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Greek and Roman mythology is quite generally supposed to show us the way the human race thought and felt untold ages ago. These are the words that begin Mythology by Edith Hamilton. Mythology is what men explained as what caused things to happen. It is kind of like science today.

Many great poets recorded Greek and Roman myths. By far to me Homer had to be the greatest poet of the Greeks. Homer told many famous poems such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homer was blind, so he actually sung the poems and they were passed down to other generations until someone wrote these poems down. Other great poets included the Latin poet Ovid and Hesiod who wrote the Theogony.

The Greeks were the first people to create their gods in their own image. Of course, this was unusual at the time of the early Greeks, since most of the gods during this period were some sort of creature with twelve eyes, a dragon tail, one goat's horn, the wings of an eagle, and the body of a lion. The Greeks seemed to be more civilized. They did not agree with human sacrifice and seemed to be more organized also.

The Olympians consisted of twelve main Greek gods. Their leader was Zeus or Jupiter in Latin. He had two brothers Poseidon (Neptune), ruler of the sea and Hades (Pluto), the ruler of the underworld. Zeus's wife, Hera (Juno) (also his sister) was the protector of marriage. Zeus's daughter Athena (Minerva) was born from her father's head. She was the goddess of arts, crafts, and war. Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto. He was the god of prophecy, medicine, and archery. His twin sister, Artemis (Diana) was the goddess of the hunt and one of the virgin goddesses. Aphrodite (Venus) was born form the foam of the sea. She was the goddess of love and beauty. Hermes (Mercury), the son of Zeus and Maia was the god of thieves and merchants. He was also the messenger to the gods. Ares (Mars) was the god of war and a coward. He was the son of Zeus and Hera. Hephaestus (Vulcan) was so ugly when he was born, Hera threw him off Mount Olympus. He was the god of fire and surprisingly married to Aphrodite. Hestia (Vesta) was the goddess of the hearth. She was also a virgin goddess.

There were other gods on Olympus besides the twelve great Olympians. Eros (Cupid) was the god of love and son of Aphrodite. Hebe was the goddess of youth. The goddess of the rainbow and another messenger to the gods was Iris. The three Graces were Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia. They were the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome. The Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. They are known for the music of their song, which brought joy to any who heard it. There are nine Muses, each with her own specialty: Clio (History), Urania (Astronomy), Melpomene (Tragedy), Thalia (Comedy), Terpsichore (Dance), Calliope (Epic Poetry), Erato (Love Poetry), Polyhymnia (Songs to the Gods), Euterpe (Lyric Poetry).

Poseidon ruled the gods of the water. Ocean, a Titan, was the lord of the river Ocean, a great river encircling the earth. Pontus, which means the deep sea, was a son of Mother Earth and the father of Nereus, a sea god far more important than he was. Nereus was married to Doris. Together they had fifty daughters, the nymphs of the sea, called the Nereids. Triton was the trumpeter of the sea. Proteus was the son of Poseidon and foretold the future.

Hades and Persephone ruled the underworld. It was divided into two regions: Tartarus and Erebus. Charon was the boatman, who ferried the souls of the dead across the rivers of fire. One of the most feared rivers was the River Styx. The Erinyes were the vigilantes of Hades. Sleep and Death ascended dreams from the underworld.

There were many lesser gods of earth, but these are only a handful. Pan was a Satyr (half man-half goat), who was the chief of the gods of earth. He was a famous musician that played the pipes. Castor and Pollux, who were never separated, were the sons of Zeus and Leda. The Sileni were creatures that were part man and part horse. The Gorgons were dragonlike creatures, whose look turned men to stone. The Sirens lived on an island in the sea. They had enchanting voices and their singing lured sailors to their death.

Demeter (Ceres) and Dionysus (Bacchus) were two great gods of earth. Demeter was the god of grain. Her daughter became the wife of Hades in an unusual way. While Persephone (Proserpine) was out in a field, Hades came from the underworld in a chariot and took her back to his palace. Demeter begged Zeus to bring her back, and he did. Although Persephone saw her mother, she had to return to Hadesí palace because she had eaten a pomegranate seed. Now Persephone could only see her mother for eight months out of the year. Dionysus was the god of wine. He was basically a drunk in my opinion. His followers were the Maenads or Bacchantes and the Satyrs.

This is a brief summary of how the Greeks thought the universe was created. In the beginning there was Chaos. Then Chaos bore Night and Erebus. From darkness and from death love was born. Love then created Light. Out of nowhere Earth and Heaven appeared. Their children were large, hideous creatures. Three of them had one hundred heads and fifty hands. Their other children were three Cyclopes and a number of Titans.

Heaven was a poor father. The Titan Cronus didn't like the way he was treated and rebelled. From Heaven's blood the giants and the Erinyes were born. Rhea and Cronus had six children. Cronus was scared that he would be dethroned, so he ate all his children except Zeus, whom Rhea saved by giving Cronus a rock, Omphalos , the navelstone of the world, instead of Zeus. Zeus stayed on Delphi until he was old enough to defeat his father. He took care of Cronus, saved his brothers and sisters, and became the supreme ruler.

Supposedly the Titan Prometheus created man. He made mankind a superior to animals. Then Prometheus went to heaven, to the sun, lit a torch and brought man fire. This was a great protection for man. Zeus was angry with Prometheus for giving fire to man and bound him to a mountaintop, where an eagle would pick at his liver all day long. Hercules later saved him.

Zeus's anger with Prometheus was great. Zeus punished man for Prometheusís wrongs, too. He gave man woman. The woman Pandora was given a box filled with all the awful things anyone could ever imagine. The gods plainly told her not to open it. Since Pandora was so curious what was inside, she opened the box. All evil and hate spread throughout the world. The only thing left inside the box was hope.

As Odysseus was on his way back from the Trojan War, he came across the island of the Cyclopes. Being hungry, Odysseus ventured around the island in search of food. He found a cave and went inside of it. This was the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus. When Polyphemus returned, he saw his little guests and ate several of them. The Cyclops left the next day to herd his sheep to a grassy meadow. While he was gone, Odysseus and his men devised a plan. That night they took a heated stake and poked out the eye of Polyphemus. Odysseus and the crew escaped the cave by hiding under the fleeces of Polyphemusí sheep and exiting the cave of terror.

There once was beautiful lad named Narcissus, who would not except any girl that loved him. The fairest of the nymphs, Echo was in love with him. Hera suspected she was in love with Zeus and punished her by making her repeat the words of others. Narcissus met Echo in the woods, but he ditched her. She went into a cave and "echoed" the words that anyone would say. As Narcissus continued on, he stopped by a pool of water. He saw his reflection and fell in love with himself. He felt sorry for all the disappointed girls and committed suicide. Along the stream a flower sprouted, called a narcissus.

Another flower, the hyacinth gets its name from the death of Hyacinthus. He and Apollo competed in a discus throw. Apollo accidentally struck Hyacinthus on the head. This was the cause of his death and the hyacinth sprouted from the bloodstained grass.

Psyche, the youngest daughter of a king and queen, had such an extraordinary beauty that the people in the kingdom began to pay tribute to her in the manner reserved only for the gods and goddesses. Venus especially took offense at the homage given to this mortal girl and called upon her son, the mischievous Cupid, to remedy the situation by teaching Psyche a lesson. Venusís plan backfired and Cupid struck himself with one of his own arrows. He fell in love with her immediately.

Psycheís parents took her to the oracle of Apollo and were told that she was destined to marry a mortal man. Her future husband awaited her on the top of the mountain that neither god nor man could resist. Psyche, resigned to her fate, went to the mountain, fully expecting the gods to put an end to her life. Instead, she found a magnificent palace run by unseen servants. Her every wish became a reality. The man to whom she became wedded was a tender and loving husband, but she was never permitted to see him. He came in darkness and left in darkness. Psyche was so curious that she broke her promise to her husband and sought to see what his appearance actually was. Instead of a monster lying in her bed, she saw Cupid, who awakened and was angered by Psyche's duplicity. He left her alone, vowing never to see her again.

In vain, Psyche sought to regain her husband. Finally she went to Venus, hoping to regain the Goddessís favor and thus the love of Cupid. Venus issued impossible tasks for Psyche to accomplish, which with the secret help of Cupid completed them successfully. But even with the missions done, it took Cupid pleading his case to Jupiter to fulfill his desire for Psyche to be his immortal mate.

Pyramus and Thisbe were two lovers who were dearly in love. Their parents did not consent marriage to them. They decided to meet in the open country, since their parents forbade them to see each other. This turned out to be a bad idea. They both ended up killing themselves. This story can be compared to Romeo and Juliet.

Orpheus, a very talented musician married Eurydice. On their wedding day Eurydice was bit by a snake and died. Orpheus was greatly disappointed and decided to go down to the underworld and bring Eurydice back. Orpheus used his voice to talk Hades into letting his late wife return. She could have returned if her husband had not looked back to see if she was out of the cavern to the underworld. Orpheus was sadden even more. His wish finally came true when a band of Maenads came upon him and tore him into pieces.

There once was a gifted young sculptor, named Pygmalion, who was a women-hater. He made a statue of a beautiful young lady. He fell in love with it. Pygmalion treated her like a girl would treat a doll. He asked Venus to find him a maiden as beautiful as his statue. She did, but the statue became the maiden. Pygmalion named her Galatea, and they had a son, Paphos.

Jupiter and Mercury decided to test the kindness of the people of a town. No one would offer them any hospitality except for the elder couple Baucis and Philemon. Jupiter gave the couple a wish. Being wise they asked to become priests at one of Jupiterís temples. Their wish was granted and they lived happily ever after.

Daphne was a young huntress loved by Apollo. She resisted his love and fled. They came to her fatherís river, where she called out, "Help me! Father, help me!" With those words she was changed into a laurel tree. Therefore a laurel became sacred to Apollo.

The Golden Fleece had originally belonged to the ram, which had saved the children of Athamas, Phrixos and Helle from being sacrificed to Zeus at the command of their wicked stepmother Ino. Aeetes, the king at where the ram stopped, received Phrixos kindly, and when the boy had sacrificed the ram to Zeus, he gave its miraculous fleece to the king. Aeetes dedicated the fleece to Ares and hung it in a grove sacred to the war-god, where it was guarded by a fearsome serpent.

Jason had heard about the Golden Fleece and wanted it. He loaded up his ship, the Argo and began his adventure to Kolchis. The Argo sped through the narrow channel, suffering only slight damage to her stern timbers. The Argonauts arrived safely at Kolchis. When Jason explained why he had come, King Aeetes stipulated that before Jason could remove the Golden Fleece he must first yoke two bronze-footed, fire-breathing bulls to a plow. Then he must sow some of the teeth of the dragon Kadmos had slain in Thebes, and when armed men sprang up he must destroy them. Medea, who first made Jason promise that he would take her back to Iolkos as his wife, gave him a magic ointment to rub over his body. Jason was successful at the tasks. Aeetes, somewhat surprised at his visitor's prowess, was still reluctant to hand over the Fleece, and even attempted to set fire to the Argo and kill her crew. So while Medea drugged the guardian serpent, Jason quickly removed the Golden Fleece from the sacred grove, and with the rest of the Argonauts they slipped quietly away to sea.

All of Phaethonís life he had heard that the Sun was his father. One day Phaethon went to the palace of the Sun to if this was true. Everyone was right about his father. The Sun was so happy, he gave his son a wish and swore by the River Styx. Phaethon wanted to drive the Sun chariot. This was a very bad choice that cost Phaethon his life.

Bellerophon was the son of King Glaucus. Athena gave him a bridle to catch the winged horse Pegasus. Bellerophon and Pegasus killed the Chimera and defeated the Amazons. After these feats Bellerophon tried to fly to Mount Olympus, but Pegasus threw him off of his back. The horse became the deliver of thunder and lightning to Zeus, and Bellerophon became a wanderer staying away from humanity.

Otus and Ephialtes were Giants and also twins. They were the sons of Poseidon. The Giants thought they were greater than the gods were. They once captured Ares and tried to capture Artemis, but she had another plan. While out hunting her, Artemis made them strike themselves with their own arrows.

Daedalus was a great inventor. He created a great maze called the Labyrinth for King Minos, the saw, and flight. Minos was angry with him and put he and his son, Icarus, in the Labyrinth. They escaped easily by building wings and flying out of the great maze. Not listening to his father, Icarus flew too high and his wings melted. He plunged onto the rocks and died. Later King Minos made Daedalus thread a shell. He did it successfully by tying a string to ant and sending it down the shell.

Perseus was famous for killing Medusa. Medusa was a Gorgon, a creature with snakes for hair and wings whose look changed men to stone. Perseus by no means slew this beast himself. He had the help of Hermesí winged shoes and hat, an indestructible sword, an expandable wallet, and a reflecting shield. Perseus beheaded Medusa when she was asleep and easily brought back her head.

Theseusí father, King Aegeus left him as a child to rule the city of Athens. Theseus went to Athens when he was strong enough to roll over the stone his father put on top of a sword and some shoes. On his way he murdered the bad that would steal from travelers. His father did not notice him when he reached Athens. Aegeus would have killed his son, if he had not told him. At the time King Minos demanded seven maidens and seven youths for his Minotaur, which dwelled in the Labyrinth. Immediately Theseus volunteered. His intentions were to kill the beast, not to be killed by the beast. Ariadne, daughter of Minos, helped Theseus. She told him the way out of the Labyrinth. While inside Theseus killed the Minotaur and saved his peers. On the way back to Athens, Theseus forgot to raise the sail that meant he was alive. His father saw this and killed himself.

Hercules had a very bad temper. He was born in Thebes and the son of Zeus. As a child Hercules killed two snakes that Hera had sent to terminate him. He did not like his music teacher and killed him, too. Hercules wore a lion skin of a lion that he slew. One time Hera made Hercules go crazy and he murdered his wife and children. To clear these wrongs Hercules did these twelve labors:

 

  1. Kill the lion of Nemea
  2. Go to Lerna and kill the Hydra
  3. Bring back the stag with golden horns
  4. Capture the great boar
  5. Clean the Augean stables in one day
  6. Drive away the Stymphalian birds
  7. Fetch Poseidonís savage bull
  8. Get the man-eating mare of Diomedes
  9. Bring back the griddle of Hippolyta
  10. Bring back the cattle of Geryon
  11. Get the Golden Apples of Hesperides
  12. Bring back Cerberus the three-headed dog

 

Hercules completed all twelve labors and was then cleared. He suffered great pain by his second wife Deianira and Hera. His wife sprinkled the blood of the Centaur Nessus on him and for the rest of his life he suffered with pain. The pain became so great Hercules burnt himself to death. The gods felt so sorry for him he was made a god.

Atalanta was a notable hunter. She participated in the Calydonian boar hunt and was the first to strike the boar down. Meleager really killed the boar, but he gave all of the credit to Atalanta. Later in her life she raced Hippomenes, a smart lad, for marriage. Hippomenes won the race. He dropped golden apples along the way and Atalanta stopped and picked up each one.

The origin of the Trojan War began when a golden apple, inscribed "for the fairest" was thrown by Eris, goddess of discord, among the heavenly guests at the wedding of Peleus, the ruler of Myrmidons, and Thetis, one of the Nereids. The award of the apple went to Aphrodite, whom Paris chose. She gave Paris the favor of herself and the love of the beautiful Helen of Troy, wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Helen went with Paris to Troy, and an expedition to avenge the injury to Menelaus was placed under the command of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae. Agamemnon's force included many famous Greek heroes, the most noted of whom were Achilles, Patroclus, the two Ajaxes, Teucer, Nestor, Odysseus, and Diomedes.

After the Trojans refused to restore Helen to Menelaus, the Greek warriors assembled at the Bay of Aulis and proceeded to Troy. The siege lasted ten years, the first nine of which were uneventful. In the tenth year, Achilles withdrew from battle because of his anger with Agamemnon. To avenge the death of his friend Patroclus, Achilles returned to battle and killed Hector, the principal Trojan warrior. The city of Troy was captured at last by treachery. A force of Greek warriors gained entrance to the city by hiding inside of a large wooden horse. Subsequently the Greeks sacked and burned the city. Only a few Trojans escaped, the most famous being Aeneas.

It took Odysseus ten years to get home after the Trojan War. For a long time he was held a virtual prisoner on an island ruled by the nymph Calypso. The gods started to feel sorry for him, and Zeus sent Hermes to his rescue. Calypso let Odysseus leave the island on a large raft. Eighteen days later he landed in a country of the Phaeacians. There King Alcinoò s helped him return to Ithaca by means of a ship and crew. When Odysseus finally returned home there were many men at his house wanting to marry his wife, Penelope. He and his son, Telemachus killed them and the family lived happily ever after.

After the Trojan War the Trojan Aeneas was looking for a place to settle. A bad storm beached the ship in Africa. Juno didnít want Aeneas to reach Italy, so she cast a spell upon Dido, the widow ruler of Carthage, but Venus, Aeneasí mother counteracted to the spell. When Aeneas left, Dido killed herself. To get to Italy Aeneas had to visit the underworld for some information. He met his father, Anchises and Dido. Aeneas then found Italy and defeated King Latinus.

There were three great families of mythology. The first was the House of Arteus. This family was really messed up. Tantalus served his son, Pelops to the gods. They punished him by sending him to Hades. Clytemnestra killed her husband, Agamemnon. Her son, Orestes killed his mother.

Another family was the House of Thebes. Acteon was hunter, who stumbled upon Artemis bathing. She changed him into a stag and his dogs chased him down and tore him into tiny pieces. Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx to save the city of Thebes. He killed his father on accident because he did not know who he was.

The last family was the House of Athens. Cecrops was the first king of Attica. He was half dragon and half human. Procne was changed into a nightingale, Tereus was changed into a hawk, and Philomela was changed into a swallow. Apollo had a child with Creusa. She abandoned the baby in a cave. Creusa fell in love with Xuthus. They had no children, but wanted to have one or two of their own. They went to the oracle and Apollo gave them Ion, Creusaís real son.

Midas, king of Phyrgia, was a stubborn person. Bacchus gave him one wish and he asked for the "golden touch." After one day Midas begged Bacchus to take back his wish, and he did. Midas was asked to choose the better musician: Pan or Apollo. Stubborn Midas chose Pan. Apollo changed Midasís ears into ass ears.

 

Last updated on 11/30/97


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