Greek mythology

Dimitris Stamatios | January 13, 2023


Greek mythology refers to the mythology of ancient Greece, which originally originated and spread in oral and poetic form. Greek mythology is rich in gods, heroes and mythical creatures. Goddesses in particular became part of ancient Greek religion. Mythology was also linked to the early stages of Greek philosophy and historiography. Myths were popular themes in Greek art, drama and literature, and through this they have had a lasting influence on Western culture as a whole.

The supreme gods lived on Mount Olympus. The highest god was Zeus, and there were 12 Olympian gods at any one time. In addition to the main gods, almost every function had its own god. In addition to the gods themselves, a large number of mythical creatures were known by name, such as cyclops, harpies, titans, sirens, centaurs, nymphs and satyrs. In Greek mythology, the gods are not only admirable figures, they are also capable of anger, revenge and deception, making them very human figures. The earliest and fullest description of the origins of the gods and the Titans can be found in Hesiod”s The Birth of the Gods from the 700s BC.

There are also a large number of other gods, demigods and demigoddesses between gods and humans, as well as ordinary mortal humans. Many of the stories are set in the Bronze Age of Greece, the Mycenaean period, which by antiquity had become mythical. The most important narratives, or mythic circles, are the story of the Trojan War, known in particular from Homer”s Iliad, with its various framework stories, including the story of Odysseus” voyages, known in turn from Odyssey; and many of the Theban legends, such as the story of Oedipus. These form the backbone of Greek mythology, as many of the most important tales are in some way related to the themes of these two mythic circles. Other key tales include stories of the birth of the gods and the heroic deeds of various heroes (the story of Jason and the Argonauts, who set out to fetch the golden fleece on the ship Argo before the Trojan War; and stories relating to Crete and its Minoan culture).

Among other things, myths were used to explain phenomena, events and customs that seemed to have no natural explanation. Many Greek myths had links with myths from ancient Middle Eastern cultures. While some myths may have some historical basis and can be considered as oral history before the writing of history, many myths have no connection with historical events. The relationship between Greek mythology and reality is somewhat impossible to establish, as fact and fable are often intertwined. Troy was long considered a myth until Heinrich Schliemann discovered the ruins of the city in 1870. Alexander the Great was said to have been the son of Zeus. The first ascent of Mount Olympus was not made until 1913. There is no consensus even on the existence of the writer Homer or his role in the creation of the works that bear his name.

Written sources

Greek legends that lived on as oral tradition have survived in ancient literature. Several original sources have been used to explain Greek mythology. These include, above all:

Greek literature began in the 700s BC with epic poetry, the most famous works being the epics Iliad and Odyssey, named after Homer. The myths of the gods always played a central role in epic poetry, as they were the core material of the epics, but the epics were not primarily mythic poetry or religious poetry. Little is known about Homer himself, and scholars disagree about his role in the creation of the epics. In any case, Homer”s works became, over time, the most important harmonisers of Greek mythology.

In addition to the works of Homer, a large number of other works were known, which formed the so-called epic cyclosis. It is divided into two fable circles. The first of these, the so-called Trojan Cyclops, focuses on events related to the Trojan War. It is Homer”s epics that form the backbone of the Cyclops; the other epics tell of events either preceding or following the war. The second, called the Cyclops of Thebes, focuses on events relating to the city of Thebes. These two sets of myths form the backbone of Greek myths, since many of the most important tales are in some way related to the themes of these two sets of myths.

Epic poetry flourished in Asia Minor. In mainland Greece, the didactic branch of the epic is found, represented by the works of Hesiod. In the Origin of the Gods (Theogony), Hesiod sought to explain the origin of the world and the gods, to form a system of gods and to explain their interrelationships. On the same theme was the Catalogue of Women, which lists the women with whom the gods have had offspring, demigods and heroes.

In addition to the epics, another group of poems are the Homeric hymns, which are also named after Homer. They were written in the post-Homeric period, when poetry moved from the royal halls to religious festivals and a wider audience. The celebrations began with the singing of hymns to the god to whom the feast was dedicated. This was followed by performances of epic poems sung by poets. The hymns therefore told the story of the god or goddess in question. 34 hymns have survived. The oldest is the hymn to Apollo of Delos.

In the early 600s BC, lyric poetry was born. It, too, is heavily influenced by the divine. This is particularly true of choral poetry, where stories from the divine traditions often form the core of the poems. Choral songs also developed in the context of religious festivals. The pioneer of choral lyricism was Stesikhoros, who abandoned the epic poetic form of the poem and introduced the poems of the gods, woven in the lyric form. He also boldly reworked the narratives. Stesichorus” important poems include the poem on the destruction of Ilion, or Troy, which tells of the expeditions of Aeneas and thus had a major influence on later Roman poetry. The most famous of the choral lyricists was Pindaros, who adapted the goddesses to fit his own and his contemporaries” moral concepts. He is best known for his epinikion poems, dedicated to the winners of the games. They usually take as their subject one of the goddesses associated with either the winner or the place where the games were held.

Greek tragedy has played an even greater role in the development of the goddesses than poetry. Tragic writers often shaped the myths into the final form in which they would later be known. The themes of tragedies usually came from epic talent. They were also influenced by lyrical poetry, folk tales and, of course, the tragic poets” own imagination.

The greatest tragic poets were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Each of them dealt with myths according to his own character and world view. The poetry of Aeschylus reflects his belief in the righteousness of the gods and their guiding intervention in world events, as reflected in, among other things, the unshakeable chains of punishment and damnation that fate creates throughout the generations. Sophocles” tragedies also express his religiosity, but compared to Aeschylus, he was lighter in his approach, dealing with themes mainly by expressing confidence that, despite everything, the gods will ultimately guide the world towards a better place. In contrast, Euripides” attitude to the gods and the old tales is almost the opposite. The growing demands of the times also forced him to draw on new, as yet unaddressed themes and lesser-known myths. In addition, he portrayed the heroes of the old familiar stories as human, with all their weaknesses, and brought them into the ”modern age” in other ways. Euripides was critical and sceptical of the gods, often criticising them through his characters.

Greek comedy developed alongside tragedy. It usually took its subject matter from private life, and therefore its influence on the development of myths has been much less than that of tragedy. However, it also deals with some themes related to the gods. The most famous comedy writer Aristophanes, for example, makes comic characters out of Dionysus and Heracles in his plays. The comedies of Epicarchus, who was greatly influenced by Plautus, made extensive mockery of the stories of the goddesses.

Epic poetry resurfaced in the so-called Alexandrian era of Hellenistic literature. Among the most important examples is Apollonius” poem Argonautica, which extensively described the previously untold journey of the Argonauts and was in keeping with the taste of the time with its knowledge of mythology and its descriptions of geography. In his work Fainomena, Aratos presented the astronomy of his time, also drawing on mythological descriptions and linking the goddesses to constellations. Rhianos, in his poem Heracleia, gave an extensive description of the life of Heracles.

The Romans inherited Greek myths as part of their own mythology. In particular, Ovid used themes from Greek mythology in many of his poems, most famously in his extensive poem The Transfigurations. It presents the history of the world from its creation to Julius Caesar and describes a large number of myths, focusing on various transformations. Many ancient myths are known in the form presented by Ovid, or even solely through him, and the work has had a major influence on Renaissance art. Virgil, in his epic Aeneid, presented the story of his Aeneid in conjunction with Roman history. It mainly imitated stories from Greek mythology, with the Odyssey in the early part of the epic and the Iliad in the latter part.

Information on Greek mythology has also survived in prose literature. Older historiography in particular often began with mythical subjects, as they were considered to be real history. The genealogies of rulers, for example, often refer back to mythological heroes and, even more so, to the gods. The influence can still be seen in Herodotus, but no longer in Thucydides, who rejected myths as a basis for historical knowledge. Pausanias” Description of Greece describes not only places but also numerous myths associated with them. Important sources include the grammarians, who concentrated on explaining the old poems with their own comments. Among the most important works in this field is the Bibliotheke of the so-called Pseudo-Apollodoros.

Archaeological sources

The development of Greek mythology has also been illuminated by archaeology. The discovery of the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures of Bronze Age Greece and Crete in the late 19th and early 20th centuries has been particularly significant in this respect. The Mycenaean culture was discovered thanks to the work of Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century. In a straightforward style, he linked many of his discoveries directly to Greek mythology. He linked his findings about Troy directly to the story of the Trojan War, and Mycenae to the stories of the Greeks who went to war. He called the jewellery found at Troy ”the treasures of Priam” and ”the jewellery of Helena”. He called the golden mask of death found at Mycenae ”the mask of death of Agamemnon” and the statues of the gods found there the examples of Hera and Aphrodite. In reality, many of the finds were related to earlier times than the supposed date of the Trojan War, and of course cannot be linked to the mythological accounts in any other straightforward way. Arthur Evans, who discovered Minoan culture, steered the research in a more modern direction and interpreted the finds in a broader historical, cultural and geographical context. In any case, the discoveries have explained many features of Homer”s works and have provided evidence for many details of mythology.

Although so-called Linear B inscriptions have survived from Mycenaean culture and have been largely interpreted, knowledge of Bronze Age myths and rituals is still based mainly on the interpretation of monumental buildings and other finds. This is because the known texts are mainly lists of various items. However, they contain many names of gods and goddesses, some of which have been linked to names from Greek mythology (see: Mycenaean religion).

Other important finds include ceramics from the Geometric period in particular, but also from the Classical and Hellenistic periods. The decoration of clay vessels usually depicts mythological or other religious themes, such as rituals and cults. They are significant in two ways: firstly, some of them date from before the myths were put into written form in the works of Homer and Hesiod, and thus constitute the earliest evidence of myths, in some cases going back hundreds of years. Secondly, the decoration also contains myths and their details that are not known from any written source. In this way, illustrations from later times also complement the written evidence. Pottery also extends our knowledge of myths in that it often tells of myths circulating among the common people, not just written myths.

The field of Greek mythology is very broad. It ranges from the deeds of the early gods and giants, through the Trojan War and the seven campaigns against Thebes, to the childhood exploits of Hermes.

Mythological stories were often contradictory and local. The same god or goddess could be the subject of several different, contradictory myths; for example, two completely different stories were told about the birth of both Aphrodite and Dionysus. On the other hand, the same myth could be associated with several figures; for example, the Corybantes danced around both the newborn Zeus and Dionysus.

Because of the contradictions, it is impossible to place Greek mythology on a precise timeline, but a rough chronology can be constructed. The stories are roughly divided into three parts:

Chronology is associated with the myth of the ages of the world. When Cronus ruled the world, there was a golden age, when gods and men lived blissfully without sorrow or hardship. The earth provided sustenance without effort. Again the gods of this generation created a worse generation of the Silver Age. It started warring among themselves and abandoned the worship of the gods. That”s why Zeus destroyed it. Then came the Bronze Age, a time of mighty and warlike men. This generation was also destroyed. Zeus created a fourth generation, better and more righteous. This was the generation of heroes, whose heroes fought in the wars of Troy and Thebes. When they died, they made their way to the islands of the Blessed Sacrament. The generation of heroes was followed by the Iron Age, when life was full of worry and hardship and no one cared about justice. The Greeks who told the myths saw themselves as living in this time.

The Greeks of the Archaic and Classical periods clearly favoured a time of heroes in their stories. For example, the Iliad and the Odyssey, which depict this period, were clearly outnumbered by the Birth of the Gods and the Homeric Hymns, which focus on the gods. Later mythologists, on the other hand, have often preferred to focus on the birth of the gods.

Time of the Gods

Herodotus believed that Homer and Hesiod had created the Greek view of the gods, giving them names, positions and functions, and describing their appearance. This is true in that, although Homer and Hesiod did not invent the gods, but took their inspiration from earlier oral tradition and ancient cults, they nevertheless gave the Greeks a pantheon of gods, a totality of gods, or a world of gods. As a result, the older local deities gradually fell by the wayside and were replaced by a pan-Greek view of the totality of the gods and the central events of mythology. The old beliefs, however, survived as subplots in the stories and as local variations of gods and events.

At the heart of the Homeric world were the so-called Olympian gods: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades, Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes and Hestia. These inhabited Mount Olympus, with the exception of Hades, who inhabited Mount Manala, for which his name was also used. Alongside the Homeric gods, however, there remained a small number of primitive, pre-Homeric gods who were never incorporated into the Homeric world of gods, but who nevertheless occupied a central place in pan-Greek beliefs and cults. The most important of these gods were Demeter, Dionysus and Asclepius.

The stories of the first generation of gods include birth myths and the war between the Olympian gods and the Titans. An important source for these stories is the birth of the Gods in Hesiod.

According to the Greeks, at the beginning of time there was Chaos (Khaos), a bottomless, mindless abyss from which was born Gaia, Mother Earth, floating in the abyss. Eros, love, was also born. Chaos also gave birth to Nyks, night, and Erebus, darkness. Gaia gave birth to Uranus, the sky, followed by Pontus, the sea. Uranos lay on Gaia and begat her with his rain.

Gaia and Uranos had children: six titans, the oldest of whom was Okeanos, the earth-orbiting belt, and the youngest Kronos; three cyclops, Brontes, Steropes and Arges, who were devoted to thunder and lightning (they later made the lightning used by Zeus); and three hundred-handed monsters (hekatonkheires), Kottos, Briareos and Gyges, who later settled the war between the gods and the titans.

Uranos did not let his children out of Gaia”s womb, the bosom of the earth. Gaia was furious at Uranus” tyranny and provoked her son to rebel against his father. The youngest, Cronus, agreed and Gaia prepared a sickle for him, which Cronus used to cut off Uranus” genitalia and throw it over his shoulder. Uranos broke away from Gaia, creating a space between heaven and earth in which future creatures could dwell. Uranos cursed his children and named them Titans, the first generation of gods.

Blood droplets oozed from the genitalia, forming the erinyes, the gods of vengeance responsible for controlling crimes against blood relatives. This blood also gave rise to the gigantes, the nymphs of the tabernacles and the Cretan chureti, or korybantes. From the semen of the genitals, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born under the influence of Aphrodite.

With his sister Rhea, Cronus had many children: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. Cronus swallowed his children as soon as they were born because he had been told that one of his own children would overthrow him.

However, Zeus, the youngest son of Cronus and Rhea, avoided being eaten because Rhea hid him in a cave and instead gave Cronus a stone to swallow. When Zeus grew up, he fed his father a vomitous substance, thus saving his sibling from his stomach. Around Zeus on Mount Olympus, a group of gods of a younger generation gathered to fight the Titans for ten ”long years”, effectively thousands of years. Of the Titans” descendants, Prometheus sided with Zeus, but later betrayed him. At his mother”s urging, Zeus released the centaurs and cyclopes from Tartarus, and the latter forged his destructive salami for him. In the final battle, the mountains collapsed and the world was thrown back into chaos.

After the victorious war, the Titans were taken underground and their leader Atlas was forced to carry the sky as punishment. The three brothers decided to divide the world: Zeus was given the sky, Poseidon the sea and Hades the underworld. However, Gaia gave birth to another child, this time with Tartarus, the dreaded Typhon. The battle between Zeus and Typhon caused a catastrophe similar to that between the Titans and the gods: mountains collapsed, and seas and lands were reshaped. In the end, however, Typhon was defeated and sent to Tartarus.

Next, Zeus was challenged by the giants, warrior figures born from the blood of Uranus” penis. The battle was bloody and the Olympians were outnumbered until Heracles, son of Zeus and the mortal Alchemy, fought off the giants. Gaia tried to help the giants by preparing a potion that would give them immortality, but Zeus thwarted this plan too. With the defeat of the giants, Zeus” position was finally secured and the world was in some sort of order.

Typhon was bitter that the gods had killed the other Titans, and in revenge he attacked Olympus. Zeus, the demigod, almost met his victor in battle against him. Zeus gathered courage for a long time before his attack, and finally, when his daughter Athena accused her father of being a coward, Zeus attacked Typhon. The initial success was good, and Typhon was wounded by lightning and fled to Mount Cassius, where they fought again. Typhon wrapped his serpent”s tentacle around Zeus and disarmed him. Unarmed Zeus was unable to defend himself, and Tyfon crushed his tendons, leaving him lying crippled. Zeus”s son Hermes heard his father”s complaint and, with the help of the god Pan, replaced Zeus with tendons taken from Typhon”s sister Delphyne. Zeus was cured and ready to continue.

Zeus attacked Typhon again, who defended himself by throwing mountains at him. Zeus returned them back towards Typhon, who had been weakened by the ravening beasts” spells. Badly wounded, Typhon fled to Sicily, where Zeus lifted Snail into the air and dropped it on Typhon. Typhon”s anger is said to have caused the eruptions of Snail.

Typhon”s hiding spouse Ekhidna fled the destruction. She took refuge in a cave to protect Typhon”s descendants, and Zeus let them live to challenge future heroes. The descendants of Ekhidna and Typhon were Kerberos, Orthos, Khimaira, Hydra, Sphinx, harpies and, according to some legends, the lion of Nemea.

The second generation of gods includes Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Hermes, Athena, Ares, etc. who lived on Olympus. The oldest sources for the stories related to these are the so-called Homeric Hymns. source?

Zeus was also the god of earth, wind, clouds, rain and thunder. Zeus had a half-brother, the centaur Kheiron, whose mother was Filyra, daughter of Okeanus. Zeus was married to his sister Hera. Zeus had numerous children, not only with Hera but also with numerous other partners, such as nymphs and mortal women, whom he often seduced in the guise of an animal.source?

Hera, who was also the protector of motherhood, gave birth to Zeus Eileithyia, the helper of those who gave birth. Ares, the god of war, was also born to Zeus and Hera. With Metis, goddess of wisdom, Zeus had Athena, goddess of war and wisdom. Most of the other chief gods were also the offspring of Zeus” various consorts, except Hephaestus, the god of fire and blacksmithing, who was possibly born of Hera alone in revenge for the birth of Athena. Leto bore Zeus twins; Apollo, god of the sun and music, and Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Dionysus, the god of wine, was the son of Zeus and Semele. The goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, was born to Zeus and Dione, according to another version of the birth story.source?

The most common view is that Olympus was home not only to Zeus and Hera but also to Zeus” brother Poseidon, the main gods of the children Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo and Artemis, and of the other gods Apollo”s son Asclepius, the god of medicine. Dionysus and the siblings of Zeus, Hera and Poseidon, Demeter, Hestia and Hades, appear in some myths. Hestia left Olympus to live among humans. Olympus was also originally inhabited by mortals such as Ganymede, the drinker of the gods, and Heracles, the greatest of the heroes, who was summoned by Zeus to join the gods.Source?

Mythology contains numerous accounts of relationships and disputes between gods. Hades kidnapped Demeter”s daughter Persephone to marry the underworld. As Demeter mourned, nature withered. As a solution, Persephone was allowed to spend part of the year on earth. This explains the change of seasons. Athena and Poseidon vied for ownership of the city of Athens, and Athena won the city for herself.

The time of men and gods

The time of men and gods forms a bridge between the gods and heroes. A typical myth of the period is the story of a human woman raped by a male god (usually Zeus) who gives birth to a heroic offspring. In some cases, the goddess mates with a human male, as in Aphrodite”s Homeric hymn, in which the goddess lies with Anchises and gives birth to Aeneas. The stories also include other kinds of encounters between gods and humans. In the tale of Artemis and Aktaion, Aktaion, on his hunting expedition, saw the goddess of the hunt bathing naked. In revenge, the goddess turned Aktaion into a deer, which was then eaten by his own dogs.

Another type is the creation or theft of an important object. Prometheus (“precisely

When the people, having received the fire, no longer cared about the gods, the gods created a great calamity as a punishment for the people: Hephaestus fashioned an image of a woman from earth and water, to whom the other gods gave feminine powers. She was called Pandora (”the all-gifted one”). This was given to Epimetheus, Prometheus” brother (”afterthought”). Prometheus had warned his brother against taking a gift from the gods, but Pandora brought a box as a dowry. When the woman opened the lid, all the evil in the world escaped. Only hope remained.

As human sinfulness increased, Zeus decided to destroy humanity in the Flood. Only Prometheus” son Deucalion and Epimetheus and Pandora”s daughter Pyrrha were sinless. On Prometheus” advice, Deucalion had built a small ship, which allowed them to be the only two humans to survive and end up on Mount Parnassus. Zeus saw their sinlessness and let them live. On the advice of the god Themis, who was the oracle of Delphi, Deucalion and Pyrrha made new humans by picking stones from behind them: some became men and others women. Zeus recreated the other living creatures.

The myths also include a large number of different love stories, either between man and god or between two people, and stories of various transformations. The themes are interlinked in many of the tales, with the death of one or both of the two parties leading to some kind of transformation, for example into a plant, an animal or a river. Among the most famous love stories in Greek mythology are those of Orpheus and Eurydice, Eros and Psykhe, Narcissus and Ekho, and the god Apollo and Daphne. Such tales are collected in particular in Ovid”s The Metamorphoses.source?

Orpheus was a singer of poetry who, with his singing and lyrical playing, made nature stop and listen. When Orpheus was celebrating his wedding with the nymph Eurydice, the bride was bitten by a snake and died. A grieving Orpheus went to the underworld to bring her back. His singing and wailing appealed to the gods, and so he was exceptionally allowed to take his bride back to life on earth, but on one condition: on the way back up, she must not look back. On the way up, however, Orpheus forgot the condition and glanced at his bride, only to see her sink back into the underworld, this time for good.

Psykhe was a beautiful maiden who, by virtue of the oracle law, ended up marrying an unknown man. She was never allowed to see his face, for he visited her only in the dark of night. But one night, at the instigation of her sisters, Psykhe lit a lamp and discovered that her husband was the beautiful and sweet god Eros. Eros, however, woke up and fled from Psykhe. After this, Psykhe also suffered the wrath of Aphrodite. Eventually, however, Psykhke made it to Olympus as Eros” wife.

Narkissos was a beautiful young man who everyone fell in love with, but who was himself a stranger to love. Ekho-nymfi (“Echo”) fell in love with him, and every time Narkissos cried out in the forest, he responded in kind. Narkissos, however, rejected the maiden”s love. Aphrodite became angry at this and let Narkissos fall in love with her own image when she saw it reflected in the fountain. Tired of eternal longing, she finally turned into a narcissist. After Apollo fell in love with Daphne, the maiden escaped only by turning into a laurel tree. In the triumvirate drama of Polyphemus the Cyclops, Aki and Galatea, Galatea transformed Aki, slain by the Cyclops, into a river. Prokne, Philomela and Tereus were transformed into birds.

The shape-shifting stories also include tales of Philemon and Bauki, among others. They were an elderly couple whom Zeus wanted to reward for their piety. They asked to die together when their time was up. When they died, they turned into two old trees.

The Heroic Age

The myths of heroism mostly describe the adventures of heroic people, the heroes. The gods are still present in the myths and often influence the course of events, but the interaction between gods and humans is no longer as equal as it was in the myths of the time when humans and gods lived together. source?

Among the earliest and most famous heroes was Hercules, who performed 12 feats. Other members of the oldest generation of heroes, such as Perseus, shared many characteristics with Hercules. Their adventures were solitary, highly imaginative and fairytale-like, including surreal monsters such as Medusa and Chimaira. The early generation of heroes was not as popular among poets as the later ones and is known mainly from the works of mythmakers and the asides of prose writers. They were, however, popular in the visual arts.source?

Heracles was the greatest of the Greek heroes. His father was Zeus and his mother was Alcmene. Hera hated him for this and sent two snakes to kill the newborn and his brother Ifikle. However, Heracles killed the snakes. After defeating Orchomenus, he took Megara as his wife. After killing his own children in a frenzy of madness sent by Hera, he was punished by serving Eurystheus for 12 years and performing all the tasks he had assigned him. These are known as Heracles” feats. The most famous exploits include slaying the lion of Nemea and Hydra of Lerna, cleaning Augean stables, catching the Cretan ox and robbing Kerberos, the watchdog of Hades. Heracles was then released.

Later, Heracles performed numerous other feats. After killing Ifitos, he became a slave to Queen Omphale and had to perform women”s work dressed in women”s clothes. After the death of Alkestis, he reclaimed her from death. Later, he gathered an army and fought against Troy and its king Laomedon. Deianeira he won as his wife in a battle with Acheloos. After his death, he became a god and was taken to Olympus.

Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae. Danae and the child were sealed in a coffin, which was thrown into the sea and drifted to Seriphos. Polydektes, the king of the island, fell in love with Danae and ordered Perseus to kill Medusa in order to get rid of his son. Perseus succeeded, however, and put Medusa”s head in a sack, as the monster stoned anyone who looked him in the eye. Later, Perseus saved Andromeda from the sea monster. He then used Medusa”s head to stone Andromeda”s riders and Polydete.

Bellerophon had to fight the Khimaira monster, because they tried to kill him in the same way. He was assisted by the horse Pegasos. The story of Meleagros, Atalante and the Kalydon Bear Hunt, among others, is also set in this period.

The heroes of the next generation were mainly the Argonauts who sought the golden fleece. This generation also includes Theseus, who defeated Minotaur in Crete, and Daedalus and Icarus, who fled Crete.

The Argonauts were a band of heroes led by Jason, who travelled by Argo ship to Colchis to retrieve the golden fleece of a winged ram guarded by a sleepless dragon. In addition to Jason, the Argonauts included Heracles, Asclepius, Castor, Polydeuces, Theseus, Laocoon, Nestor and Peleus, father of Achilles. The golden ram had previously been brought to Colchis by Friscos from Orchomenus, and its talisman was dedicated to Areus. On their journey, the Argonauts encountered many adventures. In Colchis, Medeia, the king”s daughter, fell in love with Jason and helped him with her magical powers. So Jason got the tallow and sailed away with Medeia and her little brother Absyrtos. As the king pursued them, Medeia killed her little brother and chopped up his body in the sea. This left the pursuers to gather parts and the Argonauts to escape. Later, however, Jason abandoned Medea.

Theseus was the son of Aigeus or Poseidon, King of Athens, who later became King of Athens himself. Like Heracles, he performed feats of valour, killing Sinis, Scyron and Procrustes, among others. Theseus” most famous adventure is his visit to Crete, where he killed the bull-headed monster Minotaur, who lived in a labyrinth. The Minotaur was born of the forbidden love between King Minos” wife Pasiphae and the bull. To hide the mongrel, Minos had built a labyrinth. Theseus survived the labyrinth with the help of Ariadne, daughter of Minos, and managed to kill the monster. He took Ariadne with him, but abandoned her to Naxos, from where the god of wine, Dionysus, took her as his wife. When Theseus returned home, Aigeus committed suicide because of a mix-up in the colour of the sails.

Later, Theseus helped Heracles to take Hippolytus” belt, falling in love with Antiope, resulting in the birth of his son Hippolytus. However, he married Phaedra, who later fell in love with Hippolytus. After rejecting the boy”s love, Phaedra committed suicide and betrayed Theseus to slay Hippolytus. Later, Theseus robbed Helena and was taken with Peirithook to Hades, where he was rescued by Heracles.

Daedalus was a skilled architect who had designed the labyrinth of Knossos for Minos. But he was imprisoned there with his son Icarus to keep the secret of the labyrinth. They escaped by flying on wings made by Daedalus. But when Icarus flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and he fell into the sea.

Between the Argonauts and the Trojan War, a generation of heroes committed serious crimes, often against close relatives, including Tantalus, Pelops, Atreus and Thyestes, and Oedipus and his children. The stories associated with this generation provided much material for Greek tragedies.

Tantalus, the king of Lyydia, was favoured by the gods, which made him arrogant. Not only did he steal nectar and ambrosia from the gods, he also tested them by slaughtering his own son Pelops as food. At the feast, the other gods noticed the deception, but Demeter, in her mind, ate a piece of her son”s palace. The gods resurrected Pelops and replaced the missing piece with ivory. Tantalus was punished by being sent to the underworld to suffer immense pain.

Pelops went to Greece, where the Peloponnese was named after him. He encountered King Oinomaus, who was trying to stop his daughter Hippodameia from marrying after receiving a prophecy that her own son-in-law would kill her. Hippodameia”s suitors he took out of the day in racing. Hippodameia fell in love with Pelops and arranged for Myrtilos, the rider of Oinomaus, to betray his father. Oinomaos was killed in a race. Later, Pelops killed Myrtilos, who cursed the entire Pelops family. Pelops” sons Atreus and Thyestes killed a third brother, Chrysippus, and then ended up fighting among themselves. At a meal he prepared, Atreus fed Thyestes with his sons. Thyestes again cursed the whole family.

The sons of Atreus were Agamemnon and Menelaus. Agamemnon was king of Mycenae and married Clytemnestra, daughter of Tyndareus, while Menelaus became king of Sparta and married Helena, another daughter of Tyndareus, famous for her beauty. Later, in the Trojan War, Agamemnon and Menelaus acted as warlords of the Greeks.

After Zeus robbed Europa, Agenor sent his three sons to find him. Kadmos ended up in central Greece, where he founded the city of Thebes. He slayed a dragon, whose teeth sowed the birthplace of the Theban ancestors. Kadmos was married to Aphrodite and Harmony, daughter of Areus, from heaven.

Later, Laius was king of Thebes and Iocaste his queen. Laius receives a prophecy from the Oracle of Delphi that he would be killed by his own son. When Laius and Iocaste had a son, he was given to a slave to be left in the mountains. However, the slave took pity on the boy, who eventually ended up in the court of the king of Corinth and was named Oedipus. As an adult, Oedipus received a prophecy from the oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Horrified, he left Corinth, considering its royal couple his parents. On the way, he had an argument with a man on the road and killed him. Eventually he ended up in Thebes, where the king”s office was vacant after the king”s death. He became king and married a widowed queen. She later found out that the man she had killed on the road had been the king of Thebes and her real father, so she had married her mother. Oedipus blinded himself and eventually died at Colonus near Athens.

Oedipus” sons Polyneices and Eteocles showed contempt for their father. Oedipus cursed his sons and predicted that they would live a life of eternal strife. Eteocles ended up ruling Thebes, while Polyneices moved to Argos. Eventually, Argos set out on a campaign to Thebes led by seven Heresians. This legend is known as the Seven Expeditions against Thebes. Both Polyneikes and Eteocles fell in battle. King Creon forbade, on pain of death, anyone to bury Polyneices, who had fought against his hometown. The brothers” sister Antigone thus found herself in conflict between divine law (relatives must be buried) and the king”s command. She ended up burying her brother, and Creon ordered her to die. Antigone hanged herself, and her betrothed Haimon, Creon”s own son, also committed suicide. Creon”s wife Eurydice also killed herself. Later, the Epigones, the sons of the seven who rose against Thebes, destroyed Thebes in a successful military campaign.

For the Greeks, the Trojan War was the culmination of myths and real history. The mythology of the war is divided into five phases, the first dealing with the events leading up to the war; the second with the course of the war, including the events of Homer”s Iliad; the third with the end of the war and the destruction of Troy; the fourth with the return of the heroes from the war, including the events of the Odyssey and Aeneid; and the fifth with the descendants of the Trojan generation. In addition to the Iliad and the Odyssey, these events were the subject of other epics of the so-called epic Cyclops, as well as Greek tragedy.

The war was the result of the so-called Paris judgment. Paris of Troy was commissioned by Hera, Athena and Aphrodite to judge which of the goddesses was the most beautiful. Paris chose Aphrodite. As a reward, Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife. This happened to be Helen of Sparta, who was already married to Menelaus. With Aphrodite”s help, Paris travelled to Sparta and took Helena with him when he returned. In retaliation, Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon gathered a large army to take revenge on Troy and get Helen back. As the winds were not favourable for sailing, Agamemnon first had to sacrifice his daughter Ifigeneia.

The war lasted ten years. The Greeks besieged Troy for a long time. The main events of the war, as described by Iliad and Aeneas, take place towards the end of the war. These include the quarrel between Achilles, the foremost Greek soldier, and Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the troops, and the deaths in battle of Achilles” comrade Patroclus and Trojan prince Hector. The gods are also involved in the battle. On the Trojan side, of course, were Aphrodite, Apollo and Ares, among others, while on the Greek side were Hera and Athena, who were insulted in a beauty contest, and Poseidon, among others. In the end, Troy was conquered with the help of the wooden Trojan horse, invented by the resourceful Odysseus. During the conquest, Achilles died of an arrow to the heel. Troy was destroyed, the men killed and many Trojan women taken as slaves to Greece.

After ten years of campaigning, the heroes returned to their homes. Odysseus wandered the Mediterranean for ten years before he managed to return home to Ithaca, where his faithful wife Penelope was waiting for him, surrounded by raiders. During his wanderings, Odysseus had many adventures, encountering lotophagi, cyclops, laistrygons and sirens, sailing between Scylla and Kharybdis, spending time with Circe and Calypso, and visiting Nausicaa after meeting Alkinoks at court. Poseidon did all he could to prevent Odysseus from reaching home, while Athena helped him. When Odysseus returned home, he killed Penelope”s suitors. Aeneas, who escaped from Troy, experienced similar misadventures before ending up in Italy and becoming part of Roman mythology.

Agamemnon suffered the darkest fate, as he in turn was cursed by the Pelops family. While he was at war, his wife Clytemnestra betrayed him with Aegisthus, son of Thyestes. When Agamemnon returned to Mycenae, Clytemnestra killed him. Agamemnon”s son Orestes had to avenge his father”s death by killing his own mother.

A myth can now be defined as a set of traditional stories, for example, in which imaginative combinations of situations of human significance are formed into complex semantic entities that are used in a variety of ways to illustrate reality. Among other things, myths were used to explain phenomena, events and habits that seemed to have no natural explanation. Some myths clearly seek to explain, for example, natural phenomena or the emergence of different social institutions.

The meaning and use of myths in antiquity

The Greek word mythos referred to authoritative speech, discourse and stories from archaic times until the 400s BC. At that time it still had roughly the same meaning as the word logos, which at that time still meant explanation, discussion and discourse in general (rather than ”reason”, which is the meaning attached to the word today). Homer, for example, used mythos simply in the sense of speech, and did not refer to the untruth of what was said; it was possible for a person to mythos (speak) the truth.

Later, the contrast between the words logos and mythos developed, with the former referring more generally to speech and the latter to various stories and myths. The latter meaning was inherited from the Latin fabula. Herodotus used the word mythos in his Histories to describe explanations that were not based on any observation or evidence (for example, the numerous theories of the time about the cause of the flooding of the Nile), as well as various stories that he thought were inconclusive (such as the story of how Busiris wanted to sacrifice Heracles). Empedocles used the word for his own poetic worldviews. Thucydides referred to anything that passed from mouth to mouth as ”myth” (mythōdes), whether it was a general idea or an imaginary story.

Actual mythology in the modern sense of the word, that is, the body of traditional myths about gods and heroes, emerged from the 500s BC onwards, when so-called logographers began to write down stories, genealogies and other mythical material relating back to the gods. These include Akusilaos, Ferekydes of Leros (also Athenian), Hellanikos and Herodoros.

In ancient Greece, myths were part of everyday life. Nowadays, myth is usually understood as a commonly known idea, but it is untrue. Rather, the Greeks understood myths as commonly known stories that expressed some deeper truth that could not be presented in any other way, such as scientifically. Myths were used, for example, to explain the creation of the world, various natural phenomena and the origin of evil in the world. For example, the myth of Persephone”s abduction explained the seasons. Myths also explained psychology in such a way that different gods reflected human nature, and different desires and traits were controlled by different gods. For example, Helen explained that she went to Troy because she was conquered by Aphrodite. Myths also explained historical events, such as why Troy fell as a result of various human and divine actions. Myths also explained cultural differences and the origins of friendships and enmities between peoples, among other things. In particular, noble ancestry was sought to be traced back to the gods and thus linked to mythology.

In ancient times, many myths were considered educational stories and their teaching was a central part of Greek civilisation (paideia). Stories were listened to, read and memorised. Among other things, they were used to teach virtues. Different sages and philosophers had different views on the subject and on what kind of poetry should be taught. The problem was central to Solon, Theognis, Socrates, Sophists and others. In addition, myths also had an entertaining function in the style of folktales. Later on, they became a standard material for Greek literature.

As Greek mythology became established in the 500s BC, many early philosophers, such as Xenophanes, and historians, such as Hecataeus, began to distance themselves from mythology or to reject it altogether. Thus, both philosophy and historiography gradually began to diverge from myths.

Myth and philosophy

Greek mythology and Greek philosophy are often seen as opposing approaches to explaining the world. In the early stages of Greek philosophy, during the so-called pre-Socratic philosophy, the distinction was not yet obvious. Many early philosophers, such as Ferekydes (Heptamykhos), Empedocles (From Nature) and Parmenides (From Nature), presented their philosophies in the form of myths or in language very much like myths, some of them even in the hexameter form used in epic poetry. On the other hand, the mythological descriptions of the birth of the gods by Hesiod, for example, responded in a way to the same problem as the reflections of the first pre-Socratics. Aristotle, however, considered that it was precisely the rejection of mythological explanations of the world and the search for natural causes that gave rise to philosophy: instead of theological explanations, the search was for natural explanations that were intended to convince more than just the author.

Xenophanes rejected the myths because he considered them to be obscene and falsified stories in which gods and heroes were made to do all sorts of things that people usually consider shameful, including all sorts of thefts, adulteries and other deceptions. He wanted to ban their representation at feasts and poetry competitions. Xenophanes also criticised the notion that gods are born, and the way in which gods are portrayed as human figures.

Theagenes, an early critic of Homer, was one of the first to interpret the myths as allegories, or metaphors. For example, he saw the various gods as elements and forces of nature; Poseidon was water, Hera air, Artemis the moon, etc. Empedocles continued the allegorical interpretation of Theagenes by associating the classical elements with the various gods. Anaxagoras is said to have interpreted the myths as moral allegories. Metrodoros of Lampsacus interpreted the characters of the Trojan War metaphorically: Agamemnon was the ether, Achilles the sun, Helen the earth, Paris the air, etc.

According to Plato, myths had to be judged by their educational value. He therefore criticised the mythology and oral tradition (mythology and archaeology) of his time in many ways. He considered that there were good myths and bad myths, and a large number of myths were the latter: they consisted of rumours, oracles, endless and changing families, stories of the founding of cities, and all kinds of myths and sayings. Myths were aimed at appealing to the lowest part of the soul, which was prone to all kinds of passions, and were harmful and downright dangerous if left unchecked. In the ideal state described by the state, myths were censored by expelling poets from the city. In its place, a new ”mythology” was to be produced, a ”useful and beautiful lie”. Its purpose was to hold society together through shared narratives and opinions, and to encourage people to act justly. Plato himself presented many of his ideas in the form of myths and thus used them to illustrate his ideology; some examples are the myth of Er in the State and the myth of Atlantis in the Timaeus and Critias. Some of his myths were created by Plato himself purely as tools for his philosophy.

Myths and history

Some of the myths may have some historical basis and can be regarded as oral history before historiography. On the other hand, many myths have no connection with historical events. However, historical interpretations need to be cautious and often make mistakes and overstate the case when myths are assumed to speak more directly than they do.

Greek mythology is largely about the Mycenaean period, the Greek Bronze Age. The accounts of the characters and events of the Heroic Age are probably based, at least in part, on the actual events of the Mycenaean civilisation and the so-called Dark Ages after its destruction. Major cities often play a central role in the narratives. The role of a city in the mythology seems to be directly related to the importance of the centre in the Mycenaean period. Similarly, many of the key mythic circles seem to be recalled to the Mycenaean period, so that they have been told unbroken through the so-called dark ages. The myths often feature kings, which may reflect the Mycenaean royal period; on the other hand, kings may simply be appropriate characters when strong, independent actors are needed.

Some of the myths may have been created from real events, with details becoming more and more legendary as events have been told by word of mouth and the actual date of events in history has gradually become blurred or forgotten altogether. One example is the account of the Trojan War. Many scholars argue that the war has at least some historical basis, although it is not certain that it was the war as it appears in the narratives. It may tell of an actual war or wars, a general conflict between regions, or mainly the establishment of Greek settlements in the Trojan area. Many smaller campaigns may have been transformed in myth into one great war, and similarly, accounts of several different individuals may have eventually become part of a narrative about one great hero. The story of the Trojan War seems to have acted as a kind of ”magnet”, drawing in a number of local battle and heroic accounts from all over the Greek world.

Similarly, for example, the myths of the Seven and the Epigones” campaigns against Thebes may relate to the wars between Thebes and Argos around 1300-1200 BC, in which Thebes was possibly first spared and then destroyed. However, there are so many mythical and possibly borrowed elements in the stories that they cannot be linked to history except through the fact that Thebes was actually destroyed around that time.

Many myths seem to tell us about the movements of Greek tribes and which region was settled from which place. These may tell of historical events in one form or another. For example, in the myth of the Maiden Europe, Zeus robbed her from Phoenicia and the brothers of Europe went in search of her. Among the brothers, Kadmos wandered around Thasos and several islands in the southern Aegean. This possibly indicates which islands had links with Phoenicia, such as Phoenician settlements; Greek historians mention Thasos, Thera and Rhodes, among others, as Phoenician trading posts.

In addition to the Mycenaean period, the myths also seem to have preserved memories of earlier, poorly known pre-Hellenic communities in Greece, such as the Minoans and Pelasgians. In particular, the narrative of Theseus, the Minotaur and the Labyrinth seems to be based on a distant memory of the palace of Knossos and the Minoan culture with some kind of bull cult. The name of King Minos was probably originally a Cretan title of ruler (cf. pharaoh), not a personal name. The story has been suggested to describe, for example, the liberation of the Mycenaean Greeks of mainland Greece from some form of Minoan rule around 1200 BC.

Some scholars also believe that the three main families of gods (Uranos, Gaia, etc., the Titans and the gods of Mount Olympus) in Hesiod”s Birth of the Gods mirror the ancient struggle between the three groups, the Minoans, the Mycenaeans and the Hellenes. However, information on the history of this period is so scarce that it is impossible to go into detail.

In the early stages of Greek historiography, myth and history were often intertwined, with historiography starting with myths and then progressing to the historical period. Herodotus told myths as part of his historiography, although he separated them from known events. Even Thucydides seems to have regarded at least Deucalion, Hellen and the Trojan War as historical. Euhemerus saw all myths as historical in origin, even to the extent of considering Zeus and other gods to have been originally kings who were later transformed into gods in the stories. This is called euhemerism.

Other theories of origin

Even in ancient times, Herodotus, among others, thought that the Greeks borrowed their goddesses from the Egyptians. Early Christian writers saw Hellenistic paganism as a degeneration of the biblical narratives. Since the 19th and 19th centuries, archaeologists and linguists have sought to scientifically trace the roots of Greek mythology.

Linguists have shown that certain gods are inherited from Indo-European ancestry, as is the case with Greek. Zeus, for example, is related to Latin Juppiter, Sanskrit Dyaeus and Germanic Tyr (these have given rise to the construction of the ancestral Indo-European super-god, Dyeus). In other cases, the similarities in status and function suggest a common origin, although linguistic affinities have not been established due to the scarcity of source material. This is the case, for example, of the Moirs in Greek mythology and the Norns in Scandinavian mythology (both of whom are fate gods in myths).

Many Greek myths had links with myths from ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Archaeology has also shown close cultural borrowing from Middle Eastern and Asia Minor cultures. The story of the flood of Deucalion has links with the same ancient Middle Eastern flood story that also appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible. The name Iapetus seems to correspond to the name of Noah”s son Japheth. Cybele is a clear example of Anatolian borrowing, while the iconography of Aphrodite is heavily influenced by Ishtar and Astarte of Semitic cultures.

Some Jungian theorists have advocated the idea that myths originate in the universal archetypes of the human mind.

In ancient times, Greek mythology had a strong influence on Roman mythology. The Romans originally had little mythology of their own, as their gods were not personified. However, they later created their own mythology in part by applying Greek myths to the Roman environment. Many of the themes of Greek mythology are known primarily through Roman versions, such as the works of Ovid and Virgil, and through Roman imitations of earlier Greek works of art.

Later, especially during the Renaissance, Greek mythology had a major influence on Western art and literature. Both painters, sculptors and writers drew on the rich mythological imagery in their works, which has contributed to making mythology a lasting part of the Western cultural heritage.



  1. Kreikkalainen mytologia
  2. Greek mythology
  3. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Lindskog, Claes: ”Johdanto”. Teoksessa Lindskog 1984, s. 7–28.
  4. a b c Renshaw, James: In Search of the Greeks (Second Edition), s. 4–14. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015. ISBN 1472526236. Teoksen verkkoversio.
  5. a b c d e Castrén & Pietilä-Castrén 2000, ”Myytti”, s. 359.
  6. Létoublon, Françoise: ”Homer”s Use of Myth”. Teoksessa Grafton et al. 2010, s. 27–46.
  7. Thesleff & Sihvola 1994, s. 20.
  8. ^ «The word mythology is used for the entire body of myths found in a given tradition. It is also used as a term for the study of myths.» (Kees W. Bolle. Myth in Encyclopedia of Religion vol.9. NY, Macmillan, 2004, pag.6359)
  9. ^ Enciclopedia The Helios, volume: Hellas, voce: Greek Mythology (1952).
  10. ^ ”Greek Mythology”, voce dell”Enciclopedia Britannica (ed. 2002).
  11. ^ J.M. Foley, Homer”s Traditional Art (L”arte tradizionale di Omero), 43.
  12. Bruit Zaidman et Schmitt Pantel (1991), pp. 10 et 12.
  13. Bruit Zaidman et Schmitt Pantel (1991), p. 5.
  14. Ο Μπέντζαμιν Γουέστ (Benjamin West, Πενσυλβάνια, 1738 – Λονδίνο 1820) θεωρείται ένας από τους παλαιότερους σημαντικούς ζωγράφους ιστορικών πινάκων. Υπήρξε ιδρυτικό μέλος της Βασιλικής Ακαδημίας του Λονδίνου και πρόεδρός της.
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