Greek Gods, Shields, and Spears: Ancient Hellenes Make a Comeback

The World

Dodekatheon devotees bring ancient Greek culture into their modern religion. (Photo by Eran Livni.)

Six runners are fastening straps and buckles, putting on ancient Greek battle gear, preparing to run six miles up Mount Olympus.

The run marks the beginning of the annual Promytheia.

The three day event celebrates the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give humans civilization.

Zervas Kostas says he's running to show his pride in his Greek forefathers. He feels, it's a personal honor to bring out the flame of Prometheus.

Even with their shields and long metal spears clanking as they run down the highway, passersby hardly seem to notice. It's a telling sign of how far the modern Hellenes have come toward social acceptance.

They've been meeting here every year since 1996.

The next day, the group sets up camp in the shadow of Mount Olympus.

Campers relax at tables and people sell philosophy books, CDs, food and jewelry.

The followers are an odd mix.

Leftists, who hate the Greek Church for its political power and nationalists who resent Christianity for crushing Greekness back in the days of the New Testament.

And new-age types who revere the ancient. What the new Hellenes share is an attraction to the values of the ancient ones: love of knowledge, science, rationality, and honor.

They reject religious or societal dogma.

Sculptor Exsekias Trivoulides is a devotee.

"It's not a recipe book, it's more like a way of showing you the path, but the path might have thorns, it might have rocks, it might go uphill or downhill. You find your own pathway, that's your way and that's Greek religion or approach to the divine, your own path through philosophy, you make philosophy practical in life".

Dodekatheon followers don't actually pray to Zeus, Hera and the other gods.

Rather the deities are symbolic representations.

As in the festival's main event, the Promytheia, a theatrical production staged on a meadow.

The performance combines the ups and downs of classic drama with didactic lessons about what the ancients have to teach modern man.

Take the epic story of Odysseus.

When the hero returns from the decade-long Trojan War, he finds his home full of men wooing his wife Penelope, who's been faithfully waiting for his return.

The hero watches from the shadows as the suitors take advantage of his fortune and hospitality. The comparison to Greece's politicians taking advantage of the public's labor and money is unmistakable.

After the show closes with Prometheus giving humanity fire, the Hellenes dance and frolic under the moonlight.

It's a joyful gathering but participants are motivated by a search for meaning as much as a good party.

Jeremy Upshaw has an unusual perspective.

He came to visit from Stillwater, Oklahoma and heard about the gathering online.

"It's more deep, more philosophical than I thought it would be. I thought it would just be very ceremonial. You picture the olive branches and the togas, spiritually, it feels like there is strong energy here. There is very good energy, everybody is peaceful and kind."

The Return of the Hellenes movement was founded by a philosophy professor, Tryphon Olympios.

He says, the Greek media and the Orthodox Christian Church used to demonize the Dodekatheon and its followers, until they realized the attention actually helped the Hellenes.

"Now, they have understood that we are not dangerous and we are not pagans and Satanists," says Olympios. "We are peaceful people and come with ideas that are useful for society. So, they have accepted us."

According to Olympios, today's hi-tech society and the crisis in Europe are shaking western civilization from its stupor.

People are starting to see the integrity and stability of true Hellenic values, he says, and the movement will continue to gain steam.

Olympios says the ancient Hellenes are offering a model to move beyond the failed ideologies of the past, in favor of ideas, tried and tested millennia ago.

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