Every time we think of ancient Greek mythology, images of terrifying creatures, heroic battles, idealized figures and sometimes perversive stories come to mind. This collection of stories, of such pivotal importance for the ancient Greek mindset, nurtured the development of Greek civilization through the generations.
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As the whole world is aware of, apart from practical and innovative, the minds of the ancient Greeks were incredibly imaginative, gifting the world with fascinating tales in an attempt to explain the miracle of life and the world around them. With the Olympian gods in leading the roles, and the battle between mortals and immortals being the core of the tales, most of the Greek mythology has survived through the works of Homer and Hesiod, the second most important ancient Greek poet after Homer.
Eros and Psyche
Statue of Eros and Psyche by Antonio Canova - credits: peacefoo/shutterstock.com
Psyche was the daughter of a royal couple. She had two older sisters and she was so stunning, that she even overshadowed Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love. Men used to lust after her while, during her time, the altars of Aphrodite were being abandoned as they all worshiped the irresistible princess instead of the goddess. The rejection angered Aphrodite, who ordered her son, Eros to make Psyche fall in love with the most inferior and least reputable man he could find.
Then, one day, Psyche’s father received an oracle from god Apollo who instructed him to take Psyche dressed in a bridal dress on a high mountain where he had to wait for the arrival of the groom. Terrified, he did so, and Psyche was taken to a high mountain until Zephyros, the gentle western wind, picked her up and carried her to a valley where she fell asleep on the grass.
When she woke up, she discovered a dazzling palace. Psyche entered the palace reluctantly and was welcomed by invisible servants. That night, an unknown man lied beside her on the bed. Despite Psyche’s fear for her life, the stranger treated her tenderly, though he disappeared before the crack of dawn. From then on, the stranger returned each night. In the meantime, Psyche’s sisters started looking for her.
The stranger warned Psyche that her sisters were approaching and advised her to ignore them. Originally, Psyche agreed to obey his desires but later felt bad for the cruel way she was about to treat her sisters. Eros, who was the secret lover of Psyche, pitied her and allowed her to welcome her sisters, warning her not to disclose his identity.
Psyche welcomed her sisters in her palace, and when one of them insisted on asking for her husband's identity, she simply replied that he was a young handsome man who always spent the day chasing animals. Her sisters got extremely jealous. Their younger sister was suddenly rich and married to an incredibly beautiful man while they had ended up with ugly, old and sick husbands. Eros repeated his warning and then told her she was pregnant.
By using fraudulent tricks, her sisters managed to make Psyche admit that she did not know who her husband was and ask for their help. They advised her when her husband fell asleep, to bring a candle to his face and see who he was. Psyche did as she was told and discovered that her husband was Eros himself, with his bow and arrows next to the bed. Curious, Psyche touched one of his arrows and was injured by the edge, making her fall in love with Eros. The candle dripped on the shoulder of the sleeping god, who jumped awake and flew away, angry with Psyche for not keeping her word.
At the last moment, Psyche grabbed his foot and was lifted up in the air with him. When exhaustion forced her to leave him, Eros acknowledged that he had been hurt by his arrows, and therefore had desperately fallen in love with Psyche, but flew away leaving her in the wilderness. Psyche took revenge from her sisters by driving them to suicide and continued looking for Eros while he lied wounded on his mother's bed.
Desperate, Psyche approached Aphrodite, who tormented the unfortunate Psyche without knowing she was pregnant and gave her a series of impossible tasks to complete, which she did with the help of a superior power. By then, Eros had recovered from his injury.
Filled with a lust for Psyche, he escaped from the room where his mother had imprisoned him, found his beloved, and flew to Zeus to ask him to approve his marriage with her. Zeus agreed and announced to Aphrodite that Psyche was about to become a goddess. He ordered Hermes to bring the girl to Mount Olympus, where the wedding was celebrated with joy. Eros and Psyche remained married and acquired a son, Voloupta (meaning ‘sensual’ in Greek).
Pandora's box - credits: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock.com
Zeus, having received an oracle from Prometheus revealing to him that a child of his born by Thetis would outpower him and steal his throne, decided to punish humankind. He instructed Hephaestus, the Greek god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, and volcanoes, among others, to create a woman out of clay and give her a human voice. Hephaestus worked hard and created a masterpiece. Goddess Athena liked this clay creature, blew life into her and taught her how to weave and dress. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, made her beautiful. Hermes taught her how to charm and deceive. Zeus was satisfied when he saw her; he named her Pandora and sent her as a gift to Epimetheus.
Despite Epimetheus having been warned by his brother, Prometheus, that he should never accept gifts from Zeus because there would always be a trap, Epimetheus ignored his brother's warning, fell in love with Pandora and married her. Zeus, as a gift for their wedding, gave Pandora a beautiful box, on the condition that she would never open it.
For a while, Epimetheus and Pandora were very happy. As time passed, however, Pandora became increasingly curious about what was in the box. She could not understand why someone would send her a box if she could not see what was in it, and one day, defeated by her curiosity, she decided to open it. She took the key, put it in the lock, turned it around and carefully opened the lid to take a quick look.
Before realizing what was going on, the room was filled with terrible things: illness, despair, evil, greed, aging, death, hatred, violence, cruelty and war. Terrified, she closed the lid with force leaving only the spirit of hope in the box.
The myth of Pandora’s Box is preserved in various versions with the ones from Hesiod, Aesopus, and Aeschylus, being the most popular. According to one variation, probably the oldest one, Zeus had filled the box with real gifts ordering Pandora to never open it. Curious as she was, Pandora disobeyed Zeus, opened the box, and as a result, all of the good it contained, all the things Zeus had given to the people, except for Hope, flew back to heaven. Despite its many variants, it is not clear whether Zeus wanted to punish people with what was released from the box or whether the punishment was the woman herself, with many comparing Pandora's box with the apple of Eve.
Theseus and the Minotaur
Sculpture of Theseus the Minotaur fighting by Etienne Jules Ramey - credits: meunierd/Shutterstock.com
According to Greek Mythology, Minos, King of Crete and son of Zeus and Europa, once asked god Poseidon to give him a sign whether him of his brother, Rhadamanthus, should take the throne of Knossos from King Asterios. Poseidon sent him a beautiful white bull and asked him to sacrifice it in his honor.
Minos, however, dazzled by the beauty of the animal, decided to mislead Poseidon and sacrifice another bull in its place. Of course, Poseidon realized what had happened and, outraged, made King Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the bull. Desperate, Pasiphae sought the help of a skillful craftsman and artist, Daedalus, who built a wooden cow dummy, Damalis, covered in true cowhide. Pasiphae entered the dummy and, fooled, the bull mated with her. From this, the famous Minotaur was born, a monster with a human body and a bull’s head that fed with human blood.
When King Minos saw the monster, he asked Daedalus to build a dark building with endless corridors to imprison the Minotaur. Thus, Daedalus constructed the Labyrinth, a complex network in which anyone who entered, couldn’t find the way out. At one point in history, Minos’ son, Androgeus, took part in the Panathenaic Games, where he won several times. Driven by envy, the people of Athens killed the young athlete, and Minos declared war on the Athenians, defeating them with ease. As a punishment, Minos forced Athenians to send to Crete, every nine years, seven young men and seven young women to be devoured by the Minotaur.
Theseus, son of Aegeus, the king of Athens, did not endure this humiliation and asked that he be one of the seven young men sentCrete, with a special mission; to kill the Minotaur in the dark labyrinth. Upon his arrival, he met with the daughter of Minos, Ariadne, and they both fell in love. Ariadne then gave Theseus a threaded rope -known as Ariadne's thread- and advised him to tie its end to the entrance of the labyrinth and unroll it as he moves inside the labyrinth so that, when he killed the Minotaur, he could find the exit. Theseus entered the dark arcades holding the thread and managed to kill the Minotaur by cutting his head, thus giving a definitive end to Minos’ cruelty. Then, he managed to return to the exit, following the thread.
Theseus took Ariadne with him and, along with the rest of the Athenians, they began the trip back home. They made a stop at Naxos, where god Dionysus appeared in Theseus’ dream and told him that they had to leave the island without Ariadne since she was meant to stay there and become his wife. Ariadne stayed in Naxos, married Dionysus, and was later brought to Mount Olympus to become immortal.
When the rest of the Athenians sailed to Athens, they forgot to change the black sails on their ships, symbolizing the mourning for the loss of young people. When Aegeas saw the black sails, thinking that Theseus was killed, he fell from the cliffs of Cape Sounio, giving the sea in which he drowned the name it holds to this day: the Aegean Sea.
Tip: discover more of Crete’s fascinating history and mythology with a Knossos Palace And Archaeological Museum Tour!
Greek Mythology is an integral part of the Greek culture, even today. It has exceedingly influenced Western civilization, its philosophy, history, politics, art, and literature and has served as an inspiration to poets and artists from across the world. Don’t skip on learning the deepest secrets of antiquity and the hundreds of myths to be found under every rock you turn. If you’re visiting Greece with your kids, treat them to a captivating adventure that will unveil the gems of Greek mythology through our Percy Jackson tours, where they will get the chance to trace Percy Jackson’s footsteps and witness the famous book come to life!
Greek Mythology in our daily life
By developing, adapting and thus evolving through the centuries, and the expanse of Greek culture by the conquest of Alexander the Great and the Rome’s Greek affiliation, ancient Greek mythology managed to break the chains of locality and became a universal heritage of humankind. Its power and attraction are evident through the findings that have surfaced, with scenes from Greek Mythology being found on mosaics, depicted as marble statues, and decorating the vessels of everyday life.
Today, we think of these stories as either dead remnants of the ancient world or themes for a box-office action movie. Is that, however, the extent Greek mythology has affected the modern world? How often are we surrounded by those stories during our day and refer to them inadvertently? Here, we present you with some examples that will help you realize what a big part of your life Greek Mythology really is.
Bronze head of Hypnos - credits: en.wikipedia.org
Hypnosis, hypnotherapy, hypnotize, hypnopompia, etc. are words directly associated with Hypnos, the god of sleep. During Roman times, he was known as Somnus (e.g. insomnia). According to mythology, Hypnos was the son of Nyx (the night) and Erebus (the darkness), always close to his twin brother Thanatos (death).
He was thought to be a benevolent deity, that controlled half of people’s lives. Homer reveals that the entrance to the Underworld where he lived, could be found on the island of Lemnos, at the northern part of modern Greece. The entrance of his cave is said to be filled with poppies and other hypnotic plants, watered from the river of Lethe (forgetfulness). The sunlight never showers his cave, and the concept of sound is unknown in his territory. He was a god of great power, even among the rest of the Olympian gods.
With Pasithea, the youngest of the Graces (goddess of relaxation and hallucination) he had his three sons Morpheus (meaning Shape), the god that can intrude and take human form in dreams, Phobetor the one responsible for nightmares and Phantasos, the maker of illusions and hallucinations.
Hypnos is found in many myths of the Greeks with the most famous one found in Homer’s Iliad. During the battles of Troy’s siege, Patroclus the dearest friend of Achilles and the son of the Argonaut Menoetius encountered the son of Zeus, Sarpedon. When he witnessed Patroclus being on a rampage, slaying one Trojan after the other, he stood against him.
The two men starting fighting with every mean the had, with Zeus closely observing the situation, anxious about the fate of his son. At one point, he tried to interfere only to be stopped by Hera, who reminded him that his actions might provoke terrible consequences. With a final blow, Patroclus hit Sarpedon on his chest, killing him on site. Before he died though, he begged Glaucus to protect his body from the Greeks. The armies of the Greeks and Trojans engaged in a battle around the fully-armored dead body of Sarpedon. The battle ended with the victory of the Greeks and the order of Patroclus to take the armor of Sarpedon.
Then, Zeus covered the naked body of Sarpedon with darkness and sent Apollo to retrieve it, clean it from blood and dust, cover it with ointments and perfume and give it to Hypnos and Thanatos to: ”...carry him away, until they come with him to the countryside of broad Lykia (Lycia) where his brothers and countrymen shall give him due burial with tomb and gravestone.”
Isolated vector illustration of Tantalus- credits: Eroshka/Shutterstock.com
According to Oxford Dictionaries, the definition of the verb to tantalize is: to torment or to tease (someone) with the sight or promise of something that is unobtainable.
The origin of that word comes from the horrifying story of the king of Phrygia Tantalus, the son of Zeus and Pluto. By being the son of two major deities, Tantalus was thought to be equal to the rest of the Olympian gods. Having his mind clouded by vanity and greed, he stole ambrosia and nectar, the food and drink of the gods, granting immortality to anyone he wanted. He even went a step further, claiming that the gods could easily be manipulated and deceived. In order to prove his point, he committed a hideous crime.
He murdered his son Pelops, cut him into pieces, cooked him and offered him as food to the gods. The Olympians (except for Demeter who -distracted by the loss of her daughter- was deceived) quickly realized the sacrilege of Tantalus and repulsed by his action, they decided to punish him in the most brutal way possible. Zeus struck him immediately with his bolts of lightning and his soul was led to the deepest level of the Underworld, the Tartarus. There the gods let his soul retain its earthly needs and put him in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches.
Whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches raised his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any. After Tantalus’ punishment, the gods resurrected Pelops as a youthful young man and Poseidon took him under his protection. The story of Tantalus is one of the most brutal stories of ancient Greek mythology. The famous artist of antiquity, Polygnotus depicted Tantalus' punishment in one of his paintings.
Enchanted by the color of your eyes
One of the most charming features of a person is the iris of their eyes. Different cultures around the globe rendered the iris of the eye into the window to a person’s soul, while in olden times, practitioners used to examine them to reveal the future of someone’s life.
The iris took its name from the ancient Greek deity Iris, the daughter of Thaumas and Oceanid Electra. She was the messenger of the gods, just like Hermes and had a set of golden wings on her back. Iris was always carrying an ewer filled with water from the River Styx, which she used to put to sleep the people that had committed the crime of perjury.
According to ancient Greeks, the rainbow was the only visible sign of the goddess when traveling from one place to another. An obedient follower of Hera, she is often mentioned by Homer in his work Iliad. A passage describes an event of Aphrodite and Iris: “She mounted the chariot and beside her entering Iris gathered the reins up and whipped them into a run, and they winged their way unreluctant. Now as they came to sheer Olympos, the place of the immortals, there swift Iris the wind-footed reined in her horses and slipped them from the yoke and threw fodder immortal before them.”
Pour some milk on my cereal
Demeter and Kore - credits: en.wikipedia.org
By the time we wake up every day, one of our first impulses is to grab a bowl and fill it with cereal for breakfast. The word 'cereal' derives from the name of the Roman deity Ceres, who is the equivalent of the dearly loved, mother deity of Demeter. According to ancient Greek mythology, Demeter is the older sister of Zeus and the goddess of prosperity, grain, agriculture, harvest, growth, and nourishment.
The myth says that after the sudden and cruel abduction of Demeter's daughter, Persephone, by the almighty god of the underworld Hades, Demeter fell into depression, neglecting her obligations to the land and leading the humankind into starvation.
In one of her journeys seeking for her lost daughter, she reached the lands of Eleusis, transformed herself into an old lady and found refuge at the court of king Celeus. There she felt so welcomed and loved that she became the nanny of Celeus' sons, Triptolemus and Demophon. As a reward, she secretly tried to make Demophon an immortal by anointing the infant with divine ambrosia and laying him in the flames of her hearth. Before the completion of her ritual, the mother of the young boys, Metanira stormed into the chambers of the goddess and saw her child in the flames.
Terrified by the sight, she screamed and rushed to protect Demophon putting an end to the ritual before the completion of his immortality. Demeter though, taught to Triptolemus the craft of agriculture, granting that way to cultivate cereal and every kind of crop to humankind. Next time you will enjoy your bowl of cereal, take some time to remember this priceless gift of Demeter to the world!
Statue of Greek mythological god Pan talking to a woman - credits: Giorgio G/Shutterstock.com
According to Oxford dictionaries, panic is the “sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior”. According to ancient Greek mythology, the god responsible for this emotion is Pan (Pan-ic), a secondary but greatly respected deity of the Greek pantheon, representing the forces of nature and the wild, protector of shepherds and flocks and companion of the Nymphs.
Son of Hermes and Dryope, Pan had a human form with goat-like legs and horns crowning his head. One of his great powers was his terrifying and ominous roar that provoked the emotion of panic to anyone hearing it. The Athenians paid great respects toPan because they believed that he imbued panic in the hearts of the Persians and helped them win the battle of Marathon.
Many sanctuaries honoring the god were founded in Attica after the battle and just below the Acropolis, a cave was dedicated to the fearless god Pan.
The previously mentioned are only a few of the many examples of how ancient Greek mythology remains an integral part of everyday life. In case you want to dive into the wealth of Greek Mythology plan your own trip to Greece or check out one of our Greece tours.