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Greek mythology was used as a means to explain the environment in which humankind lived, the natural phenomena they witnessed and the passing of time through the days, months, and seasons. Greek myths were also intricately connected to religion and explained the origin and lives of the gods, where humanity had come from and where it was going after death.
Greek myths also gave people helpful advice on the best way to lead a happy life. Another purpose of myths was to re-tell historical events so that people could maintain contact with their ancestors, the wars they fought, and the places they explored.
The Telling of Myths
In modern usage the term 'myth' perhaps has negative connotations suggesting a lack of authenticity and reliability. However, it should not be assumed that myths were whole-heartedly believed in nor should it be assumed that the Greeks were wholly sceptical of them. Probably, the Greek myths, as with any religious or non-written sources, were believed by some and discounted by others. Myths were certainly used for religious and educational purposes but also may well have had a simple aesthetic function of entertainment. What is certain is that the myths were both familiar and popular with a wide section of Greek society through their common representation in art, whether that be sculpture on public buildings or scenes painted on pottery.
Without wide-spread literacy, the passing on of myths was first done orally, probably by Minoan and Mycenaean bards from the 18th century BCE onwards. This of course allows for the possibility that with each re-telling of a particular myth, it is embellished and improved upon to increase audience interest or incorporate local events and prejudices. However, this also is a modern interpretation, for it is also possible that the telling of myths followed certain rules of presentation, and a knowledgeable audience may not have willingly accepted ad hoc adaptations to a familiar tale. Over centuries though, and with increasing contact between city-states, it is difficult to imagine that local stories did not become mixed with others to create a myth with several diverse origins.
The next development in the presentation of myths was the creation of poems in Ionia and the celebrated poems of Homer and Hesiod around the 8th century BCE. For the first time mythology was presented in written form. Homer's Iliad recounts the final stages of the Trojan War - perhaps an amalgamation of many conflicts between Greeks and their eastern neighbours in the late Bronze Age (1800-1200 BCE) - and the Odyssey recounts the protracted voyage home of the hero Odysseus following the Trojan War. Hesiod's Theogony gives a genealogy of the gods, and his Works and Days describes the creation of man. Not only are gods described with typically human feelings and failings but also heroes are created, often with one divine parent and the other mortal, thus providing a link between man and the gods.
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The next principal representation of myths was through pottery from the 8th century BCE onwards. A myriad of mythical scenes decorate ceramics of all shapes and function and must surely have spread the myths to a wider audience.
The Greeks created myths to explain just about every element of the human condition.
The myths continued to be popular through the centuries, and major public buildings such as the Parthenon at Athens, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, and the Temple to Apollo at Delphi were decorated with larger-than-life sculpture representing celebrated scenes from mythology. In the 5th century BCE the myths were presented in the new format of theatre, especially in the works of the three tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. At the same time, from the 6th century BCE the first documented scepticism and even rejection of the myths began with the pre-Socratic philosophers who searched for a more scientific explanation for phenomena and events. Finally, in the 5th century BCE the first historians Herodotus and Thucydides sought to document as accurately as possible and record for posterity a less subjective view of events and so the modern subject of history was born.
Greek Myths - An Overview
Broadly speaking, the imaginative Greeks created myths to explain just about every element of the human condition. The creation of the world is explained through two stories where a son usurps the place of his father - Cronus from Ouranos and Zeus from Cronus - perhaps referring to the eternal struggle which exists between different generations and family members. The Olympian gods led by Zeus twice defeated the sources of chaos represented by the Titans and the Giants. These gods then, rule man's destiny and sometimes directly interfere - favourably or otherwise. Indeed, the view that events are not human's to decide is further evidenced by the specific gods of Fate and Destiny. A further mythological explanation of the seemingly random nature of life is the blind god Pluto who randomly distributes wealth. The gods also illustrated that misdemeanours would be punished, e.g., Prometheus for stealing fire and giving it to man. The origin of other skills such as medicine and music are also explained as 'divine' gifts, for example, Apollo passing on to his son Asklepios medicinal knowledge for man's benefit. Finally, certain abstract concepts were also represented by specific gods, e.g., Justice (Dike), Peace (Eirene), and Lawfulness (Eunomia).
The Heroes - the most famous being Hercules, Achilles, Jason, Perseus, and Theseus but including a great many more - all have divine parents and therefore bridge the gap between mortals and gods. They pursue fantastic adventures and epitomise ideal qualities such as perseverance e.g., Hercules' twelve labours, or fidelity e.g., Penelope waiting faithfully for Odysseus' return. Heroes also added prestige to a city by being credited as its founder, e.g., Theseus for Athens, Perseus for Mycenae, or Kadmus for Thebes. The heroes and events such as the Trojan War also represented a past golden age when men were greater and life was easier. Heroes then were examples to aspire to, and by doing great deeds a certain immortality could be reached, either absolutely (as in the case of Hercules) or through commemoration in myth and tradition.
In contrast, many mythological figures represent qualities to be avoided and their sad tales illustrate the dangers of bad behaviour. King Midas, for example, was granted his wish that everything he touched turned to gold, but when he found out that this included food and drink, his avarice almost resulted in his death from starvation and thirst. The myth of Narcissus symbolises the dangers of vanity after the poor youth fell in love with his own reflection and he lost the will to live. Finally, the story of Croesus warns that vast riches cannot guarantee happiness when the fabulously rich King misinterpreted the Delphic oracle and lost his kingdom to Persia.
Natural phenomena were explained with myth, e.g., earthquakes are created when Poseidon crashes his trident to the ground or the passage of the sun is Helios in his chariot riding across the sky. Myths such as Persephone's half year descent to Hades explained the seasons. Time itself had mythological explanations: Helios' seven herds of 350 cattle correlate to the days of the year, Selene's 50 daughters are the weeks, and Helios' twelve daughters the hours.
Greek mythology also includes a number of monsters and strange creatures such as the one-eyed Cyclops in the Odysseus story, a gigantic boar in the fabled Kalydonian hunt, sphinxes, giant snakes, fire-breathing bulls and more. These creatures may represent chaos and lack of reason, for example, the centaurs - half-man and half-horse. Fierce and fantastic creatures often emphasise the difficulty of the tasks heroes are set, for example, the many-headed Hydra to be killed by Hercules, the gorgon Medusa whose look could turn you into stone and whom Perseus had to behead, or the Chimera - a fire-breathing mix of lion, goat and snake - which Bellerophon killed with the help of his winged-horse Pegasus. Alternatively, they may represent the other-worldliness of certain places, for example the three-headed dog Kerberos which guarded Hades or simply symbolised the exotic wildlife of distant lands visited by Greek travellers.
Perhaps unfamiliar experiences were also explained in myth, for example, one can imagine that a Greek visiting King Minos' sophisticated and many-roomed palace at Knossos might have thought it a labyrinth, and the worship there of bulls and the sport of bull-leaping might be the source of the Minotaur - is it coincidence it was killed by the visiting Athenian, Theseus? Could Jason's expedition for the Golden Fleece be a reference to the rich gold of the Caucasus and a Greek expedition to plunder this resource? Do the Amazons represent an encounter with another culture where women were treated more equally than in the Greek world? Do the myths of the Sirens and Charybdis warn of the dangers of travel beyond familiar territory?
Such questions may well remain unanswered but starting with the discovery of Troy in the 19th century CE, archaeological finds have steadily contributed an ever-growing body of physical evidence which illustrates that the Greek myths had an origin and a purpose they were not previously credited with.
Before Akhilleus was born, his mother, Thetis, foresaw that he would either have a long and boring life or a short life but he would be remembered for the centuries to come. Of course Thetis preferred the former option and so she decided to dress him as a girl so he wouldn't have to go and fight in the Trojan War. But that day came and Odysseus tricked Akhilleus by laying many gifts in front of the women in the group. Akhilleus was the only one that picked up the sword proving he was male. Akhilleus claimed wouldn't go to war, yet Agamemnon persuaded him to. Upon reaching the battle in Troy, he was one of the best soldiers ever seen.
Several years later Akhilleus got into a fight with Agamemnon and refused to continue fighting. Agamemnon became outraged, and took a woman named Khryseis as his slave. Her father, Khryses, a priest of Apollo, begged him to return his daughter. Agamemnon refused and Apollo sent a plague upon the Greeks. Kalchas, a prophet, who knew what was happening, but he refused to speak unless Akhilleus promised to protect him. Akhilleus promised and he said that Khryseis must be returned to her father. Agamemnon agreed but said that Akhilleus' battle prize, Briseis, must take her place. Akhilleus got angry at Agamemnon and he refused to fight or lead troops with the Greeks again.
Akhilleus prayed to his mother to ask Zeus to shift power to the Trojans and Zeus did as he was asked. Word got around to Agamemnon about this so he sent Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoenix to offer to give Briseis and other gifts back to Akhilleus. Akhilleus refused and told the Greeks to sail home.
The Trojans pushed the Greek army back and attacked the Greek ships on the beaches. Akhilleus' cousin, Patroclus led the Greeks and fought the Trojans back from the beach, but he was killed by Hector in the fight. He was going to commit suicide but his companions stopped him. Thetis then made Hephaistos make him new armor and she sent it down to him. Akhilleus then forgave Agamemnon for everything that he had done.
Akhilleus then led the Greeks full force on the Trojans. He killed many of them and overfilled a river of dead Trojan soldier bodies. Even with all these kills, Akhilleus wanted to kill one more person, Hector. The Trojans ran for the city but Hector stood up to Akhilleus. The two had a great fight but Akhilleus defeated Hector. Akhilleus then tied Hector's body to his chariot and dragged him around the walls of Troy seven times defiling and desecrating the body. Hector's father begged Akhilleus to have his body back for a proper burial. In the end paying Akhilleus a ransom for the body. Aphrodite used her brand of magic to restore the body to the form it was before Akilleus desecrated it
Paris came to the field where Akhilleus was and shot an arrow at him. The arrow was guided by Apollo and it struck him in his one weak place - his heel.
While the Greek king that conquered Asia and Egypt, Alexander the Great, was a real person, the stories about his exploits are legend. Colin Farrell stars as the young general and Greek king, opposite Angelina Jolie as his conniving mother Olympias (there is always a conniving mother – though the age gap here is unbelievable). We see the upbringing the made the man, and the relationships that tore him apart as he conquered the known world.
Based on the play by the Greek playwright Sophocles, it is set in the aftermath of the Theban civil war. The new king of Thebes, Creon, calls down the wrath of the gods by failing to bury his predecessor properly. His sister Antigone buries him anyway, but when she is discovered she is sentenced to death. Irene Papas stars as our heroine.
The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome
The Roman Empire was primarily a polytheistic civilization, which meant that people recognized and worshiped multiple gods and goddess. The main god and goddesses in Roman culture were Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.
Anthropology, Archaeology, Social Studies, World History
Temple of Jupiter
This image shows the ruins of a Roman temple to the god Jupiter in present-day Baalbek, Lebanon, once part of the Roman Empire.
National Geographic Creative
The Roman Empire was a primarily polytheistic civilization, which meant that people recognized and worshiped multiple gods and goddesses. Despite the presence of monotheistic religions within the empire, such as Judaism and early Christianity, Romans honored multiple deities. They believed that these deities served a role in founding the Roman civilization and that they helped shape the events of people&rsquos lives on a daily basis. Romans paid allegiance to the gods both in public spaces and in private homes. While the Roman state recognized main gods and goddesses by decorating public buildings and fountains with their images, families worshipping at home also put special emphasis on the deities of their choosing.
The gods and goddesses of Greek culture significantly influenced the development of Roman deities and mythology. Due to Rome&rsquos geographic position, its citizens experienced frequent contact with the Greek peoples, who had expanded their territories into the Italian peninsula and Sicily. As the Roman Republic was rising to prominence, it acquired these Greek territories, bringing them under the administration of the Roman state. Romans adopted many aspects of Greek culture, adapting them slightly to suit their own needs. For example, many of the gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman culture share similar characteristics. However, these deities were renamed and effectively re-branded for a Roman context, possessing names that are different from their Greek counterparts.
The main god and goddesses in Roman culture were Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Jupiter was a sky-god who Romans believed oversaw all aspects of life he is thought to have originated from the Greek god Zeus. Jupiter also concentrated on protecting the Roman state. Military commanders would pay homage to Jupiter at his temple after winning in battle.
Juno was Jupiter&rsquos wife and sister. She resembled the Greek goddess Hera in that she kept a particularly watchful eye over women and all aspects of their lives. Minerva was the goddess of wisdom and craft. She watched over schoolchildren and craftspeople such as carpenters and stonemasons. Minerva is thought to be the equivalent of the goddess Athena, who was the Greek goddess of wisdom.
Other Roman gods and goddesses who were adapted from Greek culture include Venus, who drew on Aphrodite, goddess of love Neptune, a sea god who was inspired by the Greek god Poseidon Pluto, who ruled the Roman underworld as the god Hades did in Greek culture Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt who had her Greek equivalent in Artemis and Mars, god of war, who was fashioned after the Greek god Ares. Just as the Greeks influenced Roman culture, the Romans inspired the cultural development of later societies. You may by now have noticed that many of the planets in our solar system were named after Roman deities.
Rome did have some of its own gods and goddesses who did not trace their origins back to Greek culture. For example, Janus was a god with two faces that represented the spirit of passages such as doorways and gates. Believed to preside over beginnings, it is fitting that the month of January is named after Janus. Janus&rsquo son was Tiberinus, the god of the river Tiber, which runs through the city of Rome.
According to Roman mythology, the gods had a hand in the founding of the city of Rome itself. Mars, god of war, and a Vestal Virgin named Rhea Silvia were the parents of twin boys, Romulus and Remus. Vestal Virgins were not permitted to marry or bear children but were instead to devote their lives to serving Vesta, goddess of the hearth.
It is said that King Amulius ordered that the twins be thrown into the Tiber River as a punishment to Rhea Silvia for betraying her vow of celibacy. Luckily, the boys were rescued from the river by a mother wolf. She helped to raise them until a local couple adopted them.
As the boys grew up, they became important members of the community. They dethroned King Amulius and worked together to establish a new city. In a later argument about the city, however, Romulus killed his brother Remus. Romulus went on to name the city after himself, calling it Rome (or Roma).
The presence and influence of gods and goddesses were integral parts of life in the Roman state. The people of Rome built temples to their gods and observed rituals and festivals to honor and celebrate them. Any favorable or unfavorable circumstances in Roman life could be attributed to the mood of certain gods, so people would likewise make offerings to the gods in thanks, or in an attempt to appease their tempers. Unlike many monotheistic religious or spiritual traditions, the Romans gods were seen as caring little about the morality of the Roman people. Rather, their chief concern was being paid tribute through very specific rituals.
We can still recognize traces of the Roman gods and goddesses in the artifacts that remain from the ancient civilization and the art that pays homage to them. Carvings of Janus still survive and statues of Neptune spout water from city fountains. Today we appreciate the stories and mythology built around these deities as insights into what life was like over 2,700 years ago for the ancient Romans.
This image shows the ruins of a Roman temple to the god Jupiter in present-day Baalbek, Lebanon, once part of the Roman Empire.
Medusa, at least in some accounts, was once a beautiful woman who unwittingly attracted the attention of the sea god Poseidon. When the god chose to mate with her, they were in the temple of Athena. Athena was furious. As always, blaming the mortal woman, she got revenge by turning Medusa into a monster so horrible that a single glance at her face would turn a man to stone.
Even after Perseus, with Athena's help, separated Medusa from her head—an act that allowed her unborn children, Pegasus and Chrysaor, to emerge from her body—the head maintained its lethal power.
The head of Medusa is often described as being covered with snakes instead of hair. Medusa is also counted as one of the Gorgons, three daughters of Phorcus. Her sisters are the immortal Gorgons: Euryale and Stheno.
- Metamorphoses Book V, by Ovid - Tells the story of Medusa from Greek mythology. The story begins in Book IV at line 898.
Greek Gods: The Olympians
One of the distinguishing features of myth is the close interaction between gods and mortals. Gods speak with their mortal favorites as well as intervene on their behalf. They could also do severe harm to their enemies. Odysseus, for example, angered the sea god Poseidon when he blinded Poseidon's son, the cyclops Polyphemus. Poseidon killed all of Odysseus' followers and prevented the hero himself from reaching home for ten years. The Greeks assembled their most important gods into a pantheon of twelve. Not all lists have the same twelve gods, but the list below is fairly standard.
Zeus is the sky-god who uses thunderbolts to strike those who offend him (Figure 3.2). Hesiod's Theogony, which gives the genealogy of Greek Gods, makes him the son of the titans Kronos and Rhea. Kronos feared his children would some day overthrow him, so at birth he took them from Rhea and ate them. Rhea deceived Kronos by giving him a stone wrapped in blankets, and Zeus escaped. Eventually Zeus rescued his siblings and cast his father down into Tartaros. He divided the spheres of the world with his brothers Poseidon and Hades. Zeus received the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld. Few cities claimed special relationship with Zeus, like Athens does with Athena or Argos with Hera, but Zeus' worship was nearly universal among the Greeks. Two of the four Panhellenic Games, celebrated at regular intervals and attended by the entire Greek world, were dedicated to Zeus. These are the Olympic and Nemean Games.
Hera the wife of Zeus represents marriage. In myth Hera plays the jealous wife, persecuting Zeus' mortal lovers and their offspring. When Zeus slept with Semele, daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes, Hera conspired to get rid of her. She persuaded Semele to ask to see her lover Zeus in all his glory. The sight killed her. Another of Zeus' affairs produced Heracles, who spent his entire life facing Hera's wrath. Hera's most famous temples were at Argos and Samos.
Athena is a civilizing goddess who is almost always represented armed (Figure 3.3). In one version of the story of her birth, she was conceived in the mind of Zeus. Unfortunately for Zeus, she got stuck there, and the god Haephestos had to release her by hitting Zeus in the head with an axe. Athena is identifiable in art because she is armed. She also often carries an aigis, which is a goat skin usually depicted with the head of a Gorgon on it and which has a border of snakes. The sight of this makes her enemies panic. Athena is especially revered in Athens. The Athenians told the story that Athena and Poseidon competed to be the patron of their city, each giving a gift to Athens. Athena's gift to the Athenians was the olive, and that tree was sacred to her.
Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and the Titan Leto, and the sister of Apollo. She is a virgin goddess who is associated with wilderness and wild animals. She watched over the transition of women from young maiden to adulthood. She could be cruel to those who offended her. In one myth the famous huntsman Actaion stumbled upon Artemis while she was bathing. The chaste goddess was angered at being seen naked and she turned Actaion into a deer, whereupon his own hunting dogs killed him. On another occasion she was angry at Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and leader of the Greek expedition against Troy. She refused to grant favorable sailing weather to the expedition unless Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter to her. He complied. Her most famous sanctuary was at Ephesus, in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Apollo is the brother of Artemis and had various spheres of interest. He was a musician and played the lyre. He was famous as a healer of disease. He granted oracles to those who asked. His two most famous sanctuaries were at Delphi, where an oracular priestess lived, and at Delos, where he was born (according to the Delians). Every four years at Delphi the Pythian Games honored Apollo. These were second in prestige only to those at Olympia. Apollo could not just cure disease, he could inflict in on those who angered him. At the beginning of the Iliad, Apollo has sent plague to afflict the Greeks because Agamemnon has captured the daughter of one of his priests and refuses to return her to her father. Agamemnon ultimately gives the girl up, but in recompense he demands that Achilles hand over one of his own women. The resulting temper-tantrum is the central plot point of the poem.
Poseidon was god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses (Figure 3.4). He received his lordship over the sea after the fall of Kronos, when the world was divided among Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. In myth he is famous as the persecutor of Odysseus. He was worshipped all throughout the Greek world, since much of Greece is coastal. One of the most famous temples was at the southern tip of Attica, at Cape Sounion. The ruins of the temple are one of the most picturesque spots in Greece. Another famous sanctuary lies near Korinth, at Isthmia. Games in honor of Poseidon were celebrated every two years at Isthmia.
Demeter was the goddess of grain and fertility. The most famous myth concerning her is the "Rape of Persephone." In this myth, Hades kidnaps Demeter's daughter Persephone and takes her to the underworld to be his wife. A distraught Demeter refuses to allow crops to grow until she gets her daughter back. In the end, Persephone returns to her mother, but she is required to return to Hades for three months each year. During the time she is absent, nothing grows on Earth. Demeter and Persephone were honored each year at the Eleusinian mysteries. People from all over Greece came to Eleusis each year to be initiated. Initiates were strictly warned not to reveal the secret rites conducted there.
Vampires Throughout History
There are also many tales of powerful vampires who caused terror in the hearts of the living that can be traced back to real people. These real life monsters are likely part of why the myth of the vampire is so popular in modern day.
Vlad the Impaler
Vlad was a powerful man who lived in Walachia, but in modern day he is known for his fierce brutality. He was known to enjoy impaling his enemies on stakes and letting them die slowly. There are also rumors that he enjoyed eating bread that had been dipped in the blood of his victims. Some versions of this rumor claim that he ate bread dipped in blood of enemies that were still in the process of dying and ate it while watching them take their last breaths.
Countess Elizabeth Bathory
Countess Elizabeth Bathory
While many would assume that a Countess would be mild mannered and well-cultured, Countess Elizabeth Bathory proved to be the exception. She was born in Hungary in the year 1560 and died in 1614. During her living years, she was known to have the blood of many victims on her hands – literally. She was known to have her enemies brought to her so that she could bite their flesh, perhaps as a form of torture. Later, she would bathe in their blood – supposedly as a beauty treatment.
The main and most important gods were the Twelve Olympians. The home of these gods is at the top of Mount Olympus. There was some variation as to which deities were included in the Twelve.  As such, the list below numbers fourteen. It includes all those who are commonly named as one of the Twelve in art and poetry. Dionysus was a later addition in some descriptions, he replaced Hestia. Hades is not usually included among the Olympians, because his home was the underworld. Some writers, however, such as Plato, named him as one of the Twelve.  
Goddess of love, beauty and desire. She was married to Hephaestus, but she had many lovers, including Ares, Adonis and Anchises. She was depicted as a beautiful woman and often naked. Her symbols include roses and other flowers, the scallop shell, and myrtle wreath. Her sacred animals are doves and sparrows. The Roman version of Aphrodite was Venus.
Image: Cnidian Aphrodite, a Roman work based on an original by Praxiteles
God of light, healing, music, poetry, plague, prophecy, and more. He is the son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin brother of Artemis. Apollo was associated with the Sun while Artemis was the Moon. Both use a bow and arrow. In the earliest myths, Apollo fights with his half-brother Hermes. In sculpture, Apollo was depicted as a handsome young man with long hair and a perfect physique. His attributes include the laurel wreath and lyre. He often appears in the company of the Muses. Animals sacred to Apollo include roe deer, swans, cicadas, hawks, ravens, crows, foxes, mice and snakes.
Image: Apollo holding a lyre and pouring a libation, on a drinking cup from a tomb at Delphi
God of war and bloodshed. He was the son of Zeus and Hera. He was depicted as a young man, either naked with a helmet and spear or sword, or as an armed warrior. Ares generally represents the chaos of war in contrast to Athena, who represented strategy and skill. Ares' sacred animals are the vulture, venomous snakes, dogs and boars. The Roman version of Ares is Mars.
Image: Roman marble head of the war god, modelled after a Greek bronze original
Goddess of hunting, wilderness, animals and childbirth. In later times she became associated with the Moon. She is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She is depicted as a young virgin woman. In art she is often shown holding a hunting bow and arrows. Her attributes include hunting spears, animal furs, deer and other wild animals. Her sacred animals are deer, bears and wild boars. The Roman version of Artemis is Diana.
Image: Artemis reaching for arrow (missing) from her quiver, with a hunting dog
Goddess of wisdom and skill, warfare and tactics. According to most traditions, she was born from Zeus's head fully formed and wearing armour. She was depicted with a helmet, holding a shield and a spear, and wearing the Aegis over a long dress. Poets describe her as having very bright, keen eyes. She was a special patron of heroes such as Odysseus. She was also the patron of the city Athens (which is named after her). Born from the head of Zeus (her father) and her mother is Metis, the first wife of Zeus. Her symbol is the olive tree. She is often shown beside her sacred animal, the owl. The Roman version of Athena is Minerva.
Image: Athena on a red-figure cup, dating from 500–490 BCE
Goddess of farming, the harvest and fertility. Demeter is a daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Her brother is Zeus, with whom she had Persephone. She was one of the main deities of the Eleusinian Mysteries. She was depicted as an older woman, often wearing a crown and holding bunches of wheat. Her symbols are the cornucopia, wheat-ears, the winged snake, and the lotus staff. Her sacred animals are pigs and snakes. The Roman version of Demeter is Ceres.
Image: Demeter, sitting down, on a relief from Turkey
God of wine, parties and festivals, madness and ecstasy. He was depicted in art as either an older man with a beard or a pretty young man with long hair. His attributes include the thyrsus (a pinecone-tipped staff), drinking cup, grape vine, and a crown of ivy. He is often shown with his thiasos, a group of followers that includes satyrs, maenads, and his teacher Silenus. The consort of Dionysus was Ariadne. Animals sacred to him include dolphins, snakes and donkeys. Dionysus was a later addition to the Olympians in some descriptions, he replaced Hestia. "Bacchus" was another name for him in Greek, and this was used by the Romans for their version of the god.
Image: Dionysus sitting on a leopard
King of the underworld and god of the dead. His consort is Persephone. His attributes are the cornucopia, key, sceptre, and the three-headed dog Cerberus. The owl was sacred to him. He was one of three sons of Cronus and Rhea, and therefore was ruler of one of the three realms of the universe, the underworld. He is not very often included as one of the Olympians, however. In Athenian literature, "Ploutōn" ( Πλούτων ) was his preferred name, while "Hades" was more common as a name for the underworld. The Romans translated "Ploutōn" as Pluto, the name for their version of Hades.
Image: Hades lying down, holding a giant drinking horn and offering a bowl to Persephone
God of fire, metalworking and crafts. He was the son of Hera by parthenogenesis. He is the smith of the gods and the husband of Aphrodite. He was usually depicted as a bearded man with hammer, tongs and anvil—the tools of a smith—and sometimes riding a donkey. His sacred animals are the donkey, the guard dog and the crane. One of his many creations was the armour of Achilles. Hephaestus used fire to create things. The Roman version, however, Vulcan, was feared for his destructive power he was associated with volcanoes.
Image: Thetis receives the armour made for her son Achilles by Hephaestus
Queen of the heavens and goddess of marriage, women and birth. She is the wife of Zeus and daughter of Cronus and Rhea. She was usually depicted as a regal woman, wearing a crown and veil and holding a lotus-tipped staff. Although she was the goddess of marriage, Zeus's many affairs drive her to jealousy and anger. Her sacred animals are the heifer, the peacock and the cuckoo. The Roman version of Hera is Juno.
Image: Bust of Hera wearing a crown
God of travel, animal husbandry, writing, trade, and more. He is the son of Zeus and Maia, Hermes is the messenger of the gods. He also leads the souls of the dead into the afterlife. He was depicted either as a handsome and fit young man, or as an older bearded man. He was often shown wearing sandals with small wings on them. His sacred animals are the tortoise, the ram and the hawk. The Roman version of Hermes was Mercury.
Image: Hermes holding his caduceus and wearing a cloak and hat for travel
Goddess of the hearth, home and chastity. She was described as a virgin. She is a daughter of Rhea and Cronus, and sister of Zeus. She could not often be identified in Greek art. She appeared as a veiled woman. Her symbols are the hearth and kettle. In some descriptions, she gave up her seat as one of the Twelve Olympians to Dionysus, and she plays a minor role in Greek myths. The Roman version of Hestia, however, Vesta, was a major goddess in Roman culture.
Image: Hestia from a relief depicting all twelve Olympians in procession
God of the sea, rivers, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and the creator of horses. He is a son of Cronus and Rhea, and brother to Zeus and Hades. He rules one of the three realms of the universe as king of the sea and the waters. In classical artwork, he was depicted as an older man with a very large beard, and holding a trident. The horse and the dolphin are sacred to him. His wife is Amphitrite. The Roman version of Poseidon was Neptune.
Image: Sculpture of Poseidon, from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
King of the gods, and ruler of Mount Olympus. He is the god of the sky, thunder and lightning, law and order, and fate. He is the youngest son of Cronus and Rhea. He overthrew his father and took the throne of heaven for himself. In artwork, he was depicted as a regal, older man with a dark beard. His usual attributes are the royal sceptre and the lightning bolt. His sacred animals are the eagle and the bull. The Roman version of Zeus, Jupiter, was also the main god of the Romans.
Image: Coin made under Alexander the Great showing Zeus on his throne holding a sceptre and eagle.
Primordial deities Edit
The primordial deities are the first beings that existed. They are what makes up the universe. All other gods descend from them. The first among them is usually said to be Chaos. Chaos is the nothingness from which all of the others were made. These gods are usually depicted as a place or a realm. Tartarus, for example, is depicted as the deepest pit in the underworld. His brother Erebus is also depicted as a place of darkness, or the emptiness of space. Gaia is depicted as nature or the Earth. Pontus is depicted as the oceans, lakes, and rivers. Chronos is depicted as time.
|Ancient Greek name||English name||Description|
|Αἰθήρ (Aithḗr)||Aether||The god of the upper air and light.|
|Ἀνάγκη (Anánkē)||Ananke||The goddess of inevitability, compulsion and need.|
|Χάος (Cháos)||Chaos||The nothingness from which everything else came. Described as a void. |
|Χρόνος (Chrónos)||Chronos||The titan of time. Not to be confused with the Titan Cronus, the father of Zeus.|
|Ἔρεβος (Érebos)||Erebus||The god of darkness and shadow.|
|Ἔρως (Eros)||Eros||The god of love. The Roman version of Eros was Cupid.|
|Γαῖα (Gaîa)||Gaia||Goddess of the Earth (Mother Earth) mother of the Titans.|
|Ἡμέρα (Hēméra)||Hemera||Goddess of daylight.|
|Ὕπνος ("Hypnos")||Hypnos||God of sleep.|
|Nῆσοι (Nē̂soi)||The Nesoi||The goddesses of islands and the sea.|
|Νύξ (Nýx)||Nyx||The goddess of the night.|
|Οὐρανός (Ouranós)||Uranus||The god of the heavens (Father Sky) father of the Titans.|
|Οὔρεα (Oúrea)||The Ourea||The gods of mountains.|
|Φάνης (Phánēs)||Phanes||The god of procreation.|
|Πόντος (Póntos)||Pontus||The god of the sea, father of the fish and other sea creatures.|
|Τάρταρος (Tártaros)||Tartarus||God of the deepest, darkest part of the underworld (which is itself also referred to as Tartarus).|
|Θάλασσα (Thálassa)||Thalassa||Spirit of the sea and consort of Pontos.|
|Θάνατος ("Thánatos")||Thanatos||God of death. Brother to Hypnos (sleep) and in some myths Moros (doom).|
The Titans are the older kind of gods in Greek mythology. The original Twelve Titans were children of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky).  Their leader was Cronus, who overthrew his father Uranus and became ruler of the gods. Cronus' consort was his sister Rhea. Their children were Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter and Hestia. Cronus and the Titans were overthrown by Zeus, his youngest son. They fought a war called the Titanomachy. The Titans are depicted in Greek art less often than the Olympians.
|Greek name||English name||Description|
|The Twelve Titans|
|Ὑπερίων (Hyperíōn)||Hyperion||Titan of light. With Theia, he is the father of Helios (the sun), Selene (the moon), and Eos (the dawn).|
|Ἰαπετός (Iapetós)||Iapetus||Titan of mortality and father of Prometheus, Epimetheus, Menoetius and Atlas.|
|Κοῖος (Koîos)||Coeus||Titan of intelligence and the axis of heaven.|
|Κρεῖος (Kreîos)||Crius||Titan God of heavenly constellations and in charge of ordering the measures of the year.Father of Astraeus, Pallas and Perses. Not much is known about him. |
|Κρόνος (Crónos)||Kronos||The leader of the Titans, who overthrew his father Uranus. He was later overthrown by his own son, Zeus. Not to be confused with Chronos, the god of time.|
|Mνημοσύνη (Mnēmosýnē)||Mnemosyne||Titan of memory, and mother of the Nine Muses.|
|Ὠκεανός (Ōceanós)||Oceanus||Titan of the ocean, the great river that flows around the earth.|
|Φοίβη (Phoíbē)||Phoebe||Titan of prophecy, and consort of Coeus.|
|Ῥέα (Rhéa)||Rhea||Titan of fertility and mothers. She is the sister and consort of Cronus, and mother of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter and Hestia.|
|Τηθύς (Tēthýs)||Tethys||Wife of Oceanus, and the mother of the rivers, fountains and clouds.|
|Θεία (Theía)||Theia||Titan of sight and the light of the sky. She is the consort of Hyperion, and mother of Helios, Selene and Eos.|
|Θέμις (Thémis)||Themis||Titan of divine law and order.|
|Ἀστερία (Astería)||Asteria||Titan of oracles and falling stars.|
|Ἀστραῖος (Astraîos)||Astraeus||Titan of dusk, stars and planets and the art of astrology.|
|Ἄτλας (Átlas)||Atlas||Titan who was forced to carry the sky upon his shoulders by Zeus. Son of Iapetus.|
|Αὔρα (Aúra)||Aura||Titan of the breeze and the air of early morning.|
|Διώνη (Diṓnē)||Dione||Titan of the oracle of Dodona.|
|Ἠώς (Ēṓs)||Eos||Titan of the dawn.|
|Ἐπιμηθεύς (Epimētheús)||Epimetheus||Titan of afterthought and excuses.|
|Εὐρυβία (Eurybía)||Eurybia||Titan of the seas and consort of Crius.|
|Εὐρυνόμη (Eurynómē)||Eurynome||Titan of pastures, and mother of the three Charites by Zeus.|
|Ἥλιος (Hḗlios)||Helios||Titan of the sun and guardian of oaths.|
|Κλυμένη (Clyménē)||Asia||Or Clymene. Titan of fame and infamy, and wife of Iapetos.|
|Λήλαντος (Lēlantos)||Lelantos||Titan of air and hunters.|
|Λητώ (Lētṓ)||Leto||Titan of motherhood and mother of the twins Artemis and Apollo.|
|Μενοίτιος (Menoítios)||Menoetius||Titan of anger, rash action and mortality. Killed by Zeus.|
|Μῆτις ( Mē̂tis )||Metis||Titan of wisdom, advice and cunning.|
|Ὀφίων (Ophíōn)||Ophion||An elder Titan. In some versions of the myth he ruled the Earth with his consort Eurynome before Cronus overthrew him. Another account describes him as a snake.|
|Πάλλας (Pállas)||Pallas||Titan of war. He was killed by Athena during the Titanomachy.|
|Πέρσης (Pérsēs)||Perses||Titan of destruction and peace.|
|Προμηθεύς (Promētheús)||Prometheus||Titan of forethought and craftiness. Creator of humans.|
|Σελήνη (Selḗnē)||Selene||Titan of the moon.|
|Στύξ (Stýx)||Styx||Titan of the river Styx in the underworld. Personification of hatred.|
The Giants ( Γίγαντες , Gigantes) were the children of Gaia. She was fertilised by the blood of Uranus, after Uranus was castrated by his son Cronus. After the Titans' lost their war against the Olympians, Gaia made the Giants rise up against the Olympians to restore the Titans' rule. The Olympians got help from the hero Heracles to stop the Giants. This war was the Gigantomachy. 
Today’s students of Greek mythology seem to find more interest in the age of gods, however, the Greek writers, philosophers, and everyday people of the archaic and classical eras had a clear preference for the age of heroes, establishing a chronology and record of human accomplishments after the questions of how the world came into being were explained.
For example, Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey dwarfed the divine-focused Theogony in both size and popularity. Under the influence of Homer the “hero cult” led to a restructuring in the spiritual life of ancient Greeks, expressed in the separation of the realm of the gods from the realm of the dead (heroes). Hesiod, in his work “Work and Days” talks about the Four Ages of Man (or Races): Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. These races or ages are separate creations of the gods, the Golden Age belonging to the time when Cronos ruled the world. The rest of the races are the creation of Zeus. The presence of evil in our world was explained by the myth of Pandora, when all of the best of human capabilities, except of hope, had been spilled out of her overturned jar.
Although ancient Greeks had no official church organization, they universally honored certain holy places. Delphi, for example, was a holy site dedicated to Apollo. A temple built at Delphi contained an oracle (prophet), whom travelers questioned about the future. A group of priests represented each of the holy sites. These priests, who also might be community officials, interpreted the words of the gods but did not possess any special knowledge or power. In addition to prayers, the Greeks often offered sacrifices to the gods, most often of a domestic animal such as a goat.
The Greek religion is quite different from today’s dominant religions because in it there is no orthodoxy, and no one deity to depend upon. So more responsibility is left to the individual. It is a religion for adults, which offers responsibilities rather than rewards. It is a religion that encourages questioning of the gods, and the oracles, because such questioning helps lead to a better understanding of human limitations.
Greek mythological stories of gods and heroes are still important and relevant today. Greek mythology has profoundly influenced Western culture. The stories of the Greek mythology are so universally familiar that many words and sayings we use to this day refer to them. For example, the myth of Narcissus produced the word narcissism, or excessive vanity, and something that causes an argument may be called an “apple of discord,” after an apple that Eris (the goddess of chaos, strife, and discord) used to start a dispute among Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera (the golden apple of discord).
We also refer to Greek myths when we talk about “opening Pandora’s box” or about someone’s “Achilles’ heel”. Any modern person who reads or hears of Greek myths will be hard-pressed to stay unaffected. They are simply that good and this proves just how relevant they still are to this day.
Back in Ancient Greek times there was
A strange thing called a “sacrifice.”
To keep the gods in a good mood
The humans had to pay a price.
The gods were arguing one day
What exactly should that price be?
They argued and argued for hours
But they could not agree.
“I know who we should ask for help,”
Declared the mighty Zeus,
“The one who created humans,
Bring me Prometheus.”
So Prometheus was sent for
And he came straight away.
Then Zeus asked him what he believed
Should be the price to pay.
Prometheus loved the humans,
He was their maker after all,
So he decided to trick Zeus
Into making it really small.
He showed two bags, one big, one small,
And gave Zeus the choice of the two.
Of course Zeus chose the bigger one
As Prometheus knew he’d do.
So Zeus was very disappointed
When Prometheus showed him that
The little one held all the meat,
The big one, bones and fat.
But Zeus soon realized he’d been tricked
And he was very cross.
He thought that it was time to show
Prometheus who’s boss.
“So let the humans have their meat,”
Zeus held up his fist and shook it,
“I won’t let them have fire so
They won’t be able to cook it!”
Prometheus was not impressed
At this childish display of spite,
And he decided that he would
Stand up for what was right.
He climbed a mountain, lit a torch
From the chariot of Apollo,
Then took the flame and gave it to
The humans down below.
Zeus was furious when he saw
That he had refused to obey.
He decided to punish him
In an extremely nasty way.
Prometheus, chained to a rock,
As punishment for his crime,
Heard Zeus decree this punishment
Would last until the end of time.
To make his torment even worse
Each day an eagle would attack,
And peck out his liver, but then,
Each night it would grow back.
Well, no, not quite the end in fact,
There’s a little more to report.
There’s a little more to the tale,
A happy ending, of a sort.
Prometheus was not chained up
For all eternity.
You see, one day, great Heracles,
The hero, set him free.