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|Eusebeia: Principles of Hellenic Piety
by Drew Campbell
The following is a list of premises that most ancient Atheniansand other Helleneswould have accepted about the gods and our relationship to and obligations toward them. This list summarizes material presented in Jon D. Mikalson's excellent Athenian Popular Religion (Chapel Hill/London: University of North Carolina Press, 1983).
Not all who practice Hellenismos today will accept every principle here, nor will all agree about the implications of the principles they do accept. But I believe this list to be a fair statement of the foundational beliefs of our religion and a useful starting point for discussion of modern Hellenic theology and ethics.
- The gods come first, and should be given priority in our thoughts and actions.
- Opportunities come from the gods, but it is up to human beings to make the most of what we are given.
- The gods can and do show us goodwill by helping us to protect our property and defend our nation, providing us with abundant food and resources, preserving or restoring our health, and giving us many other blessings in response to our prayers.
- The goodwill of the gods is maintained by the performance of proper and traditional rituals, specifically sacrifices (offerings).
- We owe the gods thanks for their blessings, particularly in fulfillment of vows.
- The gods may act in a general way to preserve justice and to prevent or punish impiety, but their interest in most mundane civic affairs is limited.
- Divination can help us ascertain the will of the gods, particularly in matters of religious practice.
- Good things come from the gods, but bad things are usually the result of human error, lesser inimical beings, or one's Fate.
- What happens after death is uncertain; living this life well is more important than preparing for any potential afterlife.
- Specific instances of piety include "maintenance of oaths, respect for the rights of asylum and hospitality, observance of tradition and law in cult matters of sacrifice and tendance of the dead, loyalty to one's country, and proper care of one's living parents." (p. 103)
- To commit impious acts, including disbelieving in the existence of the gods or neglecting their worship, is to incur divine hostility.
- Impiety affects the whole community: Harboring, refusing to prosecute, or neglecting to punish criminals such as homicides or associating with impious persons puts everyone at risk of incurring miasma (ritual impurity) and the hostility of the gods.
This article originally appeared on Andrew Campbell's Nomos Arkhaios site which is currently on hiatus.
This article is copyright © 2000-2003 by Andrew Campbell and is reprinted here with permission.