The Temple of Zeus

the Temple of Olympian Zeus, seen from the Acropolis

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens is huge – 134 feet by 353 feet, just slightly smaller than an American football field. It was supported by 104 columns 55 feet high. Today only 15 columns remain standing, plus a 16th lying on the ground. Some of damage came from looting, but most came from “recycling” materials to build churches and mosques and such by the various powers that ruled Greece until its independence in the 19th century.

The contemporary West owes much to the ancient Greeks: our ideas of democracy, science and philosophy began with them. Their stories are embedded in our culture, and there is far more Greek philosophy in Christianity than most Christians know and most Christian leaders like to admit.

Modern Paganism has some of its deepest roots in Greece. The Romantics of the 18th century frequently spoke of Zeus and his fellow Olympians because they knew of them – their stories had been preserved as “classics” and were part of a proper education. Here’s an excerpt from Shelley’s Hymn of Pan:

From the forests and highlands
     We come, we come;
From the river-girt islands,
     Where loud waves are dumb
          Listening my sweet pipings.
The wind in the reeds and the rushes,
     The bees on the bells of thyme,
The birds on the myrtle bushes,
     The cicale above in the lime,
And the lizards below in the grass,
Were as silent as ever old Tmolus was,
          Listening my sweet pipings.

And here’s an excerpt of Prayer to Zeus by James A. Wickersham of Kansas, published in 1888.

Zeus, on Olympian hight,
Shining in garments bright,
Casting thy eyes around,
Catching each note of sound,
     Zeus! hear my prayer!

There is a movement to revive worship of the deities of Greece. Hellenic worshipers in this country have a far easier time of it than those in their home country. The Greek Orthodox Church still has considerable influence and doesn’t want the competition. I found this story of a group that was able to hold a worship rite at the Temple of Zeus in 2007 after much difficulty. I can’t find anything newer, which probably means the church has been able to persuade the government to prohibit worship at “cultural” sites.

I’m a Druid and a UU Pagan, not a Hellenic Reconstructionist, and while I have had some dealings with the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece I’ve never met Zeus in anything other than a book or movie. I made no personal connections at this temple, but it was impossible not to feel the strength and power and massiveness of the place.

Some American Christians like to joke that as long as there are tests, there will always be prayer in schools (which is true, and legal, and irrelevant to the issue). The Greek church and government may prohibit formal rituals, but as long as this majestic place exists, there will be worship.

Hail Zeus!

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.