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Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the ancient Greeks. These stories concern the origin and the nature of the world, the lives and activities of deities, heroes, and mythological creatures, and the origins and significance of the ancient Greeks' own cult and ritual practices. Modern scholars study the myths in an attempt to shed light on the religious and political institutions of ancient Greece and its civilization, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.

The Greek myths were initially propagated in an oral-poetic tradition most likely by Minoan and Mycenaean singers starting in the 18th century BC; eventually the myths of the heroes of the Trojan War and its aftermath became part of the oral tradition of Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Two poems by Homer's near contemporary Hesiod, the Theogony and the Works and Days, contain accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of divine rulers, the succession of human ages, the origin of human woes, and the origin of sacrificial practices. Myths are also preserved in the Homeric Hymns, in fragments of epic poems of the Epic Cycle, in lyric poems, in the works of the tragedians and comedians of the fifth century BC, in writings of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic Age, and in texts from the time of the Roman Empire by writers such as Plutarch and Pausanias.

Aside from this narrative deposit in ancient Greek literature, pictorial representations of gods, heroes, and mythic episodes featured prominently in ancient vase-paintings and the decoration of votive gifts and many other artifacts. Geometric designs on pottery of the eighth century BC depict scenes from the Trojan cycle as well as the adventures of Heracles. In the succeeding Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods, Homeric and various other mythological scenes appear, supplementing the existing literary evidence.

Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the culture, arts, and literature of Western civilization and remains part of Western heritage and language. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in the themes.

Selected article

Homer bust

Homer (Ancient Greek: Ὅμηρος, Hómēros) is a legendary ancient Greek epic poet, traditionally said to be the author of the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. The ancient Greeks generally believed that Homer was an historical individual, but modern scholars are skeptical: no reliable biographical information has been handed down from classical antiquity, and the poems themselves manifestly represent the culmination of many centuries of oral story-telling and a well-developed "formulaic" system of poetic composition. According to Martin West, "Homer" is "not the name of a historical poet, but a fictitious or constructed name."

The date of Homer's existence was controversial in antiquity and is no less so today. Herodotus said that Homer lived 400 years before his own time, which would place him at around 850 BC; but other ancient sources gave dates much closer to the supposed time of the Trojan War.The date of the Trojan War was given as 1194–1184 BC by Eratosthenes, who strove to establish a scientific chronology of events. For modern scholarship, "the date of Homer" refers to the date of the poems' conception as much as to the lifetime of an individual.

Featured deity

Bust of Hades

Hades (Άδης or Ἀΐδας; from Greek ᾍδης, Hadēs, originally Ἅιδης, Haidēs or Άΐδης, Aidēs, meaning "the unseen") refers both to the ancient Greek underworld, the abode of Hades, and to the god of the underworld. Hades in Homer referred just to the god; the genitive ᾍδου, Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative, too, came to designate the abode of the dead.

In Greek mythology, Hades is the oldest male child of Cronus and Rhea. According to myth he and his brothers Zeus and Poseidon defeated the Titans and claimed rulership over the universe ruling the underworld, air, and sea, respectively; the solid earth, long the province of Gaia, was available to all three concurrently. Because of his association with the underworld, Hades is often interpreted by moderns as the Grim Reaper, even though he was not.

By the Romans Hades was called Pluto, from his Greek epithet Πλούτων Ploutōn (πλοῦτος, wealth), meaning "Rich One". In Roman mythology, Hades/Pluto was called Dis Pater and Orcus. The corresponding Etruscan god was Aita. Symbols associated with him are the Helm of Darkness and the three-headed dog, Cerberus.

Selected image

Io
Artist: John Hoppner

In Greek mythology, Io was the daughter of Inachus, a river god.

Did you know ...

  • Heracles already meet Theseus when the latter was only seven years old.  After Heracles had finished his labours, he came to visit Pittheus in Troezen where the young Theseus was under the care of his grandfather.
  • Theseus was related to his malefactors Cercyon, Procrustes and Sciron. They were all sons of his father Poseidon by other women which makes them technically Theseus' half-brother.
  • The daughters of Pelops married the sons of Perseus: Astydameia wedded to Alcaeus, Nicippe to Sthenelus, Lysidice to Mestor and Eurydice to Electryon. This was made by Pelops to extend to his political power over the whole Peloponesse. His sons also became great rulers, Pittheus and Troezen were kings in Troezen, Alcathous of Megara, Atreus and Thyestes of Mycenae and also Sciron who became a warlord of Megara.
  • Pleisthenes, son of Atreus was either a hermaphrodite or a transvestite.
  • Polydectes pretended that he was going to marry Hippodamia, daughter of Oenomaus and ordered the men in Seriphos to supply him with suitable gifts. This plan was hatched by the king to get rid of Perseus by sending him to fetch the head of Medusa because he wanted to marry the hero's mother Danae.
  • The couple, Admetus and Alcestis were actually half-cousins because Admetus's father, Pheres whose mother Tyro also bare Pelias, father of Alcestis.

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Featured hero

Theseus

Theseus was the legendary founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra lay with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were identified with an archaic religious and social order. As Heracles was the Dorian hero, Theseus was the Ionian founding hero, considered by Athenians as their own great reformer. His name comes from the same root as θεσμός ("thesmos"), Greek for institution. He was responsible for the synoikismos ("dwelling together")—the political unification of Attica under Athens, represented emblematically in his journey of labours, subduing highly localized ogres and monstrous beasts. Because he was the unifying king, Theseus built and occupied a palace on the fortress of the Acropolis that may have been similar to the palace that was excavated in Mycenae.

Featured creature

Maenad, fragment

In Greek mythology, maenads (Ancient Greek: μαινάδες, mainádes) were the female followers of Dionysus, the most significant members of the Thiasus, the retinue of Dionysus. Their name literally translates as "raving ones". Often the maenads were portrayed as inspired by him into a state of ecstatic frenzy, through a combination of dancing and drunken intoxication. In this state, they would lose all self-control, begin shouting excitedly, engage in uncontrolled sexual behavior, and ritualistically hunt down and tear animals (and sometimes men and children) to pieces, devouring the raw flesh. During these rites, the maenads would dress in fawn skins and carry a thyrsus, a long stick wrapped in ivy or vine leaves and tipped by a cluster of leaves; they would weave ivy-wreaths around their heads, and often handle or wear snakes.

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