We Got to Pray Just to Make It Today: The Role of Religion in Greek Society
As North American society grows increasingly secularized, the space which religion occupies in our cultural consciousness shrinks; spiritual convictions become distanced from our day-to-day routines. For many people they surface only on Sundays, or more rarely still on holidays such as Christmas and Easter - for others, not at all. In the city-states of the Ancient Greeks, however, religious beliefs and practices were sacrosanct, woven firmly through every level and feature of an individual's existence from the day they came into this world to the day they left it. They dedicated their lives to ensuring the stability of their pantheon and, in return, were granted the security that came with knowing they were in the gods' good graces.
The heart of Greek religion was found, as most religions are, in the homes of its adherents. There the average Greek lived under the watchful eyes of several gods set up to guard his house, represented at their stations by jars draped in white cloth and filled with water, olive oil and seeds. Every day the head of the household, most likely the father or eldest son, would offer small tributes to these domestic guardians: to Zeus Ktesios ('of property') placed in the storeroom, Zeus Herkeios ('of the fence') standing in the courtyard and Apollo Agyieus ('of the street') or Heracles posted by the front entrance to ward against the evil intentions of strangers. The functions of these household gods were indelibly rooted in the cultural consciousness. If a Greek wished to know where another's home was, it was common of him to ask, "Where is your Zeus Herkeios?" and new arrivals into the family, be they babies, spouses or slaves, were only considered formally accepted into the family once they had been led to the hearth and therefore presented to Hestia, its protectress.
These beliefs also manifested themselves as a way in which to mark key points in the...