Friday, 24 January 2014

THE WORLD OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” - Norman Vincent Peale
 

The ancient Greek poets believed the earth to be flat and circular, their own country occupying the middle of it, the central point being either Mount Olympus, the abode of the gods, or Delphi, so famous for its oracle. Delphi, in fact, was the place where the “Omphalos” (= “navel”) stone was housed. Most accounts locate the Omphalos in the holy of holies of the temple near the seer, Pythia. The stone itself is in the Delphi museum and has a carving of a knotted net covering its surface, and a hollow center, which widens towards its base.
 

The circular disk of the earth was crossed from west to east, and divided into two equal parts by the sea, as they called the Mediterranean, and its continuation the Euxine Pontus (Black Sea). Around the disk of the earth flowed the River Oceanus, its course being from south to north on the western side of the earth, and in a contrary direction on the eastern side.  It flowed in a steady, equable current, unvexed by storm or tempest.  The sea, and all the rivers on earth, received their waters from this great and wide “river”.
 

The northern portion of the earth was supposed to be inhabited by a happy race named the Hyperboreans (this word meaning “those who live beyond the north” from the word “hyper”, =beyond, and “boreas”, =the north wind). These people lived in everlasting bliss and eternal Spring, beyond lofty mountains whose caverns were supposed to send forth the piercing blasts of the north wind, which chilled the people of Hellas (Greece).  The Hyperboreans’ country was inaccessible by land or sea. They lived exempt from disease or old age, from toils and warfare.
 

On the south side of the earth, close to the stream of Oceanus, dwelt a people as happy and virtuous as the Hyperboreans.  They were named the Aethiopians.  The gods favoured them so highly that they were wont to leave at times their Olympian abodes, and go to share their sacrifices and banquets.
 

On the western margin of the earth, by the river of Oceanus, lay a happy place named the Elysian Plain, where mortals favoured by the gods were transported without tasting of death, to enjoy an immortality of bliss.  This happy region was also called the “Fortunate Fields”, and the “Isles of the Blessed”.
 

These very old myths point out that early ancient Greeks knew very little of any real people living far away from them, except those to the immediate east and south of their own country, or near the coast of the Mediterranean.  Their imagination peopled the western portion of this sea with giants, monsters, and enchantresses. They placed around the disk of the earth, which they probably regarded as of no great width, nations enjoying great favour of the gods, and blessed with happiness and longevity.

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