Saint Ved Vyas relating the Bhagwatam to Shukdeo (3100 B.C.)

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(14) Greek civilization, language, and literature.

       After adopting Phoenician graphic-alphabet in 900 BC they employed a vowel system and added six more letters to make it a 24 letter alphabet. Earlier,was pronounced as ‘b.’ Now in Modern Greek it is pronounced as ‘v.’ It took a long time to develop the letters. There were many Greek dialects and there were certain differences in their style of writing. Lastly the Ionian style of lettering was adopted in general and after 400 BC the letters became uniform. The literature and art flourished mainly in the Classical Greek period.

Phonology. Although the dialects of Greek were mutually intelligible within a normal limit of understanding but the pronunciations of words and accents differed from period to period and from dialect to dialect. The short and long sounds of vowels also varied in different dialects and the political situations in the country also brought many changes with the intermigration of the dialects. But, during the establishment of Alexander’s empire in the 4th century BC and after the breakdown of old political barriers, a uniformity took place in the spoken language. This form of language was called the Koine (means the common language) or Hellenistic Greek (400 BC - 600 AD). It replaced the other dialects and the speaking and writing systems were much standardized.

Grammar also changed in different periods. A change of language is noticed in the writings of Plato and Demosthenes. The spoken language still kept on changing even during the period of Byzantine empire (500-1500 AD) and the written language kept on improving which created a big rift between the local vernacular and the literary Greek. This situation gave birth to a separate kind of ‘Demotic’ language of general everyday use.

All the major phonological and grammatical changes which are seen between Koine and the Modern Greek mostly happened within this period. Earlier there were three numbers for pronouns and verbs, singular, dual and plural. Then ‘dual’ was dropped and, only singular and plural were left.

From Ancient Greek to Modern Greek the formation of many words were also changed. For example: The ancient Greek word pente (five) became pende, hepta and okto (seven and eight) became efta and okhto, paidia (boys) became pedhya and so on. There were also semantic changes in certain words, just as: the word alogho which previously meant ‘irrational,’ later it meant ‘horse;’ skiazome which previously meant I am in shadow,’ later it meant ‘I fear.’

The vocabulary of Greek language consists of local collections and borrowings. Considering the origin of Greek, there were many Mycenaean words in 2nd millennium BC whose original form corresponded to certain Greek words like leon (lion), onos (ass), elephas (ivory) etc.

By using preverbs, by forming compounds and by adding prefixes or suffixes to these prime words they enriched their vocabulary. Later on they also borrowed a considerable number of words from other sources, such as, Italian, Turkish, French and also Latin.

Culture and literature of Greece.

Greece was the origin of western civilization that started about 3,000 years ago. The peak of its glory was around 500 BC which was the golden age for Athens. Democritus, Socrates and his disciple Plato were in the 5th century BC and Aristotle was in the 4th century BC. Democritus introduced the theory of the creation of the universe with the atoms; Socrates told about the general universal principles and about one Divinity (but he was sentenced to death by drinking poison for telling the truth which they called unorthodox); Plato believed in the immortality of the soul and introduced his reasonings based on his idea of the intellect part of the being and the desire part of the being. He started a school of philosophy in Athens called “Academy.” His pupil Aristotle explained in his theory of physics about the constant change in every form, phase and aspect of creation which is the inherent nature of this world, but only God is unchanged and eternal. He used the word theology for the philosophy of God.

The two fiction stories the Iliad and the Odyssey written in a long poetry form are famous which are traditionally believed to be composed by a blind but imaginative bard, Homer (alone or together with his traveling friend), around 700 BC and were recited in the community. Between 300 and 100 BC from the available handwritten parts of the Iliad and the Odyssey and from the prevailing recited stories, the existing books that are available nowadays, were compiled, edited and again properly written.

The Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer.

The Iliad is a fancied description of the last part of the legendary Trojan war (in twenty-four small sections) that went on for 10 years (around 1350 BC) between the Greek army and the king of Troy to rescue Helen (the Queen of Sparta) who was abducted by the son of the king of Troy. The characters of the story are fictitious and the plot of the story follows the imagination of the writer. The story ends with Hector’s funeral who was leading the Greek forces in the end.

The Odyssey is also in the ancient style of Greek poetry that describes the adventures of King Odysseus (the main character of the fiction story) in a heroic way when he is returning back to his home after fighting a battle. The story also portrays the lust, jealousy and the revengefulness of the gods who were produced by the imagination of Homer and which became the guidelines for portraying the gods of the Greek mythology.

The story starts from the middle, where, after seven years of captivation by a sea nymph, the hero of the play, Odysseus, gains the favor of the chief god Zeus and goddess Athena and, with the help of Hermes, he comes out of the captivity and sails forward in a raft. But, the god of the sea, Poseidon, ragefully capsizes the raft by causing a sea storm because he had killed one of his demon friends on one of the islands where he stayed during his journey. He was washed ashore by the waves when a princess finds him and takes him to her homeland.

Prior to those happenings he went through a number of adventures that happened in various imaginary lands that were inhabited with people having magic powers and also there were some demons on certain islands. Once when he landed on an island the lady enchantress of that island made his people pigs and Odysseus her lover. With her help he visits the underworld where he sees ghosts of his mother and the people who died in war. Later on as he proceeds with his men towards his country, the god’s rage in the form of a violent thunderbolt destroys the ship along with his people because some of his men had stealthily eaten the cattle of the sun god on one of the islands. He is washed ashore on the island of Ogygia, the land of the sea nymph, from where the story started. Finally he comes home after ten years of tragic life and joins his wife.

Such stories give an idea of the society and the people of those days and also their beliefs. It is a fact that the ancient Greeks laid the foundation of western civilization. They also contributed to the knowledge of biology, geometry, history, philosophy, physics and the logics of Plato, fine arts, architecture and music. The temple of Athena (450 BC) is famous for its architecture.

The golden age of Athens began to decline when the Peloponnesian war broke out in 431 BC and shortly after that the epidemic of plague killed one third of the Athenians, but, during the reign of Alexander it again regained its prosperity. However, the expanding powerful conquests of the Roman Empire took over Macedonia (Greece) in 148 BC and there were lots of disturbances and destructions in Greece during that time.

The origin of Homer’s mythological imaginations and the religion of Greece.

In ancient times there were trade connections between the eastern Mediterranean countries, Persia and India, and also people traveled long distances in those days. Thus, the social culture of India and certain popular stories of the Puranas, like: the creation of celestial and material world by Brahma, first material sky then the earth; the first originators of human civilization Manu and Shatroopa; wars between gods and demons in the celestial plane; the story of water deluge that flooded the whole world (dissolving the celestial abodes also) when Rishi Satyavrat kept the subtle bodies of all the souls with him and stayed in the ship during the previous kalp pralaya; the story of gods and goddesses when they went to Vishnu’s abode and there they heard a Divine voice; and the stories of god Indra, Varun, Kamdeo, Kuber, Agni, Vayu and the creator Brahma etc. traveled through sea routes. Also, many other commonly known stories of the Indian community reached these countries by word of mouth with some additions and subtractions as they traveled from mouth to mouth and the people of these countries incorporated them in their mythologies.

For example: the story of water deluge (pralaya) became ‘the great flood’ of the Bible, and the stories and the epithets of our celestial gods and goddesses became the source of their imagination about mythologizing the characters of gods and goddesses in their religion and worship. Thus, we find that Assyrians, Babylonians, Sumerians, Semites, Egyptians and Greeks, all of them believed and worshipped many gods and goddesses with somewhat similar characters like god of rain and storm (Zeus), god of love (Eros), god of underworld (Hades), goddess of fire (Hestia), and goddess of wisdom (Athena), etc. Zeus was their chief god. In addition to that they also created many more gods and goddesses with their own imaginations. The forms and features of their gods and goddesses were created either in a human form or a combination of human and animal form (as Egyptian gods), whatever befitted according to their nature, imagination and social living.

We find that the ancient society of Greece had adopted certain social customs that were prevailing in India. Such as: the husband headed the family and the wife ran the household affairs; parents arranged and decided their children’s marriage; a girl was controlled and protected by her parents before marriage and by her husband after marriage; and many more such customs.


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The True History and the Religions of India by H.D. Swami Prakashanand Saraswati