You may be wondering what Greek mythology is. Wonder no more. Greek mythology is a set of stories about the gods, goddesses, heroes of the ancient Greeks. It was part of the religion ancient Greece. So you could say it was part of everyday life. They explained everything, from religious rituals to weather. All while giving meaning to the world people saw around them. Greek mythology has always captured one’s interest. Especially my own. It has subsequently had an extensive influence on the arts and literature of Western civilization, which fell heir to much of Greek culture.
While myths are completely made up, legends are based on events that really happened. The Greeks believed in gods and goddesses who, they thought, had control over every part of people’s lives. The Ancient Greeks believed that they had to pray to the gods for help and protection, because if the gods were unhappy with someone, then they would punish them. They made special places in their homes and temples where they could pray to statues of the gods and leave presents for them. The Greeks had a different god for almost everything. They imagined that the gods lived together, as a family, up on the top of Mount Olympus. They did not see them as perfect, but just like people. In the Greek myths, the gods argue, fall in love, get jealous of each other and make mistakes.
The 12 Different Olympian Gods and Goddesses
There are twelve main gods and goddesses that originate from Olympus. Each one so different from the past. Considered quite powerful, their stories are so inspiring. Here is a brief outline of the 12 gods and goddesses:
- Zeus – Zeus is the King of all the Gods, the God of weather, law and fate.
- Poseidon – the God of the Sea.
- Hades – the God of the Underworld.
- Ares – the God of War.
- Hephaestus – the God of fire, metalworking and sculpture.
- Apollo – the God of music, prophecy, and poetry and knowledge.
- Aphrodite – the Goddess of beauty and love.
- Artemis – Goddess of hunting, animals and childbirth.
- Hera – Queen of the Gods and Goddesses. Also the Goddess of women and marriage.
- Hermes – God of travel, hospitality, trade, and Zeus’s personal messenger.
- Hestia – Goddess of home and family.
- Athena – Goddess of wisdom and defence.
Greek Mythology’s Influence on Art and Literature
For thousands of years, Greek mythology has shaped art and literature. They appear in Renaissance paintings such as Botticellis’ birth of Venus, writings like Dante’s inferno. Romantic poetry and more recent novels, plays and films.
Greek myths have inspired artists for centuries. Great painters and sculptors have used gods and heroes as the subjects of their works. Creating the foundation for the materials (stone, marble, limestone, clay) that we use today. This included imagery and going beyond the closed curtain of what is seen by the naked eye.
During two different periods, the sculptors went from capturing the movement of a human being to focusing on the connection to the artists’ emotions. During the classical period of the golden age (480- 323 BC), remember Alexander The Great? Well, that was during his time. Artists began to sculpt in a realistic way with the form now in action, in a relaxed state and even engaged in erotic acts of nature.
The Hellenistic period (323-31 BC). The Greeks began a journey in sculpting. Where they depicted people they had conquered. Their imagery was influenced by their culture and events that were taking place at the time. This began the art of story telling, based on themes, and violence.
Writers have retold ancient stories, sometimes set in modern times. Moviemakers have also borrowed stories from ancient myths. Hercules, for example, has been the subject of dozens of films. These films range from early classics to a Walt Disney cartoon.
Mythological references are also common in today’s popular culture. Many sports teams have adopted the names of powerful figures from myths, like Titans or Trojans. Businesses frequently use images or symbols from mythology in their advertising. Although people no longer believe in the Greek gods, mythological ideas can still be seen all around us .
Myths and Greek Legends
There are many famous Greek myths and legends. Till today, stories and films today are reused! Like:
A woman, Pandora, opens up a box full of all the bad things in the world, and lets them out. Hercules is the most famous hero of Greek Mythology and well-known for his twelve labours. He was a demigod, son of Zeus and Alcmene.
Theseus and the Minotaur (a creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull) tells the story of a prince who chases a monster through a labyrinth to save the woman he loves.
In another tale, two inventors called Icarus and Daedalus try to build wings so they can fly away from prison. We should also not forget the three sisters of fate. In Greek mythology, the Moirae are the three goddesses of fate. Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. The three sisters weave the fate of humans and gods alike. Neither human nor God has the power to influence or question their judgment and actions!
Perhaps the most exciting is Perseus and the Gorgon, in which a man called Perseus has to kill a woman who can turn people to stone just by looking at them!
Death in Ancient Greek Times
The Greeks believed that after death, a soul went on a journey to a place called the Underworld (which they called Hades). The steps in the journey are below:
First, Thanatos, the God of Death, would reach down and cut a lock of hair from your head as you died. Secondly, Hermes, the messenger of the gods, led you to the River Styx. Thirdly, Charon, the ferryman, transported you across the river if your body was buried. Fourthly, on the bank of the river, you will encounter Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the Underworld. His job was to stop people from leaving and returning to the world of the living.
Fifthly, after crossing the river, you will leave the ferry and walk on to a place called the Asphodel Fields, where people forget all memories of their former life. And lastly, at a fork in the road, three judges would decide where to send souls: good people were allowed to go onwards to the Elysium (a comfortable place where the sun always shone), but those who needed to be punished were sent to Tartarus. Sometimes, when the judges could not decide, souls would be sent back to the Asphodel Fields.
In Tartarus, people who had upset the Gods would receive terrible punishments. Tartarus was a dark place, imagined to be as far below the Earth as the Earth is from the sky.
Monsters of Greek Mythology
I would say that creatures are the best known part of Greek mythology if we are being honest. I mean who doesn’t know about Pegasus, the Phoenix, unicorns and Griffins? Closely followed by the heroes.
Here are 10 of the most terrifying monsters in Greek mythology.
Known as the “Father of All Monsters,” He was birthed from Gaia (the earth) and Tartarus (the depths of hell). He was said to have been the most ferocious creature ever to roam the earth. Typhon was massive. It was said that when he stood upright, his head brushed against the stars. The lower half of his body consisted of two coiled viper tails that were constantly hissing. Instead of fingers, several dragon heads erupted from his hands. He was said to have wings that, when spread, could blot out the sun. Fire flashed from his eyes, striking fear into the heart of any living creature, even the mighty Olympians.
A monstrous creature with the ability to turn to stone any person who gazes upon her face, Medusa remains a popular monster of ancient mythology. Interpretations of Medusa differ. The one aspect of Medusa that remains consistent through various legends is her hair, which was said to have been composed of writhing, venomous snakes.
3. The minotaur
A grotesque abomination that possessed the body of a man and the head of a bull, the Minotaur is best remembered for his affinity for devouring flesh and his cryptic home, deep within the confines of the twisted labyrinth. The labyrinth was an impossible maze constructed by the inventor Daedalus.
Cerberus is a popular creature in ancient mythology. Hades’ loyal guard dog, Cerberus, was a massive hound with three heads that guarded the entrance to the underworld. It was said that the beast only had an appetite for living flesh and so would only allow the deceased spirit to pass, while consuming any living mortal who was foolish enough to come near him. It is said that the three heads were meant to symbolize the past, present and future. In other versions of the myth, the three heads represent youth, adult hood, and old age.
5. Charybdis and Scylla
The Charybdis is never explicitly described, other than saying it is a ferocious sea monster that lives under a rock on one side of a narrow strait. Charybdis regularly swallows massive amounts of water which create monstrous whirl pools that are capable of destroying an entire ship.
Similarly, Scylla lives on the opposite side of the narrow strait and is believed to have been many sea monsters that fed on the flesh of sailors who unwittingly travelled too close to the beast’s lair. The phrase “between a Charybdis and Scylla” is now understood to mean being stuck between two dangerous decisions with no apparent solution.
6. The Hydra
The deadly Hydra, a serpent-like water monster with reptilian traits. A creature whose venom was so dangerous, that even the breath exhaled by the Hydra could be lethal to any man. Additionally, the Hydra has the confounding ability to regrow any decapitated limbs at alarming speed. For every head that was cut, two more would grow in its place.
7. The Empusa
Unlike the other creatures on this list, The Empusa is perhaps little known and does not appear in any traditional epic or popular legend. However, her frightening appearance, and her ghastly tendency to feast on human blood and flesh, more than warrants her place as number seven on our list.
The Empusa is often depicted as a beautiful woman, who transforms into a creature with sharp teeth, flaming hair, and (in some interpretations) bat wings. Empusa was a demigoddess under the control of the goddess Hecate, a being that is often associated with crossroads and entrance routes.
The Chimera was a ferocious, fire-breathing monstrosity that possessed the body and head of a lion with the head of a goat protruding from it’s back and a snake for a tail. The monster was feared and believed to have been an omen for storms, shipwrecks and other natural disasters.
Cyclops were primordial giants that were born from Gaia, the earth. They possess great strength and ferocity, with one bulging eye protruding from their forehead.
10. The Sphinx
A monster that was said to have the body of a lion, the head of a woman, and the wings of an eagle.
Significance of Greek Mythology in Culture
In conclusion, one can see what an impact Greek mythology has played on our everyday lives. Whether it be in our arts literature or brands, or even certain words in our vocabulary. It is definitely visible. Although most of Greek mythology may be myths and legends. It still helps one understand certain things of the world by using science, or simple tales with important morals to help us with a variety of situations. I don’t know about you, but there is something about ancient Greek history that just piques my interest. Hopefully, after reading this article it has lit something inside you or even learned a bit of ancient Greek mythology.
Did you know?
Many consumer products get their names from Greek mythology. Nike sneakers are the namesake of the Goddess of victory, for example, and the website Amazon.com is named after the race of mythical female warriors. Many high school, college and professional sports teams (Titans, Spartans and Trojans, for instance) also get their names from mythological sources.