Greek and Roman Mythology
last update: 24 May 2020
TV quiz shows, etc. are full of questions about Greece, from its mythology, through its geography, to its food. Here I've tried to collect a few example questions with their answers. You can see that questions on Greek mythology are very popular in TV game shows.
"In 530 BC which Greek mathematician noticed that the morning star and evening star were the same?" Answer - Pythagoras
"Persephone is the daughter of which goddess?" Answer - Demeter
"Greek hero's were sent to the 'Islands of the Blessed' to enjoy life after death, what was the name of those islands?" Answer - Elysium or Elysian Fields
"The guardian spirits of nature in Greek mythology were called what?" Answer - Nymphs
"What chemical compound is derived from the Greek word for 'primary'?" Answer - Protein
"The Parthenon was built in honour of which wise Greek goddess?" Answer - Athena, goddess of wisdom, handicraft and warfare
"According to Greek legend, Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) cut what?" Answer - The Gordian Knot, the 'intractable problem' of an intricate knot tying an ox-cart to a post
"Lord Byron (1788-1824) died in which Greek city?" Answer - He died of a fever in Missolonghi in Western Greece
"What fruit did early Greek Olympians sometimes wear as medals?" Answer - Figs
"What is the last letter of the Greek alphabet?" Answer - Omega, the 24th and last letter
"What connects Peloponnesus with the rest of the Greek mainland?" Answer - The Isthmus of Corinth, a 6.3 km wide land bridge (isthmus means a narrow 'neck' of land)
"What was the prize for early Greek Olympian winners?" Answer - An Olive Wreath
"Cosmetics derives from the Greek word kosmetikos, but what does it mean?" Answer - Skilled in decoration
"The astronomical term 'Galaxy' comes from the Greek word for what?" Answer - 'gala' means milk, so 'galaxias' means milky circle
"What temple sits on top of the Acropolis?" Answer - The Parthenon
"What peninsula is Greece part of?" Answer - The Balkan Peninsula
"Which Greek philosopher wrote the 'Republic'?" Answer - Plato (428-347 BC) from Athens
"The highest peak of Mount Olympus is called Mytikas, but what does the mean in English?" Answer - Nose
"The motto of Greece is 'Eleftheria i Thanatos', which in English means?" Answer - Freedom or Death
"The ancient Greeks created a new alphabet based upon an earlier version from which civilisation?" Answer - Phoenicia (ca. 2500-539 BC)
"Which Persian king was defeated by the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon (490 BC)?" Answer - Darius I (the Great) (ca.550-486 BC)
"According to historical records, how did Socrates (ca.470-399 BC) die?" Answer - He was found guilty of impiety and the corruption of youth, and sentenced to death by drinking poison hemlock
"Which religious festival was held every four years at Delphi and involved game contests between Greek city-states?" Answer - The Pythian Games, with winners receiving a wreath of bay laurel
"Does Shakespeare (1564-1616) explicitly mention Zeus in any of his plays?" Answer - No, he always refers to Jupiter or Jove
"The ancient Greeks did not eat beans for which reason?" Answer - They contained the souls of the dead
"Poseidon, god of the sea, was associated with one particular animal, which one?" Answer - The Horse (and the Bull)
"Who wrote 'Elements' and is considered the 'Farther of Geometry'?" Answer - Euclid of Alexandria (active 323-283 BC)
"Who is often considered the 'Farther of Medicine'?" Answer - Hippocrates (ca. 460-370 BC), thus the Hippocratic Oath
"Which Greek monuments are considered as part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?" Answer - The Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and the Statue of Zeus in Olympia. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (now Bodrum) and the Temple of Artemis (now Selçuk) were in what is today Turkey. All five no longer exist.
"Who was the Greek equivalent of the Roman god Vesta?" Answer - Hestia
"The first Olympic Games were held in what year?" Answer - 776 BC, the modern Olympic Games started in Athens in 1896
"Who is usually considered the founder of classical Greek Philosophy?" Answer - The Athenian Socrates (ca.470-399 BC)
"Which of Shakespeare's plays is set during the Trojan War?" Answer - Troilus and Cressida
You do have to be very careful in both setting questions, and in reading the full question and understanding the context before answering.
A good example is the first question on this webpage "In 530 BC which Greek mathematician noticed that the morning star and evening star were the same?"
The ancient Greeks saw the planet Venus, which appears in East before sunrise, as the 'morning star', and they called it Phosphorus or 'light bearer'. When Venus appeared in the West (evening sky) it was called Hesperus.
But the name 'morning star' has also been applied to Sirius, and the Greeks thought that it had a malignant influence, and when it rose faint or misty it foretold pestilence. Those affected were said to be 'star struck', and the season following the star's reappearance came to be known as 'dog days' (Sirius is also known as the 'Dog Star'). Also the ancients knew Mercury by different names depending in whether it was a morning star or evening star, but by about 350 BC they realised the two stars were one.
So it's important to know that Pythagoras (ca. 570-494 BC) was the first to identify the morning and evening stars as being the same celestial body (Venus).
Venus appears most brightly in December, and signals the 're-birth' of longer days and the end of winter. The Latin equivalent of Phosphorus was Lucifer, and of Hesperus was Vesper (evening). The sense of rising to a great height and then being cast down from heaven came from the Babylonian myth of Etana, who's pride led him to strive for the highest seat, only to be hurled down by the supreme ruler Anu. There are different versions, but the idea is that Venus in the morning rose to the highest seat in heaven only to be cast down to the underworld (darkness) in the evening.
The elemental Phosphorus, when first isolated in 1669, was given that name because it emits a faint glow when exposed to oxygen.
Greek 'first-born' deities
Why did the Greeks and Romans (and others) need to create gods and myths? Experts tell us that it was a mix of 'needs'. Firstly, to try to explain the unexplainable, and make sense of the world around them. Secondly, it taught a number of societal norms and the consequences of an action, e.g. when promising the gods something, you better deliver because their revenge could be extreme. Thirdly, it explained why a particular culture did things in a particular way. Fourthly, it legitimised the right to rule or to claim land. And lastly it answered some basic questions such as "Where did we come from?" and "What happens when we die?". And we should not forget that the oral histories about Hercules, Theseus and Jason were also entertaining.
This family tree starts with the Greek primordial deities (Protogonoi or first-born) who were born from the first thing to exist, the void of Chaos. The siblings of Chaos were Gaia (life), Tartarus (the abyss), Eros (desire), Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night). These were not gods with a limited physical presence, e.g. Gaia was not a deity of earth, but was the Earth itself, and Nyx was not the god of night, but was night itself.
Another self created deity was Chronos ('Farther Time'), often confused with the Titan Cronus. Equally there is mention of Ananke (necessity, compulsion) as an incorporeal primordial goddess, who with her mate Chronos crushes the primal egg of creation splitting it into earth, heaven and sea. The egg produced the god Phanes, the deity of procreation, who 'brought light' by giving birth to the universe (Cosmos) and the first generation of gods. It is said that Ananke and Chronos encircled the Cosmos to drive the rotation of the heavens and the eternal passage of time.
The first thing of substance born from Chaos was Gaia (Roman: Terra), the personification of Earth and mother of all life. Her parthenogenetic (asexual) offspring were Ourea (mountains), Pontus (sea) and Uranus (sky), and with Uranus she then gave birth to the Titans (the 12 pre-Olympian gods). In addition to the Titans, Gaia and Uranus (some text called him 'heaven') gave birth to the three giant one-eyed Cyclopes, Brontes (thunder), Steropes (lightning), and Arges (bright), who went on to provided Zeus with his thunderbolts. Then Gaia and Uranus gave birth to the Hecatoncheires, three monstrous giants Cottus, Briareos, and Gyges, who were called the 'hundred-handers' and each had fifty heads. Finally Uranus with Gaia would sire the half-woman and half-snake monster Echidna. After Zeus had defeated the Titans, Gaia with Tartarus gave birth to the monster Typhon, who would go on to mate with Echidna, producing many of the most famous monsters of Greek myth.
With Pontus, Gaia also gave birth to five primordial sea gods, Nereus "the old man of the sea", Thaumas "the wonder of the sea", Phorcys, Ceto (dangers of the sea) and Eurybia (wind-force). Ceto with Phorcys went on to give birth to a number of sea monsters (The Phorcydes), namely The Gorgons (the sea spirits Euryale, Stheno, and the infamous Medusa), The Graeae (Deino, Enyo, Pemphredo, and possibly Perso). Eurybia would get together with Crius (a Titan) and give birth to Astraeus (winds), Pallas and Perses (to sack, ravage, destroy).
Later Astraeus (winds) would father the four Anemoi (wind deities) with the Titaness Eos (dawn). The Anemoi were each ascribed a cardinal direction, Boreas was the North wind and bringer of cold winter air, Zephyrus was the West wind and bringer of light spring and early-summer breezes, Notus was the South wind and bringer of the storms of late summer and autumn, and Eurus, the East wind, who was not associated with any of the three Greek seasons. There were also deities for the lesser winds, e.g. Apeliotes for the Southeast wind, and even Thrascias for the North-Northeast wind.
Astraeus (winds) and Eos (dawn) would also have the five Astra Planeta ('Wandering Stars', i.e. planets), namely Phainon (Saturn), Phaethon (Jupiter), Pyroeis (Mars), Eosphoros/Hesperos (Lucifer), and Stilbon (Mercury). A few sources mention that they also had one daughter, Astraea, the goddess of innocence and, sometimes, justice.
Pallas with Styx, would father Zelus (zeal or emulation), Nike (victory), Kratos (strength or power), and Bia (might or force). Some texts also say that Pallas fathered with Styx, the monster Scylla, Fontes (fountains) and Lacus (lakes).
Finally Perses (to sack, ravage, destroy) would wed Asteria (of the stars) and have one child Hecate, variously associated with crossroads, entrance-ways, night, magic, witchcraft, knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants, ghosts, necromancy, and sorcery.
According to some accounts Gaia also had a number of other children, i.e. Triptolemus with the Titan Oceanus, Python, Pheme (Roman: Fama), Palaechton, Euonymus, Erichthonius of Athens, Damasen, Creusa (a Naiad), Antaeus with the Olympian Poseidon, Anax, Alpos, Alalcomenes, and Aergia (conceived with Aether, she is the personification of idleness and laziness).
And finally the ten ourea (mountains), Aitna, Athos, Helikon, Kithairon, Nysos, Olympus I, Mount Uludağ (Olympus II), Oreios, Parnes, and Tmolus, like Uranus, and Pontus, were also parthenogenetic offspring of Gaia alone.
The story of Gaia and Uranus is very complex. It is written that Cronus (the youngest Titan) envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Uranus. Uranus drew the enmity of Cronus's mother, Gaia, when he hid the gigantic younger children of Gaia, the hundred-handed Hecatoncheires and one-eyed Cyclopes, in Tartarus, so that they would not see the light. As a place Tartarus was located inside Gaia, so her hidden children caused her great pain. Gaia despised Uranus for this, but kept her feelings hidden, waiting for revenge. Gaia created a great stone sickle (a harpē made of adamant) and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to persuade them to castrate Uranus. Only Cronus, the youngest, was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and placed him in ambush. When Uranus met with Gaia, Cronus attacked him with the sickle, castrating him and casting his testicles into the sea. From the drops of blood that spilled out from Uranus and fell upon the earth Gaia created more monstrous children. These were the Gigantes (Polybotes, Mimas, etc.) and the Erinyes (the three Furies), but also the numerous Meliae (tree-nymphs of the ash tree) were were born. The testicles also produced a white sea foam, from which the goddess Aphrodite was born. The three Furies (Erinyes) were Alecto (punisher of moral crimes such as anger, etc.), Megaera (punisher of infidelity, oath breakers, and theft), and Tisiphone (punisher of murderers).
However, Cronus was also afraid of his brothers, and refused to free them. Gaia, also being the goddess of prophecy, warned Cronus that he would suffer the same fate as his farther. Later Zeus, the youngest son of Cronus, would fulfil the prophecy and defeat the Titans.
There are alternative storylines concerning the parents of the Titans, above we have the story according to Hesiod (active ca. 700 BC).
Meliae were nymphs of the ash tree, but there were many other nymphs born of different gods. For example the Naiads (nymphs of fountains, wells, streams, brooks, but not rivers), the Nereids (fifty nymphs of sea waters, the Mediterranean, and associated in particular with the Aegean Sea), and the Oreads (nymphs of mountains). In fact there was a whole universe of nymphs, e.g. Dryads were nymphs associated with the oak but also often associated with just trees and forests, Alseids were for glens and groves, Hydriads were keepers of all bodies of water, Leimakids for meadows, Napaeae for wooded valleys, glens and grottoes, Oceanids for the sea and their brothers the Potamoi for the world's great rivers, and so on.
There were also numerous famous nymphs or sea gods and goddesses. For example, the Meliae sisters tended to the infant Zeus in Rhea's Cretan cave. Then Metis, the personification of intelligence, was Zeus' first wife, and gave birth to Athena, who was then swallowed by Zeus. The Potamoi, were the personifications of major rivers, Styx (according to Hesiod the eldest and most important Oceanid) was also the personification of a major river, the underworld's river Styx. And some, like Europa and Asia (both Oceanids), seem to be associated with areas of land rather than water. Eurynome, Zeus' third wife, was the mother of the Charites. Clymene was the wife of the Titan Iapetus, and mother of Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus. Electra was the wife of the sea god Thaumas and the mother of Iris and the Harpies. Thetis was the wife of Peleus and mother of Achilles. Amphitrite was the wife of Poseidon and mother of Triton.The Oreads were usually associated with Artemis, since the goddess, when she went out hunting, preferred mountains and rocky precipices.
Tartarus (the abyss) followed Chaos and Gaia, and was both a deity and a place in the underworld. In one storyline both Light (Aether) and the Cosmos were born from Tartarus. In this sense Cosmos was an orderly entity as opposed to Chaos. Tartarus as a place was where souls were judged and the wicked received divine punishment. Another storyline has Tartarus as the offspring of Aether (light, brightness) and Gaia, and yet in another storyline Aether and Hemera (day) were born of Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night). Tartarus and Gaia gave birth to Typhon, the first of many monsters (see later). One storyline also mentions that Tartarus and the goddess Nemesis (devine retribution) gave birth to the Telchines, who on the island of Rhodes fashioned the great stone sickle used by Cronus and the trident of Poseidon. They would later anger Zeus, who would send them back to the abyss of Tartarus.
Originally seen as a place to confine dangers to the Olympian gods, Tartarus later became a place to imprison and torment mortals who had sinned against the gods. Hades was a later god of the underworld to which souls of the dead went upon leaving the world, however Tartarus was mentioned as being far beneath Hades. The three judges of the dead, Rhadamanthus, Aeacus and Minos would decide who went to Hades and who was banished to Tartarus. One text mentioned that those who hated their brothers, beat their fathers, defrauded their dependents, men caught and killed in adultery, men who abused their masters trust, and, men who took up arms against their own people, all were sent to Tartarus. In Roman Mythology Tartarus became the place where all sinners were sent.
Eros (Roman: Cupid) was the god of love and desire, and was born after Tartarus. According to one storyline he was the fourth primordial god. In another storyline he was the child of Nyx (night), but in a third storyline Eros was a child of Aphrodite and Ares. Eros was the driving force behind the creation of new life in the Cosmos. Eros is often equated with the god Phanes, the deity of procreation, who gave birth to the Cosmos.
The story of Eros and Psyche starts with Aphrodite being jealous of the beauty of the mortal princess Psyche, as men were leaving her altars barren to worship a mere human woman instead. So she commanded her son Eros, the god of love, to cause Psyche to fall in love with the ugliest creature on earth. But instead, Eros fell in love with Psyche himself and spirited her away. Their fragile peace is ruined by a visit from Psyche's jealous sisters, who cause Psyche to betray the trust of her husband. Wounded, Eros leaves his wife, and Psyche wanders the Earth, looking for her lost love. Eventually, she approaches Aphrodite and asks for her help. Aphrodite imposes a series of difficult tasks on Psyche, which she is able to achieve by means of supernatural assistance. After successfully completing these tasks, Aphrodite relents and Psyche becomes immortal to live alongside her husband Eros. Together they had a daughter, Voluptas or Hedone (Roman: Voluptas) goddess of pleasure, enjoyment and delight (see hedonism).
Eros is also said to have ensured Helen of Troy fell for Paris, the catalyst of the great Trojan War.
Erebus, the fifth primordial god, was born of Chaos, and personified darkness. He is credited with finishing the underworld after the Earth had been created, and he did this by filling in the empty spaces with dark mists. Nyx, the sister of Erebus, used the dark mist to bring the 'veil of night' to the Earth. Depending on the source of the mythology, Erebus and his sister Nyx conceived both Hemera (daytime) and Aether (brightness), and each morning Hemera would push aside her parents allowing daylight (Aether) to envelop the world. We will see below that together Erebus and Nyx would go on to have many more offspring including some of the dark gods and goddesses of the underworld. In fact later the Greeks would see Erebus as the way-station that people who had died must pass through on their way to be ferried across the River Styx by Charon the Ferryman.
It is interesting that for the Greeks day and night were actually distinct and independent substances, independent of the sun which ruled the day but was not the source of the day.
Nyx was the sixth and last great primordial goddess birth of Chaos, and she personified the night. There are only a few references to Nyx, but her power and beauty were such that even Zeus feared her. After parenting Hemera and Aether with Erebus, Nyx on her own would give birth to Moros (doom, destiny), the Keres (destruction, death), Thanatos (death, Roman equivalent Mors), Hypnos (sleep, Roman equivalent Somnus), Charon the Ferryman, Momus (blame), Oizys (pain, distress), Nemesis (indignation, retribution), Apate (deceit), Philotes (friendship), Geras (old age), and Eris (strife, Roman equivalent Discordia), the Oneiroi (dreams), and the Hesperides.
The Hesperides were nymphs of the evening and sunset, and were also called the Atlantides from their reputed father, the Titan Atlas. Their names were Aegle, Erythea and Hesperethusa. It was written that they tended the Garden of the Hesperides, an orchard of golden apples in the West.
The Oneiroi (dreams) were not always personified, but some texts name them as three of the thousand sons of Hypnos, i.e. Morpheus (fashioner), who appears in human guise, Icelos-Phobetor (frightener), who appears as beasts, and Phantasos, who appears as inanimate objects.
Early texts also put the Moirai (the three fates) as daughters of Nyx, whereas later texts put them as daughters of Zeus and the Titaness Themis. It was written that they were related to Ananke (necessity) and they directed fate and watched that the fate assigned to every being took its course without obstruction. It is said that both gods and men had to submit to them. The Moirai were Clotho (spinner), Lachesis (allotter or drawer of lots), and Atropos (unturning or inevitable). Clotho (spinner) span the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle. Her Roman equivalent was Nona (the ninth), who was originally a goddess called upon in the ninth month of pregnancy. Lachesis (allotter or drawer of lots) measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod. Her Roman equivalent was Decima (the tenth). Atropos (unturning or inevitable) was the cutter of the thread of life. She chose the manner of each person's death, and when their time was come, she cut their life-thread with "her abhorred shears". Her Roman equivalent was Morta (the dead one).
In the above diagram we can also see that Eris (strife) went on to give birth to the Ponos (hardship, toil), Lethe (forgetfulness, oblivion, and was one of the five rivers of the underworld), Limos (starvation), The Algea (Lupe for pain, Achos for grief, and Ania for sorrow), the Machai (spirits of battle and combat), Phonoi (murder), Atë (mischief, ruin, folly), Hysminai (battle), Horkos (false oath), Amphillogiai (disputes), Dysnomia (anarchy and shares her nature with Atë), Neikea (quarrels), Pseudologoi (lies and falsehoods), and Androktasiai (manslaughter).
What is interesting is the way that Chaos gave birth to the primordial deities such as Nyx (night), which gave birth to Eris (strife), who would give birth to the Machai (spirits of battle and combat), who would be associated with the daemons Homados (battle-noise), Alala (war-cry), Proioxis (pursuit), Palioxis (flight, retreat) and Kydoimos (confusion). And even after the defeat of the Titans these earlier god and daemons would continue to be accompanied in battlefields by other deities and spirits associated with war and death, such as Ares (Olympian god of war), the son of Olympians Phobos (fear) and Deimos (terror), Keres the female death-spirits, the daemon Polemos (war), and the goddess Enyo (war), as well as their primordial mother Eris (strife).
You might be forgiven for thinking that with war-cry, fear, and terror we have just about covered all the essentials, but we have not touched on one additional category that possible had the greatest impact on Greek mythology - Greek monsters.
In fact Tartarus also fathered with Gaia the serpentine giant monster Typhon, a kind of god of destruction with 100 heads. Typhon and Echidna had Orthrus, the two-headed dog who guarded the Cattle of Geryon, second Cerberus, the multi-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades, and third the Lernaean Hydra, the many-headed serpent who, when one of its heads was cut off, grew two more. The same couple might also have given birth to Chimera (a fire-breathing beast that was part lion, part goat, and had a snake-headed tail), the Caucasian Eagle (that ate the liver of Prometheus), the Ladon (the dragon that guarded the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides), the Sphinx, the Nemean Lion (eventually killed by Heracles), the Crommyonian Sow (killed by the hero Theseus), the Gorgon (the mother of Medusa), the Colchian Dragon (that guarded the Golden Fleece and Scylla), the Harpies, and finally the daughters of Thaumas and the Oceanid Electra.
Stories about Greek mythical monsters
Typhon was the 'father of all monsters', but there are numerous different physical descriptions. The most elaborate description of Typhon mentions his serpentine nature, giving him a "tangled army of snakes", innumerable arms, snaky feet, and many heads. It was said that "every hair belched viper-poison" and he "spat out showers of poison from his throat". One description gave him many other animal heads, including leopards, lions, bulls, boars, bears, cattle, wolves, and dogs, which combine to make 'the cries of all wild beasts together", and a "babel of screaming sounds". Below we have a statue of Typhon dating to ca. 500 BC.
Typhon was the largest monster ever born and was incredibly powerful, so it was only a matter of time before he challenged Zeus for rule of the cosmos. There are numerous stores about the battle, and this is just one version. Zeus hid his thunderbolts in a cave, so that he might seduce the maiden Plouto, and so produce Tantalus. But smoke rising from the thunderbolts, enables Typhon, under the guidance of Gaia, to locate Zeus's weapons, and hide them in another cave. We also learn that Zeus' sinews had also fallen to the ground during the battle, and Typhon had also hid them in a cave. Immediately Typhon begins a long and concerted attack upon the heavens, before turning his attack upon the seas. Finally Typhon attempts to wield Zeus' thunderbolts, but they "felt the hands of a novice, and all their manly blaze was unmanned".
Zeus devises a plan with Cadmus and Pan to beguile Typhon. Cadmus, disguised as a shepherd, enchants Typhon by playing the panpipes, and Typhon entrusting the thunderbolts to Gaia, sets out to find the source of the music he hears. Finding Cadmus, he challenges him to a contest, offering Cadmus any goddess as wife, excepting Hera whom Typhon has reserved for himself. Cadmus then tells Typhon that, if he liked the "little tune" of his pipes, then he would love the music of his lyre, if only it could be strung with Zeus' sinews. So Typhon retrieves the sinews and gives them to Cadmus, who hides them in another cave, and again begins to play his bewitching pipes, so that "Typhon yielded his whole soul to Cadmus for the melody to charm".
With Typhon distracted, Zeus takes back his thunderbolts. Cadmus stops playing, and Typhon, released from his spell, rushes back to his cave to discover the thunderbolts gone. Incensed Typhon unleashes devastation upon the world, animals are devoured, rivers turned to dust, seas made dry land, and the land "laid waste". The day ends with Typhon yet unchallenged, and waits through the night for the coming dawn. Victory "reproaches" Zeus, urging him to "stand up as champion of your own children". Dawn comes and Typhon roars out a challenge to Zeus. And a cataclysmic battle for "the sceptre and throne of Zeus" is joined. Typhon piles up mountains as battlements and with his "legions of arms innumerable", showers volley after volley of trees and rocks at Zeus, but all are destroyed, or blown aside, or dodged, or thrown back at Typhon. Then Typhon throws torrents of water at Zeus' thunderbolts to quench them, but Zeus is able to cut off some of Typhon's hands with "frozen volleys of air as by a knife", and hurling thunderbolts is able to burn more of Typhon's "endless hands", and cut off some of his "countless heads". Typhon is attacked by the four winds, and "frozen volleys of jagged hailstones". Gaia tries to aid her burnt and frozen son. Finally Typhon falls, and Zeus shouts out a long stream of mocking taunts, telling Typhon that he is to be buried under Sicily's hills, with a cenotaph over him which will read "This is the barrow of Typhoeus, son of Earth, who once lashed the sky with stones, and the fire of heaven burnt him up". So most of the stories conclude that Typhon fled to Sicily, where Zeus threw Mount Etna on top of Typhon burying him, and so finally defeated him, and this explains the cause of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
There is an alternative storyline. When Typhon attacked Olympus, the gods fled in terror to Egypt, where they disguised themselves as animals. Zeus became a ram, Apollo a crow, Dionysus a goat, Hera a white cow, Artemis a cat, Aphrodite a fish, Ares a boar, Hermes an ibis, and so on. Athene alone stood her ground, and taunted Zeus with cowardice until, resuming his true form, he let fly a thunderbolt at Typhon, and followed this up with a sweep of the same flint sickle that had served to castrate Uranus. Wounded and shouting, Typhon fled to Mount Casius, and there the two grappled. Typhon twined his myriad coils about Zeus, disarmed him of his sickle and, after severing the sinews of his hands and feet with it, dragged him into the Corycian Cave. Zeus was immortal, but now he could not move a finger, and Typhon had hidden the sinews in a bear-skin, over which Delphyne, a serpent-tailed sister-monster, stood guard.
The news of Zeus's defeat spread dismay among the gods, but Hermes and Pan went secretly to the cave, where Pan frightened Delphyne with a sudden horrible shout, while Hermes skilfully abstracted the sinews and replaced them on Zeus's limbs. But some say that it was Cadmus who wheedled the sinews from Delphyne, saying that he needed them for lyre-strings on which to play her delightful music, and Apollo shot her dead. Zeus returned to Olympus and, mounted upon a chariot drawn by winged horses, once more pursued Typhon with thunderbolts. Typhon had gone to Mount Nysa, where the Three Fates offered him ephemeral fruits, pretending that these would restore his vigour though, in reality, they doomed him to certain death. He reached Mount Haemus in Thracia and, picking up whole mountains, hurled them at Zeus, who interposed his thunderbolts, so that they rebounded on the monster, wounding him frightfully. The streams of Typhon's blood gave Mount Haemus its name. Typhon fled towards Sicily, where Zeus ended the running fight by hurling Mount Aetna upon him, and fire belches from its cone to this day.
Pan was the god of fertility and the patron of shepherds and huntsmen, but he was also chief of the Satyrs (male nature spirits) and head of all rural divinities. According to the common belief, he was the son of Hermes and a wood nymph, and came into the world with horns sprouting from his forehead, a goat's beard and a crooked nose, pointed ears, and the tail and feet of a goat. Hermes took up his curious little offspring, wrapped him in a hare skin, and carried him in his arms to Olympus. The grotesque form and the merry antics of the little Pan made him a great favourite with all the immortals, especially Dionysus (god of wine, etc.) and they bestowed upon him the name of Pan (meaning “all” in Greek), because he had delighted them all. Pan’s life was defined by his relationships with the Nymphs, some liked him others hated him and ran away. Pan fell in love with Syrinx, known for her chastity (the syringe would come from her name). He chased her and she transformed herself into a hollow water reed. She hid by the river among the other reeds but Pan started ripping out every reed until he finally found her. He started blowing into the pipes to get her spirit out, but he heard the beautiful sounds coming out of the reed pipes. He decided to bind them together into a big flute and started making music out of them.
A different myth involves the nymph Echo who refused Pan. He instructed his followers to tear her to pieces and spread them all over the earth. The goddess Gaia received the pieces, and her voice remains to repeat the last word of others. Finally we should not forget that Pan's angry shouting inspired panic, and he claimed credit for many famous military victories.
After ascending the throne of the island of Crete, Minos competed with his brothers as ruler. Minos prayed to the sea god Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull as a sign of the god's favour. Minos was to sacrifice the bull to honour Poseidon, but owing to the bull's beauty he decided instead to keep him. Minos believed that the god would accept a substitute sacrifice. To punish Minos, Poseidon made Minos' wife Pasiphaë (the daughter of a Titan god) fall in love with the bull. Pasiphaë had the craftsman Daedalus fashion a hollow wooden cow, which she climbed into in order to mate with the bull. The monstrous Minotaur was the result. Below we have the Minotaur and Theseus, 600-480 BC.
Pasiphaë nursed the Minotaur but he grew in size and became ferocious. As the unnatural offspring of a woman and a beast, the Minotaur had no natural source of nourishment and thus devoured humans for sustenance. Minos, following advice from the oracle at Delphi, had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur (later Minos imprisoned Daedalus in the same labyrinth). Its location was near Minos' palace in Knossos.
Common tradition holds that Minos waged and won a war to avenge the death of his son Androgeus at the hands of Aegeus, an Athenian. Aegeus gave his name to the Aegean Sea, and was father of Theseus and one of the founders of Athens. Aegeus had to avert the plague caused by his crime by sending "young men at the same time as the best of unwed girls as a feast" to the Minotaur. Minos required that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens, drawn by lots, be sent every seventh or ninth year (some accounts say every year) to be devoured by the Minotaur.
When the third sacrifice approached, Theseus volunteered to slay the monster. He promised his father, Aegeus, that he would put up a white sail on his journey back home if he was successful, but would have the crew put up black sails if he was killed. In Crete, Minos' daughter Ariadne fell madly in love with Theseus and helped him navigate the labyrinth. In most accounts she gave him a ball of thread, allowing him to retrace his path. Theseus killed the Minotaur with the sword of Aegeus and led the other Athenians back out of the labyrinth. On the way home, Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos and continued (in some versions of the story she marries Daedalus who had also escaped from the labyrinth). Theseus neglected to put up the white sail. Aegeus, from his lookout on Cape Sounion, saw the black-sailed ship approach and, presuming his son dead, committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea that is since named after him. This secured the throne for Theseus.
Daedalus and Icarus
The labyrinth in king Minos' palace was designed by a famous inventor and engineer, Daedalus. It is said that Athena herself taught Daedalus. King Minos commissioned to Daedalus and his son Icarus the construction of the labyrinth that would held the monster Minotaur. After finishing their work, king Minos imprisoned father and son inside the labyrinth, in an effort to prevent knowledge of his labyrinth from spreading to the public. Father and son were thinking hard on how to escape until Daedalus came up with an idea. They gathered a lot of feathers from birds and glued them together with wax thus, making four large wings. They tied the wings to each shoulder and fled from the island of Crete. Daedalus had warned Icarus not to fly close to the sun because the wax would melt. After passing the island of Delos, the boy, forgetting himself, flew high towards the sun. The hot sun softened the wax that held the feathers together and Icarus fell in the sea and drowned. Daedalus named the place (Icaria) where his son fell Icarus, in his memory.
Crete to Delos is probably close to 300 km, and Delos to Icaria at least an extra 100 km, so quite a trip to lake just flapping your arms.
Perseus and Medusa (and Cetus)
Perseus is the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty (at the time the Greeks believed him to be an authentic historical figure). He beheaded the Gorgon Medusa for Polydectes and saved Andromeda from the sea monster Cetus. Perseus was the son of Zeus and the mortal Danaë, as well as the half-brother and great-grandfather of Heracles.
When Perseus was grown, Polydectes came to fall in love with the beautiful Danaë. Perseus believed Polydectes was less than honourable, and protected his mother from him. So Polydectes plotted to send Perseus away in disgrace. He held a large banquet where each guest was expected to bring a gift. Polydectes requested that the guests bring horses, under the pretence that he was collecting contributions for the hand of Hippodamia, daughter of Oinomaos. Perseus had no horse to give, so he asked Polydectes to name the gift, and he would not refuse it. Polydectes held Perseus to his rash promise and demanded the head of the only mortal Gorgon, Medusa whose gaze turned people to stone. One account has Medusa the daughter of Typhon and Echidna, another suggests that she was a mortal because she once had been vain about her beautiful hair. That story goes that Poseidon, the god of the seas, sexually assaulted her inside a temple dedicated to Athena, and as punishment for the desecration of her temple, Athena, had changed Medusa's hair into hideous snakes "that she may alarm her surprised foes with terror". Below we have Medusa, dated to the 6th C BC.
Athena instructed Perseus to find the Hesperides, who were entrusted with weapons needed to defeat the Gorgon. Following Athena's guidance, Perseus sought the Graeae, sisters of the Gorgons, to demand the whereabouts of the Hesperides, the nymphs tending Hera's orchard. The Graeae were three perpetually old women, who shared a single eye. As the women passed the eye from one to another, Perseus snatched it from them, holding it for ransom in return for the location of the nymphs. When the sisters led him to the Hesperides, he returned what he had taken.
From the Hesperides he received a knapsack (kibisis) to safely contain Medusa's head. Zeus gave him an adamantine sword (a Harpe) and Hades' helm of darkness to hide. Hermes lent Perseus winged sandals to fly, and Athena gave him a polished shield. Perseus then proceeded to the Gorgons' cave. In the cave he came upon the sleeping Medusa. By viewing Medusa's reflection in his polished shield, he safely approached and cut off her head. From her neck sprang Pegasus ('he who sprang') and Chrysaor ('sword of gold'), the result of Poseidon and Medusa's mating. The other two Gorgons pursued Perseus, but, wearing his helm of darkness, he escaped. From here he proceeded to visit king Atlas who had refused him hospitality, and in revenge Perseus turned him to stone using Medusa's head.
On the way back to Serifos, Perseus stopped in the kingdom of Aethiopia. This mythical Ethiopia (in the Upper Nile) was ruled by king Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia, having boasted that her daughter Andromeda was equal in beauty to the Nereids, drew the vengeance of Poseidon, who sent an inundation on the land and a sea serpent, Cetus, which destroyed man and beast. The oracle of Ammon announced that no relief would be found until the king exposed his daughter Andromeda to the monster, and so she was fastened naked to a rock on the shore. Perseus slew the monster and, setting her free, claimed her in marriage (it would appear that Perseus saw Andromeda chained to a rock as he flew over Ethiopia on Pegasus). Then Perseus married Andromeda in spite of Phineus, to whom she had before been promised. At the wedding a quarrel took place between the rivals, and Phineus was turned to stone by the sight of Medusa's head that Perseus had kept. Andromeda ("queen of men") followed her husband to Tiryns in Argos, and became the ancestress of the family of the Perseidae who ruled at Tiryns through her son with Perseus, Perses. After her death she was placed by Athena among the constellations in the northern sky, near Perseus and Cassiopeia.
As Perseus was flying in his return above the sands of Libya the falling drops of Medusa's blood created a race of toxic serpents, one of whom was to kill the Argonaut Mopsus. On returning to Serifos and discovering that his mother had to take refuge from the violent advances of Polydectes, Perseus killed him with Medusa's head, and made his brother Dictys, consort of Danaë, king.
Perseus then returned his magical loans and gave Medusa's head as a votive gift to Athena, who set it on Zeus' shield (which she carried), as the Gorgoneion (see also: Aegis). Stories diverge concerning Perseus but they all involve him later killing Acrisius by mistake, which required the exile of the slaughterer, and his expiation and ritual purification.
The home of Medusa was thought to be Sarpedon, which some say was in the same group where Odysseus encounter the Sirens. Different authors place the Sirens in different places between the Strait of Messina and the island of Capri. At least one line of thought is that Medusa hid behind a hideous face intended to warn the profane against trespassing on her Mysteries. So the story is that Perseus, represented the Hellenic invaders of Greece and Asia Minor, overran Medusa's chief shrines, stripping her priestesses of their Gorgon masks, and taking possession of the scared horses. It is not at all clear why Perseus should fly from Sarpendon across Libya to Ethiopia, unless he had every intention of rescuing Andromeda.
Odysseus and the Cyclops
Odysseus is best known as the hero of the Odyssey (end 8th C BC), describing a 10-year epic trip as he tries to return home after the Trojan War (ca. 1260-1160 BC) and reassert his place as rightful king of Ithaca. On the way home from Troy, after a raid on Ismarus in the land of the Cicones, Odysseus and his twelve ships are driven off course by storms. They visit the lethargic Lotus-Eaters and are captured by a primordial giant Cyclops called Polyphemus while visiting his island. The Cyclopes possessed great strength and had one eye protruding from their forehead. After Polyphemus eats several of his men, Polyphemus and Odysseus have a discussion and Odysseus tells Polyphemus his name is "Nobody". Odysseus offers a barrel of wine from his ship, and the Cyclops drinks it, falling asleep. Odysseus and his men take a wooden stake, ignite it with the remaining wine, and blind him. While they escape, Polyphemus cries in pain, and the other Cyclopes ask him what is wrong. Polyphemus cries, "Nobody has blinded me!" and the other Cyclopes think he has gone mad. Now completely blind, Polyphemus lets his sheep out of the cave, but he feels their backs to ensure that no one is riding on them. Odysseus and his crew escape by hanging to the underbelly of the sheep. However in boasting his defeat of the monster, Odysseus rashly reveals his real name, and Polyphemus prays to Poseidon, his father, to take revenge. They stay with Aeolus, the master of the winds, who gives Odysseus a leather bag containing all the winds, except the West wind, a gift that should have ensured a safe return home. However, the sailors foolishly open the bag while Odysseus sleeps, thinking that it contains gold. All of the winds fly out, and the resulting storm drives the ships back the way they had come, just as Ithaca comes into sight.
Heracles and the Hydra (the second of the Labours of Heracles)
The Hydra myth involves a multi-headed serpentine water monster that was slain by Heracles and Iolaus. The Hydra had two special features. Depending upon the source texts the Hydra had between six and fifty heads, and secondly it had a capacity to regenerate lost heads, and according to some texts for each head cut off it would re-grow two or even three new heads. Below we the Hydra, dated to ca. 540 BC.
The story is that Eurystheus sent Heracles to slay the Hydra, and this the second of the Labours of Heracles. Upon reaching the swamp near Lake Lerna, where the Hydra dwelt, Heracles covered his mouth and nose with a cloth to protect himself from the poisonous fumes. He shot flaming arrows into the Hydra's lair, the spring of Amymone, a deep cave from which it emerged only to terrorise neighbouring villages. He then confronted the Hydra, wielding either a harvesting sickle, a sword, or his famed club. The chthonic creature's reaction to this decapitation was simply to grow more new heads, an expression of the hopelessness of such a struggle for any but the hero. The weakness of the Hydra was that it was invulnerable only when one head remained.
Realising that he could not defeat the Hydra in this way, Heracles called on his nephew Iolaus for help. His nephew then came upon the idea (possibly inspired by Athena) of using a firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after each decapitation. Heracles cut off each head and Iolaus cauterised the open stumps. Because Heracles was winning the struggle, Hera sent a giant crab to distract him. He crushed it under his mighty foot. The Hydra's one immortal head was cut off with a golden sword given to Heracles by Athena. Heracles placed the head, still alive and writhing, under a great rock on the sacred way between Lerna and Elaius, and dipped his arrows in the Hydra's poisonous blood. Thus his second task was complete.
Hera, upset that Heracles had slain the beast she had raised, placed it in the dark blue vault of the sky as the constellation Hydra. She then turned the crab into the constellation Cancer.
Heracles would later use arrows dipped in the Hydra's poisonous blood to kill other foes during his remaining labours, such as Stymphalian Birds and the giant Geryon. He later also used one to kill the Centaur Nessus, but it was Nessus' tainted blood was applied to the Tunic of Nessus which would finally kill Heracles.
When Eurystheus, the agent of Hera who was assigning The Twelve Labours to Heracles, found out that it was Heracles' nephew Iolaus who had handed Heracles the firebrand, he declared that the labour had not been completed alone and as a result did not count.
Bellerophon and the Chimera
The story starts with Bellerophon being exiled because he committed a murdered. In expiation of his crime he arrived as a suppliant to Proetus, king in Tiryns, one of the Mycenaean strongholds of the Argolid. Proetus, by virtue of his kingship, cleansed Bellerophon of his crime. The wife of the king took a fancy to him, but when he rejected her, she accused Bellerophon of attempting to ravish her. Proetus dared not satisfy his anger by killing a guest (who is protected by xenia), so he sent Bellerophon to king Iobates his father-in-law, in the plain of the River Xanthus in Lycia, bearing a sealed message "Pray remove the bearer from this world: he attempted to violate my wife, your daughter". Before opening the tablets, Iobates feasted with Bellerophon for nine days. On reading the tablet's message Iobates also feared the wrath of the Erinyes if he murdered a guest, so he sent Bellerophon on a mission that he deemed impossible. It was to kill the Chimera, living in neighbouring Caria. As described in The Iliad, the Chimera was a fire-breathing monster consisting of the body of a goat, the head of a lion and the tail of a serpent. This monster had terrorised the nearby countryside. On his way Bellerophon encountered the famous Corinthian seer Polyeidos, who him that he would have need of Pegasus, the wild divine winged horse. Below we have the Chimera of Arezzo, dated to ca. 400 BC.
In Greek mythology there is a constant intertwining of characters, and is this case Pegasus was the offspring of the Olympian god Poseidon. He was foaled by the Gorgon Medusa upon her death, when the hero Perseus decapitated her. Pegasus was the brother of Chrysaor ('he who has the golden sword') and the uncle of Geryon, a fearsome giant with three heads and from whom Heracles stole his cattle for his tenth labour. Also the Chimera is said to have been female, and gave birth to both the Sphinx (in the Legend of Oedipus) and the Nemean Lion (eventually killed by Heracles in his first labour).
To obtain the services of Pegasus, he was told to sleep in the temple of Athena. While Bellerophon slept, he dreamed that Athena set a golden bridle beside him. When he awoke Bellerophon approach Pegasus while it drank from the never-failing Pirene well in the citadel of Corinth, the city of Bellerophon's birth. Bellerophon was able to mounted his steed and fly off to where the Chimera was said to dwell. It is at the the eternal fires of Chimera in Lycia (modern-day Turkey) where the Chimera myth takes place. When Bellerophon arrived in Lycia, the Chimera was truly ferocious, and he could not harm the monster even while riding on Pegasus. He felt the heat of the breath the Chimera expelled, and was struck with an idea. He got a large block of lead and mounted it on his spear. Then he flew head-on towards the Chimera, holding out the spear as far as he could. Before he broke off his attack, he managed to lodge the block of lead inside the Chimera's throat. The beast's fire-breath melted the lead, and blocked its air passage. The Chimera suffocated, and Bellerophon returned victorious to king Iobates, however the king was unwilling to credit his story. A series of daunting further quests ensued. Bellerophon was sent against the warlike Solymi, and then against the Amazons who fought like men, whom Bellerophon vanquished by dropping boulders from his winged horse. When he was sent against a Carian pirate, Cheirmarrhus, an ambush failed. Another time the palace guards were sent against him, but Bellerophon called upon Poseidon, who flooded the plain of Xanthus behind Bellerophon as he approached. In defence the palace women rushing from the gates with their robes lifted high, offering themselves, to which Bellerophon replied by withdrawing. Finally Iobates relented and allowed Bellerophon to marry his daughter Philonoe, the younger sister of Anteia, and shared with him half his kingdom. The lady Philonoe bore him Isander (Peisander, later slain by Ares), Hippolochus and Laodamia, who lay with Zeus and bore Sarpedon who was later slain by Artemis.
However the story does not end there. As Bellerophon's fame grew, so did his arrogance. Bellerophon felt that because of his victory over the Chimera, he deserved to fly to Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. However, this act of hubris angered Zeus and he sent a gadfly to sting the horse, causing Bellerophon to fall off the horse and back to Earth. Pegasus completed the flight to Olympus, where Zeus used him as a pack horse for his thunderbolts. On the Plain of Aleion ("Wandering") in Cilicia, Bellerophon (who had fallen into a thorn bush causing him to become blind) lived out his life in misery, grieving and shunning the haunts of men until he died.
Heracles and Cerberus (the twelfth and final of the Labours of Heracles)
Cerberus, often referred to as the hound of Hades, is a multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld to prevent the dead from leaving. Cerberus was the offspring of the monsters Echidna and Typhon, and is usually described as having three heads, a serpent for a tail, and snakes protruding from multiple parts of his body. Cerberus is primarily known for his capture by Heracles, one of his twelve labours. Below we have Cerberus, dated ca. 6th C BC.
Heracles was sent by Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns, to bring back Cerberus from Hades the king of the underworld. Heracles was aided in his mission by his being an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Heracles also had the help of Hermes, the usual guide of the underworld, as well as Athena. By most accounts, Heracles made his descent into the underworld through an entrance at Tainaron, the most famous of the various Greek entrances to the underworld.
While in the underworld, Heracles met the heroes Theseus and Pirithous, where the two companions were being held prisoner by Hades for attempting to carry off his wife Persephone. Along with bringing back Cerberus, Heracles also managed to rescue Theseus, and in some versions Pirithous as well. In one version Heracles found Theseus and Pirithous near the gates of Hades, bound to the "Chair of Forgetfulness, to which they grew and were held fast by coils of serpents", and when they saw Heracles, "they stretched out their hands as if they should be raised from the dead by his might", and Heracles was able to free Theseus, but when he tried to raise up Pirithous, "the earth quaked and he let go".
There are various versions of how Heracles accomplished Cerberus' capture. In one version Heracles asked Hades for Cerberus, and Hades told Heracles he would allow him to take Cerberus only if he "mastered him without the use of the weapons which he carried", and so, using his lion-skin as a shield, Heracles squeezed Cerberus around the head until he submitted. Other visions have Heracles using his wooden club against Cerberus.
There were several locations which were said to be the place where Heracles brought up Cerberus from the underworld. And there are different versions of what happened next. The simplest is that Heracles showed Cerberus to Eurystheus, as commanded, after which he returned Cerberus to the underworld.
Oedipus and the Sphinx
In the Legend of Oedipus represents two enduring themes of Greek myth and drama, firstly the flawed nature of humanity and secondly an individual's role in the course of destiny in a harsh universe. In the best known version of the myth, Oedipus was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta. However there was a prophecy that Oedipus would end up killing his father and marrying his mother, bring disaster to the city of Thebes. Laius wished to thwart the prophecy, so he sent a shepherd-servant to leave Oedipus to die on a mountainside. However, the shepherd took pity on the baby and passed him to another shepherd who gave Oedipus to King Polybus and Queen Merope to raise as their own. Oedipus learned from the oracle at Delphi of the prophecy that he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother but, unaware of his true parentage, believed he was fated to murder Polybus and marry Merope, so left for Thebes. On his way he met an older man and killed him in a quarrel. Continuing on to Thebes, he found that the king of the city (Laius) had been recently killed, and that the city was at the mercy of the Sphinx. Below we have Oedipus and the Sphinx, dated to ca. 460 BC.
Oedipus was challenged by the Sphinx to solve a riddle. The riddle was "What in that which in the morning goeth upon four feet, upon two feet in the afternoon, and in the evening upon three?". Oedipus answer correctly, it was Man who crawled on all fours as a child, walked on two feet as an adult, and used a cane during the subset of like. Have been bested at her own game, the Sphinx throws herself from a high cliff. Oedipus having answered the monster's riddle correctly won the throne of the dead king, and the hand in marriage of the king's widow, who was also (unbeknownst to him) his mother Jocasta.
Years later, to end a plague on Thebes, Oedipus searched to find who had killed Laius, and discovered that he himself was responsible. Jocasta, upon realising that she had married her own son, hanged herself. Oedipus then seized two pins from her dress and blinded himself with them.
The Titans have been called the 2nd generation of Greek mythical gods, coming after the 1st generation of their primordial parents, and before the 1st generation of the twelve Olympian gods.
According to Hesiod (active ca. 700 BC), the Titan offspring of Uranus and Gaia were six males (Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Cronus), and six females (Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys). With Pontus, Gaia also gave birth to five primordial sea gods, Nereus "the old man of the sea", Thaumas "the wonder of the sea", Phorcys, Ceto (dangers of the sea) and Eurybia (wind-force).
Eight of the Titan brothers and sisters married each other:-
From Oceanus and Tethys came the three thousand Potamoi (river gods), and three thousand Oceanid water nymphs.
From Coeus and Phoebe came Leto, a wife of Zeus, and Asteria.
From Hyperion and Theia came the celestial personifications Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon), and Eos (Dawn).
From Cronus and Rhea came six of the twelve Olympians, namely Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.
The other two Titan brothers married outside their immediate family. Iapetus married his niece Clymene, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, while Crius married his half-sister Eurybia, the daughter of Gaia and Pontus. The two remaining Titan sisters, Themis and Mnemosyne, became wives of their nephew Zeus.
From Iapetus and Clymene came Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus.
From Crius and Eurybia came Astraeus, Pallas, and Perses.
By Zeus, Themis bore the three Horae (Hours), and the three Moirai (Fates), and Mnemosyne bore the nine Muses.
While the descendants of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys, Cronus and Rhea, Themis, and Mnemosyne (i.e. the Potamoi, the Oceanids, the Olympians, the Horae, the Moirai, and the Muses) are not normally considered to be Titans, descendants of the other Titans, notably: Leto, Helios, Atlas and Prometheus, are themselves sometimes referred to as Titans.
Early texts also put the Moirai (the three Fates) as daughters of Nyx, whereas later texts put them as daughters of Zeus and the Titaness Themis.
Before moving on with the Titans lets just remember a few things. Firstly in monotheistic religions a one, all-powerful god existed before the creation, but in most other kinds of religions the gods themselves originated from a creative element such as an egg or a void or chaos. Myths helped preserve a collective memory, they helped establish a social order, and they defined man's moral compass. It was Hesiod's Theogony that synthesised those myths or traditions in ca. 700 BC. I don't remember where, but I do remember seeing a list of more than 170 Greek myths, coupled with the suggestion that the majority of Greek myths were politico-religious histories. The myths emerged as compromises between Hellenic (starting 323 BC) and pre-Hellenic views, and they tell us where the Olympian gods came from and how they came to occupy a position of supremacy. The Titans were the old generation of family gods, whom the Olympians had to overthrow and banish to the underworld, in order to become the ruling pantheon of Greek gods. The twelve Olympian gods defeated the twelve Titans, but the reality is that apart from Cronus, the Titans play no part at all in the defeat of Uranus (many just serve a genealogical function, providing parents for more important offspring). We only hear of their collective action in the Titanomachy, their war with the Olympians.
I'm no expert, so I will summarise the views expressed in the Wikipedia article on Greek mythology. It would appear that the earlier inhabitants of the Balkan Peninsula were an agricultural people who, using Animism, assigned a spirit to every aspect of nature. Eventually, these vague spirits assumed human forms and entered the local mythology as gods. When tribes from the north of the Balkan Peninsula invaded, they brought with them a new pantheon of gods, based on conquest, force, prowess in battle, and violent heroism. Other older gods of the agricultural world fused with those of the more powerful invaders or else faded into insignificance.
After the middle of the Archaic period (ca. 900 BC-480 BC), myths about relationships between male gods and male heroes became more and more frequent, indicating the parallel development of pedagogic pederasty, thought to have been introduced around 630 BC. By the end of the 5th C BC, poets had assigned at least one eromenos, an adolescent boy who was their sexual companion, to every important god except Ares and to many legendary figures. Previously existing myths, such as those of Achilles and Patroclus, also then were cast in a pederastic light. Alexandrian poets (ca. 3rd C BC) at first, then more generally literary mythographers in the early Roman Empire, often re-adapted stories of Greek mythological characters in this fashion.
The achievement of epic poetry was to create story-cycles and, as a result, to develop a new sense of mythological chronology. Thus Greek mythology unfolds as a phase in the development of the world and of humans. While self-contradictions in these stories make an absolute timeline impossible, an approximate chronology may be discerned. The resulting mythological 'history of the world' may be divided into three broader periods. Firstly, the myths of origin or age of gods (Theogonies, 'births of gods'), with myths about the origins of the world, the gods, and the human race. Second, the age when gods and mortals mingled freely, with stories of the early interactions between gods, demigods, and mortals. Thirdly, the age of heroes (heroic age), where divine activity was more limited. The last and greatest of the heroic legends is the story of the Trojan War and after (which some experts see as a separate, fourth period).
So who were the Titans?
Oceanus - the great river god that encircled the world, he may not have joined the Titans in the Titanomachy, and he was left to be a simple god of the oceans.
Coeus - represented rational intelligence
Crius - was banished with the others to Tartarus
Hyperion - was the physical incarnation of the Sun, and with Coeus, Crius and Iapetus they formed the four pillars that held the heavens above one another
Iapetus - 'the Piercer' the god of craftsmanship or mortality, his four sons were the ancestors of the first humans, he was banished with the others to Tartarus
Cronus - was the leader and youngest of the Titans. He overthrew his father Uranus, and was overthrown by his own son Zeus, and imprisoned in Tartarus
Theia - the 'far-shining one', with Hyperion gave birth to Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon), and Eos (Dawn)
Rhea - mother of the gods
Themis - personified divine order, fairness, law, natural law, and custom, her symbol was the 'Scales of Justice' (there god of temporal justice was Dike). She was the second wife of Zeus and helped him hold power over the other gods and all of earth
Mnemosyne - 'memory', and with Zeus she bore the nine Muses
Phoebe - 'shinning', and possibly goddess of prophecy and oracular intellect
Tethys - mother of the river gods, and was for a time the foster-mother of goddess Hera, future queen of the Olympians
Leto - often also considered a Titan, with Zeus she gave birth to Apollo and Artemis
Helios - often also considered a Titan, seen as carrying the Sun through the sky with a horse-drawn chariot
Atlas - often also considered a Titan, after the Titanomachy was condemned to hold up the celestial heavens for eternity
Prometheus - often also considered a Titan, a trickster figure, in credited with the creation of humanity from clay and stealing fire and giving it to humanity as civilisation.
Menoetius - often also considered a Titan, seen as 'doomed might' he was defeated by Zeus banished with the others to Tartarus
Epimetheus - often also considered a Titan, often depicted as foolish, he was the personification of 'hindsight'.
Prometheus and the creation of Mankind
The first great, and perhaps most important, story about the Titans, is that of Prometheus. He was a Titan ('forethought') who was renowned for his intelligence. He had been taught architecture, astronomy, mathematics, navigation, medicine, metallurgy, and other useful arts by Athena ('wisdom') herself. Having 'forethought' he had decided to side with Zeus in the Titanomachy, the great battle between the Titans and the Olympians. He had also pursued Epimetheus ('hindsight') to do the same. Zeus gave them the task to create the first creatures, including mankind. Epimetheus was to create animals and Prometheus was to fashion mankind. Made from clay it was the goddess Athena who breathed life into the clay figures. They then had to distribute the traits among the newly created animals. Epimetheus had already finished, so he distributed the good skills and qualities to all the creatures (strength, swiftness, courage, cunning,… as well as fur, shells, wings, feathers, etc.), leaving nothing for mankind. So Prometheus decided to make mankind "nobler in shape than the animals, upright like the gods", and he taught them everything he knew, including the use of fire (a power reserved for the gods). In one version Prometheus also gifted mankind a few less than perfect characteristics from himself and his brothers. From Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus and Menoetius mankind received brash courage, scheming, stupidity, and violence respectively.
All this made Zeus very angry at mans increasing powers and talents, and he thought to extirpate the whole race. But he spared them only at Prometheus's urgent plea. So Zeus decreed that mankind must present a portion of each animal they killed as a sacrifice to the gods. The 'Trick at Mecone' tells us that to decided which should be presented to gods, Prometheus slew a sacrificial bull and prepared two alternatives, and asked Zeus to decide which he preferred. He created two open-mouthed bags from the skin. In one he put all the meat and most of the fat, skilfully covered it with the ox's grotesque stomach, while in the other, he dressed up the bones artfully with a rich layer of shining fat. Zeus chose the pile of bones. One suggestion is that Zeus saw through the trick, but used it as an excuse to vent his anger on mortal humans. As revenge Zeus hid fire from humankind, leaving them to shivering at night and eat raw flesh. As an extension of the story it is said that when Zeus withheld fire from humanity he saw that he was withholding also "the means of life" as well.
In one storyline Prometheus, out of pity for mankind, climbed up to Hephaestus workshop, stole the fire in a giant fennel-stalk and restored it to mankind. In another storyline, Athena helps Prometheus enter Olympus and he takes a fragment of glowing charcoal from the fiery chariot of the Sun. In any case this further enraged Zeus, who then decided to send the first woman to live with humanity. This first woman, called Pandora ('all gifts'), was a maiden crafted from earth and water by Hephaestus (the Roman Vulcan), and given life by the Anemoi (the four Winds). Athena helped to adorn her properly and gave her wisdom, and Zeus in this case was also helped by Aphrodite (who gave her beauty), Hermes (cunning), the Graces and the Hours. After Prometheus stole the fire, Zeus sends Pandora in retaliation. Despite Prometheus' warning, Epimetheus accepts this 'gift' from the gods. It is written that "from her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth". An alternative storyline is that Epimetheus refused the gift. But Zeus circulates a falsehood, that Athena has invited Prometheus to Olympus for a secret love affair. Hearing this Epimetheus hastened to marry Pandora, whom Zeus had made as foolish mischievous and idle as she was beautiful.
Then for his crimes, Prometheus was punished by Zeus who bound him with unbreakable chains to a rock on the Caucasus Mountains. He also sent an eagle (or griffon-vulture) to pick out Prometheus' immortal liver every day, which then grew back every night. Years later, the Greek hero Heracles and the centaur Chiron, with Zeus' permission, killed the eagle and freed Prometheus from this torment (in some interpretations Prometheus remained bound forever). The reason Zeus repents is Prometheus had warned him not to marry Thetis, lest he might beget one greater than himself. However, Zeus could not simply ignore is earlier decision to condemn Prometheus to an everlasting punishment. So now Zeus stipulated that Prometheus must wear a ring made from his chains and set with a Caucasian stone, and this is said to have been the first ring ever to contain a stone setting. In addition, once condemned to everlasting punishment, Prometheus could only be freed if some immortal should voluntarily go to Tartarus in his stead. Heracles reminded Zeus that the centaur Chiron longed to resign the gift of immortality ever since he had suffered his incurable wound. It must be said that Chiron's incurable wound had been inflicted by an arrow treated with the blood of the Hydra, shot by Heracles himself during one of his labours. Upon Prometheus release he was ordered to crown himself with a willow wreath, and Heracles, to keep him company, assumed a wreath of wild-olive. From this mankind started to wear rings in honour of Prometheus. Wreaths were used to represent a person's occupation, rank, achievements, or status, the most common being the laurel wreath, used as a symbol of victory (from Apollo). The oak wreath was associated with Zeus, and it is said that Heracles introduced the olive wreath as a prize for winning the running race in the ancient Olympic Games.
In addition Zeus gave Pandora a jar or box full of misfortunes, vices, sorrows, passions, diseases, plagues and "burdensome toil", while at the bottom there was also the spirit of hope (Elpis). Zeus told Pandora to never open the jar or box, and Prometheus had warned Epimetheus to never let her open the box. Pandora tried hard to resist the temptation, but finally she opened the box and released all the evils upon the world. Hatred, war, old age, death, hunger, insanity, sickness and all the disasters were immediately released. They stung Pandora and Epimetheus, before then attacking all mortals. Seeing this Pandora shuts the lid too late to contain all the evil plights that escaped, but hope is left trapped in the jar because Zeus forces Pandora to seal it up before hope can escape. An alternative storyline is that 'Delusive Hope' was also in the jar or box, and upon escaping discouraged mankind from a general suicide.
It is clear that Greek mythology contains parallels to other mythologies and religions, such as water being the beginning of all life, the on-going fighting between gods and, most importantly, the denial of the gods to allow humans to have knowledge.
In an interesting article entitled "The Myth of Prometheus and the Liver" the authors noted the fact that the liver had been selected for a precise reason. If the eagle had pecked away at something like the heart, then no overnight recovery would have been possible, even if Prometheus was immortal. In addition they noted that the ancient Greeks thought that the liver was the seat of the soul and intelligence, and thus this torture was as much mental as physical. And we should not forget that the ancient Greeks practiced hepatoscopy, the art of reading animal livers to divine the will of the gods. There is even a vague suggestion that the ancient Greeks might have been aware of the regenerative capacity of the liver, a knowledge that is supposed to date from the 19th C. None of this detracts from the symbolism of struggle between Prometheus and Zeus, which still today represents freedom versus oppression, individual versus state, or even man versus God.
Titanomachy and the Battle of the Gods
The stage for this important battle was set after the youngest Titan Cronus overthrew his own father, Uranus ('the sky'), with the help of his mother, Gaia ('the earth'). But Uranus made a prophecy that Cronus's own children would rebel against his rule, just as Cronus had rebelled against his own father. Cronus took his father's throne after dispatching Uranus. Cronus, paranoid and fearing the end of his rule, decided to swallow each of his children whole as they were born from his sister-wife Rhea, i.e. in order Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. However Rhea managed to hide her youngest child Zeus, by tricking Cronus into swallowing a rock wrapped in a blanket instead.
Rhea, brought Zeus to a cave in Crete, where he was raised by Amalthea. Upon reaching adulthood, he masqueraded as Cronus' cupbearer. Once Zeus had been established as a servant of Cronus, Metis gave him a mixture of mustard and wine which would cause Cronus to vomit out his swallowed children, now grown. After freeing his siblings, Zeus led them in rebellion against the Titans.
Even with this important moment in Greek mythology there are different versions. In an alternative version Rhea bore Zeus at dead of night on Mount Lycaeum, where no creature cast a shadow. Having bathed him in the River Neda, she gave him to Gaia, who carried him to Lyctus in Crete. There he was hidden in the Cave of Ficte on the Aegean Hill. Gaia left him with the nymphs Adrasteia and her sister Ida, and with the Goat Amalthea. His food was honey, and he drank Amalthea's milk, with Pan as his foster-brother. Zeus was grateful to these three nymphs for their kindness and, when he became Lord of the Universe, he set Amalthea's image among the stars, as Capricornus. He also borrowed one of her horns, which resembled a cow's, and gave it to the daughters of Melisseus (Adrasteia and Ida) where it became the famous Cornucopia, or a 'horn of plenty' which was always filled with whatever food or drink its owner may desire. Around the infant Zeus's golden cradle, which was hung upon a tree (so that Cronus might find him neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor in the sea) stood the armed Curetes, Rhea's sons. They clashed their spears against their shields, and shouted to drown the noise of his wailing, lest Cronus might hear it from far off. For Rhea had wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes, which she gave to Cronus on Mount Thaumasium in Arcadia. He swallowed it, believing that he was swallowing the infant Zeus. Nevertheless, Cronus got wind of what had happened and pursued Zeus, who transformed himself into a serpent and his nurses into bears (hence the constellations of the Serpent and the Bears Ursa Major and Ursa Minor). Zeus grew to manhood and sought out Metis the Titaness, who lived beside the Ocean stream. On her advice he visited his mother Rhea, and asked to be made Cronus's cupbearer. Rhea readily assisted him in his task of vengeance, she provided the emetic potion, which Metis had told him to mix with Cronus's honeyed drink. Cronus, having drunk deep, vomited up first the stone, and then Zeus's elder brothers and sisters. They sprang out unhurt and, in gratitude, asked him to lead them in a war against the Titans, who chose the gigantic Atlas as their leader for Cronus was now past his prime.
Zeus then waged a war against his father with his disgorged brothers and sisters as allies: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. Zeus released the giant Hecatoncheires and the 'round-eyed' Cyclopes from the earth (where they had been imprisoned by Cronus) and they allied with him as well. The Hecatoncheires hurled stones, and the Cyclopes forged for Zeus his iconic thunder and lightning. Fighting on the other side allied with Cronus) were the other Titans with the important exception of Themis and two of her sons Prometheus and Epimetheus, who allied themselves with Zeus. Atlas was an important leader on the side of Cronus. The war lasted ten years, but eventually Zeus and the other Olympians won, the Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus, and the Hecatoncheires were made their guards. Atlas was given the special punishment of holding up the sky.
Following their final victory, Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon divided the world amongst themselves. Zeus was given domain over the sky and the air, and was recognised as overlord. Poseidon was given the sea and all the waters, whereas Hades was given the underworld, the realm of the dead. Each of the other gods was allotted powers according to the nature and proclivities of each. The earth was left common to all to do as they pleased, even to run counter to one another, unless the brothers were called to intervene.
Again there are different versions of the victory. The war lasted ten years but, at last, Gaia prophesied victory to her grandson Zeus, if he took as allies those whom Cronus had confined in Tartarus. So he came secretly to Campe, the old jailer of Tartarus, killed her, took her keys and, having released the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires, strengthened them with divine food and drink. The Cyclopes thereupon gave Zeus the thunderbolt as a weapon of offence, to Hades they gave a helmet of darkness, and to Poseidon, a trident. After the three brothers had held a counsel of war, Hades entered unseen into Cronus's presence, to steal his weapons. Poseidon threatened him with the trident and thus diverted his attention, and Zeus struck him down with the thunderbolt. The Hecatoncheires now took up rocks and pelted the remaining Titans, and a sudden shout from Pan (panic) put them to flight. The gods rushed in pursuit. Cronus, and all the defeated Titans, except Atlas, were banished to the British Islands in the farthest West (or, some say, confined in Tartarus), and guarded there by the Hecatoncheires. Atlas, as their leader, was awarded an exemplary punishment, being ordered to carry the sky on his shoulders, but the Titaness were spared, for the sake of Rhea and Metis. Zeus himself set up at Delphi the stone which Cronus had disgorged.
Greek flood myths
One myth or series of myths in the Greek context that I had never heard off were those of the great floods. Deluge myths that destroy civilisations exist in many cultures as signs of divine retribution. And according to Wikipedia Greek mythology describes three floods, namely the flood of Ogyges, the flood of Deucalion, and the flood of Dardanus. Two of the Greek Ages of Man concluded with a flood, the Ogygian Deluge ended the Silver Age, and the flood of Deucalion ended the First Bronze Age.
The first flood, the Ogygian flood, is said to have occurred ca. 10,000 BC and it covered the whole world. The third flood, the flood of Dardanus, involved Dardanus initially surviving on the island of Samothrace. He left there on an inflated skin, landed on the opposite shores of Asia Minor, and settled on Mount Ida. Eventually his grandson Tros moved from the highlands down to a large plain, and built a city, which was named Troy after him. Today, we call the area 'the Dardanelles' (formerly known as Hellespont), a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey that connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The second flood, that of Deucalion, has some similarity to other deluge myths such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the story of Noah's Ark.
As an introduction to the Deucalion flood it is often mentioned that early in Zeus' reign he saw that the race of mortals that lived upon the earth only cared about themselves. They respected neither mortal or divine, so it was for this reason that Zeus decided to see for himself. Disguised as a ordinary mortal Zeus saw first hand that mortals were wicked, they committed crimes, did not welcome uninvited guests, and did not honour the deathless gods. He travelled much, hoping he was wrong.
The myth of the Deucalion flood starts with Zeus's anger against the impious sons of Lycaon of Arcadia, the son of Pelasgus. There are several storylines, but they all centre on the deluge. Lycaon himself had instituted the worship of Zeus, but he angered Zeus by sacrificing a boy to him. He was therefore transformed into a wolf, and his house struck by lightning. The story is said to highlight the disgust felt in the more civilised parts of Greece concerning the ancient cannibalistic practices of Arcadia.
According to Wikipedia Lycaon had 68 sons. News of the crimes committed by Lycaon's sons reached Zeus himself, and he decided to visit them disguised as a poor traveller. They had the effrontery to set umble soup before him, mixing the guts of their youngest brother Nyctimus with the umbles of sheep and goats that it contained. Zeus was undeceived and, thrusting away the table on which they had served the loathsome banquet he changed all of them except Nyctimus, whom he restored to life, into wolves.
The Zeus in disgust let loose a great flood on the earth, meaning to wipe out the whole race of man. But Deucalion, King of Phthia, warned by his father Prometheus the Titan, built a chest (or ark), victualled it, and went aboard with his wife Pyrrha, a daughter of Epimetheus. The mountains in Thessaly were parted, and all the world beyond the Isthmus and Peloponnese was overwhelmed. Then the South wind blew, the rain fell, and the rivers roared down to the sea which, rising with astonishing speed, washed away every city of the coast and plain. The entire world was flooded, but for a few mountain peaks, and all mortal creatures seemed to have been lost, except Deucalion and Pyrrha. The ark floated about for nine days until, at last, the waters subsided, and it came to rest on Mount Parnassus (or, some tell, on Mount Aetna, or Mount Athos, or Mount Othrys). It is said that Deucalion was reassured by a dove which he had sent on an exploratory flight.
Disembarking in safety, they offered a sacrifice to Zeus, the preserver of fugitives, and went down to pray at the shrine of Themis where the roof was now draped with seaweed and the altar cold. Zeus had seen Deucalion and Pyrrha and knew that they were innocent, kind, god-fearing people. Once landed on hearing the deathly silence and seeing the desolation, they pleaded humbly that mankind should be renewed. Zeus, hearing their voices from afar, sent Hermes to assure them that whatever request they might make would be granted forthwith. Themis appeared in person, saying "Shroud your heads, and throw the bones of your mother behind you". Since Deucalion and Pyrrha had different mothers, both now deceased, they decided that the Titaness had spoken of Gaia, whose bones were the rocks lying on the river bank. Therefore, stooping with shrouded heads, they picked up rocks and threw them over their shoulders. These rocks lost their hardness and became either men or women, according as Deucalion or Pyrrha had handled them. Gaia herself reproduced all the other forms of life. Thus mankind was renewed, and ever since ‘a people’ (laos) and ‘a stone’ (loas) have been much the same word in many languages.
The story concludes with the children of Deucalion and Pyrrha, who would go to be the progenitors of the primary tribes of Greece. First Hellen and second Amphictyon, who reigned over Attica after Cranaus, and third a daughter Protogeneia, who became the mother of Aethlius by Zeus. Hellen had Dorus, Xuthus, and Aeolus by a water-nymph Orseis. Those who were called Greeks he named Hellenes after himself, and divided the country among his sons. Xuthus received Peloponnese and begat Achaeus and Ion by Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus, and from Achaeus and Ion the Achaeans and Ionians derive their names. Dorus received the country over against Peloponnese and called the settlers Dorians after himself. Aeolus reigned over the regions about Thessaly and named the inhabitants Aeolians. One of his children, Alcyone, married to Ceyx and is several sources it is said that they were transformed into halcyon birds, giving rise to the term halcyon days. This was a seven day period of calm during winter when birds could lay their eggs, but it now denotes a past period of youth and happiness.
It is worth pointing out that rain and flooding in Greece is not as infrequent as you might think. The eastern part of Greece is semi-arid, but the western part is water-rich, with annual rainfall exceeding 2 metres in mountainous areas. However that rainfall comes in the form of intensive rainstorms and flash floods. Even in the semi-arid eastern part, storms and extreme flooding is not uncommon. In this eastern part 25% or more of the annual rainfall can fall in a single day.
Greek Mythology Timeline
Before we move on to Twelve Olympian Gods, let's look at how Greek history is subdivide into different periods, and see if can we build a very approximate timeline for Greek mythology?
Below we have as a starring point a map of the major features of Greece.
Concerning how Greek history is subdivide into different periods, Wikipedia make the following distinctions:-
- Neolithic Greece covers a period beginning with the establishment of agricultural societies in ca. 7000 BC and ending in ca. 3100 BC. Key: 1 Revenia-Korinou, 2 Paliambela-Kolindrou, 3 Makriyalos I, 4 Toumba Kremastis-Koiladas, 5 Agios Petros, 6 Argissa, 7 Sesklo, 8 Achilleion, 9 Prodromos 1-2, 10 Doliana, 11 Franchthi Cave, 12 Knossos. One suggestion is that for near-eastern style farming the early sites would have been around Thessaly, since small islands would only have had intermittent water sources, the West coast would have been too wet, and the North too cold.
- Helladic (Minoan or Bronze Age) chronology covers a period beginning with the transition to a metal-based economy in ca. 3200-3100 BC through to the rise and fall of the Mycenaean Greek palaces spanning roughly five centuries (1600–1100 BC).
- Ancient Greece covers a period from the fall of the Mycenaean civilisation in 1100 BC to 146 BC spanning multiple sub-periods including the Greek Dark Ages (or Iron Age, Homeric Age), Archaic period, the Classical period and the Hellenistic period.
- Roman Greece covers a period from the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC to 324 AD.
- Byzantine Greece covers a period from the establishment of the capital city of Byzantium, Constantinople, in 324 AD until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD.
- Frankish/Latin Greece (including the Venetian possessions) covers a period from the Fourth Crusade (1204) to 1797, year of disestablishment of the Venetian Republic.
- Ottoman Greece covers a period from 1453 up until the Greek Revolution of 1821,
- Modern Greece covers a period from 1821 to the present.
- ca. 6500-3000 BC Neolithic Greece, includes ca. 6500-5800 BC Early Neolithic, ca. 5800-5300 BC Middle Neolithic, ca. 5300-4500 BC Late Neolithic, and ca. 4500-3000 BC Final Neolithic.
- ca. 3200-1050 BC Helladic Period (preceded by Neolithic Greece and followed by the Greek Dark Ages). Mainland Greece is termed Helladic, then we have the Cycladic Culture for the Cyclades Islands, and the Minoan Civilisation for Crete. The Helladic Period includes ca. 3100-2000 BC, Early Helladic, ca. 2000-1550 BC Middle Helladic, and ca. 1550-1050 BC Late Helladic.
- ca. 3300-1050 BC Cycladic Culture, including ca. 3300-2300 BC Early Cycladic, ca. 2600-1600 BC Middle Cycladic, and ca. 1600-1100 BC Late Cycladic.
- ca. 3000-1100 BC Minoan Civilisation (Aegean Islands, Crete) including ca. 3100-2000 BC Early Minoan, ca. 2000-1750 BC Middle Minoan, and ca. 1550-1100 BC Late Minoan
- ca. 2000 BC Early Greeks settle the Peloponnese
- ca. 1900-1100 BC Knossos Palace Periods (Minoan Civilisation in Crete)
- ca. 1600-1100 BC Mycenaean Greece
- ca. 2000-1450 BC Height of Minoan Civilisation in Crete
- ca. 1500-1300 BC Mycenaean Thebes at it peak of prosperity
- ca. 1288 BC Heracles in born
- ca. 1283 BC Oedipus kills his father Laius, defeats Sphinx, and marries his mother Jocasta
- ca. 1283 BC Jason is born
- ca. 1268 BC Heracles frees Prometheus
- ca. 1256 BC Theseus defeats the Minotaur
- ca. 1250 BC Heracles completes his twelve labours by freeing Theseus from the underworld
- ca. 1209 BC Achilles in born
ca. 1184 BC Fall of Troy
- ca. 1184 BC Odysseus leaves for Ithica
- ca. 1150 BC Fall of Mycenae
- ca. 1190-750 BC Greek Dark Ages
Only about half of the Mycenaean pantheon seem to survive the Greek Dark Ages.
- ca. 1100 BC Dorian peoples occupation Greece
Poseidon along with several other Olympians are recognisable in records in Linear B, although Apollo and Aphrodite are absent.
- ca. 900 BC Sparta is founded
- ca. 800-480 Archaic Period
- 776 BC First Olympics
- ca. 753 BC Romulus and Remus found Rome
- ca. 750 BC Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
- ca. 740-433 BC City States establish colonies in Magna Graecia
- ca. 700 BC Hesiod's Theogony
- 570 BC Pythagoras is born
- 508 BC The first democracy in Athens
- 490 BC Battle of Marathon
- ca. 510-323 BC The Classical Period
- ca. 469-399 BC Life of Socrates
- 432 BC The Parthenon is competed
- 427-347 BC Life of Plato
- ca. 400-330 BC The Late Classical Period
- 371 BC Sparta is defeated by Athens and Thebes
- 386 Plato founds the Academy
- 384-322 Life of Aristotle
- 356-323 BC Life of Alexander the Great
- 323-146 BC The Hellenistic Age
- 336 BC Alexander the Great becomes king
In the Hellenistic period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the Roman conquest of Greece (146 BC) Greek religion developed in various ways. Although the traditional myths, festivals and beliefs all continued, imported deities probably reduced the grip on the imagination of the traditional pantheon, especially among the educated, but probably more widely in the general population.
- 146 BC - 330 AD The Roman Period
- 146 BC Rome sack Corinth, Greece is conquered
- 140 BC Venus de Milo is completed
- 31 BC Battle of Actium, and all of Greece becomes part of the Roman Empire
- 31 BC Mark Antony and Cleopatra move to Greece
Early Christianity grew gradually in Rome and the Roman Empire from the 1st to 4th centuries.
In 313 it was legally tolerated and in 380 it became the state church of the Roman Empire with the Edict of Thessalonica.
Nevertheless, Hellenistic polytheistic traditions survived in pockets of Greece throughout Late Antiquity until they gradually diminished after the triumph of Christianity.
The Olympian Gods
Wikipedia tells us that there were twelve Olympian gods, the major deities of the Greek pantheon (temple of all the gods), who ruled the universe from Mount Olympus. They were in fact the 3rd generation of Greek gods, coming after the Titans who were born of their Greek primordial parents. The Titans are often called the 2nd generation of Greek mythical gods, and their primordial parents the 1st generation. The twelve Olympian gods are also often called the 1st generation of Olympian gods, to differentiate them from thier children, called the 2nd generation of Olympian gods.
The 1st generation of Olympians were all offspring of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. So Poseidon (2nd son), Demeter, Hestia (1st born and eldest daughter), Zeus (youngest son) and Hera (youngest daughter) were all brothers and sisters (along with the oldest son Hades, who is traditionally not considered an Olympian). Then came the principle offspring of Zeus and Hera, who were Ares, Hephaestus, Hebe (youth, Roman: Juventas), Eileithyia (childbirth and midwifery), Enyo (war, destruction, Roman: Bellona) and Eris (strife, discord, Roman: Discordia).
Zeus also fathered a number of other children. Athena (wisdom, handicraft, warfare, Roman: Minerva) was born of Metis, who was a 2nd generation Titaness known for her wisdom. Apollo and Artemis were born from the Titaness Leto. Hermes was born from Maia, the oldest of the Pleiades, daughters of the Titan Atlas. Dionysus was born from Semele. Aphrodite was 'fathered' by the primordial deity Uranus (sky).
Traditionally the twelve Olympians are in fact Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Hephaestus, Hermes, Aphrodite, and Hestia who was replaced by Dionysus in later texts.
Zeus (Roman: Jupiter), “Father of Gods and men”, was recognised as the King of the Gods and god of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order, and justice. Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans, and he later married his sister Hera. Some texts note that Zeus had seven wives Hera, Metis, Themis, Mnemosyne, Demeter, Eurynome, and Leto, and Wikipedia lists more than 100 consorts, and more than 150 offspring. Other famous offspring were Heracles, Perseus, Helen of Troy, and Persephone. Zeus's symbols were the Oak, Thunderbolt, Eagle, Bull, Sceptre, and Scales.
We have already presented the role Zeus in the defeat of the Titans, the birth of the twelve Olympians, and the story of Prometheus. Others stories concerning Zeus include:-
Metis had given Zeus the potion that had caused the Titan Cronus to vomit out his siblings, and she was Zeus's first great spouse. It had been prophesied that Metis would bear extremely powerful children. The first would be the goddess Athena and the second would be a son more powerful than Zeus himself, and who would eventually overthrow him. The story according to Athena's own priests, was that in order to forestall these dire consequences, Zeus tricked her into turning herself into a fly and promptly swallowed her. But he was too late because Metis had already conceived the first child. In time Zeus was seized by a raging headache, and he ran to Hermes who immediately knew the reason for Zeus's discomfort. He persuaded Hephaestus to made a breach in Zeus's skull, from which Athena sprung fully grown, armed, and armoured. Zeus was none the worse for this experience.
Metis was the Titaness who presided over all wisdom and knowledge, so Zeus suppressed the Titan cult by swallowing Metis, and not only did he keep wisdom, but he changed it from a female to a male prerogative. At the same time the intellectual Athena, would have normally been born of the wise Metis was now being reborn from Zeus's head. She then became his obedient mouthpiece, to such a point that she employed priests and not priestesses.
Hera refused the advances of her brother Zeus, but he knew she loved animals. So he created a thunderstorm, transformed himself into a disheveled, rain-soaked cuckoo, and pretended to be distressed outside her window. Feeling pity for the bird she brought him inside, whereupon he transformed back to himself and raped her. Ashamed, she agreed to marry Zeus, but later being jealous of all his lovers and children, she tormented them. With Zeus she gave birth to Ares (war), Hephaestus (fire, metalwork), Hebe (youth), Eileithyia (childbirth and midwifery), Enyo (war, destruction) and Eris (strife, discord).
Semele ('moon') was seduced by Zeus, but unfortunately her pregnancy was discovered by the jealous Hera. Appearing as an old crone, Hera befriended Semele who boasted about Zeus being her lover. Hera pretended not to believe her, planting the seed of doubt. Semele asked Zeus to grant her one boon, eager to please he said he would grant her anything. She asked to see Zeus in all his glory. He begged her not to ask this, but he was forced by his oath to comply. He showed her the faintest of his bolts and thunderstorm clouds, but she was immediately turned to ashes. An alternative storyline, more in character, is that Zeus refused her plea, and she denied him further access to her bed. In anger Zeus appeared with his thunder and lightning, and she was consumed. However Hermes managed to save the son by sewing him into Zeus's thigh. Later Dionysus (Roman: Bacchus) was born, the god of the grape-harvest, winemaking, festivity, and religious ecstasy. It is said that later Dionysus would bribe Persephone with a gift of myrtle to release his dead mother (myrtle was a sacred plant and the symbol of love). She then stayed in Artemis's temple under the name of Thyone ('raging queen'). Later Zeus placed an apartment at her disposal, and Hera preserved an angry but resigned silence.
Zeus's rapes apparently refer to Hellenic conquests of the ancient shrines and ancient customs.
Leda was a beautiful princess who was 'admired' by Zeus. As a swan, he fell into her arms for protection from a pursuing eagle. It would appear that she 'lay' with both Zeus and he husband, the Spartan king Tyndareus, on the same night, resulting in two eggs from which hatched 'Helen of Troy', Clytemnestra (later to marry Agamemnon), and Castor and Pollux. Stories vary as to the farther, but the most common story is that Zeus was the father of Helen and Pollux. There is a story that Pollux refused immortality unless Castor might share it. Zeus allowed them both to spend their days alternatively in the 'upper air' and under the earth at Therapne. There is also a complex storyline concerning Orestes, the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, who with his sister Electra (vengeful soul), kills Clytemnestra.
Europa was abducted by Zeus. He appeared to her as a white bull, and because he was so tame Europa eventually climbed on his back. Zeus ran to the sea and swam to the island of Crete. There he made her the first queen of Crete, and gifted her a necklace made by Hephaestus, Talos a giant automaton to protect her and island, the dog Laelaps who always caught what he hunted, and a javelin that always found its mark.
Ganymede was, according to one storyline, abducted by Zeus, granted eternal youth and immortality and took up the office of cupbearer to the gods. Ganymede was the some of king Tros who gave his name to Troy.
The Zeus-Ganymede myth gained immense popularity in Greece and Rome because it afford religious justification for a grown man's passionate love of a boy.
Hera (Roman: Juno), 'Queen of the Gods', was the goddess of marriage and childbirth, and protectress of married women and the family. Hera was the youngest daughter of the Titans, and she married her brother Zeus. Being raped by Zeus she was more or less forced into marriage to save face. However it is said that her wedding night lasted 300 years, and that Gaia (Mother Earth) gave her a tree with golden apples, which was later guarded by the Hesperides in Hera's orchard on Mount Atlas.
Zeus and Hera bickered constantly, and she was known to be a very jealous and rancorous wife, and one who pursued with vindictive hatred anyone who was beloved by her husband. She knew that if she went too far Zeus could hurl a thunderbolt at her, so she resorted to ruthless intrigues.
Hera's symbols included the peacock, cow, and cuckoo. The fact that she was the patron of the cow may simply derive from the fact that she was often called 'cow-eyed' or 'cow-faced'. The cuckoo might just be linked with the myth that Zeus first approached Hera in the form of a disheveled, rain-soaked cuckoo.
Once Hera, Poseidon, Apollo and all the other Olympians, except Hestia, surrounded Zeus and bound him with hundreds of knots so that he could not move. However Thetis, foreseeing civil war on Olympus, called Briareus who used his hundred hands to swiftly untie the thongs and release Zeus. Because Hera had led the conspiracy, Zeus hung her up from the sky with a golden bracket about each wrist and an anvil fastened to each ankle. Zeus only freed her when the others swore to never more rebel against him.
It is said that Zeus had destined Heracles as one of the Twelve Olympians, but he was loth to expel any of the existing gods. He therefore persuaded Hera to adopt Heracles by a ceremony of rebirth. In bed she pretended to be in labour, and produced Heracles from beneath her skirt. We will read more about Heracles later on this webpage.
A good example of Hera's vindictive hatred is the story of Io, who was one of the many mortal lovers of Zeus. Io was a priestess of the Goddess Hera in Argos, and 'naturally' Zeus lusted after her. She initially rejected Zeus' advances, until her father threw her out of his house on the advice of oracles. According to some stories, Zeus then turned Io into a heifer (a cow) in order to hide her from his wife, other stories maintain that Hera herself transformed Io. Zeus' deception failed, and Hera begged Zeus to give her the heifer as a present, which, having no reason to refuse, he did. Hera then sent Argus Panoptes, a giant who had 100 eyes, to watch Io and prevent Zeus from visiting her. So Zeus sent Hermes to distract and eventually slay Argus. He did so by lulling him to sleep by playing the panpipes and telling stories. Another storyline has Hermes charm Argus to sleep before crushing him with a boulder and cutting off his head. Zeus freed Io, still in the form of a heifer. Firstly, Hera placed Argus's eyes in the tail of a peacock, as a constant reminder of his foul murder. Then in order to exact her revenge, Hera sent a gadfly to sting Io continuously, driving her to wander the world without rest. Io eventually crossed the path between the Propontis and the Black Sea, which thus acquired the name Bosporus (meaning ox passage), where she met Prometheus, who had been chained on Mt. Caucasus by Zeus. Prometheus comforted Io with the information that she would be restored to human form and become the ancestress of the greatest of all heroes, Heracles. Io escaped across the Ionian Sea to Egypt, where she was restored to human form by Zeus. Other storylines have Io passing through Dodona, across Mount Haemus, through Danube's delta, around the Black Sea, and then across the Bosporus before meeting Prometheus. Afterwards she regained Europe by way of Colchis, galloped through Asia Minor to India, before passing through Arabia to reach Ethiopia. Only then did she travel down the Nile to Egypt. There, she gave birth to Zeus's son Epaphus, and a daughter as well, Keroessa.
Then there is the story of Hephaestus (fire, metalwork). There are several stories, but we will follow Hephaestus when, in disgust at his weakly birth, Hera drops him from the height of Olympus. She wished to rid herself of the embarrassment that his pitiful appearance caused her, but he survived this misadventure. He fell into the sea, where Thetis and Eurynome were at hand to rescue him. These gentle goddesses kept him with them in an underwater grotto, where he set up his first smithy and rewarded their kindness by making them all sorts of ornamental and useful objects. One day, when nine years had passed, Hera met Thetis, who happened to be wearing a brooch of his workmanship, and learned of her abandoned son. At once Hera brought Hephaestus back to Olympus, where she set him upon a much finer smithy, with twenty bellows working day and night, made much of him, and arranged that he should marry Aphrodite (who was notoriously unfaithful, even if Hephaestus is also said have had as many as 15 children with up to 12 different women). Hephaestus became so far reconciled with Hera that he dared reproach Zeus himself for hanging her by the wrists from the sky when she rebelled against him. But silence would have been wiser, because angry Zeus only heaved him down from Olympus a second time. He was a whole day failing. On striking the earth of the island of Lemnos, he broke both legs and, though immortal, had little life left in his body when the islanders found him. Afterwards pardoned and restored to Olympus, he could walk only with golden leg-supports. Hephaestus was ugly and ill-tempered, but had great power in his arms and shoulders, and all his work was of matchless skill.
It is said that Hera's forced marriage commemorates conquests over Crete and Mycenaean Greece. The myth of the bedraggled cuckoo, probably symbolises the fact that Hellenes fugitives accepted employment in the royal guard in Crete, and later conspired to seize the kingdom. Knossos way Hellenes was twice sacked (ca. 1700 BC and ca. 1400 BC), and Mycenae Gell to the Achaeans a century later. Equally Hera was goddess of the calendar year, thus the cuckoo on her sceptre resented spring and the ripe pomegranate in her left hand symbolised the death of the year, i.e. late autumn.
Poseidon (Roman: Neptune), 'God of the Sea', and the god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses, and protector of seafarers. Poseidon's symbols were the Horse and the Trident (crafted by the Cyclopes).
Zeus (Roman: Jupiter), “Father of Gods and men”, was recognised as the King of the Gods and god of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order, and justice. Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans, and he later married his sister Hera. Some texts note that Zeus had seven wives Hera, Metis, Themis, Mnemosyne, Demeter, Eurynome, and Leto, and Wikipedia lists more than 100 consorts, and more than 150 offspring. Other famous offspring were Heracles, Perseus, Helen of Troy, and Persephone. Zeus's symbols were the Oak, Thunderbolt, Eagle, Bull, Sceptre, and Scales.
We have already presented the role Zeus in the defeat of the Titans, the birth of the twelve Olympians, and the story of Prometheus. Others stories concerning Zeus include:-
Demeter (Roman: Ceres) - Goddess of the harvest and agriculture, so she presided over grains and the fertility of the earth.
She presided over the sacred law, the cycle of life and death. Because her daughter was Persephone was forced to live with Hades, she let no crops grow.
Hestia (Roman: Vesta) - Goddess of the hearth (fireplace, altar), representing the family, home, and the state.
Sister of Zeus, and oldest of the Olympians
It is for them that we hold the athletic contests known as the Pythian Games that honor Apollo, the Isthmian Games that honor Poseidon, and the Nemean and Olympic Games that honor Zeus.
Prometheus, one of the Titans, made the first humans from clay, and he brought them fire from Mt. Olympos. However, Zeus, as king of the gods and no friend of Prometheus, became disgusted with the behavior of humans. He and his brother, Poseidon, caused rains to fall and rivers to flood, so that all of the humans would be drowned. However, Zeus finally saw one blameless couple huddled in a boat, trying to ride out the flood, and eventually he decided that they could survive.
These two survivors were Deucalion, a son of Prometheus, and Pyrrha, a daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora. When the little boat bearing Deucalion and Pyrrha came to rest in the muddy and mossy landscape, they decided that they must consult the oracle of the Titan goddess Themis to see what they should do, alone in this strange world. Themis told them, "Go forth from my temple, cover your heads, and throw your mother's bones over your shoulders." Pyrrha was horrified at the idea of the committing this sacrilege to the spirit of her mother. Deucalion, similarly horrified and perplexed, pondered the words of the oracle and finally said, "Perhaps the oracle means our mother Gaia, the Earth, and the bones of which she speaks are the stones of the Earth". Neither Deucalion nor Pyrrha was sure that this was right, but they pulled their robes over their heads, picked up stones, and threw them over their shoulders. After a bit, the stones slowly softened, and they began to change shape, and eventually they took the form of humans and became human. Those transformed stones are the ancestors of the humans of today, and that is why we have the hardness and endurance that we possess, having come from the stones of our Mother Earth.
Aphrodite (Roman: Venus) - Goddess of love, beauty, and protector of sailors.
Symbols: Myrtle Tree, Dove
Apollo - God of music, poetry, art, oracles, archery, plague, medicine, sun, light and knowledge.
Son of Zeus and the Titan Leto, twin of Artemis
Symbols: Laurel Tree, Crow, Dolphin
Ares (Roman: Mars) - God of war.
Son of Zeus and Hera
Symbols: Vulture, Dog
Artemis (Roman: Diana) - Goddess of hunting and protector of women in childbirth.
Daughter of Zeus and the Titan Leto, twin of Apollo
Symbols: Cypress Tree, Deer
Athena (Roman: Minerva) - Goddess of wisdom.
Sprang fully-grown from the forehead of Zeus.
Symbols: Owl, Olive Tree
Hephaestus (roman: Vulcan) - God of fire, metalworking, stone masonry, forges and the art of sculpture. Created armour and weapons for the Gods
Son of Zeus and Hera, married to Aphrodite
Symbols: Anvil, Forge
Hestia (Roman: Vesta) - Goddess of the hearth (fireplace).
Sister of Zeus, and oldest of the Olympians
Hermes (Roman: Mercury) - God of trade, thieves, travellers, sports (boxing), athletes (gymnastics), and border crossings, guide to the Underworld and messenger of the gods. The trickster.
Son of Zeus and the constellation Maia
Symbols: Winged Sandals, Winged Helmet, Magic Wand
Dionysus (Roman: Bacchus) - God of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theatre.
Son of Zeus and and the mortal Semele
Symbols: Ivy, Snake, Grapes
Brother of Zeus
Married to Persephone
2. Τhe 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! Clotho, the youngest one, spins the thread of life; she is the very origin, the creation of life itself and her thread is spun upon the birth of a person! Lachesis, the second sister, is the one that allocates the fate of people during life. The name comes from the Greek word ‘λαγχάνω’ which means to obtain from lots. In that sense, one can understand that their destiny is chosen out of a myriad of possibilities. It is said that Lachesis measures the thread of life with her rod, determining its length and nature. The last sister of fate is Atropos, the unturning. Atropos is the cutter of the thread of life and with her shears she determines how someone will die.
23. The Myth of Sisyphus and his Eternal Punishment
Once upon a time, Corinth was a very strong Greek city-state, the remains of which can be found to this day. Some sources refer to the great city of Efyra as the city founded by Sisyphus, which was later named Corinth. Others say that the witch Medea gave Corinth to Sisyphus, who became its king. One day, Asopos' daughter, Aegina, had been abducted by Zeus and when Asopos asked if Sisyphus had seen anything, Sisyphus mentioned that he saw Zeus fly over with Aegina. When Zeus heard that, he got really angry that he was betrayed by a mortal. So, the king of the gods sent Death to take Sisyphus' life. However, when Death came to chain Sisyphus, the latter asked Death a demonstration of how the chains work and then deceived Death and chained him instead. The imprisonment of Death meant that he could not come for any human and people stopped dying. The gods in response sent Ares, the god of war, to free Death. This time Death took Sisyphus in his chains and led him to the world of the dead, the Underworld, kingdom of Hades. However, before he died, Sisyphus asked his wife, Merope, not to bury him properly by neglecting to put a coin in his mouth. This way he could not pay Charon, the ferryman, to cross the river Styx. The lack of a proper burial disturbed Hades so much, that he sent Sisyphus back to the living. Thus, Sisyphus managed to escape Death once more. When the gods finally managed to catch Sisyphus again, they decided that his punishment should last forever. They made him push a rock up a mountain; every time the rock would reach the top, it would roll down again and Sisyphus would have to start all over again.
24. King Midas and his Golden Touch
In Greek Mythology, Midas was the king of Phrygia and ruled from his castle and its beautiful garden in which “roses grow of themselves, each bearing sixty blossoms and of surpassing fragrance”, according to Herodotus. One day, some of Midas’ people found a drunken old man near the garden and brought him before the king. Midas recognized the old man, who was god Dionysus’ closest reveler, the satyr Silenus. Instead of punishing him, Midas hosted the satyr for ten days, offering him food, drinks and entertaining him. When he returned him safely to Dionysus, the god felt gratitude and offered Midas to grant him any wish he had. Midas, motivated by his greed, asked that he should be able to turn into gold everything he touched. At first, Midas gained great wealth and power from his unique ability. But he later realized that it was more of a curse than a gift. Even the water and the food that he touched was turning into gold. He could not enjoy even the simplest joys in life anymore. Midas went back to Dionysus and begged him to take back his power.
25. The Apple of Discord
The great Trojan War started with a few envious Gods and an apple... During the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, the goddess of discord, Eris, was not invited for apparent reasons. Eris felt offended and, arriving at the wedding, tossed in the middle of the feast of the gods a golden apple, saying “to the fairest”. The apple was claimed by Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, sparking a vanity-fueled dispute among the three. The goddesses asked Zeus who the apple belonged to (in other words, who is the fairest of them all) and Zeus said that Paris, a mortal man and the rightful Prince of Troy, should choose. Paris at the time was living as a shepherd on Mount Ida and was not aware of his royal descent. He had been abandoned as a baby, because of an oracle that said he would cause the destruction of his city. The three goddesses appeared before the shepherd Paris and asked him to choose who is the fairest of them all. Because Paris at first was unable to choose one, each of the goddesses offered him a gift: Hera offered him wealth and kingly power, Athena wisdom and glory among men, and Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Without hesitation, Paris gave the golden apple to Aphrodite. From that day on, Aphrodite was offering council to Paris. She was the one that informed him of his royal blood and led him back to Troy. The rest is history…
26. The Great Trojan War
The events that occurred in the myth of the Apple of Discord would lead to the greatest war of Greek Mythology. The Trojan War is an epic poem, written by Homer. Having been promised by Aphrodite the love of the most beautiful woman, Paris abducted Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta. Refusing to return Helen, Menelaus’ brother, Agamemnon, gathered a great army of Greeks to sail to Troy. At Aulis, the army was gathered, with the greatest Greek heroes among them - Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, Nestor to name a few. However, there was no wind for the ships to sail and the warriors started to complain. The reason for this was the killing of Artemis’ sacred deer by Agamemnon. The Greek King was forced to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease Artemis and the winds came. For nine years the Greek army was trying to enter the walls of Troy without any luck. Finally, Odysseus had an idea to build a gigantic hollow wooden horse, in which a small group of warriors would conceal. The other Greeks appeared to sail for home, leaving behind the horse as a gift to the Trojans. Despite the warnings of Cassandra and others, the Trojans took the horse inside the walls and celebrated with a lot of wine and music. When everyone was asleep, the Greek warriors crept out of the horse and opened the gates. The Greek army entered without resistance and Troy fell. Achilles died during the battle, having been hit in the heel by an arrow. The gods also took part in the war. Hera, Poseidon and Athena aided the Greeks, while Ares and Aphrodite the Trojans.
27. The Legendary Myth of Odysseus
Odysseus (also known with his Latin name ‘Ulysses’) was a great hero of Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. The Odyssey recounts his adventures since he left Troy, in his effort to return home. His wandering lasted for no less than ten years! His adventures were many: he fought against the Cicones, broke free from the Lotus-Eaters, escaped with cunning the Cyclop Polyphemus and son of Poseidon by blinding him, making the sea god his enemy. He then visited the island of Aelous, the Wind God, receiving a sack as a gift, which contained all the winds inside, to help him arrive home. As they were arriving in Ithaca, two of his men opened the sack our of curiosity while Odysseus was sleeping and their ship was once again away from Ithaca because of the storm that followed. He then survived the Laestrygonians, a tribe of man-eating giants and landed on the island of the sorceress Circe. With the help of Hermes, Odysseus left the island and journeyed to the Underworld, to get help from the blind prophet Tiresias who had died. He then passed through the Sirens and their seductive song by blocking the ears of his men with wax and ordering them to tie him up to the mast, so that he could not jump and join the Sirens. His next challenge was to cross the strait between Scylla, a six-headed monster, and Charybdis, a violent whirlpool, which he managed to do by sacrificing six of his men. He lost the remaining of his men and his ship at the island of Thrinacia, after Zeus threw a thunderbolt to appease the sun god Helios. Odysseus found himself next to the island of Ogygia, where he spent seven years with the goddess Calypso who had fallen in love with him. With the help of Hermes, he left the island with a raft he made. A storm washed him this time at the island of the Phaeacians. This time he was lucky since the island was protected by King Alcinous and his Queen Arete, who helped him return to Ithaca. When he finally arrived, twenty years after setting sail for Troy, he found that his palace was inhabited by young people from noble families in the surrounding islands and Ithaca. Each of them wanted to marry Penelope, his wife, because they believed Odysseus did not survive. Penelope patiently waited all these years for the return of her husband, devising a trick to delay her suitors. Odysseus killed them all with his bow, with the help of his son Telemachus and his faithful dog. But as soon as he killed the suitors, their fathers got angry and demanded revenge. Finally, goddess Athena, his everlasting protector, brought peace to the island and Odysseus and his wife Penelope were reunited and happy at last.
28. The Adventures of Jason and the Argonauts
One of the most famous stories of Greek Mythology is that of Jason and the Argonauts, and their quest for the Golden Fleece. Jason was the son of Aeson, rightful heir to the throne of Iolcus. Pelias, the half-brother of Aeson, took the throne of Iolcus, bypassing Aeson and locking him in the dungeons. Pelias received an oracle from Delphi that a descendant of Aeson would seek revenge. Pelias believed that Jason was the one that the Oracle meant, so he sent him to undertake an impossible mission, hoping that he will be slain in the process. The mission was to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the land of Colchis. The Golden Fleece was the skin of a winged holy ram of god Zeus and it was guarded by a huge dragon. For the great adventure, Jason assembled the best heroes of Greece, including Hercules and Orpheus, and had a special boat built, named Argos. So, Jason and the Argonauts began their journey. After a challenging voyage, they arrived at Colchis and asked the Golden Fleece from King Aeetes. The King deceived Jason and put him into great danger, only for Medea, Aeetes’ daughter, to save him. Medea was a sorceress and fell in love with Jason. She told him that she would help him retrieve the Fleece if he would then take her back with him and marry her. Jason agreed and Medea put a spell on the dragon, allowing Jason to retrieve the Fleece. Jason and the argonauts, together with Medea, returned to Argos and set sail away from Colchis. However, before they leave, Medea killed her brother, spreading his pieces across the ocean, so that her father would not follow them before he gathers all the pieces. Zeus was angry with the killing of Medea’s brother and sent many trials to the Argonauts. They had to pass through the Sirens, the Skylla and Charybdis, Talos and many more. By overcoming all these obstacles, the Argonauts redeemed themselves and managed to return back home and give the Golden Fleece to King Pelias. Jason kept his promise to Medea and married her. With her help, they killed Pelias and had two children together. Tragedy, of course, could not be absent from this story either. Jason fell in love with Glaucus and, full of revenge and madness, Medea killed their two children, fleeing to Athens. Jason fell into despair. He returned to his, rotten now, ship, Argos and sat on the sand under it. One piece from the rotten ship peeled off and killed him.
29. The Myth of Leto
Leto was a female Titan and a favorite lover of Zeus in his early days. While she was pregnant with Zeus’ children, Zeus married goddess Hera. As expected, Hera was furious and very jealous of Leto for bearing her husband’s children. She did everything in her power to make the life of Leto difficult and tried her best not to allow her to give birth to Zeus’ children. She pushed Leto out of Olympus. While Leto was wandering on Earth, no man would open his house for her, fearing the wrath of Hera. On top of that, Hera had the huge serpent Python to chase her. Zeus saved Leto by sending the North Wind, Boreas, to carry her out to the sea. Finally, a desolate, rocky island named Delos accepted her, having nothing to lose. Leto gave birth first to Artemis and nine days later to Apollo. The children would later grow up to become powerful gods and members of the Greek Pantheon. Trained by their mother, they became very skilled archers. However, Hera’s vengeance did not end there. She continued tormenting Leto, having Python chase her everywhere. Finally, only four years old, Apollo killed Python in Delphi.
30. The Myth of Niobe
This story is connected to the myth of Leto. Niobe in Greek Mythology was the daughter of Tantalus and Dione or Euryanassa. She was married to Amphion and had fourteen children in total, seven boys and seven girls. She boasted about the fact that she was blessed with so many children and made fun of Leto that she only had two, Apollo and Artemis. For her hubris, Leto punished Niobe by sending Apollo to kill with his arrows all of Niobe’s boys and Artemis to kill all of her girls. Upon seeing her dead children, Niobe, in despair, fled to Mount Sipylus where she turned into a rock. The rock became known as the ‘Weeping Rock’.
11. The Love Story of Eros and Psyche
In Greek Mythology, love has the highest praise. Psyche (meaning “soul” in Greek), was an impressive mortal girl, surpassing in beauty even the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Her beauty was so well-known that men from all over the land would visit her to admire her beauty. This made Aphrodite extremely jealous and decided to punish the girl. She ordered his son, Eros, who could make someone fall in love by hitting them with his arrows, to make Psyche fall in love with the vilest and despicable creature who walked on Earth. However, when Eros gazed upon Psyche he fell in love with her himself. He could not carry out his mother’s order and instead, he remained silent. The years went by and, despite her beauty, Psyche could not marry. All men admired her godly beauty but then would go on and marry another. Her parents decided to go to Delphi and ask for guidance from Apollo. The Oracle said that Psyche had to dress in black, climb a high mountain alone and stay there. Then, a winged serpent would come for her and take her as his wife. Psyche and her parents had no choice but to follow the god’s words. As she was waiting alone on the mountain, shaking and crying, the fresh wind of Zephyrus raised her and traveled her through the sky to the gates of a magnificent castle. There, a sweet voice greeted her and made her feel like home.
"Love cannot live without trust"
Every night, Eros would come in the dark and lie beside her. Without seeing him, Psyche could feel that he was not a monster but the loving husband she had always been wishing for. The following days passed in full joy and Psyche was happy. However, she missed her family and felt sorry for them. He asked Eros to let her see them and he granted her wish, after warning her not to be influenced by them, otherwise, their relationship will be destroyed and she will suffer a lot. The next day, her two sisters, carried by the wind, arrived to the palace. They felt jealous of her sister living like a goddess and told her that her husband did not allow her to see him because he was the horrible creature the Oracle had mentioned. This idea overwhelmed the mind of Psyche, who could not understand why her husband would not show his face. So, she devised a plan. She decided that when Eros falls asleep next to her, she will light a candle to see him. If he is a monster she will kill it with her knife, otherwise, she will happily fall back to sleep. And so she did. But, after seeing his face, a drop of hot oil fell from the candle and woke Eros up. He immediately left her, saying with a heartbroken voice: “Love cannot live without trust.” Psyche was really sorry and sad, and she could not find Eros anywhere. Desperate, she appeared to his mother, goddess Aphrodite, and asked for her help. Aphrodite told her that in order to reunite with her loved one she would have to carry out three impossible tasks. With the help of nature and others, she managed to complete all the tasks and return to Aphrodite. Despite her success, Aphrodite got angry with her and yelled the poor girl that she would never let her go. Witnessing all this, the other gods of Olympus sent Hermes to tell Eros everything that has happened. Eros was touched by Psyche’s love and returned to her. From that day on, the couple lived happily together. As a wedding gift, Zeus allowed Psyche to taste the drink of the Gods, Ambrosia, making her immortal. Aphrodite was also happy because now that Psyche was immortal, the men would forget about her and worship once again the true goddess of beauty.
Cupid and Psyche
by Anthony Van Dyck [public domain]
12. The Fateful Love of Orpheus and Eurydice
In Greek Mythology, Orpheus was the greatest lyre player in the world. He could charm rocks and rivers with his music. When Orpheus fell in love with Eurydice, he wooed her with his song. Their marriage was brief, however, as Eurydice was bitten by a viper and died shortly after. Devastated, Orpheus journeyed to the Underworld to convince Hades and Persephone to return his bride to him. Orpheus managed to pass through Cerberus, the three-headed dog who was the guardian of the gates, by making him fall asleep with his music. When he played his lyre, the king and queen of the Underworld were moved by his song, and they agreed to let Eurydice live again on one condition: she would follow him while walking out to the light from the darkness of the Underworld, but he should not turn to look at her before she was out to the light. As they started ascending towards the living world, Orpheus began to think it might all be a trick, that the gods were just making fun of him and Eurydice was not really behind him. Unable to hear Eurydice's footsteps, Orpheus finally lost his faith and turned to look back, only a few meters away from the exit. Eurydice was in fact behind him, as a shade that would become flesh again when she was back into the light. After Orpheus looked at her, Euridice’s shade fell back into the darkness of the Underworld, now trapped in Hades forever.
15. The Myth of Apollo and Daphne
Daphne was a Naiad Nymph in Greek Mythology, the daughter of a river god. She was famous for being incredibly beautiful and for catching the eye of god Apollo. However, Daphne was determined to remain unmarried and untouched by a man for the rest of her life. According to Greek Mythology, Apollo had been mocking the God of Love, Eros. In retaliation, Eros fired two arrows: a golden arrow that struck Apollo and made him madly in love with Daphne, and a lead arrow that made Daphne hate Apollo. Under the spell of the arrow, Apollo continued to chase Daphne, but she continued to reject him. Apollo told Daphne that he would love her forever. Daphne turned to the river god, Peneus, and pleaded to him to free her from Apollo. In response, Peneus used metamorphosis to turn Daphne into a laurel tree. Apollo used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to make Daphne’s laurel leaves evergreen. It is believed that Daphne had to sacrifice her body and turn into a tree, as this was the only way she could avoid Apollo’s sexual advances. After Daphne had been transformed into a laurel, Apollo made the plant sacred and vowed to always wear it as clothing. Thus, in a way, Daphne stayed with Apollo forever…
17. Goddess Athena and Arachne
In Greek Mythology Gods were powerful and humans should be obedient. But was that always the case? In ancient times there was a beautiful lady called Arachne (meaning “spider” in Greek). She knew the art of loom very well and she weaved beautifully. She boasted that she could weave better than Athena, who was the patroness of the weaving art. She even dared to ask the goddess to a contest. Athena accepted and they began to weave. Athena weaved a representation of her fight with Poseidon over the naming of Athena. Arachne, on the other hand, weaved the naughty adventures of Zeus and the other gods of Olympus. Athena, angered by the hubris Arachne dared to show, transformed her into a spider and cursed her to be hanging from her web for the remainder of her life.
18. The Myth of Narcissus and Echo
Echo was a wood Nymph, cursed by Hera to not be able to speak properly, but rather repeat the last words addressed to her. One day, she was wandering around the mountains, until she saw a handsome young man that no one could resist his charm, Narcissus. The Nymph fell in love with the youth, but could not speak to him because of Hera’s curse. So, she was following him from the shadows, silently and in love, waiting patiently for the proper moment. At some point, Narcissus felt her presence and asked “Is anybody here?”, to which Echo replier “here”. A confusing and repetitive conversation followed until Narcissus called her to come out and make love with him. But, as soon as Echo stepped out, Narcissus told her that he’d rather die than give himself to a wood nymph. Echo, heartbroken, took refuge in a cave and lost her appetite for food or water. After a while, poor Echo started growing skinny from starvation until her body disappeared, living only dust and her voice. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge against those who show hubris, decided to punish Narcissus for the treatment of poor Echo. The goddess made Narcissus fall in love with his own reflection that he saw in a pond near Echo’s cave. Narcissus could not leave his own reflection out of love and starved to death, like Echo. But, before he dies, Narcissus cried out to his reflection “Farewell, dear boy. Beloved in vain.” Echo’s voice repeated his last words from the cave as Narcissus drew his last breath. To this day, Echo still repeats the last words or phrases in caves or labyrinths.
19. The Myth of Hermaphroditus
Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, and he was raised by nymphs in the caves of Mount Phrygia. On his face, one could see the grace and beauty of both of his parents, from whom he took his name. When he was fifteen years old, he left the mountain where he grew up to wander into Asia Minor and meet new people. In the woods of Caria, he stopped to rest and drink water from a spring called Salmacis. The homonymous nymph, Salmacis, was captivated by the beauty of the young man and tried to seduce him, but was rejected. When Hermaphroditus felt he was alone, he jumped into the water naked to swim. Salmacis appeared behind a tree and jumped in as well, wrapping her body around that of the young man, forcibly kissing and touching him. While Hermaphroditus was trying to break free from her, the nymph called out to the gods to let them be united forever. The gods decided to grant her wish and blended their two bodies into one, creating a creature of both sexes. Hermaphroditus prayed to his parents, Hermes and Aphrodite, that anyone else who bathed in that spring would share his fate. And the gods granted his wish.
21. Leda and the Swan
Another tale from Greek mythology about Zeus is the one with Leda. When the Olympian god saw Leda on the banks of the river Eurotas, felt an overwhelming desire for her. So, he went to Aphrodite and asked for her advice. Aphrodite transformed Zeus into a brilliant swan and herself into an eagle, and she began pursuing the swan in the river valley. The pursuing Zeus swan sought refuge in the arms of Leda, who received him tenderly and warmed him within her. However, nine months after this incident, she gave birth to two eggs. Not one swan came out of each, but two pairs of twins. On one hand Polydefkis and the beautiful Helen and on the other Castor and Klytemnestra! Her kids became very famous and lead characters to many great ancient tragedies!
Scylla and Charybdis
Calliope was the muse of epic poetry.
Clio was the muse of history.
Erato was the muse of love poetry.
Euterpe was the muse of music.
Melpomene was the muse of tragedy.
Polyhymnia was the muse of sacred poetry.
Terpsichore was the muse of dance.
Thalia was the muse of comedy.
Urania was the muse of astronomy.
The Trojan War
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The patron god of the “silver-swirling” Achelous River.
Greek god of the winds and air
Primordial god of the upper air, light, the atmosphere, space and heaven.
God of family feuds and avenger of evil deeds.
Minor patron god of animal husbandry, bee-keeping, and fruit trees. Son of Apollo.
God of medicine, health, healing, rejuvenation and physicians.
A minor god of vegetation, fruits of the earth and rebirth.
Minor god of opportunity, luck and favorable moments.
One of the twins, Castor and Pollux, known as Dioskouri. Zeus transformed them into the constellation Gemini
The large and powerful wild bull tamed by Persephone and turned into the Taurus constellation.
The Ferryman of Hades. Took the newly dead people across the rivers Styx and Acheron to the Greek underworld if they paid him three obolus (a Greek silver coin).
The god of time. Not to be confused with Cronus, the Titan father of Zeus.
Guardian god of the ancient city Lamark, where wounded heroes could find comfort and heal after battle. He was the son of Aphrodite.
Deimos is the personification of dread and terror.
A fisherman who became immortal upon eating a magical herb, an Argonaut who may have built and piloted the Argo, and became a god of the sea.
God of the Sun and also known as Sol.
The greatest of the Greek heroes, he became god of heroes, sports, athletes, health, agriculture, fertility, trade, oracles and divine protector of mankind. Known as the strongest man on Earth.
God of marriage ceremonies, inspiring feasts and song.
The Greek god of sleep.
God of strength and power.
God of satire, mockery, censure, writers and poets and a spirit of evil-spirited blame and unfair criticism.
God of dreams and sleep – has the ability to take any human form and appear in dreams.
Black-winged daimons that personified dreams.
The physician of the Olympian gods.
The Titan god of warcraft and of the springtime campaign season.
The Greek god of wealth.
Twin brother of Castor, together known as the Dioskouri, that were transformed into the constellation Gemini.
Olympian Greek god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses.
The immortal father of sea-goats, made into the Capricorn constellation.
A minor god and the god of death.
Messenger of the sea and the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite.
The god of dedication, emulation, eager rivalry, envy, jealousy, and zeal.