Greek mythology is among the most studied and decorated in the world. The mythology delves into the teachings and ways of life, their gods and cultural practices. The myths informed a rich civilization that scholars have investigated over years. Ancient Greek was polytheist and the gods fall into different categories. Each generation was under a particular god. Scholars divide ancient Greek into three generations. The first generation was under the stewardship of the Olympian gods. Titan gods ruled the second generation. The third generation was under the auspices of primeval gods. Different gods were responsible for different aspects of life. One god was in charge of the sky and another watched over the affairs in the sea. There was a god to watch over the world, and another one to look after the affairs of the underworld. The other category of gods was responsible for emotions of love, anger, and hatred. These gods interacted with human beings in the ordinary ways and their powers were limited to the domain.
Celtic’s mythology reveals a strong reverence to several gods. Unlike the Greeks, the Celts did not document the stories of their gods. Instead, older people transmitted it orally to succeeding generations. There is therefore comparatively knowledge of their gods than that available for the Greeks. The Roman invasion, in the later years, marked the first attempt to document the mythologies and gods. Scholars divide Celt’s gods into two categories. The first category was the general gods. These were worshiped by all Celts and were responsible for protecting men, bringing good luck, and keeping off diseases. The local gods operated within the confines of a locality. Most of them settled around natural phenomena like water bodies and mountains. This paper will discuss the various gods in Greek and Celtic and their roles in the society.
Greeks immortalized their gods by carving images for them. They had many gods and each god was responsible for different things. The people of the ancient Greece did not fear all gods. In fact, people challenged some gods to a duel. Feuds between gods and men were common especially concerning love. People performed sacrifices to appease gods whenever there was a disaster or when they wanted to invoke hi or her intervention in an issue. As a sign of respect to gods, people hanged god and goddess portraits in temples and even decorated utensils with their images. This section will detail different Greek gods, their characteristics, and roles in the society.
Evslin, Bernard, and William describe Zeus as the “king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky, weather, thunder, lightning, law, order, and fate” (65). He is the deity of the heavens and very powerful. He dethroned his predecessor and installed himself as the sovereign king over the heavens. He is the father to most of the other Greek Gods that will be discussed in this paper. Ancient Greeks respected and honored him because of the immense powers that he wielded. Rulers of men, particularly revere him because of his power in issues of law and order. Ordinary people performed sacrifices to him in bids to influence their fate positively.
Ancient Greeks portrayed Aphrodite as a beautiful semi-naked woman. Her image is curvaceous, attractive, and explicit connoting her role in issues of love and desire. Her nudity elicits passion and desire, explaining the many outpourings in the poetry of the time. In ancient Greece, each god and goddess had symbols and animals associated with her or him. For being the goddess of love, Aphrodite’s symbol was a flower. The interesting aspect about her is that despite being a god, she was married. She however had extramarital affairs with several other men. She manifested herself in form of a dove. People therefore held doves (sometimes sparrows) in high regard.
Apollo was the son of Zeus and thus very powerful. In images, Ancient Greeks represented him as a handsome man who is athletic and perfect. He was involved in many love affairs, most of which did not end well. His roles were many and diverse; explaining the reverence, the people accorded him. Evslin, Bernard, and William report that Apollo was the God of “light, music, arts, knowledge, healing, plague and darkness, prophecy, poetry, purity, athleticism, manly beauty, and enlightenment” (56). His physical appearance in images is a work of perfection, blending an athletic physique and a smooth face to go with it. He was easy to anger and he would unleash catastrophe whenever people (or other Gods) provoked him. He held snakes and other scary animals as sacred, hence the fear people attached to him. People performed sacrifices to appease him whenever there was a plague or such catastrophes.
Ares and Athena
Brother to Apollo and son of Zeus, Ares was a volatile God that was quick to anger and violence. He was the God in charge of war. He shed the blood of his subjects whenever provoked. People thus feared and loathed him in equal measure. His temperamental and propensity to shed blood made people attribute venomous snakes with him. Athena, on the other hand, was more skillful and intelligence. She was responsible for war strategy and had a very keen eye for details. As a sign of reverence to her, people named Athens city after her.
Demeter and Dionysus
A sister to Zeus, she was among the most powerful Goddess in Ancient Greece. This is mainly because of her functions. As a Goddess of agriculture, she ensured that people have enough to eat and store. She nourished crops and led to posterity of the society. Evslin, Bernard, and William explain her role in growth of plants as “symbolic of passage of the human soul through its life course and into afterlife” (54). Because of her very important role, ancient Greeks ensured that she was always in a good frame of mind. They would sacrifice parts of their harvest to her so that she can pour her blessings in the next planting cycle. Dionysus, on the other hand, was the God of drunkenness. He was associated with issues to do with alcohol and drugs. Because of his not-so-serious roles, the society did not revere him as much as other Gods and Goddess. Ancient Greek’s Gods and Goddess are many and each had his or her own role in the society. People expressed different degrees of respect to Gods and Goddess. Those God/Goddess that held pertinent powers naturally attracted more awe, adoration, and sometimes fear, from their subjects. Some Gods/Goddess roles were less significant and such Gods/Goddess did not enjoy much regard from the people.
As observed earlier, Celts had general and local Gods. These Gods were mortals but highly regarded by the society. With the coming of the Romans, it was possible to document some of these Gods. There were also attempt to Christianize the Celts, something that met stiff resistance from the natives. This section will discuss some of the Celtic Gods and Goddess.
Abandinus and Ambisagrus
A local God, the Celts worshipped him for his influence on rivers. He dwelt in the rivers and controlled flooding. In this age, bridges were not popular and people crossed rivers on logs or by swimming. Abandinus therefore protected people crossing the river against animals and drowning. Ambisagrus was also responsible for nature but his preoccupation was thunder and lightning. Monaghan explains that he was a “Gaelic god of hail, fog, winds, and rain and was worshipped in some of the Celtic tribes” (54). The Celts sacrificed for the two Gods especially when they were a natural calamity like flooding, thunder, and lightning.
Abnoba and Amaethon
Abnoba was the God of the forest. The Celts living around mountains and forests worshipped him as a local God. To show respect for him, people curved his image and inscribed his name on stones. He was believed to dwell in the forest and the mountains and hunters would pray to him for luck in their hunting missions. Amaethon was a general Goddess, focusing on agriculture. Monaghan explains that her name means “laborer or plough person” (65). She controlled agriculture fortunes in the region. Her reference in early writings shows that people valued her role in the society.
Arawn and Bran the Blessed
Scholars disagree on whether Arawn was a God or a legend but there is consensus that all Celtic Gods were mortals. He is believed to be the “king of the otherworld realm of Annwn” (Monaghan 54). Celts believed that he had power to influence life after death. He was particularly useful when people were very sick and chances of survival were slim. Bram the Blessed was the king of Britain and scholars believe that he was a king. People respected him for the powers he wielded over his subjects.
Greek and Celtic mythology had many Gods and Goddess. These Gods/Goddess were mortals in most cases but had special powers in a particular field. The two societies expected their Gods to be responsive in times of need. If a God failed to respond, he gradually lost the respect of the people. Some of these Gods commanded respect from all people while others were only respected in certain regions. The Gods could feud amongst themselves and against people. In Greek mythology, Gods could visit people and even make love with them. This would, in most cases elicit rivalry, cause violence and even lead to bloodshed.
The paper has elucidated the roles of the various Gods/Goddess in these two ancient societies. The Gods/Goddess was too many to cover exhaustively but their roles sometimes overlapped. The overlap of roles sometimes led to hostility between Gods sometimes leading to great fights. All these happenings are well documented in Greek mythology especially by writers such as Sophocles. Among the Celts, word of mouth was the common means to transmit mythology to the next generations hence the scarcity in information.
Evslin, Bernard, and William Hofmann. Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths. New York: Four Winds Press, 1967. Internet resource.
Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. New York: Facts On File, 2004. Internet resource.