From African tribes, the late Egyptians, the ancient Greeks or modern America, world’s cultures have often used myths as symbols to hold their beliefs and traditions regarding values and norms held by their societies. This has been attained through the use of plays, modes of entertainment, poetry, folk tales, movies and television programs that exist in the contemporary society. In order to infer the values, beliefs, fears, views and cultural expectations held by ancient Greek regarding life and world, one has to conduct a thorough examination of various modes like Greek mythology and poetry.
In one of the Greek mythologies the Hymn of Demeter, a tale of Demeter and her daughter Persephone plays a significant role in revealing the way Greek’s people viewed their world and life. The tale portrays the way Greek’s viewed motherhood in a positive way. The unique bond existing between mother and daughter is evident when Persephone is abducted and her mother could still hear her daughter’s cries for help from the underworld. Upon the reunification, Demeter was able to know that something irreversible had happened to her daughter by just touching her (Cashford, 2003). Such mother-daughter bond shows how Greek cultures appreciated the role motherly figures played in their daughters lives. The two women were two Greek goddesses who represented distinct but complementary phases experienced in a woman’s life namely, motherhood and maidenhood. The hymn is strongly portrays beliefs and values that Greek citizens held. For example, the mother-daughter relationship reveals the anxiety and fears that maidens experienced when it came to their transition into marriage and motherhood.
According to the hymn, both Demeter and Persephone were answerable to Zeus, the ultimate male figure (Cashford, 2003). Greek cultures valued the role played by women in ensuring continuity of life through their fertility exemplified by the process of child bearing. From the myth it is evident that despite the patriarchal nature of Greek society, Greek men feared women because of their ability to control the life of a mortal man. Therefore, the power of Demeter to control fertility and Zeus’ fear and realization of her strength reveals that Greek culture believed that women were not as powerless as men would want then to think.
According to the hymn, Demeter performed series of rituals on Demphon in order to make him immortal and to become a god. The ritual of immortalization portrays the ultimate fear that Greek people had when it came to facing the reality of death. The fear of dying instilled great fear to every mortal, thus, the need for initiation rituals that were essential for spiritual transformation. The transformation would make an initiate endure hardships while in the underworld. The thought of plumbing the depths of underworld or dying meant a genuinely transformative experience that naturally induced shrinking, constant stress and fear among men. Death was characterized with endless suffering, and mourning, hence, Greeks valued initiation rituals that gave them immortality. Initiates were able to envision the congruity of birth and death as well as the eternal and the totality of generative ground of being
Also, following adduction of Persephone, Demeter became enraged and threatened the land with famine. Zeus realized Demeter’s power and feared would wipe out whole human race living no one to offer sacrifices to gods (Cashford, 2003). This prompted him to order for Persephone to be returned back to Demeter. From this example, it is evident that Greeks valued life borne through birth and feared the fate of death.
Finally, Homeric poems reveal that Greek gods had human traits and engaged in human foibles like obsessive jealousy, feasting and drinking. This manifestation of Greek gods implies that Greek people valued the mystery that came with rationality and unpredictability as opposed to the omnipresent and omnipotent traits of gods from other cultures.
Cashford, J. (2003). The Homeric hymns. London, UK: Penguin Classics.