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    Weather and Ancient Religion: Greek Mythology

    By By Samantha-Rae Tuthill, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
    August 21, 2012, 10:15:59 AM EDT

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    For thousands of years civilization has been fascinated with meteorology. There are records of societies that made human sacrifices to the sun, performed in-depth rituals to bring rain, personified the seasons as deities to be worshiped, refused to bury those killed by direct lightning strikes in the belief that they must have deeply angered the gods.

    Ancient Greek mythology is an example of how early civilizations tried to explain the then unexplainable forces of nature, weather and astronomy. Many ancient Greek gods and goddesses were elements of weather and seasons personified.


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    "All meteorological forces, each direction of the wind had a name and was worshiped as a god," said Dr. Clint Corcoran, head of the Religion and Philosophy Department at High Point University.

    Each meteorological and earthly element was broken down into subsets assigned to specific gods that were ruled over by a king god. Aeolus was the god of wind, but the winds were then broken down into Boreas, the name for the north wind who controlled the cold winds of winter; Notos, the south wind, the bringer of summer storms; Zephryos was the west wind who brought spring breezes and Euros was the east wind. Further, there were names for northwest (Skeiron), southwest (Livos), northeast (Kaikias), and southeast (Apeliotus) winds as well.

    All occurrences of favorable or poor weather were thought to be a direct result of godly intervention, a constant theme in Greek myth, art, theater and literature. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus incurred the wrath of the king sea god, Poseidon, who then set out to sabotage his return voyage home with storms and violent waters. For the sake of spiting Poseidon, Aeolus trapped all the winds but Zephryos in a bag so that the westerly wind could blow the ship back to Ithaca.


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    The interpretation of winds as divine intervention was also applied to the last days of life of the great philosopher Socrates. Socrates was put on trial and condemned to death or exile (he chose death rather than live a life in which he would be banned from teaching philosophy) for impiety, as well as instilling heretical ideas in his students and thereby "corrupting the youth." However, because he was sentenced before the start of a religious mission, his execution was delayed until a ship sent to Delos returned to Athens. It took over a month for the ship to return, in part because of unfavorable winds for sailing.

    In his article “The Slow Boat from Delos, or Socrates’ Ship Comes in?” published in The Nautilus: A Maritime Journal of Literature, History, and Culture Corcoran writes:

    "The delay of the execution because of contrary winds could easily be interpreted as a sign of divine intervention. This intervention would most likely be seen as an expression of the god’s anger with his execution, or a desire on the part of the gods to delay Socrates’ execution."

    Beyond just gods of wind, the Greeks had Poseidon, the king of all the sea gods and goddesses, as well as the god of earthquakes. Helios was god of the sun, Selene the goddess of the moon, Hephaestus the god of volcanoes, Chione the goddess of snow, Zeus the king of all gods and god of the sky, thunder, lightning and rain. There were also many nymphs, of water, clouds, breezes, and other forces, seemingly endless numbers of deities to account for every aspect of nature.

    In the play Oedipus Rex written by Sophocles, Oedipus unknowingly murders his father and becomes married to his mother, unaware of his relationship to either, as he had been cast away as a child to prevent a prophecy that predicted exactly that. As punishment for these sins, Zeus struck the country with famine. A god's will was the only cause for the destruction to the land.

    Likewise, it was divine intervention that was blamed for real-life flooding. Many ancient cultures, the Babylonians, the Mesopotamians, the Sumerians, had stories that involve a great flood sent by a deity, indicating to historians that there was perhaps a (or several) great flood(s) and these myths rose around to explain it (them). In Greek mythology, Zeus was responsible for the flooding. He was angered by the wickedness of man, and feared their violence would threaten the heavens. Zeus sent the storm-inducing wind Notos to bring torrential rains; Poseidon sent the waves of the seas overflowing onto the land.

    Weather is a crucial part of our lives and always has been. Destructive weather can mean losses of property and life. The right weather conditions grow crops. If it's favorable or unfavorable weather, it still impacts our lives on a daily basis. We know more about meteorology now than we did 2,000-3,000 years ago, but there is much about the forces of nature that are still as mysterious and awe-inspiring to us today as it was then.

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