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Religion

Introduction

What did ancient civilizations believe?

In the absence of scientific knowledge, ancient civilizations—including the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Aztecs, and the Mayas—created mythologies to explain origination (how they came into existence as a people); the existence of good and evil; the natural cycle of the seasons; weather; and the motions of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Such natural phenomena were explained by a body of stories that centered around gods, goddesses, and heroes.

For example, the Romans, who largely adapted Greek mythology, believed that gods and goddesses had power not only over agriculture, but also over all aspects of life. They worshiped ceres as the goddess of the harvest, Vesta as the goddess of the hearth and home, and Jupiter (who later became their supreme god and protector) as the god of the weather. These gods are traced to the Greek beliefs in Demeter as the goddess of the harvest and of fertility, Hestia as the goddess of the hearth (she symbolized security and happiness), and Zeus—the supreme Greek god who was believed to rule from his court on Mount Olympus, and was a symbol for power, rule, and law. The ancient Greeks were also the source of what is perhaps one of the most well known myths of western civilization: Pandora’s box. They believed that all that is bad or evil was once enclosed in a box, which was opened by Pandora (who, according to Greek mythology, was the first woman on Earth), releasing evil into the world. Greek mythology was preserved in the works of the poets Homer (c. 850-? B.C.) and Hesiod (c. 800 B.C.).

Other frequently studied mythologies include the Vedic (Indian), Egyptian, and Mesopotamian.



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