Greek

Greek religion

Beliefs, rituals, and mythology of the ancient Greeks. Though the worship of the sky god Zeus began as early as the 2nd millennium BC, Greek religion in the established sense began circa 750 BC and lasted for over a thousand years, extending its influence throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond. The Greeks had numerous gods who controlled various natural or social forces (e.g., Poseidon the sea, Demeter the harvest, Hera marriage). Different deities were worshiped in different localities, but Homer's epics helped create a unified religion, in which the major gods were believed to live on Mount Olympus under the rule of Zeus. The Greeks also worshiped various gods of the countryside: Pan, nymphs, naiads, dryads, Nereids, and satyrs (see satyr and silenus), along with the Furies and the Fates. Heroes from the past, such as Heracles and Asclepius, were also venerated. Animal sacrifices were of great importance, usually made at a temple on the altar of the god. Other cultic activities included prayers, libations, processions, athletic contests, and divination, particularly through oracles and birds. Great religious festivals included the City Dionysia at Athens and the festival of Zeus in the western Peloponnese that included the Olympic Games. Death was seen as a hateful state; the dead lived in the realm of Hades, and only heroes enjoyed Elysium. Great wrongdoers suffered in Tartarus. Mystery religions emerged to satisfy the desire for personal guidance, salvation, and immortality. Greek religion faded with the rise of Christianity and lost its last great advocate with the death of Julian in AD 363. Seealso Greek mythology.

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Indo-European language spoken mostly in Greece. Its history can be divided into four phases: Ancient Greek, Koine, Byzantine Greek, and Modern Greek. Ancient Greek is subdivided into Mycenaean Greek (14th–13th centuries BC) and Archaic and Classical Greek (8th–4th centuries BC). The language of the latter periods had numerous dialects (e.g., Ionic, Attic). The second phase, Koine (Hellenistic Greek), arose during the reign of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. A common language with simplified grammar, it spread throughout the Hellenized world. Purists who rejected Koine as a corruption of Attic Greek successfully advocated adoption of the Classical language for all writing. Thus, the written form, Byzantine Greek (5th–15th centuries AD), stayed rooted in the Attic tradition while the spoken language continued to develop. Modern Greek, dating from the 15th century, has many local dialects. Standard Modern Greek, Greece's official written and spoken language, is largely based on a form called Demotic (used in popular speech) but includes elements of Katharevusa, the written language formerly used in government and public life.

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Any of several flammable mixtures used in ancient and medieval warfare, particularly a petroleum-based mixture invented by the Byzantine Greeks in the 7th century. Flammable materials such as pitch and sulfur had been used in war since ancient times, but true Greek fire was especially deadly. Thrown in pots or discharged from tubes, it apparently caught fire spontaneously, and water could not put it out. Greek fire launched from tubes mounted on ship prows wrought havoc on the Arab fleet attacking Constantinople in 673. Its effectiveness was a prime reason for the long survival of the Byzantine Empire. The recipe was so secret that its precise composition remains unknown.

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