(09c) Greek stories: The five steps of creating Greek society

A few evenings ago I watch the documentary Gods and Goddesses made by the History Channel. It mentions the history of the Greek Gods and Goddesses, from their origins until the time of Jesus and how the Greek society evolved. It mentions the emergence of the notice of democracy as well as Oedipus and the Oedipus complex as invented by the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. I make also a reference to our own times and the dramatic changes that are taking place. These will be told in three consecutive publications.

Four ages of Gods

Before man existed, it is said there were four ages of Gods and the last age resulted in the well known Greek Gods and Goddesses such as Zeus and his wife Hera, Apollo (god of both good and bad things such as healing and plagues), Ares (god of war), Athens (amongst others goddess of wisdom and warfare). If you are interested, I advice reading about this and what follows because these are interesting stories that shaped humanity as one person interpreted the stories differently than someone else while good people preferred to worship good gods and bad people would worship evil gods.

Maybe there is even a fifth age of gods, i.e. Christianity because that is what people now believe in Greece and thus the ages of the gods would run parallel with those of humans.

Five ages of man

The story is that one day a long time ago, Hesiod, a farmer from central Greece, was visited by Muses (the nine daughters of Zeus (is the Upper God) and Mnemosyne (Memory)) who inspired him to become a writer. In the poem "Works and Days" he wrote a Greek creation story that traces the lineage of mankind through five successive "ages" or "races" from the "Golden Age" to the present "Iron Age." You can read more about them here and here while I try to interpret these story against our knowledge of Greek and other legends and Greece history.

Golden Age

People from the first generation, the Golden Age, where made by Cronus (father of Zeus) and they died without a trace. They were good people who lived in harmony with nature. According to the story, these people disappeared and no-one knows why. However, after their life they became good spirits (kind of angels) dwelling on the Earth. After they disappeared, Zeus made other humans who were less good although they left more traces behind.

I think this story refers to the first settlers who entered Greece and settled down. They lived from what the Earth provided and still had to learn how to use (destroy?) the land; they didn't leave much evidence behind.

Silver Age

The second generation of people (Silver Age) were made by Zeus and were inferior to the first generation. In fact, Zeus decided after a while they were too stupid to live on this planet: it took people 100 years before they became adults and then they continuously mistreated each other while no-one was happy and they died after a short period in adulthood. They didn't worship the Gods and thus were destroyed (it is like a dog that never listens to you and only does what it likes although you give it food, what is the point of having the dog?). After death, they became known as "blessed spirits of the underworld" and later generations paid honour to them.

Is this the Cycladic civilisation on the islands of the Aegean Sea at around 3200 BC? Indeed, not much is known of them and they left few if any evidence of worship of Gods. They probably tried to develop a society but failed as probably people continuous quarrelled about the direction in which to move forward.

Bronze Age

Ares, God of war, dressing for combat.
The third generation of humans, the Bronze Age, were the opposite: evil and always making wars while they worshipped Ares, God of War. In the longer term, they killed each other while a flood did the rest (I read that Zeus was angered because Lycaon, the king of Arcadia, had sacrificed a boy to Zeus; this story reflects the one in the Bible where God stops Abraham's human sacrifice). As in other stories of that region (e.g. the Jewish Noah in the Bible and Mesopotamian Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh), only one man and his wife survived the flood. After people died, they were send to the dark world of Hades, God of the Underworld, and they were forgotten. I wonder, were these the men that according to legend were able to defeat the great nation of Atlantis but were then, together with Atlantis that had become corrupt, destroyed because they became too strong and evil? And were the soldiers of Atlantis known as the Sea and Land People who conquered quite some land and were very violent (while during the following centuries the remaining Sea People were destroyed what happened around 1100BC)?

Was this the Minoan civilisation in Crete (2700–1500 BC) (although then the story about Atlantis doesn't fit in here because, according to Plato (a person we believe was someone who didn't take stories for granted) that happened much earlier although is time not relative?)? The problem is there is no real evidence for warfare according to the article in Wikipedia although Plato mentioned that the destruction was so large this civilisation was even removed from Greek knowledge, just as Hesiod tells us. Nevertheless, this civilisation's decline started after a number of natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and we know earthquakes can cause tsunamis (if it existed, the sinking of Atlantis would probably have caused a tsunami) that destroy evidence, certainly materials of little weight such as weapons while well built monuments can sometimes survive the force of water. Indeed, this civilisation left some palaces behind.

Heroic Age

The people of the fourth generation (Heroic Age of Man) were made by stones and this is the time when humans lived together with demigods such as Hercules and Achilles and heroes such as Oedipus. Many of these men were noble while others were bad. (For example, the story about Oedipus shows that Oedipus punished himself for hurting his parents, even when he did the evil without knowing it and thus it shows he had a conscience (see next publication)). This was another age of wars, now between good and bad people (the previous age was bad against bad) but still killing many people during wars. We know these people via the Greek mythology, and one of these stories informs us of the battles during the Trojan Wars which started with the kidnapping of Helen (wife of a Greek prince) by Paris (a Trojan prince) (this story is quite similar to the story of Ram in India except in the Greek story heroes die on both sides and it ends with revenge, see note below). This war introduces us to the next age because people started to trick others by promising something good while it was the opposite and thus people started to mistrust gifts (i.e. the horse was promised as a honour to the gods but ended with the destruction of Troy). After life, some people were send to the Underworld while others where allowed to live on the Island of the Blessed ones, thus people learned their decisions had consequences long after they were gone. Also these people disappeared.
Laoco├Ân, killed with his two children by a snake for trying to save the people of Troy at the end of the war.
Nisus and Euryalus, two friends dying during war.

I recognise this as the Mycenaean civilisation on the mainland (1900–1100 BC). I agree with the article "Ruined" (New Scientists, 04/08/2012, about the effects of climate change on civilisations) that it was the first great Greek civilisation because it left us many ruins and art, although the written language disappeared. New evidence shows the society collapsed not long after the Trojan Wars because of changing weather: after a prolonged dry period, people reverted to a simpler rural lifestyle (probably most war lords were dead while the others were fed up with war). Indeed, changes in climate may have let to wars, but the wars also led to a more united country under one leader against the arrogant Troy and certainly when many cities lost their leaders. But maybe because of these wars, people destroyed the land, leading to dryer weather while they didn't prepare for the changes such as building irrigation systems. The story of Troy indeed refers to hot and windless periods. After the collapse of Troy that killed many of the best people, it took hundreds of years to rebuilt their civilisation. Still, it also reflects a story in the Bible that described how the fallen angels (the demigods in the Greek stories) corrupted the humans on the earth and taught them evil.

Iron Age

Finally, Hesiod wrote about his own time which is also ours: the fifth generation or Iron Age. In the beginning it outshone the previous civilisations, although iron becomes rusty and corrupt. During this period people will live an increasingly miserable life because of our deeds and because the gods test us continuously by bringing diseases and warfare (but we allow it to happen because of the choices we make, thus we can reverse it, e.g. by finding cures or stopping to destroy the Earth). In contrast to the previous period, it is a time when promises are broken and people mistrust each other because too often trust by good people was betrayed by bad people (e.g. guests steal from hosts so hosts no longer trust guests and thus stop being kind). People who have power because they lie will be honoured while honest people are told they are fools (e.g. those who pay taxes will be called fools and struggle while those who cheat are admired because they become rich). During this time people will continue to degenerate because bad people use lies in the hope people will think they are good while good people will be forced to become bad in order to survive or they will be destroyed, either during power struggles or suicide (e.g. bullies at school are often admired while their victims have to defend themselves via aggression (and thus are punished) or in the worst case commit suicide). Children will dishonour adults, including their parents. At the end of this time, evil and greed will be so overwhelming that humans no longer feel shame or indignation at wrongdoing and the last remaining gods (= good people) will have left the earth and the behaviour of that generation will lead to their destruction while no god will be left to help (similar stories are told elsewhere, including the Bible that mentions at the end an evil will rule the whole world before being defeated). Indeed, to have a better life, people have to sacrifice principles although we can decide to do it differently (but can we always? Look to the struggle of President Obama to do good for his country while people blame him for what goes wrong instead of blaming those who antagonise him, therefore many think the bad are good while they blame those who try to do good (although Mr Obama won a second term, but still people didn't give him a majority in Congress and thus he will continue to struggle)). I am not sure whether Zeus intends to make a new generation or that we will have destroyed everything on this planet after which all live will be gone, maybe even the bacteria (but that time has not yet come). Indeed, when one sees too much evil one becomes immune to it (look to what is happening in certain areas of Congo).
Athena, protector of Athens

I think this is the Archaic period (800 BC – 480 BC) followed with the Hellenistic civilisation (from 323BC till 140BC) after which the direct influence of Greece declined. Indeed, the collapse of the previous civilisation was followed by a period called the Dark Ages (between 1100BC and 800BC). Then, because of rivalry between cities, they had to develop to survive and two main powers emerged: Sparta and Athens of which the later became the most important one and its achievements are still celebrated by good people. Indeed, it was mainly Athens that caused the creation of drama and arts, respectively describing in stories and showing in sculptures and pictures what happened during the previous Ages. Also philosophy and as a consequence sciences and mathematics arose that tried to find answers to philosophical questions such as where do we come from? and we started looking to the sky and where do illnesses come from and how to overcome them? and we started searching how to prevent becoming ill and how to get better. Most famously of this period are the Olympic games. Also the Gods became softer as good people such as Plato started to question their behaviour and thus their own behaviour and how we could do better while bad people saw the good in bad gods. Rebellion against dictators even led around 508BC to the establishment of democracy.

Then disaster struck with the invasion of Persian armies, although the combined forces of Sparta and Athens together with other city states stopped Persia but Athens was weakened. Finally, although competition between Sparta and Athens let to their rise, it also resulted in their decline as the conflicts became too big and it is a pity that at this time an evil (Sparta) let to the decline of Athens that had the potential to become a good force for ages to come, although we still have its legacy. Sparta was then defeated by Thebes that became for a short time the dominant power. (But can we be sure that Sparta was the bad power?)

Around 350BC the power shifted to Macedon and around 323BC Alexander the Great's Empire stretched from Greece to Pakistan in the east and Egypt in the south. This empire broke into pieces after Alexander's death but the Greek cultural influence remained. Although many people regret the collapse, it may have increased our progress because aggression towards other civilisations was stopped and thus other civilisations could merge their knowledge with the Greek one while rivalry between countries increased progress until wars destroyed most.

Even after the political influence of Athens declined while Alexander spread some of its achievements, Athens' legacy such as art and democracy still survive up to these days while one speaks badly about Sparta as a civilisation that left little behind and always fought (where these people remaining people from the Bronze Age or was it Athens' propaganda that spread Sparta's bad reputation?). Still, it is a pity that Sparta still exists in the minds of some Greek because of its bad reputation. There are people who don't regard the accomplishments of Athens as a great thing while, because of Athens, Greece is still remembered as a great civilisation. Today there are still people who want to increase the power of Greece but not by intellectual means but by military power. In the great days of the Greek civilisation, straight and gay people lived more or less peacefully together and many people from all over the world moved to Athens to gain knowledge, while what I now read in newspapers is scary. Again it seems their democracy is on the verge of collapse while hate against those who are considered different increases because they are blamed for what goes wrong (although this is not only in Greece because the financial crisis makes life hard for people to survive and even people who want to help others often can't because they are prevented from doing as they have little money or others take advantage of them while those who could help refuse and want even more power for themselves at the expense of others).

In conclusion, I think the five Ages of Men as described by Hesiod reflects the human history of Greece, from its origins when people lived peacefully together, to an increase in numbers of people who started to think about gods and how to improve life, then wanted to live as the gods and have their knowledge until they only wanted power to rule over others and became corrupt. In most scenarios these people had to fight, against a common enemy and ones these were defeated against each other, weakening each other so they became vulnerable. In the past they would honour each others gods (there were many in Greece), then they evolved towards societies where people only honoured their own gods and finally even didn't honour their god unless for their own gain to rule over others. The Ages started with societies where people helped each other over very violent societies that continuous fought each other to evolve to a society where good people fought together against bad societies towards a society where people used lies to gain power because pure evil to rule was no longer possible unless corruption became too obvious and people opposed the bad guys. It became a society where people started to mistrust each other because people pretended to do good in the hope it would advance themselves.

In our present time, for instance many health workers try to do good, but some people, often the rich, blame them they cost society too much, or patients mistreat them so they become too scared to help people in certain areas while some people indeed become doctor to become rich and thus discredit the profession.

There is a quite similar story in another part of the world as the one about Troy, and that is the story about Rama, a Hindu God. His wife Sita was kidnapped by Ravana. Here Rama killed Ravana after Ravana refused to accept Rama's offer for forgiveness if Ravana would ask for it. Here too an evil force kidnapped a woman and as in the Troy story, refused to stop doing evil so there was no reason not to destroy the bad person.

Below a few extra pictures of sculptures that refer to the Greek mythology. They are probably from later periods but throughout time people were inspired by the Greek stories. Also paintings were made during the next thousands of years. Indeed, it was a great civilisation that still lives on in stories, democracy and science.

Faun playing with young Bacchus.

Ganymede and eagle, a nice story.

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