Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily
3 Main Hellenic Cults

Despite its evolution, which is affected by the cultural and moral development of the population, the religion of ancient Greece can be considered belonging to the group of religions natural characterized by a phase in which we witness the animation of the phenomena of nature and, by a subsequent phase, characterized by an anthropomorphic transformation of the divinities.

The natural divinities, initially linked to physical phenomena, are replaced, or in any case, reworked, and become the personification of some spiritual and moral aspects of man. In this phase the divinities therefore also have typically human virtues and defects. Here, for example, that Demeter, initially with the same aspects as Gaia or Gea (i.e. the Earth), from a divinity seen as mother earth, protector of crops, over time also assumes the functions of protector of the house and marriage, thus passing from initial function purely natural to that which sees it connected to the morality of the society that is changing.

The evolution of natural religions from a purely animistic aspect to a higher one, in which religious thought takes into account the new spiritual and moral needs that are affirming themselves in social groups, favors the development of mythology.

In mythological tales the deities of divinities and heroes are narrated to explain, (with the imagination of the poets of the time [1]), not only physical and natural phenomena, but also the customs and traditions of a specific social group.

 According to Greek mythology, the gods are immortal, therefore they have a beginning but they have no end. In Theogony Hesiod [2], the poem that deals with the origin of the world and the gods, is told:

 

In the beginning it was Chaos, empty space, infinite nothingness, then came Gea (the Earth), Tartarus (the abysses under the Earth) and Eros (Love). Gaea generated Uranus (the Sky), the mountains and Pontus (the Sea); joined Uranus thus generating the Titans who are no longer elementary powers of nature but real gods: Ocean, Ceo, Crio, Hyperion, Iapetus, Tea, Rhea, Themes, Mnemosine, Phoebe, Teti and Cronos ( Saturn); he also generated the Cyclops and the Hecatonchirs, giants with a hundred arms. Uranus wanted to hide the Cyclops and the Hecatonchirs in Tartarus but this did not please Gaea who instigated Cronos to dethrone him. Having taken power, Cronos joined Rhea from whom he generated Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades (Pluto), Poseidon and Zeus; but for fear that some of the children would make him do the same end that he had made his father Uranus do, he swallowed them as they were born. Rhea, tired of seeing all the children devoured by Cronos, when Zeus was born, hid him and gave Cronos, in place of the baby, a stone wrapped in diapers; Zeus, therefore, was saved and, once he grew up, he decided to appropriate the power, for which, aided by Meti, he gave his father a drug to drink thanks to which Cronos vomited all his previously devoured children. Later Zeus, aided by the brothers he had brought back to life, by the Cyclops and by the Hecatonchirs whom he freed from the subsoil where Cronos had imprisoned them, declared war on Cronos and the Titans. After 10 years of hard struggle, the gods, who had settled on the top of Mount Olympus (between Thessaly and Macedonia), and who, therefore, were called Olympic gods, managed, led by Zeus, to dethrone Cronos and drive out the Titans in Tartarus. In the sharing of power Zeus obtained Heaven and domination over the whole universe, Poseidon had the Sea and Hades (Pluto) obtained the underworld.


Zeus-Amon seated on the throne - statue dating back to the XNUMXrd century BC found in Cyprus - Louvre Museum - Paris


Madrid, Prado Museum - Francisco de Goya
Saturn devours its children

 

In reading the Theogony one can observe the very evolution of the religious thought of the ancient Greeks. The various divinities, who in a first phase personify the physical aspects of nature and constitute real natural powers, subsequently take on a more noble and spiritual caliber by becoming moral gods. The struggle between the Titans and the Olympic gods symbolizes, in fact, this evolution of Greek religious thought.

The first generation of the Olympic gods, made up of Zeus and his brothers, will then be added, in Olympus, other divinities including: Persephone, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Ares, Aphrodite, Hermes. Later, among the Olympic gods, 12 were considered the most important and, therefore, were most revered (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Estia, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Ares, Hephaestus and Aphrodite) while the others were considered secondary gods.

 Sicily, even before the Greek colonization of the eighth century. BC, it had undergone a first influence of Greek culture due to the sporadic contacts that the indigenous element had with the Greek world. There was, however, following the colonization, a transfer by the Greek colonists of their religious heritage. Furthermore, the continuous relations, both political and commercial, that the colonists had with their homeland, favored the spread of their religious thought also in Sicily. Over time, there was a form of Hellenization of indigenous cults or their replacement with Greek gods having similar characteristics.

Speaking of myths and religion of ancient Sicily is often the same as speaking of Greek myths and religion as the history of Sicily, in its written form, can be started with the Greek colonization. Even the greatest writers, such as Diodorus Siculus, were Siceliots [3], that is, they belonged to the Greek colonies. Moreover, even when the Greek poets and writers were replaced by the Romans, the thing did not change much since the Roman religion had undergone, even before Sicily became a Roman province, its own form of Hellenization.

[1] Among the poets who contributed most to the improvement of religious concepts, we must remember Homer, himself, a mythical poet of ancient Greece, who probably lived in the XNUMXth century BC. Homer is believed to be the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

[2] Hesiod was a Greek poet who lived in the eighth century BC He wrote various poems including the Theogony.

[3] With this term were indicated the Greeks of Sicily whose culture differs, in part, from the typically Greek one in that it had absorbed, even if minimally, indigenous cultural elements.

 

Ignazio Caloggero

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Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero

 

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