was Atalanta. A funeral game was also given in honour to Achilles, but this had tragic consequences, when Ajax contested Odysseus for the armour of Achilles.
Great details were given to the funeral games of Patroclus, friend of Achilles, in the Iliad, and that of Anchises, Aeneas’ father, in the Aeneid. With funeral games of Patroclus, Achilles had actually sacrificed twelve Trojan captives, along with twelve horses. Though, sacrifices of animals were normal for such a funeral, human sacrifices wasn’t.
|Antipater of Sidon, who flourished in the 2nd century BC, was one of the writers who reported the Seven Wonders of the World. These wonders were either monumental architectures or immense statues built in the known world of the Greeks.
|Apart from using the characters of the Greek alphabets as notations in my maths and science classes, I don’t know how to read Greek. (sigh This is a real tragedy.) Nor am I a linguist genius, since English is the only language I know. English is the only language I can read and write. (Judging by the number of spelling and grammar errors I had, I haven’t even fully mastered English. sigh)
However, I can give you a brief history on the Greek alphabets.
On the right, I have listed the Greek alphabets, with the last column being the English (Latin) equivalent of each Greek character.
So what is the “alphabet”?
To avoid going too deep with theory, the alphabets can be defined as a set of characters that represented the phonemic structure of the word. A word will have vowels and consonants. (Well that’s enough of the theory for the day!)
The Greeks did not invent the alphabets. (Well, the writing system was actually named after them. The word “alphabets” was actually derived from the first two letters of the Greek alphabets – “alpha” and “beta“.)
The origin of the alphabets was probably invented between the 17th and 15th century BC, by the Phoenicians, those great sea-going nation in ancient time. Linguistically, the Phoenician belonged to the Semitic language, used by the people living in Phoenica (modern Lebanon). (As oppose to the Greek language being part of the Indo-European family language.)
What the Greeks invented, was their own set of characters and their introduction to the vowels in the alphabets full of consonants. The Phoenician and other Semitic languages didn’t have vowels. The Greek alphabets were invented some time between the 8th and 7th century BC, after the Dorian Invasion, thus the arrival of the Hellenic people (eg. Greeks, such as the Dorians, Aeolians and Ionians).
According to the 1st century BC historian, Diodorus Siculus, it was Cadmus, who brought the Phoenician alphabets to the Greeks, and therefore creating their own version of alphabets. This would mean the Greek alphabets by Cadmus is far older than they are actually are. For if Cadmus did exist, he would have lived in the Bronze Age, at least half-dozen generations before the war between Argos and Thebes, ie. Seven Against Thebes.
Anyway, the Greek alphabets had greatly influenced other writing systems in Europe. Because, the Roman or more precisely the Latin alphabets had borrowed either directly and indirectly the alphabets used by the Greeks. Latin had also borrowed (more directly) the characters used by the Etruscans, but then the Etruscans had also borrowed some of the characters from the Greek alphabets as well.
There was a period in the Republican Rome where the Greek language was used by the Roman elites and scholars more than their own language: Latin. The Latin alphabets would later become more widely use than the Greek, where it had directly influenced the Germanic language, including English.
Though the Greek alphabets remained relative unchanged since its invention, regionally and racially the spoken language had undergone many phonetic changes over the centuries, so there were many different dialects in Greek.
|There is one thing I should point out. During the Bronze Age, writing did exist in the Aegean civilisation before the Hellenic invasion/migration (eg. Dorians, Aeolians and Ionians) and before the introduction of the Greek alphabets in Greece. The pre-Hellenic writing system was known as Linear B, used in Mycenaean civilisation on Crete and surround islands, as well as in Mycenae and other cities on the mainland. The Linear B was used as early as 1450 BC. It was forgotten when the Mycenaean cities were destroyed during the Dorian invasion (c. 1150 BC). See Who were the Greeks?, about the Greek people, in the About Classical Mythology page.
All the Greek writing that had come down to us from ancient Greece, were written in with the Greek alphabets. And the authors of these Greeks were descendants of the Hellenic Greeks, such as Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, etc. So you may have pondered if the Linear B were written in the language of the Greek?
The answer was yes, the scripts of Linear B were indeed Greek, but these pre-Hellenic Greeks didn’t used the Greek alphabets. When the Linear B writing was discovered by the 19th century archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in Knossos, the experts at that time thought that it wasn’t Greek at all. It wasn’t until it was deciphered, that experts now believed that the language used by the Mycenaeans belonged to one of the Greek dialects.
However, there was no literature that was written using these Linear B scripts. Nor were there any historical document written in Linear B. What was discovered when the Linear B was deciphered, was that the writing that were found, were used for administrative purposes only. Clay tablets that were found, only recorded accounting of goods and inventories.
The language used at this period (1450-1200 BC) on the mainland Greece, was Mycenaean, because Mycenae was the most powerful Greek kingdom at the time. It is generally believed that Mycenaean was ancient dialect of the Greek language.
The Linear B was adapted from an earlier writing that were found in Crete and a few Aeagan islands, known as Linear A (flourished 1850-1400 BC). The language of the Linear A has not yet been determined, nor has the Linear A writing been successfully deciphered.
Some of the names found in both tablets in Knossos and Pylos, were believed to be the name of deities, though this can’t be established with great certainty. The names could be title of rulers, priests or priestess, instead of deities. The names are not limited to the offerings listed in Linear B tablets; the names are linked to any mythology or religion.
Below, are the names of deities and other figures in the Linear B tablets found in Knossos, Crete and in Pylos on main Greece:
|Linear B||Greek equivalent||Roman equivalent|
|PO-TI-NI-JA||PO-TI-NI-JA||Potnia – “Lady” or “Mistress”||–||–|
|A-TA-NA PO-TI-NI-JA||–||Atana Potnia – the Idaean Mother of Crete||Athena? or “Lady of Athens”?||Minerva|
|–||–||Potnia theron – “Mistress of Animals”||Artemis or Britomartis||Diana|
|QE-RA-SI-JA||the Hunter Goddess|
|DA-PU-RI-TO-JO PO-TI-NI-JA||–||“Lady of the Labyrinth”||Ariadne?||Ariadne|
|–||PO-TI-NI-JA PA-KI-JA-NI-JA||Potnia of Sphagianeia (place name)||–||–|
|–||PO-TI-NI-JA I-QE-JA||Hippeia – “Mistress of Horses”||–||–|
|A-SI-WI-JA||(PO-TI-NI-JA) A-SI-WI-JA||Aswia, Lady of Asia?||–||–|
|–||MA-TE-RE TE-I-JA||Mater theia – “Divine Mother”||Cybele or Demeter?||–|
|–||PO-SI-DA-E-JA||–||feminine form of Poseidon||–|
|DI-WI-JA||DI-WI-JA||Diwia||Dione, feminine form of Zeus||–|
|E-NU-WA-RI-JO||–||Enyalios||Enyalius, epithet of Ares||–|
|PA-JA-WO-NE||–||Paiawon||Paean or Paian||–|
|E-RI-NU||–||Erinys?||either the Erinyes (Furies) or the epithet of Demeter||–|
|–||I-PE-ME-DE-JA||–||Iphimedeia, mistress of Poseidon||–|
|–||TI-RI-SE-RO-E||Trisheros – the “Triple Hero”?||–||–|
|–||WA-NA-SO-I||Wanasoi – “the Two Queens”||–||–|
|–||DO-PO-TA||Despotas? – the “Lord”?||–||–|
|A-NE-MOI||Anemoi – “The Winds”|
|KO-MA-WE-TE-JA||“the fair-tressed female deity”?|
|The only names that we have in common in both the Knossos and Pylos tablets are PO-TI-NI-JA (Potnia), PO-SE-DA-O-NE (Poseidon), DI-WO or DI-WE (Zeus), DI-WI-JA (Dione, a feminine form of Zeus), and A-RE or A-RE-JA (Ares).
There are cases where there are masculine and feminine names for both Poseidon and Zeus. The feminine spelling of Poseidon is PO-SI-DA-E-JA, while DI-WI-JA is a feminine name for Zeus, perhaps equivalent to the Oceanid Dione.
The names of Eleuthia (Eileithyia), and Dictynna were recognisable names in Knossos. While in Pylos, we can find the equivalents to the classical Hera, Artemis, Hermes, and even more remarkable there is Linear B equivalent for Dionysus. Though, modern scholars are doubtful that this name for Dionysus is a diety.
Though, Hera’s name appeared in the Linear B tablet at Pylos, the goddess was not identified or linked with Zeus, as his consort, like in the classical myth.
As can be seen in the table, some of the deities survived to the Archaic and Classical periods.