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Honors English 10- 01
17 October 2016
The Men the Myths the Legends: Greek Mythology
Greek mythology is known for its outrageous tales of gods, monsters, and their adventures. Although these immortal gods and goddesses acquired many unique powers, they possessed human-like qualities which led them to act out of violence, create feuds, and seek revenge. Mythical creatures and their actions were used in ancient times to explain complex ideas and occurrences that people came across in their everyday life.
Myths and teachings that belonged to the ancient Greeks were presented through the actions of fictional characters created by ancient Greeks. Initially, the stories of these immortal beings were passed down orally (History). Taking this into consideration, historians cannot be entirely sure how much the stories they are familiar with today have deviated from their original versions. This was up until around the eighth century when Homer created his epic poems, The Odyssey and the Iliad, based on the ever popular Greek myths. These were the first written documentations of Greek mythology and set the standard for many other pieces of literature that would follow the timeless works of Homer (History). Each epic involved key concepts included in Greek mythology but did not explain what each was, due to the fact that all who were reading the poem would have been familiar with the characters and settings. The poems highlighted conflicts between not only the human characters, but also the immortal ones too. For decades to come, Homer’s literature was used as a source of information for countless authors. Due to being passed down through oral tradition, the myths and teachings of Greek mythology were drastically altered based on every audience, region, or personal preference.
This polytheistic belief system was widely accepted all throughout Greece and was evident in everyday life. Many buildings, primarily temples, were engraved with images portraying famous stories of valor and nobility. Temples were created in order to praise and worship a certain god or goddess. Each would have life-sized carvings and statues of that specific deity where worshipers would be able to view it (Cartwright). Often times people would perform sacrifices for their respective god in order to honor or receive protection. Natural disasters, weather, and other unexpected occurrences were explained through myths. For example, people believed that storms, earthquakes, and other tragedies were created when the gods were unhappy or were trying to punish them as a consequence to being unloyal. Another believed myth was that the setting and rising of the sun was due to
http://www.ancient.eu/Helios/Helios riding his sun
http://www.ancient.eu/chariot/chariot riding across the sky. The seasons were explained through
http://www.ancient.eu/persephone/Persephone, the goddess of flowers and vegetation, taking trips into the underworld to be with
http://www.ancient.eu/Hades/Hades, the god of the death and of the underworld. For when Persephone left Olympus, all of the vegetation would die, resulting in winter (Cartwright). Many aspects of everyday life were impacted by the spread of Greek mythology. These changes were evident in monuments, natural phenomenon, and simple occurrences that they would encounter in their daily life.
Greek gods and goddesses were the main focus in Greek mythology. The creation story of the gods starts with a son, Zeus, taking over the throne of his father, Cronus. Historians believe that this specific situation is symbolic for the struggle present between generations of family members. The gods and goddesses of Greece live at the highest point, called Olympus (History). From here, these immortal beings watch over Greece and rule over all of its citizens. The Olympians looked and acted like humans but had the ability to change into other animals or creatures. The human-like qualities that the gods possessed caused them to act rashly and unjustly due to their tendency to overreact. The gods often let their short tempers affect their decisions which led them to create feuds and rivalries between themselves and other gods.
Each of the Gods or Goddesses have powers or control over a certain aspect of life. For example, Zeus is the king of all of the gods, the god of law, and of fate. Hera, Zeus’s wife is the goddess of women, marriage, and of childbirth (History). Other important gods and goddesses include Aphrodite, Hades, Poseidon, Athena, and many others, each of which have their own powers and influence over their respective domains. All of the Olympians are in some way related and are connected to each other through these relationships.
A number of the famous Greek heroes from mythology tend to have one thing in common, the fact that one or both of their parents are divine. Children of gods and goddesses that had one mortal parent and one godly parent were referred to as demigods. Hercules, Achilles, and many more, were all demigods and possessed god-like qualities. Hercules, the son of the god Zeus and a mortal named Alcmene, was famous for overcoming many obstacles and persevering despite the unfavorable odds. Hera, Zeus’s wife, made life extremely difficult for Hercules because he was a reminder of her husband’s infidelity. Hera set up a number of seemingly impossible tasks for Hercules in order to prove his worth. Hercules succeeded and his valor and relentlessness was rewarded by granting him immortality. On the other hand, Achilles was the son of a mortal king and a mythical creature, Thetis. His mother was extremely protective and wanted Achilles to be safe at all costs. She built up his endurance, stamina, and strength. Thetis even took Achilles to the river Styx, a dangerous river located in the underworld which was said to have immortal powers. Thetis would hold Achilles by his heel and hold him in the water so he would become as close to immortal as possible. As Achilles got older, he went to war and was struck with an arrow in his heel, his only vulnerable spot, killing him instantly (Jooshua). This myth is symbolic because it teaches the lesson that even the strongest people have some vulnerabilities. Similarly, many other demigods and heroes share similar teachings and morals within their own myths.
At the height of Greek mythology, most of the heroes were admired and honored in cities after their myths were spread around and accepted. Many major cities named and dedicated themselves after specific heroes or demigods. For example, Theseus was honored in Athens, Perseus in
http://www.ancient.eu/mycenae/Mycenae, and Kadmus in the city of
http://www.ancient.eu/Thebes/Thebes (Cartwright). Heroes and demigods both played influential roles in the spread, acceptance, and lasting impression of Greek mythology.
Aside from the more human-like aspects of Greek mythology, a large portion of the myths include monsters and other mythical creatures. These strange creatures often appear as the enemy or against the gods and the people of Greece. For example, the minotaur was originally a curse put on the son of an unfaithful king. The king was to sacrifice his best bull every year in honor of Poseidon, but one year he had the most beautiful, prosperous bull that he could not bear to lose. So, instead of sacrificing it, he gave up a lesser one in its place. However, Poseidon found out and was furious and planned to curse the king. He made the king’s wife bear the bull’s son (History). Subsequently, the minotaur was born. Some other creatures, like centaurs, half-man and half-horse, were seen as fearless warriors and were respected among the Greeks. Based on the strength of the creature, it emphasized the strength of the hero slaying it. These specific creatures were made to purposely make the heroes and demigods appear strong enough to kill beasts and defeat their enemies.
Overall, Greek mythology has many aspects and can be viewed in many different perspectives. Although it is not still practiced today, the belief system has left a lasting impression on many other religions and fundamental practices. This monotheistic belief was used all throughout Greece to explain the unanswered questions the Greeks had.
Cartwright, Mark. “Greek Mythology,” Ancient History Encyclopedia.
History.com Staff. "Greek Mythology." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009.
Web. 16 Oct. 2016.
Joshua J. Mark. “The Life of Hercules in Myth and Legend,” Ancient History Encyclopedia.
Wazevich 6Hades, Poseidon, Athena, and many others, each of which have their own powers and influence over their respective domains. All of the Olympians are in some way related and are connected to each other through these relationships.
Overall, Greek mythology has many aspects and can be viewed in many different perspectives. Although it is not still practiced today, the belief system has left a lasting imp