Greek mythology, like Roman mythology, includes about 30,000 gods, goddesses, demi-gods, heroes or other inferior deities whose origin dates back to the old Indo-European period. Each has natural power, but also each has a local reality, symbolized by a divinity (salutary or harmful). Some were common to all of Greece, others were worshipped only locally.
As shown by the abundance of monuments, works of art and the entire literary tradition from Homer to the work of modern mythographers, Greek mythology is one of the richest in the world.
Greek mythology is the organized set of myths from ancient Greece, developed over a very long period from Mycenaean civilization to Roman domination. The encounter between the Greeks and the Romans coincides with Greek and Roman mythology: the former exerts a strong influence on the latter, which is not reduced to it. Long after the disappearance of the Greek and Roman religions, Greek mythology was used as a subject of inspiration by artists and continues to be so today.
Greek mythology has come to us through a vast body of texts, the oldest of which are the epics of Homer and the poems of Hesiod, mainly Theogony, but also through pictorial arts such as ceramics. All these sources present genealogies and stories that form a system with limited coherence. Greek myths testify to the ancient Greeks’ representation of the world. Nevertheless, the status of Greek mythology is complex, as mythology goes beyond religion. The mythical characters and events reported by tradition were, for the Greeks at least in their broadest sense, historical realities of the distant past and thus served as a basis for the work of ancient historians. At the same time, mythology provides a rich source of inspiration for ancient Greek literature and art.
A quick examination of his various information may suggest that these more or less wonderful legends present themselves as a coherent whole, which would have been codified and ordered by time to be easily understandable to a modern mind and frozen once and for all. This is not the case, because the study of mythology is increasingly fertile and leads to incessant and regular progress thanks to the discoveries of archaeology, linguistics or ethnology, just as the interpretation of these myths is constantly evolving.
The mythology of classical antiquity includes a very large number of gods, goddesses, demigods, or heroes.
Each natural power can be represented by a divinity. In addition, there are multiple and divergent sources on the history of the deities. As Pausanias wrote in his Periegesis “Greek stories generally have several versions and this is particularly true for genealogy.” The variety of these stories, all the more so because each, because of the ethnic fragmentation of Greece, can present several variants, their very contradictions, sometimes their incoherence from one legend to another, reflect the vitality of the Greek genius, who sees in the history of its gods and heroes a living and not immutable material.
The Romans adopted the Greek gods and their legends. That is why it is the same form that is generally used by both civilizations.
I propose a thematic approach accessible in the menu:
- the twelve Olympic deities
- the underworld,
- the deities of the waters,
- the monsters,
- the Heroes
- The Trojan War
Origin of Greek mythology: The primordial deities
From Chaos, the Earth (Gaia) which will have (without the help of a male principle) the Earth Light (Hemera), the Star Sky (Ouranos) and the Sea (Pontus) and the desire and love (Eros) are born. Then follows the Darkness (Erebos), at night (Nyx) will have (without the help of a male principle) the Light of the stars (Aither).
Ouranos and Gaia have many descendants: Oceanus (rivers); Hyperion father of Helios (the Sun); Phoebe (the Moon); Cyclops; Themis (the Law); Mnemosyne (memory); Titan had with Gaia (the earth) 12 giant children, the Titans. Ouranos ceded the throne to his brother Cronus, but Cronus devour his male children because of a prophecy that says his sons will destroy him. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, however, escaped death thanks to a trick from their mother. Zeus will dethrone him and become the supreme god sitting in Olympus.
Genealogy of the main Greek deities
The origin of the world and the appearance of the gods are described in detail in Theogony, a long poem written in verse by the Greek poet Hesiod, around the eighth century.
According to the religion of ancient Greece, there were initially eight Titans (gods of the Golden Age, which is the time before the gods):
- Gaia, the mother goddess of the Earth (in Greek Ge, which is pronounced ghê, means “the Earth”);
- Eros, god of desire and love;
- Erebe, god of darkness;
- Nyx, at night;
- Aither, the light of the stars;
- Ouranos, god of heaven and time;
- Hemera, goddess of the day;
- Pontus, the god of the sea.
From her union with Ouranos, Gaia gave birth:
- The Titans, including Cronus (the youngest);
- The Hecatonchires;
- The Cyclops: Arges, Brontes, and Steropes.
From her union with Pontus, Gaia gave birth:
- Neureus, a sea god;
- Thaumas, a sea god too;
From his union with Tartarus, Gaia gave birth:
From the blood of Ouranos that fell on Earth were born:
- the Erinyes;
- the Giants;
- the Meliae.
From her blood that fell into the sea was born the goddess Aphrodite.
Cronos joined Rhea and they had six children
- Poseidon god of the seas and oceans;
- Hades, god of the underworld;
- Demeter goddess of harvests;
- Hera goddess of marriage;
- Hestia, goddess of the hearth and fire;
- Zeus god of heaven and thunder.
- Athena goddess of wisdom, intelligence, fine arts, craftsmen and war strategy; protector of Athens;
- Aphrodite goddess of beauty and love; other versions consider her as a child of Ouranos.
- Arcas, hero.
- Ares god of war;
- Apollo god of youth and the arts, who drives the chariot of the Sun; other versions say that it is Phoebus who drives the chariot of the sun.
- Artemis goddess of hunting and twin sister of Apollo;
- Dionysus god of wine and drunkenness;
- Heracles, an extremely powerful demigod who performed twelve extremely hard works. Heracles was named
- Hercules by the Romans;
- Persephone, goddess of flowers;
- Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth;
- Hebe, goddess of youth;
- Lacedaemon, hero;
- Perseus, who saved Andromeda and killed Medusa;
- Hermes messenger of the gods, god of thieves, god of travel and commerce;
- Helen: the most beautiful woman in the world, she is kidnapped by Paris, Priam’s son.
- Pollux, Helen’s twin brother, and hero of Troy.
The Gods of Olympus
The most famous gods are:
- Athena, goddess of war strategy and wisdom. In competing against Poseidon, it gave its name to the city of Athens, the capital of Greece. She is Zeus’ daughter.
- Zeus king of the gods: he is the son of the titan Cronos. His father wanted to eat him, but he was hidden by his mother. After mutilating his father, Zeus took part in the Titanomachy where he won the victory.
- Hera, goddess of marriage and family. She was very jealous and tried to kill all the children her husband (Zeus) had with the mortals.
- Poseidon, god of the seas, earthquakes and horses and father of the cyclopses (depending on the version). He loved a woman who was transformed into the terrible gorgonian Medusa. From this union was born a child, Pegasus, the winged horse. He also had the mythical hero, Theseus, following his love affair with Ethra.
- Hermes, god of travelers and messenger of gods. He takes the shadows of the dead to hell but takes half of their belongings.
- Hades, god of the underworld (plural);
- Artemis, goddess of hunting and nature;
- Apollo, his twin brother, god of arts and music.
Ares, god of manly war, not like Athena.
- Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty and fertility.
- Demeter, the goddess of harvests, Persephone, his daughter, had been kidnapped by Hades. Then, the goddess of harvests prevented the harvests and the earth could no longer produce its fruits. Demeter searched for his daughter day and night but, when she found her, it was too late: Persephone had to stay at least 6 months a year in the Underworld. It is during this time of year that Demeter is sad: it is winter
- Dionysus: he is the god of wine and festivals, many festivities were to his honor in antiquity.
- Asclepius, god of medicine;
- Morpheus god of dreams;
- Hypnos, god of sleep;
- Nemesis, goddess of vengeance;
- Helios, god of the sun;
- Persephone, goddess of nature;
- Nyx, at night;
- Pan, god of nature and shepherds;
- Semele, goddess of the night;
- Hecate, goddess of magic;
- Aeolus, god of winds.
- Thanatos, god of death;
- Hebe, goddess of youth
- Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth
- Hygie, goddess of hygiene
- Nike, goddess
- Moros, god of violent death;
Most famous Greek heroes
The most famous heroes are:
- Heracles, half god, son of Zeus. He had to do twelve jobs for killing his children because Hera, jealous, had driven him mad: killing the lion of Nemea, exterminating the hydra of Lerne, cleaning the stables of Augias, killing the birds of Lake Stymphalus, capturing the boar of Erymanthe…
- Odysseus, the central character of the Odyssey, better known as Ulysses in Latin, participated in the Trojan War, had the idea of the Trojan horse. He tried to return to his Ithaca homeland, but the god Poseidon tried to stop him because Odysseus had slashed his son’s eye, the Cyclops Polyphemus. Odysseus will finally be able to return home after twenty years.
- Theseus faced the Minotaur, but also other opponents, such as Procuste;
Jason searched for the Golden Fleece;
- Perseus killed Medusa, the Gorgon.
- Oedipus (pronounced /edipus/, not /eudipus/ in Greek) defeated the Sphinx that terrorized the city of Thebes. He took his mother as his wife and killed his father. He was condemned to wander the earth without finding refuge.
- Bellerophon: wrongly accused of rape, he was sent to kill the Chimera, decimate the Solymes and defeat the Amazons by Iobates, the king of Lycia.
On the information side, in addition to the following bibliography, I offer you summaries of some of the great classical texts of the ancient world and some of the modern ones that have dealt with an ancient subject.
Generally, at the bottom of the sheets you will see the various sources that can be found in the early literature of the following authors:
- Apollodorus: Library
- Apollonius: Argonautics
- Callimaque :
- Aeschylus: various dramas
- Euripides: The Bacchae
- Euripides: Electra
- Hesiod: Theogony
- Homer: Iliad
- Homer: Odyssey
- Hygin: Fables
- Nonnos: Dionysiacs
- Ovid: Fastes
- Ovid: Metamorphoses
- Pausanias: periegesis
- Sophocles: Philoctetes, Electra
- Virgil: Aeneid
- Virgil: Georgian: