Ethics

by Rob Andrews, member of Dadoukhoi

This page is something of an overhead introduction. I have tried to avoid using Greek words, and have explained these concepts according to my own personal understanding. I reserve the right to be mistaken on any given point, but I have tried to be accurate. This one page can not hope to provide an exhaustive treatment of the details, but I believe it to be a fair overview.

"Nothing Too Much"

Long before Aristotle's theory of Ethics, Hellenes valued moderation as a virtue. Even moderation was practiced in moderation, accepting that some occasions did call for extremes (such as war and certain festivals). The principle of moderation seems to be reflected in virtues such as "self-restraint" and "appropriate public modesty". Another example of this is "appropriate self-esteem", which was compared with arrogance. People were/are advised to accept that we are only human in the maxim, "Know yourself."

"Know yourself"

Recognize that you are human, and not a god or other supernatural being. Claims of godhood and acts of arrogant encroachment on the gods will lead to ruin. This is not overly-restrictive, but realistic. At the same time, human life is not considered a depraved state, as in some other religions. People are encouraged to better themselves and engage in vigorous, healthy competition. When victorious, accept the glory.

Hospitality

Hospitality was not only reserved for the gods. It was a way of life, in which people are treated according to relation. Some examples (from Delphic maxims) may clarify this. If someone in poverty begs for help, hospitality can mean showing compassion. Hospitality toward an enemy can mean avoiding him. Friends are to be aided. Sacred things are to be acknowledged. Anger is to be controlled. Unjust acts are to be avoided. The divine is to be worshipped. Kinsmen are to be cultivated.

The Religious Side of Ethics

The idea of separation between religion and public life would take a bit of explaining in ancient city-states like Athens. Although there was a great deal of diversity among individuals, communities shared in the acts of extending hospitality to the gods and revering sacred things together. Modern Hellenismos is much more flexible for some very practical reasons, such as geographic distance and cultural diversity.

If a city-state venerated a patron deity, it was considered reasonable to expect the bulk of the people of the city-state to participate in the festivals in which the their relationship with the deity was cultivated. This also served to bond the people of the city-state together and allow for basic, necessary forms of interaction.

Then, as now, households and individuals would cultivate ties with patron, matron, and other deities in various ways. Shrines erected in homes or other suitable places were and are once again common for those who wish(ed) to properly revere the gods.

The Sacrifice Thing

Sacrifice is one of the greatly misunderstood elements of Classical religious life. It ultimately boils down to a communal expression of hospitality toward the gods. In theory, the practice carries forward into modern Hellenismos. The truth of the matter is that we have no large Hellenismos communities to do this. But the core elements of the practice are still valid for individuals and communities of any size.

The people would gather for what basically amounts to a huge barbecue. The barbecue would be in honor of one or more gods. A portion of food would be given to the god(s) in question. Generally this would be a small part not consumable by humans. Depending on the god(s) in question, this portion would usually be burned or placed in a pit. Drinks and other offerings could be given to the gods, as well.

In other words, people came together and shared a feast. A bit of whatever they had would be shared with the god(s) in a spirit of hospitality. After all, why invite gods to dinner only to watch you eat? Since gods do not need to eat what we eat, they do not need to be given the edible parts. This is not a modern re-write of ancient practice based on contemporary squeamishness, but a basic fact. Yes, animals were killed. But they were eaten, just as most of us eat meat even today. There were some vegetarians, and offering non-meat offerings to the gods was acceptable. In modern Hellenismos, it is also common practice to donate food or other appropriate items to charity in the name of the god(s) in question.