Paganism and humanism have long danced together, and are beginning to do so again in the modern day. To understand the commonalities and differences between ancient and modern forms of pagan humanism, it will be useful to distinguish a few of the different kinds that have emerged. The three this article will investigate are Classical Greek humanism, Renaissance humanism, and contemporary Humanistic Paganism.
First, we must briefly define what we're talking about. Humanism here means a central focus on human interests and concerns, as opposed to those of the divine. Paganism in this article refers to the panoply of myths and gods emerging out of ancient polytheistic traditions, especially those of pre-Christian Europe. In each case of pagan humanism investigated here, the myths and gods of pagan pantheons combine with a focus on human endeavors to produce a unique response to the human condition.
Classical Greek humanism emerged from within a thriving mythic tradition, the indigenous polytheism of the Mediterranean. Myths and gods had come down to the Greeks from time immemorial, and suffused their culture. Meanwhile, the widespread development of literacy in Athens, along with other important factors, led to new critical reflection on the arts and the human condition. Homer's god-drenched Iliad and Odyssey were studied as literary creations, and playwrights took myths to the stage. In the hands of writers such as Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Euripides, a view of the universe appeared in which gods influenced human affairs, but it was primarily people themselves who created their own problems and suffered the consequences. For example, Sophocles' play Antigone is soaked through with religious coloration, but it is primarily an investigation of power and standing up for one's principles in a human world. Meanwhile, sculptors achieved unprecedented technical representations of the human form, and philosophers began to conceive of the universe in naturalistic terms. Overall, Greek humanism was a movement in literature and art that made humans, rather than gods, the central concern. Paganism comprised the essential backdrop to an essentially human investigation.