Greek Terms 101

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  1. Polytheistic
    Meaning “many gods”, this is the type of religion which was practiced by the Ancient Greeks
  2. Demeter
    The goddess of grain and the subject of one of the Homeric Hymns, this figure was the mother of Persephone, who halted the seasons when her daughter was kidnapped and attempted to turn the tables on Zeus’ divine order by making the human baby Demophoon immortal
  3. Kronos
    Locked up inside his mother’s womb, this god was able to free himself and his siblings by cutting off the genitalia of his own father, but after marrying his sister Rhea, he met with a similar fate
  4. Hera
    The wife of Zeus and the patron of marriage, this goddess is often portrayed as jealous and petty, like when she kept the goddess of labor from attending the birth of Apollo
  5. Succession myths
    Like father like son: this term describes the phenomenon of sons coming into power by overthrowing their fathers (often with the help of their mothers)
  6. Homer
    An influential yet mysterious figure, this is the name of the epic poet to whom the Iliad and the Odyssey are attributed
  7. Odysseus
    Father of Telemachaos and husband of Penelope, this Greek hero took ten years to journey back to his home in Ithaca after the end of the Trojan War
  8. Dactylic hexameter
    Consisting of six feet written in patterns of LONG-SHORT-SHORT and LONG-LONG, this is the epic meter in which both the Iliad and the Odyssey were written
  9. Formulae
    Like the “rosy-fingered dawn”, these memorable stock phrases were used as tools by Homer and other poets in the oral composition process
  10. Epic cycle
    The story doesn’t end with just the Iliad and the Odyssey—this term refers to the collection of other poems (which are not intact today, but we know DID exist) written in dactylic hexameter which revolved around the Trojan War myths and told the rest of the tale (including the beginning of the war and the journeys home of the other warriors)
  11. Delphi
    Related to the word for ‘dolphin’ in Greek, this was the site where Apollo defeated the Python and established his oracle, so that men would know the will of the gods
  12. Dark Age
    Spanning roughly 1200-750BCE, this age followed the collapse of the Mycenaean period and featured the loss of writing in Linear B; the material evidence is lacking, so our knowledge of this time is a little murkey; it ended with a “renaissance” in the 8th century which can be seen in the emergence of the Geometric art style
  13. Minoan civilization
    Named after the mythical king whose wife gave birth to the Minotaur, this pre-Greek civilization was located on the island of Crete and left behind palaces decorated with vibrant frescoes featuring bull-jumping competitions
  14. Mycenae
    The namesake for the period preceding the Dark Age, this city (which was the traditional seat of Agamemnon) was greatly influenced by the Minoans (particularly by adapting Linear B into Linear A to write Greek) and eventually overtook them
  15. Heinrich Schliemann
    Though he didn’t practice very conservative archaeology, this German businessman was passionate about Greek history and excavated the sites of Troy and Mycenae, believing that the events of the myths were actually based in history
  16. Timē
    Like Apollo with order or Aphrodite with love, this word, meaning “honor”, refers to the special interest and area of authority vested in each individual god, which was granted to them by Zeus
  17. Kleos
    “Renown” or the reputation told about you, this word is what Hektor sought for his household by fighting courageously on the battlefield, and what Odysseus won by his journey home and Achilles won by his death
  18. Mēnis
    The first word of the Iliad which sums up its main theme, meaning “wrath”, this term was ordinarily only used in reference to the divine anger of the gods when a human had violated a norm or upset a taboo; its use by Achilles gives him a divine connotation
  19. Mētis
    Like Biē for Achilles, so too does this word sum up the identity of Odysseus, since it represents intelligence or cunning, which he uses to escape the Cyclops by claiming his name is Nobody (in Greek outis, a synonym for a homonym of this word); his wife Penelope also possesses this attribute
  20. Nostos
    Meaning “homecoming”, this is what Odysseus seeks for his men and how he earns his glory
  21. Polis
    Formed through the process of synoecism (the households coming together) at the end of the Dark Age, this word refers to a Greek city-state, which was comprised of a central city and the area surrounding it
  22. Aristocracy
    Meaning “rule by the best”, this term refers to the system of government after the Greeks got rid of the position of paramount basileis, when political power lay in the hands of landowning male citizens
  23. Oligarchy
    Meaning “rule by a few”, this term describes a system of government in which only a select few ruling elite families divide all the political power amongst themselves
  24. Oikos
    Meaning “house”, this word refers to the building itself but also to the family, the land, the livestock, and all other property and goods (including slaves), and was the smallest and most fundamental unit in Greek society
  25. Pantheon
    12 main Gods that everyone worshipped. These included Zeus, Hades, Possidan
  26. Panhellanic
    Set of Gods that all Greeks believed in. Usually consisting of the Pantheon
  27. Basileus
    The Homeric word for a king or a chief, this is the acknowledged ruler of a locality (who might be subject to a chief higher up than him, like Odysseus and Achilles were to Agamemnon) and who had companions called hetairoi who would follow him in wars and campaigns in exchange for a share of the booty
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Greek Terms 101
2015-09-21 00:41:17

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