Symbols & Culture, Then & Now

The Symbols

Legend has it that Zeus once fought his father, Kronos, for control of the world. They battled atop a mountain that overlooked a valley in southwestern Greece. After Zeus defeated his father, a temple and immense statue were built in the valley below to honor him. That valley was called Olympia (Olympia), and soon religious festivals developed at the site as people came to worship Zeus and approach his great strength as close as possible. It is believed that those religious festivals eventually evolved to the Olympic Games that were held every four years throughout Classical Antiquity, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD.

Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro
Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro

Nowadays, another immense statue a religious and cultural symbol, the symbol of a whole nation, with its protective arms wide open stands above, overlooking the city that hosts the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The statue of Christ the Redeemer, often struck by lightning but never defeated, much like Zeus, is the main symbol of Rio de Janeiro. Early Greeks believed that lightning was Zeus’ weapon, while thunderbolts were invented by Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. Since lightning was a manifestation of the gods, any spot struck by lightning was regarded as sacred. Temples often were erected at those sites, where the gods were worshipped in an attempt to appease them.

The Culture

Is that a coincidence? Comparative Mythology says it’s not! Parallels have been drawn between Greek myths and the life of Jesus. It’s definitely not a coincidence that religion, Christianity, is an important aspect of the Greek culture: Characterized by Greek language and culture, Hellenism was one of the main cultures in which Jesus and the earliest Christians lived and taught. Hellenistic language and literary forms played vital roles in the development of Scripture. The Pauline Epistles, for instance, serve as examples of the biblical author’s travels across Greece and Egypt, both being centers for the Hellenistic ideas.

Mount Olympus, home of gods in the clouds
Mount Olympus, home of gods in the clouds

In addition to Greek philosophy’s influence on the development of Christian Theology, Hellenism heavily influenced another major religious authority: Judaism. Jewish beliefs and Greek philosophy merged with a figure central to Judaism’s influence on Christian thought. Philo (Philōn) the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, used philosophical allegory in an attempt to fuse and harmonize Greek philosophy with Jewish philosophy.  His allegorical exegesis was important for several Christian Church Fathers and the development of a Christian canon in the Bible. Even more significantly, Greek philosophy appears to have a religious emphasis in Christian thought in the writings of eminent Christians such as St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Augustine’s works rest on a neo-Platonic foundation, while Aquinas’ reflects Aristotelian ideas, such as his writing about wisdom.

More Now than Then

There are many more similarities between the Greek and Brazilian cultures. Listing them all, would probably take forever. What’s important though is the kindness and warmth that people of both nations extend their hospitality with and their respect for Olympism:

“Olympism is a philosophy of life exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”*

This year, Rio de Janeiro is the Ambassador of Olympism, the Ambassador of Greece to the World!

*Definition of Olympism