Classical antiquity (also the classical era, classical period or classical age) is the long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world. It is the period in which Greek and Roman society flourished and wielded great influence throughout Europe, North Africa and Southwestern Asia.
We will try to stress the problem of Evil but it is advisable to take a glimpse in these civilizations because they had a strong influence in everything cultural for the western world, specially in the Renaissance.
A good framing to the subject is to notice that one of the most important transformations in Late Antiquity was the formation and evolution of the Abrahamic Religions; Christianity, rabbinic Judaism and, eventually, Islamism
Although it was the Greeks who first posed the question of the origin and nature of evil in strictly philosophical terms, they manage to create gods, or Gods, as ambivalent manifestations of the one and same God. This contradictory ethical and ontological qualities (i.e. related to their existence) of the gods indicate more confusion than an atempt to coincide the opposites related to them.
They have two concepts indicating the character of the god, one ouranic or heavenly and the other chthonic, from the underworld (hell?) being the chthonic more often assimilated with the concept of evil. Again, you don’t have an entry for ouranic, but you can have a comparison chart between the qualities.
On top of that they have another set of concepts, Theos and Daimon.
Interesting to know is that Theos is at any rate God and Daimon Daemon, to which I invite the reading of the entry. As Rollo May perceived, and we already discussed, Daimon, which is an alternative writing to Damon, in the dictionary is defined as (in ancient Greek belief) a divinity or supernatural being of a nature between gods and humans. Also as an inner or attendant spirit or inspiring force. And it should be observed that its synonyms are numen, genius, genius loci, inspiring force, attendant spirit, tutelary spirit, demon, from which you say:
The mythology surrounding all these characters is too long to go into here. Just about everything you can imagine can happen in a group of persons, be it Greeks or Romans, or whatever, there would be some sort of equivalent in the saga of the gods.
It is basic to any comprehension of the Greek religion that it was a living religion, not standardized and refined by literary traditions. Each god was perceived as a manifestation of both the kindly and the destructive aspects of divinity. This ambivalence shows up in the Greek literature, myth and philosophy in the classical period. Homer does not make a clear separation of good and evil and certainly no hypostatization (treat as a distinct substance in reality) of either. The will of the God is not known. Beyond men and beyond gods there exists a remote, impersonal force called Moira that assigns to each god and each man his proper function. Moira is completely without personality or even conscious will, it is as a concept “a truth about the disposition of Nature”, the truth being that each person has an ordained role to play in the world. In a word: Destiny…
It is also noticeable the strong resemblance in several situations in the Greek and Roman literature, from Homer to Aeschylus with the Book of Job of the Bible.
Basically, Jeffrey Burton Russel says, to Homer evil consists in violating the honor (time) of a god. Take a look at the entry in Wikipedia.
Theodicy, in its most common form, is an attempt to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil and toward the end of the classical period, the difficulties posed by Greek theodicy became evident in the work of Euripides, where man struggles in the grip of an irrational universe in which the gods represent no order at all.
Because there is a connection between Orphism and Dyonisos in the thinking of Plato, or Platonism and Pythagoras or Pythagoreanism let’s take a look on it:
Orphism was , or at least it seems, a parallel religion to the Greek religion. There are unresolved questions whether as to if it ever existed as an organized religion, what was the exact relationship with the cult of Dionysos or to what extent its dualism was form its own or imported. The central myth of Orphism may have been the myth of Dionysos and the Titans.
The Cult of Dyonisos
The concepts exposed here would have to be connected with Nietzsche’s Apollonian and Dionysian in The Birth of Tragedy to designate the two central principles in Greek culture, as he sees it. Since Nietzsche has done an outstanding contribution in understanding the presence of evil, this is a sort of contribution for anyone who wishes to go deeper in the subject. It is a pity that Erich Auerbach neither in his Mimesis or Dante Poet of the Secular World does not touches Nietzsche directly as more than one scholar pointed out.
The central myth of Orphism may have been the myth of Dionysos and the Titans.
In the beginning of the world was Phanes, the androgyne who brings all things to light. First Phanes bears Ouranos, who sires (fathers) Kronos, the father of Zeus. After Zeus defeats the Titans, he swallows Phanes, thus taking’ into himself the original principle, becoming a creator god, and producing all things anew, including the Titans. Meanwhile Zeus fathers a son, Dionysos. Hating Zeus, and envious of the happiness of the infant Dionysus, the Titans approach the child, distract his attention with a mirror, and seize him. They tear him apart and devour him. But Athene rescues the boy’s heart and brings it to Zeus, who consumes it. Zeus now has intercourse with Semele, who gives birth anew to Dionysos. Pleased with the resurrection of his son, Zeus proceeds to punish his murderers by blasting them to ashes with thunderbolts. From the ashes of the Titans arises the race of mankind.
The myth is wholly dualist. Mankind has a dual nature, spiritual and material. The material part of our nature derives from the Titans, the spiritual part from the Dionysos whom they devoured. The teachings of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans were highly influential in one development of the dualist tradition. For the Pythagoreans, soul is immortal, flesh mortal. The soul is trapped in the body like prisoner (soma sema), our task on earth is to escape our bodily prison by means of ritual purification.
- First, Orphic purity was ritual rather than moral.
- Second, the coexistence of ascetic restraint and frenzied worship is common in the history of religions and, psychologically, is a predictable manifestation of the shadow.
- Third, frenzied ecstasy is frequently an accepted way of bringing the spirit “out of” the body.
- Fourth, and most important, it is a manifestation of the coincidence of opposites, of the ambivalence that” underlies all human thought, particularly thought about the gods.
- First there is the primitive Euetheia or Age of Ignorance, before Zeus came to trouble men’s minds, a stage to which anthropologists and explorers found parallels in every part of the world. Basically somebody (I am not sure if properly) defined it as Primordial Stupidity (Dr. Preuss) see it in German.
- Secondly there is the Olympian or classical stage, a stage in which in a rough battle up hill, full of fits and starts this primitive vagueness was reduced a kind of order. This is the stage of the great Olympian gods, who dominated art and poetry, ruled the imagination of Rome and Greece and extended a kind of romantic dominion even over the Middle Ages. Many believe that this context has no value as religion, only as art.
- Thirdly, there is the Hellenistic period, reaching roughly from Plato to St. Paul and the earlier Gnostics. The successors of Aristotle produced rather a school of progressive science, those of Plato a school of refined skepticism. The religious side of Plato’s thought would take a while to como to its full power which happened in the 3rd century AD at the time of Plotinus.