Temple, Temples, Gods, Trees, Selected, Special
The Penates were deities selected by each family, and frequently by its individual members, as a special protector. Various causes led to this selection. If, for instance, a child were born on the festival of Vesta, it was thought that that deity would henceforward act as its special guardian. If a youth possessed great business talents he adopted Mercury as his tutelary deity; should he, on the other hand, develop a passion for music, Apollo was selected as his patron god, and so forth. These became regarded as the special divinities of the household, small images of them adorned the surroundings of the hearth, and honours similar to those paid to the Lares were accorded to them.
Just as there were public Lares so there were public Penates, which were worshipped by the Roman people under the form of two youthful warriors, who, in later times, were regarded as identical with Castor and Pollux. They are generally represented on horseback, with conical caps on their heads, and bearing long spears in their hands.
PUBLIC WORSHIP OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS AND ROMANS
In very remote times the Greeks had no shrines or sanctuaries devoted to public worship, but performed their devotions beneath the vast and boundless canopy of heaven, in the great temple of nature itself. Believing that their divinities throned above the clouds, pious worshippers naturally sought the highest available points, in order to place themselves in the closest communion possible with their gods; hence the summits of high mountains were selected for devotional purposes, and the more exalted the rank and importance of the divinity invoked, the more elevated was the site selected for his or her worship. But the inconvenience attending this mode of worship gradually suggested the idea of erecting edifices which would afford means of shelter from the inclemency of the weather.
These structures were, in the first instance, of the most simple form, and without decoration; but when, with the progress of civilization, the Greeks became a wealthy and powerful people, temples were built and adorned with the greatest splendour and magnificence, talent, labour, and wealth being lavished unsparingly on their erection and decoration; indeed so massively were they constructed, that some of them have, to a certain extent, withstood the ravages of time. The city of Athens especially contains numerous remains of these buildings of antiquity. On the Acropolis we may still behold, among other monuments of ancient art, the temple of Athene-Polias, and that of Theseus, the latter of which is the most entire ancient edifice in the world. In the island of Delos, also, are to be seen the ruins of the temples of Apollo and Artemis, both of which are in a wonderful state of preservation. These ruins are most valuable, being sufficiently complete to enable us to study, by their aid, the plan and character of the original structure.
Among the Lacedæmonians, however, we find no vestiges of these stately temples, for they were specially enjoined by a law of Lycurgus to serve the gods with as little outlay as possible. When the great lawgiver was asked the reason of this injunction, he replied that the Lacedæmonians, being a poor nation, might otherwise abstain altogether from the observance of their religious duties, and wisely added that magnificent edifices and costly sacrifices were not so pleasing to the gods, as the true piety and unfeigned devotion of their worshippers.
The most ancient temples known to us served a double purpose: they were not only consecrated to the service of the gods, but were at the same time venerable monuments in honour of the dead. Thus, for instance, the temple of Pallas-Athene, in the tower of the city of Larissa, served as the sepulchre of Acrisius, and the Acropolis at Athens received the ashes of Cecrops, founder of the city.
A temple was frequently dedicated to two or more gods, and was always built after the manner considered most acceptable to the particular divinities to whom it was consecrated; for just as trees, birds, and animals of every description were held to be sacred to certain deities, so almost every god had a form of building peculiar to himself, which was deemed more acceptable to him than any other. Thus the Doric style of architecture was sacred to Zeus, Ares, and Heracles; the Ionic to Apollo, Artemis, and Dionysus; and the Corinthian to Hestia.
In the porch of the temple stood a vessel of stone or brass, containing holy water (which had been consecrated by putting into it a burning torch, taken from the altar), with which all those admitted to take part in the sacrifices were besprinkled. In the inmost recess of the sanctuary was the most holy place, into which none but the priests were suffered to enter.
Temples in the country were usually surrounded with groves of trees. The solitude of these shady retreats naturally tended to inspire the worshipper with awe and reverence, added to which the delightful shade and coolness afforded by tall leafy trees is peculiarly grateful in hot countries. Indeed so general did this custom of building temples in groves become, that all places devoted to sacred purposes, even where no trees existed, were called groves. That this practice must be of very remote antiquity is proved by the Biblical injunction, having for its object the separation of the Jews from all idolatrous practices: "Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of trees near unto the altar of the Lord thy God."
|Written By E. M. Berens|
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