Illustration of Plato's Allegory of the Cave


Religious Life

By Sally Mallam
Contributing Writer

Greek religion was part of the attempt to reinforce a common sense of purpose, civic cohesion, and community.

As we saw in pre-Axial Greece, to the Greeks religion was not doctrinal, but a way of living. There was no sacred text, so there could be no profession of faith measured against it. The sole requirements for the Greeks were to believe that the gods existed and to perform ritual and sacrifice, through which the gods received their due. To deny the existence of a deity was to risk reprisals, from the deity or from other mortals. If a Greek went through the motions of piety, he risked little, since no attempt was made to enforce orthodoxy, a religious concept almost incomprehensible to the Greeks. 

Faith was a private matter, religion was a public affair enacted for the good of all. Each city-state had its own patron deity who influenced how local citizens saw themselves and understood their relationship to outsiders. Communities adapted the myths of their patron deity to suit their purposes, so stories about Athena, (originally a Minoan deity) the patron goddess of Athens were told in one way in Athens and in another outside her boundaries, in Corinth or Sparta, for example.

Greek legends, myths and rituals were performed in public and attended as part of a Greek’s religious obligation, providing cohesiveness to the political community. As Greece prospered, so did their religious rituals. Wealthier cities began to host larger and larger celebrations that incorporated an ever wider audience. There was always a religious element to these celebrations, even if the dominant theme appeared to be something else – such as theatrical or athletic competitions.

Honoring the Gods involved all aspects of the Panhellenic Games.

The Allegory of the Cave Video

Watch: Plato’s Cave

An animated version of Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave.



Axial Age Thought

Further Reading