Cornelis Van Poelenburgh - ‘The Feast of the Olympians’.

Cornelis Van Poelenburgh’s painting ‘The Feast of the Olympians’. This painting complements my posting as it shows the twelve key Greek gods. The fact that there are twelve ‘key’ Greek gods depicts the sheer multitude of gods or god-like beings in the Ancient world. The image also clearly shows Zeus at the head of the table, which introduces us to the work of Detienne and Vernant, who pioneered work on the structuralism approach to the polytheistic nature of Ancient Greek Religion (which can be seen in their work Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society. Hassocks. 1978) and attributed the success of the pantheon to the structure within it. However, there are some issues with this approach to the pantheon and one of those is the goddess Aphrodite, as she does not sit comfortably in either of the two ‘generations’ of deities. Although Aphrodite is almost an anomaly in the structuralism approach she is still a very typical Greek goddess in the fact that she is split into many different epithets (a topic which will be further explored in my posting on anthropomorphism). The use of epithets gave the deities many different personas and some were even regarded as deities in their own right - this splitting up of the gods increased the number of worshipped beings into the hundreds, showing the truly polytheistic nature of the Ancient Greeks. Rosenzweig’s text Worshipping Aphrodite: Art and Cult in Classical Athens (Michigan: University of Michigan Press. 2004) is a good piece of research into the attributes and epithets of Aphrodite.
Alongside the gods, heroes and heroines were often worshipped by cults after their death, with the likes of Herakles embodying both categories as he became a god after his heroic life. Minor figures important to particular localities were also worshipped, as well as other divine creatures, such as nymphs.

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