During the last few years, part of my Hellenic studies has been the examination of modern Greece and its people (who are predominately Orthodox Christians). In any case, most Greeks today are not Hellenists, and there is no debate whatsoever that ancient Hellas was far stronger, far more prosperous, and far more successful in government and economics. But on a personal level, I have also routinely noticed the decline in human character.
I was talking with a friend and fellow Hellenist who actually lives in Greece today, and I happened to ask if there are any ancient cemeteries still standing. It's a part of history and archaeology that I find very intriguing as you can learn a lot about a person, their family and community. For me, there's just some kind of unexplainable mystique to it all. I ask myself, who was this person and how did they live and die? I remember when I visited Lincoln's Tomb in Springfield, Illinois. Standing before the burial chamber where Lincoln's remains rested just a few feet beneath me, not only did I ponder the president's life and times, but thought that if I could see the bones today, Lincoln's skull would still have the hole from the assassination. I know it may sound morbid, but to me it's simply a fascinating idea to be in the presence of such relics.
So when my Hellenic friend responded to my question by saying that, yes, indeed there are some ancient burials still visible, but people have littered them because they don't care, it saddened me at how far the culture has fallen. I secondly remembered a few years ago when I saw images of a ruined temple of Aphrodite in between two apartment buildings that was also covered in trash.
In ancient times, people wouldn't have dared to desecrate a temple or a cemetery. Not only because they feared Divine punishment, but because it was simply wretched. People had real honor, character and respect in the old times. To the ancient Hellenes, not only were graves considered to be active places of the deceased, but each year in Athens they would hold days of honor called Genesia, starting on September 5th, during which time they would adorn graves and give an abundance of food, drink and sacrifice to the dead. They even believed that during the festive days in discussion, the spirits of the deceased would return to visit the Polis. To show any kind of disrespect toward places of burial would have been unimaginable to say the least.
But when humans lost the honor and dignity that Hellenism brought to the Hellenic people, they also lost their sense of sacredness, even of their own personal human life and behavior. It is this loss of the spiritual world and of the physical self that has greatly aided in the decline of Hellas and her people. I'm not saying that only Hellenists are honorable, but it clearly brought a world of difference to the Greeks that they no longer have, and their culture has paid the greatest of prices.
In the Goodness of the Gods,
Source - Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press/Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA, 1985.