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View Full Version : Why did the Ancient Greeks not ever climb Mount Olympus?


Vox Imperatoris
02-22-2009, 04:09 PM
If it was the belief of the Ancient Greeks that the gods resided on Mount Olympus, why did no one ever go up there to check it out? I realize that it is a very tall mountain, but surely someone would have been able to manage it. And if someone did, what was the reaction to the discovery that nothing much was up there?

Valete,
Vox Imperatoris

running coach
02-22-2009, 04:19 PM
And risk getting a thunderbolt through the head? Are you nuts!? :D

I would imagine that it would be blasphemy to even presume to intrude on the gods.

As far as seeing nothing there, do you see angels when you fly on a plane? Same thing.

Vox Imperatoris
02-22-2009, 04:26 PM
I would imagine that it would be blasphemy to even presume to intrude on the gods.

But there were certainly many Greek atheists and agnostics, or believers who would do it anyway. It seems like someone would have gone up there and reported nothing.

Valete,
Vox Imperatoris

Dog80
02-22-2009, 04:30 PM
It is the tallest mountain in Greece, but not a tall mountain overall. And I think it is not a difficult one to climb.

kanicbird
02-22-2009, 04:32 PM
If it was the belief of the Ancient Greeks that the gods resided on Mount Olympus, why did no one ever go up there to check it out? I realize that it is a very tall mountain, but surely someone would have been able to manage it. And if someone did, what was the reaction to the discovery that nothing much was up there?

Valete,
Vox Imperatoris

Who says they didn't? Do people this day go to certain geographical places to commune with their gods?

JKellyMap
02-22-2009, 04:39 PM
I think this is a good question! I have no facts to contribute, except to suggest that Greeks (or at least urban, sophistcated Greeks) may have considered, on some level, Mt. Olympus to be something of a metaphor -- a symbol, if you will, of the gods' homestead, while the gods themselves were thought to hang out above and/or beyond the physical mountain itself.

Telperion
02-22-2009, 04:39 PM
The fact that they couldn't see anything wouldn't prove anything, since they attributed the gods with interference with mortal affairs quite frequently and never presumed to be able to catch them in the act of doing so. It would be a bit like someone expecting to spot Jahweh come flying down from the heavens to cure cancer after a prayer, I expect.

Vox Imperatoris
02-22-2009, 04:49 PM
The fact that they couldn't see anything wouldn't prove anything, since they attributed the gods with interference with mortal affairs quite frequently and never presumed to be able to catch them in the act of doing so. It would be a bit like someone expecting to spot Jahweh come flying down from the heavens to cure cancer after a prayer, I expect.

But it is my understanding that they had a more literal idea of the gods living in places and doing things than the Israelites did, e.g. Christianity is wonderfully vague on where heaven actually is, so you can't disprove it by going up into the clouds with airplanes, but the Ancient Greeks thought the gods were material beings that could possibly be seen. And while no one has claimed to see Yahweh coming down to cure cancer, they have claimed to see angels, and I'm sure Greeks claimed to see gods and other magical beings doing stuff, too.

Valete,
Vox Imperatoris

Telperion
02-22-2009, 04:54 PM
But it is my understanding that they had a more literal idea of the gods living in places and doing things than the Israelites did, e.g. Christianity is wonderfully vague on where heaven actually is, so you can't disprove it by going up into the clouds with airplanes, but the Ancient Greeks thought the gods were material beings that could possibly be seen. And while no one has claimed to see Yahweh coming down to cure cancer, they have claimed to see angels, and I'm sure Greeks claimed to see gods and other magical beings doing stuff, too.

Valete,
Vox Imperatoris

Possibly, yes, but not necessarily. They believed their gods could change shape at will, so it probably didn't take much rationalization to imagine that they could make themselves invisible when they didn't want to be seen.

Petrobey Mavromihalis
02-23-2009, 05:57 AM
But it is my understanding that they had a more literal idea of the gods living in places and doing things than the Israelites did, e.g. Christianity is wonderfully vague on where heaven actually is, so you can't disprove it by going up into the clouds with airplanes, but the Ancient Greeks thought the gods were material beings that could possibly be seen. And while no one has claimed to see Yahweh coming down to cure cancer, they have claimed to see angels, and I'm sure Greeks claimed to see gods and other magical beings doing stuff, too.

I think you need to reread your Old Testament.

Anyway, I suspect there are two threads to the answer:

a)Anyone who believed in the gods who climbed the mountain probably would have "seen" them. A sceptic's account would have been ignored (what's he going to do - take a photo?).

b)Climbing mountains is a pretty recent phenomena. Even famous peaks in the Alps weren't first climbed until into the 19th century when the romantic movement took sway. Olympus is not a hugely difficult climb, but it is a long one, and people have died doing it. I suspect that until the modern era very few people would have seen the point of even attempting climbing it. That's why the gods were put there - it was regarded as inaccessible.

Dr. Drake
02-23-2009, 07:05 AM
There's the additional complication that there are several mountains that have a legitimate claim to be Mount Olympus. (I think the Barrington Atlas lists them all.) That is, in the Ancient Greek world, there was no one single peak that was universally agreed upon to be the home of the gods, though unless your Greek was widely travelled he or she would probably have a specific one in mind.

I'm not sure where your question is heading. Are you asking "why didn't the skeptics try to disprove that crazy religion by demonstrating that Olympus was uninhabited," it's because that notion relies on a whole bunch of concepts that simply wouldn't have occurred to an Ancient Greek. They had skeptics, sure, but they simply didn't prove or disprove things in that way.

If you're asking, "why didn't the Ancient Greeks try to meet their gods face-to-face," it was answered above --- they had other, easier ways of communicating with the gods if necessary.

If you're asking, "why didn't the Ancient Greeks just try to walk to heaven, since it was right there on the mountain," the answer is that the abode of the gods was not the same place as an eternal paradise; what they would expect to find on Olympus wasn't like the Christian afterlife where everone hangs out with their favorite deities.

RealityChuck
02-23-2009, 07:42 AM
Because it wasn't there.

lieu
02-23-2009, 07:53 AM
It was next on Pliny's list.

CalMeacham
02-23-2009, 08:05 AM
It's not just that mountain climbing is difficult, and that it's not clear exactly which peak was the real Olympus. It also wasn't clear that, even by the time of Homer, the Greeks believed that the gods lived on an actual, identifiable mountain. To quote Edith Hamilton's Mythology:

...They were called the Olympians because Olympus was their home. What Olympus was, however, is not easy to say. There is no doubt that at first it was held to be a mountain top, and generally identified with Greece's highest mountain, Mt. Olympus in Thessaly, in the northeast of Greece. But even in the earliest Greek poem, the Iliad, this idea is beginning to give way to the idea of an Olympus in some mysterious region far above all the mountains of the earth. In one passage of the Iliad Zeus talks to the gods from "the topmost peak of many-ridged Olympus," clearly a mountain. Bu only a little further on he says that if he willed he could hang earth and sea from a pinnacle of Olympus, clearly no longer a mountain.


Hamilton (1942) p. 22



I've no doubt that many tried to climb Olympus, and some probably succeeded. Finding nothing, they probably concluded theiy were in the wrong place, or the gods hid, r that Olympus was no earthly mountain.

The Scrivener
02-23-2009, 09:19 AM
I doubt it would behoove any skeptic to climb "Olympus" (a peak by any other name he'd scale just the same) and afterwards disseminate his findings to a pantheon-believing public. Recall that the justification for the execution of Socrates was that the philosopher was corrupting the youth, a most serious crime. So just how long could our atheist mountain-climber stand on his soapbox before being handed a hemlock cocktail?

Exapno Mapcase
02-23-2009, 09:45 AM
but the Ancient Greeks thought the gods were material beings that could possibly be seen.

"Could possibly be seen" is not at all the same as "visible." It's clear from a variety of the Greek myths that the gods manifested themselves to humans when they choose to. Often their interference with humanity was done without humans seeing them even when they were supposedly physically close. It was usually a great gift if the gods revealed themselves to a mortal.

It's not at all different from Christianity or Judaism in this regard. God or the angels could appear before humans, but always and only at times of their choosing.

Whether the Greeks thought the residence on Mount Olympus was metaphorical or real, climbing it would prove nothing other than the visitor was not worthy of seeing the gods in their true state.

And the Greeks were not a monolithic body. They undoubtedly had as many different conceptions of Olympus as modern Christians do of heaven, i.e. every person had a different one. Climbing Olympus would have the same result as a Christian trying to find heaven by ascending in a balloon.

Really Not All That Bright
02-23-2009, 09:51 AM
So just how long could our atheist mountain-climber stand on his soapbox before being handed a hemlock cocktail?
You may or may not recall that Socrates had plenty of choices other than the hemlock- he could have chosen exile, or recanted.

CaerieD
02-23-2009, 10:02 AM
I've no doubt that many tried to climb Olympus, and some probably succeeded. Finding nothing, they probably concluded theiy were in the wrong place, or the gods hid, r that Olympus was no earthly mountain.

Yeah, finding nothing on the mountain would be no proof to a true believer. I can imagine an awed man telling everyone exciting stories of the true power of the gods: they were able to miraculously hide all the wonders of Olympus from mortal eyes!

Tom Tildrum
02-23-2009, 10:13 AM
Are there any ancient accounts of actual attempts to scale Olympus?

Helen's Eidolon
02-23-2009, 10:36 AM
A lot of what has been said above is good.

Basically, there's no reason to think that the Greeks were expecting Clash-of-the-Titans-style gods sitting up on their thrones on the top of a mountain, literally.

And no, as far as I'm aware, there's no evidence for ancient attempts to climb the mountain. Well, not the peak, anyway. Obviously people (and armies) went through various passes in the mountain chain frequently.

Helen's Eidolon
02-23-2009, 10:40 AM
Oh, and - religious skepticism wasn't a crime punishable by death among the Greeks either. Every philosopher had his own idea of what divinity was, from 'the limitless' (Anaximander) to anthromorphic because we create gods in our own image (Xenophanes) to completely disinterested in human existence (the Epicureans).

Dog80
02-23-2009, 10:49 AM
Oh, and - religious skepticism wasn't a crime punishable by death among the Greeks either. Every philosopher had his own idea of what divinity was, from 'the limitless' (Anaximander) to anthromorphic because we create gods in our own image (Xenophanes) to completely disinterested in human existence (the Epicureans).

How about Socrates "introducing new demons"? :confused:

Helen's Eidolon
02-23-2009, 11:02 AM
Socrates was deeply enmeshed in a sticky political situation, and the people in power were forbidden from trying anyone for political reasons due to an amnesty. Socrates was a pretty notorious intellectual troublemaker, and he continued to stir people up right to his death.

Besides, the charge of introducing new gods is clearly not a charge of atheism. It's obvious that, historically, there were tons of thinkers playing with atheism, agnosticism and redefinition of the idea of the divine, and also that the introduction of new gods happened all the time.

Dog80
02-23-2009, 11:20 AM
Socrates was deeply enmeshed in a sticky political situation, and the people in power were forbidden from trying anyone for political reasons due to an amnesty. Socrates was a pretty notorious intellectual troublemaker, and he continued to stir people up right to his death.

Besides, the charge of introducing new gods is clearly not a charge of atheism. It's obvious that, historically, there were tons of thinkers playing with atheism, agnosticism and redefinition of the idea of the divine, and also that the introduction of new gods happened all the time.

So they wanted him out of their way and set up a kangaroo trial?

palindromemordnilap
02-23-2009, 11:21 AM
You know there had to be someone at the top of the mountain waiting for suckers to come along: "Yeah, I'm Zeus, bring me two lambs or I'll smite you."

Helen's Eidolon
02-23-2009, 11:41 AM
So they wanted him out of their way and set up a kangaroo trial?

I wouldn't say that's it exactly - he had a hand in educating two of the worst 'traitors' to Athenian democracy of the time, Critias and Alcibiades. Socrates didn't quite approve of democracy, so in some senses he really was corrupting the young men - his students became fans of oligarchy.

You can also distinguish between philosophical beliefs about the gods from religious practice in ancient times. People were clearly free to think whatever they wanted about the gods, but someone who refused to participate in civic rituals would have been considered suspicious. I actually don't know all of the details of the religious charge against Socrates, so maybe that's part of it, but I can tell you certainly that there were many other philosophers with radical ideas about the gods that didn't get any scorn or punishment.

Little Nemo
02-23-2009, 11:44 AM
There's the additional complication that there are several mountains that have a legitimate claim to be Mount Olympus. (I think the Barrington Atlas lists them all.) That is, in the Ancient Greek world, there was no one single peak that was universally agreed upon to be the home of the gods, though unless your Greek was widely travelled he or she would probably have a specific one in mind.That raises the issue of which came first: Olympus, home of the Gods, or Olympus, the big mountain that's on the other side of the neighbouring village. Probably a lot of ancient Greeks would have told you "Sure, that's Mount Olympus but it's not the Mount Olympus." A quick search of Google Maps shows there are at least ten Edens in the United States but nobody goes to them looking for the Tree of Knowledge. Like the Greeks, we understand that these local places were just named after the original divine one.

ricksummon
02-23-2009, 12:18 PM
Well, a guy named Barzai the Wise did try to see the gods of Earth by climbing the peak of Hatheg-Kla, but he found out too late that the gods of Earth are protected by the Other Gods...

smiling bandit
02-23-2009, 02:31 PM
Religion in general in the ancient world was something rather different than what most people have today. It was often a matter of ritual and mythology rather than belief. Indeed, the question of "Are the Gods really on Mount Olympus?" was probably not one they would ask. Then they had philisophy on the side, which was a rather different thing. There were attempts to combine the two, but they didn't get very far.

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