The Ancient Greeks lived hundreds of years ago and started the basis for many things we have today, like the alphabet. The Greeks excelled in art, drama, mathematics, and many other fields. In their version of the alphabet, they also kept track of stories and epics of their time. These Greek myths have lasted through the years and are still referenced today.
Greek mythology is the body of teaching belonging to the Greeks, consisting of their gods and heroes, the beauty of nature, and their own social classes. Modern scholars use these myths to get a better understanding of the Greek culture.
1. The tale of Odysseus
One of the oldest and most well-known of the Greek myths is the tale of Odysseus, who was a brave and powerful soldier. The Odyssey took place during the Trojan War and focused on its aftermath, especially the homeward bound journey of Odysseus. On the way home, Odysseus faces several obstacles, like sirens, cyclopes, and other deadly creatures.
2. The Titans and the Olympians
Other myths include the Titans and the Olympians, who were seen as almighty figures to the Greeks. The Titans are a group of twelve almighty being who were immortal giants of great strength and power. The Titans were later overthrown by a race of younger gods, the Olympians. The Olympians are more commonly known in today’s society and include Zeus, the god of the sky, and Poseidon, the god of the sea.
Other Olympians are Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Apollo, the god of music, arts, and knowledge. Ares is the god of war and violence, and Artemis is the goddess of nature. These gods and goddesses, as well as many others, are often referenced in modern times, specifically in the young adult book series, Percy Jackson, written by Rick Riordan.
3. Mount Olympus, Underworld, Tartarus and River Styx
Some of these Greek myths involve places like Mount Olympus, where all the greater gods lived, and the Underworld, where Hades, the king of the dead, thrived. Tartarus was another realm that was lower than the Underworld and it was used as a prison for all of the unpleasant and horrifying things in the world. The River Styx was a river that formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. The river was known to possess magical and mysterious powers.
Many heroes are also involved in Greek myths. Achilles was a mighty warrior in the Trojan War whose only weakness was his heel. When he was a child, he was dipped into the River Styx to become immortal, but he became vulnerable at the part of the body by which his mother held him, which was his heel. Near the end of the Trojan War, Achilles was killed by Paris, who shot him in the heel with an arrow. Because of his death from being shot in the heel, the term Achilles’ heel has come to mean a person’s point of weakness or vulnerability.
The powerful Hercules is perhaps one of the most loved Greek heroes. Hercules was the son of Zeus and Alcmene, and he grew up to be a famed warrior. Zeus’s actual wife, Hera, became jealous of Hercules and sent two snakes to his crib to kill him, but Hercules strangled them. When he became of age, Hercules proved himself as an impressive marksman with a bow and arrow and an excellent wrestler. He possessed superhuman strength and was driven to insanity by Hera, ending up murdering his own children. As punishment, he was set to complete a series of tasks called the Twelve Labors, in which he faced great physical dangers. The story of Hercules is still told in modern times, and his story was made into a movie by Disney.
Along with Achilles and Hercules, Oedipus was another Greek hero, albeit a tragic one. He fulfilled the prophecy that he would kill his own father, marry his mother, and bring destruction and death upon his entire family. The prophecy was set in place with Oedipus was a child and his father did everything he could to stop the prophecy from coming true. To do this, he left Oedipus on a mountainside to die, but Oedipus was later found by another king and queen in a neighboring city.
Believing that he would kill the king that found him, Oedipus left the city. After leaving the city, he encountered a man riding a chariot and the two quarreled. Oedipus killed the man and continued on. He reached the city of Thebes and discovered that the king of the city had been killed recently. Oedipus soon realized that the man he killed was the king, and he answered a riddle to become the next king, marrying the king’s widow, Jocasta. Later on, after having children with Jocasta, Oedipus discovered that he had killed the king, his father, and married his mother. After realizing the truth, Jocasta hung herself and Oedipus blinded himself, sending himself into exile.
This particular myth is often used in modern times and was used by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Freud coined the Oedipus complex, while concentrates on a child’s desire of attention from the parents of the opposite sex. Male children were more drawn to their mothers, and female children were more drawn to their fathers.
7. Cyclopes, Pegasuses and giants
Several creatures also have important roles in Greek mythology, including Cyclopes, Pegasuses, and giants. The Cyclopes were large, one-eyed monsters who made appearances in The Odyssey. They became antagonists for Odysseus and sabotaged his travels home after the Trojan War. The Pegasuses were large horses with wings that allowed them to fly. The first Pegasus was created when Medusa’s head was cut off. Giants ran rampant in Greek mythology and were powerful creatures, known for the Gigantomachy, their battle with the Olympian gods.
Other creatures include Cerberus, a large, three-headed dog that guarded the Underworld. It allowed the dead to enter, but never leave the Underworld. Sirens were tempting half-human, half-mermaid creatures that lured sailors to their deaths with seductive songs; they were mentioned in The Odyssey as another antagonist to Odysseus.
Greek mythology is drawn primarily from Greek literature and visual representations dating back to the Geometric period. The beliefs of the Greeks were told through their myths, artworks, and literature, and modern scholars often cite these sources to learn more about the Greeks and their various institutions.