Greek mythology is a collection of the religion and stories of the ancient Greeks. Many of these Greek beliefs have been preserved and passed down to us today. As was common in that time period in Europe and the Middle East (with the exception of Judaism) the concept of gods was usually as part of a pantheon that were basically more powerful forms of humans complete with petty rivalries and human frailties. They were worshipped just as much out of fear as out of reverence.
Stories also abounded of heroes and fantastical beasts. The most courageous acts of courage were from humans, or at least those who were half human. The concept of intermarriage or mating between gods and man caused many demi-gods who would then go on and continue to mate with humans themselves. Many parts of ancient Greece claimed some connection with godhood as did much of the world (again, except for Judaism).
Important Figures in Greek Mythology
Aelous is the god of the winds.
Aetolia is a region in northwestern Greece.
Agamemnon is a mythical king of Mycenae. During the Trojan War, as described in Homer's Iliad, Agamemnon was the Supreme commander of the Greek forces. He was a member of the House of Atreus, which is considered to have been cursed due to its violent history, and was brother to Menelaus, king of Sparta. With his wife, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon had four daughters: Chrysothemis, Electra, Iphianissa, and Iphigenia; he also had one son, Orestes. During the Trojan War, Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia to Artemis, to ensure strong winds for the voyage to Troy. During the war, he captured Priam's daughter, Cassandra, and brought her back to Mycenae with him. However, upon his return, he discovered that Clytemnestra had taken a new husband, Aegisthus. Clytemnestra killed both Agamemnon and Cassandra after luring them to a banquet.
Althaea was the mother of Meleager.
Antilochus was the son of Nestor, brother of Thrasymedes, and a favorite of Achilles after the death of Patroclus. He was killed by Memnon of Ethiopia during the Trojan War. Achilles was recovering Antilochus' body when Paris hit him with an arrow in his heel, killing him.
Argos was a city-state in ancient Greece, largely eclipsed by Sparta in prominence and importance. Argos played a role in the mythology of the Trojan War at which time it was said to be ruled by Diomedes. "Argos" could also refer to the entire Argolid, which was the kingdom of Agamemnon. As Agamemnon was the commander of the entire Greek force, "Argos" also could refer very generally to all of allied Greece during the Trojan War. The kingdom of Achilles was sometimes referred to as "Pelasgian Argos".
Bellerophon was the hero of Greek mythology who tamed and rode the flying horse Pegasus during his victory over the three-headed monster Chimera.
Bootes meaning, the ox-driver or wagoner, was a son of Ceres; inventor of the plough in the Greek mythology; and was said to have been translated along with his ox to become a constellation in the northern sky, the brightest star in which is Arcturus.
Calypso, in Greek mythology was a nymph, and a daughter of Atlas, queen of the island of Ogygia, who by her fascinating charms detained Ulysses beside her for 7 of the 10 years of his wanderings home from Troy; she died of grief on his departure.
Charon, in Greek mythology was the ferryman of the ghosts of the dead over the Styx into Hades, a grim old figure with a mean dress and a dirty beard, peremptory in exacting from the ghosts he ferried over the obolus allowed him for passage-money.
The Chimera or Chimaera (pronounced keye-MIR-uh) was "a fire-breathing she-monster in Greek mythology having a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail." The monster was slain by Bellerophon, riding the winged horse, Pegasus. The term has multiple uses in modern biology. One prominent definition is an animal that has multiple different populations of genetically distinct cells that originated from different zygotes. Some humans are naturally chimeric, sharing cells from a twin (often one that was never born) or a parent. In popular usage, a chimera means something deliberately created with a combination of human and animal cells. Such combination is often opposed on religious and ethical grounds. Some Catholic bishops have argued that such embryos should not be created but should be brought to term if created in contrast to proposed legislation in Great Britain which would allow both the creation of chimeras and outlaw the implantation of a chimera once created.
The Cyclopes are members of the Greco-mythical race of giants with a single eye in the middle of their forehead, like monsters. The most famous of these was Polyphemus, descendant of Poseidon from Homer's Odyssey.
The Gigantes (monstrous giants) are (according to the poet Hesiod) the children of Uranus and Gaia. The titans are as well often imagined to be of great size and strength, hence the word titanic. Also the Cyclopes, in mythology, are giants with one eye. Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, was a giant, as well as Gog the giant of the Amorites, (og in Hebrew means "gigantic").Hercules was the son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and the mortal woman Alcmena. Possessing great strength, he was constantly tormented by Zeus' goddess wife, Hera, who sought to have him killed to blot out the reminder of Zeus' infidelity. Even as an infant two snakes were sent to kill Hercules in his crib, but instead he strangled them with his great strength. Hera later made Hercules insane so that he killed his family, and, once he recovered his sanity, planned to commit suicide until Theseus convinced him not to.
Jason was a person from pagan Greek mythology. He sailed (on his ship the Argo with Hercules and Orpheus and the other Argonauts) to Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece. King Aeetes of Colchis assigned Jason several tasks he had to perform before he could retrieve the Golden Fleece; these tasks were supposed to be impossible, but King Aeetes's daughter Medea had fallen in love with Jason so she aided him in the tasks. With Medea's aid (Medea was a powerful witch as well as being a princess), Jason won the Golden Fleece and he and Medea were married and he had two children by her. Later in his life, he divorced Medea so he could marry King Creon's daughter; in revenge for this betrayal Medea killed Jason's new bride and both of the children she had by him, leaving him to mourn their loss. Jason is also a Christian name for a boy.
Medea ,(from the Greek for cunning), was a sorceress, daughter of Aeetes, king of Colchis. She helped Jason to obtain the Golden Fleece and married him. However, she was deserted in Corinth and avenged herself by killing their two children.
Medusa was one of the Gorgons. Legends said that she was the fairest of the beautiful Gorgon sisters- yet also the vainest. By means of deflating Medusa's ego, the goddess Athena changed the belle's gorgeous golden tresses into a mass of lethal snakes. Nevertheless, Medusa still continued to spend hours in front of the mirror, even though suitors shied away, because she was possessing of many more attractive qualities as well. Outraged at Medusa's narcissism, Athena decided to punish all of the Gorgon sisters. She exiled them to a deserted, isolated island. Then she put an additional curse on them: if a mortal ever looked at them straight in the eyes, s/he would turn to stone. Over the years spent alone in their new domain, they eventually turned into monsters, with characteristics such as long, yellow fangs, clammy skin, and monstrous size. After many brave heroes had been reduced to statues by her lethal glare, Medusa was eventually slain by Perseus, who avoided looking at her eyes by instead observing her through her reflection in Athena's reflective shield. He succeeded in beheading the monster, and, when she died, Pegasus, the winged horse, flew out of her neck.
The Minotaur was half-man and half-bull. It was the offspring of Pasipha, the wife of King Minos of Crete, and a bull. Poseidon had given a bull to Minos to sacrifice to the god, but it was so beautiful, the king could not sacrifice it and kept it instead. As punishment, Poseidon made the queen, Pasipha, fall in love with the bull and their offspring was the minotaur. At first the minotaur wreaked havoc throughout Crete, but eventually Minos caught it and imprisoned in the labyrinth, a maze designed by the architect Daedalus that was so complex that no one could escape from it. For food, the minotaur was given fourteen Athenians every year who were put in the maze and hunted by the minotaur. After a time, however, the Athenian hero Theseus came to Crete to be fed to the minotaur, but instead, with the help of Minos' daughter Ariadne, killed it with his bare hands.
Mount Olympus is the place of the gods in Greek mythology. It towers up from the center of the earth. Here at least twelve major gods live and hold court. The myths are vague on whether it is an actual mountain that can be traveled to by foot or only a region of the heavens.
Narcissus was a man in Greek myth who fell in love with his own reflection. In the Roman poet Ovid's retelling of the myth, Narcissus is the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. Tiresias, the seer, told his parents that the child "would live to an old age if it did not look at itself." Many nymphs and girls fell in love with him but he rejected them. One of these nymphs, Echo, was so distraught over this rejection that she withdrew into a lonely spot and faded until all that was left was a plaintive whisper (the origin of the word "echo"). The goddess Nemesis heard the rejected girl's prayers for vengeance and arranged for Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection. He stayed watching his reflection and let himself die. It is quite possible, however, that the connection between Echo and Narcissus was entirely Ovid's own invention, for there is no earlier references to this story in literature.
Orestes was the son of Agamemnon, commander of all the Greek forces at Troy, and the grandson of Atreus. After his father was murdered by his mother, Orestes, who was very young, went into exile. Orestes was determined to avenge his father and when he had grown up, he returned to kill his mother Clytemnestra and her new husband Aegisthus, Orestes' uncle. Despite divine laws against killing family, Orestes killed them both and freed his sister Electra whom they had imprisoned. As punishment for the murders, Orestes was pursued by the Erinyes until Athena forgave him.
Orion was a handsome giant and hunter, who was struck blind by Dionysus for attempting an outrage on Merope, but recovered his eyesight on exposing his eyeballs to the arrowy rays of Aurora, and became afterwards the companion of Artemis on the hunting-field, but he fell a victim to the jealousy of Apollo, the brother of Artemis, and was transformed by the latter into a constellation in the sky, where he figures as a giant wearing a lion's skin and a girdle or belt and wielding a club.
Pelops was the son of Tantalus who served him to the gods at a feast. Fortunately, the gods realized what was happening before eating Pelops, and so were able to re-assemble him. Pelops later married Hippodamia after beating her father in a chariot race. He had two sons: Atreus and Thyestes.
Perseus is a great hero, a demigod and the son of Zeus and Danae. He slays the gorgon Medusa and rescues Andromeda. The tale of Perseus and Medusa was artfully retold by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his story, "The Gorgon's Head." In astronomy, Perseus is a not-very-conspicuous constellation located near Cassiopeia. The Perseids are an annual meteor shower, peaking on August 12; the meteors in this shower appear to radiate from a center in Perseus, hence the name.
Phaeton was the son of the sun god Helios. When his mother told him who his father was, he set out to meet him and discover whether he indeed was the sun god's son. He met Helios who confirmed what his mother said, and, to prove it, swore by the river Styx that he would grant any request of Phaeton's. Unfortunately, what Phaeton wanted most was to drive the god's chariot for a day. Although Helios knew that this would be deadly folly, he had sworn by the Styx and so had no choice but to leave his son to his fate. Phaeton began driving the chariot, but quickly lost control, threatening the Earth so that Zeus was forced to kill him. This myth was used to teach what happened when mortals forgot their place and thought that they were the gods' equals.
Pleuron was a city in Aetolia.
Sisyphus was a cunning and deceitful man who was known for his trickery. He is best known for his punishment of being forced to roll a boulder up a hill for all of eternity. Perhaps his greatest trick was tricking Thanatos, the personification of Death, to demonstrate a set of shackles on himself. Thanatos remained shackled under the care of Sisyphus for a period of time, during which no mortal could die. Ares, the god of war, became upset that his battles would not result in death, and finally rescued Thanatos. Before Sisyphus died, he asked his wife not to perform the sacrifice usually performed in such a situation. Once sent to the underworld, he then complained that his wife was neglecting this duty, and asked for permission to return to ask his wife to perform this duty. He received this permission, but once he came back, he would not return. Hermes, the messenger of the gods, brought Sisyphus back. As a punishment for his trickery, Sisyphus was sent to Tartarus, the worst part of Hades, and condemned to roll a boulder up a hill for all of eternity. The boulder would always roll back down the hill once Sisyphus brought it to the top. The myth of Sisyphus is used as a metaphor for repetitive and useless activities.
Tantalus was the father of Pelops, whom he cut up and served to the Greek gods at a feast. In punishment, the gods sent him to Tartarus, where he was always up to his waist in water and just out of reach of some delicious-looking grapes. From this myth we get the word tantalizing, and also one of Aesop's Fables.
Tethys can refer to several different things: *the Greek Titan who was the mother of rivers *one of the Cassini moons of Saturn *a post-Panthalassic ocean that separated Gondwana and Lorasia during the Mesozoic Era.
Theseus was a mythological character, the son of Aegeus and Aethra of Athens. He was raised by his mother away from his father, but his mother had been instructed to send Theseus to claim his place as his father's heir once he was strong enough to roll away a boulder that was guarding a sword and shoes belonging to Aegeus. After a time, he rolled away the boulder and prepared to journey to his father's kingdom. Because the roads to Athens were filled with dangerous bandits, Theseus' mother and grandfather tried to convince him to take the safe route by sea, but Theseus was determined to prove his valor and become a hero by traveling over land. As he traveled, he encountered numerous outlaws, but he killed them all, and by the time he reached Athens he had built a reputation as a good and courageous fighter, so much so that his father, on the advice of Medea, initially tried to poison him before realizing that Theseus was his son. Theseus went on many other adventures, most notably sailing to Crete to kill the Minotaur. Periodically, the Athenians were forced by King Minos of Crete to give him seven young men and seven young women to be put into the Labyrinth and fed to the Minotaur. One year, Theseus volunteered and, instead of being eaten by the Minotaur, killed it. Unfortunately, this episode ended in the death of Aegeus. Before leaving, Theseus had told Aegeus that if he came back alive, he would raise white sails on his ship as he returned, but he forgot and instead kept the ship's usual black sails, causing Aegeus to think him dead. In grief the King killed himself.
Zeus was the leader of the gods.
The ideas of an afterlife was already well established by the 6th century B.C. The first thing that happened was the deceased was laid to rest, with a coin typically in his mouth. This was for the toll in afterlife. They then met Charon, who sailed them across the River Styx. They then entered Hades, which was guarded by the three-headed guard dog, Cereabus, who was also Hades' "pet". They then went to wherever they were supposed to go, according to Hades. Either Tartarus(Hell), The Field of Punishment, The Field of Asphodel, for ordinary people, and finally, Elysium, of the Elysian Fields, which was for good people who achieved great things in life.
- Nuttall Encyclopedia of General Knowledge, article on Boötes originally published in 1907 written by Reverend James Wood
- Nuttall Encyclopedia of General Knowledge, article on Calypso originally published in 1907 written by Reverend James Wood
- Nuttall Encyclopedia of General Knowledge, article on Charon originally published in 1907 written by Reverend James Wood
- Hebrew Bible
- Encyclopedia Mythica
- Nuttall Encyclopedia of General Knowledge, article on Orion originally published in 1907 written by Reverend James Wood
- Hawthorne, Nathaniel (1852), A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys. The Gorgon's Head, online