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Bust of Zeus, found in Otricoli, Italy (now in Sala Rotonda, Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican)

Greek mythology is the body of myths and teachings that belong to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. It was a part of the religion in ancient Greece. Modern scholars refer to and 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.

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. Greek mythology is explicitly embodied in a large collection of narratives, and implicitly in Greek representational arts, such as ancient vase-paintings and votive gifts. Greek myth attempts to explain the origins of the world, and details the lives and adventures of a wide variety of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines and mythological creatures. These accounts initially were disseminated in an oral-poetic tradition most likely by Minoan and Mycenaean singers starting in the 18th century BC; today the Greek myths are known primarily from ancient Greek literature. The oldest known Greek literary sources, Homer's epic poems Iliad and Odyssey, focus on the Trojan War and its aftermath. 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.

Archaeological findings provide a principal source of detail about Greek mythology, with gods and heroes featured prominently in the decoration of many 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.

Selected article

Pandora

In Greek mythology, Pandora (ancient Greek, Πανδώρα, derived from πᾶν "all" and δῶρον "gift", thus "giver of all", "all-endowed") was the first woman. As Hesiod related it, each god helped create her by giving her unique gifts. Zeus ordered Hephaestus to mould her out of Earth as part of the punishment of mankind for Prometheus' theft of the secret of fire, and all the gods joined in offering her "seductive gifts". Her other name, inscribed against her figure on a white-ground kylix in the British Museum, is Anesidora, "she who sends up gifts," up implying "from below" within the earth. According to the myth, Pandora opened a jar (pithos), in modern accounts sometimes mistranslated as "Pandora's box" (see below), releasing all the evils of mankind— although the particular evils, aside from plagues and diseases, are not specified in detail by Hesiod — leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again. She opened the jar out of simple curiosity and not as a malicious act. The myth of Pandora is ancient, appears in several distinct Greek versions, and has been interpreted in many ways.

Gods and goddesses

Detail from Bouguereau's The Birth of Venus

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. According to Greek poet Hesiod, she was born when Cronus cut off Uranus' genitals and threw them into the sea, and from the aphros (sea foam) arose Aphrodite.

Because of her beauty other gods feared that jealousy would interrupt the peace among them and lead to war, and so Zeus married her to Hephaestus, who was not viewed as a threat. Her unhappiness in marriage caused her to frequently seek out the companionship of her lover Ares. Aphrodite also became instrumental in the Eros and Psyche legend, and later was both Adonis' lover and his surrogate mother.

Aphrodite is also known as Cytherea (Lady of Cythera) and Cypris (Lady of Cyprus) after the two places, Cythera and Cyprus, which claim her birth. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus. Myrtles, doves, sparrows, and swans are sacred to her. The Greeks identified the Ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor with Aphrodite.

She also has many other names, such as Acidalia, Cytherea, Pandemos and Cerigo. These names were used in specific areas of Greece. When the Greek cities combined, these lesser names were abandoned and a single name, Aphrodite, was adopted. Each goddess represented a slightly different religion but with overall similarities.

Selected picture

Pallas Athena by Klimt
Artist: Gustav Klimt

Pallas Athena by Gustav Klimt. Athena, goddess of strength, is one of the twelve Olympians.

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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Heroes

Achilles

In Greek mythology, Achilles (Ancient Greek: Ἀχιλλεύς) was a Greek hero of the Trojan War, the central character and the greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad. Later legends (beginning with a poem by Statius in the first century AD) state that Achilles was invulnerable in all of his body except for his heel. Since he died due to an arrow shot into his heel, the "Achilles' heel" has come to mean a person's principal weakness.

Achilles was the son of the nymph Thetis and Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons. Zeus and Poseidon had been rivals for the hand of Thetis until Prometheus, the fire-bringer, warned Zeus of a prophecy that Thetis would bear a son greater than his father. For this reason, the two gods withdrew their pursuit, and had her wed Peleus.

Legendary creatures

Dryad

Dryads (Δρυάδες, sing.: Δρυάς) are tree nymphs in Greek mythology. In Greek drys signifies 'oak,' from an Indo-European root *derew(o)- 'tree' or 'wood'. Thus dryads are specifically the nymphs of oak trees, though the term has come to be used for all tree nymphs in general. "Such deities are very much overshadowed by the divine figures defined through poetry and cult," Walter Burkert remarked of Greek nature deities. They were normally considered to be very shy creatures, except around the goddess Artemis, who was known to be a friend to most nymphs.

The dryads of ash trees were called the Meliai. The ash-tree sisters tended the infant Zeus in Rhea's Cretan cave. Rhea gave birth to the Meliai after being made fertile by the blood of castrated Ouranos. Nymphs associated with apple trees were Epimeliad, and walnut-trees Caryatids.

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