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Even if you haven’t taken a history class, you will still be likely to have heard some Greek myth or a reference to one at some point in your life – even if you don’t know it.

Ancient Greek mythology comprises stories and tales about the gods and goddesses worshiped by the Ancient Greeks as legends about heroes, warriors, and monsters. For the Ancient Greeks who initially told these stories, they were very important and played a significant role in everyday living. They were used to discuss and explain all kinds of things. This includes a range of things, from the weather to religious rituals.

Despite many being imagined, the stories added meaning to everyday people’s lives and how they saw the things around them. Many historic tales like that of King Midas or the ever-popular Hercules were, of course, made up. However, some of these tales did have foundations in truth.

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Sources of Greek Mythology

At its peak, the Ancient Greek civilization was around as long ago as 1200 BCE and ended in 323 BCE with the death of Alexander the Great. So, how do we get our information about what was happening such a long time ago?

There is no one answer to where the source of these stories comes from. Most of the tales were passed down by word of mouth through the Bronze Age, and written texts were added later. This means that many texts we can draw from, such as The Iliad, tell historical stories and discuss gods and goddesses without introduction since those of the time would already be well aware of these characters.

The first description of Greek mythology came from ‘Theogony’ by Hesiod, a poet, in 700 BC. This describes how the universe came from nothing and talks about how the gods played their roles. These ideas have been continually expanded by later artists and writers, including Apollodorus of Athens and Gaius Julius Hyginus, who collected all the ancient legends to be read by newer audiences.

Greek Gods and Goddesses

Many Ancient Greek myths center around those they looked up to and worshipped: the gods and goddesses who they believed resided on the tallest mountain in Greece, Mount Olympus. Various Gods and Goddesses were said to be in control of various aspects of life and were thought to look like humans but with the ability to turn into animals and more at their will. They were also suggested to have some of the same passions and problems as humans. Twelve key Gods and Goddesses could be found at Mount Olympus and have counterparts in Roman mythology too:

  • Zeus (Jupiter) was said to be the king of the gods and the father of many of them. He was also the god of the sky, controlling weather, fate, and law.
  • Hera (Juno) was known as the gods’ queen and the goddess of women and marriage.
  • Poseidon (Neptune) was the god of the sea.
  • Apollo (Apollo) was another powerful god known as the god of the sun, but also for his power over prophesy, music, poetry, and knowledge.
  • Athena (Minerva) was the goddess of wisdom as well as defense and strategy
  • Ares (Mars) was known as the god of war.
  • Aphrodite (Venus) was the goddess of beauty as well as love
  • Artemis (Diana) was the goddess of hunting, animals, and childbirth
  • Dionysus (Bacchus) was the god of wine as well as pleasure and festivity
  • Demeter (Ceres) was the goddess of harvest, agriculture, and grain
  • Hephaestus (Vulcan) was the god of fire and had power over metalworking and sculpture
  • Hermes (Mercury) was the god of travel, trade, and hospitality, naturally giving him the role of personal messenger to Zeus

Greek Mythology: Heroes and Monsters

It is not only gods of the Ancient Greek time that you are likely to have heard about. Endless classic tales also describe the trials of various heroes and are scattered with monsters and creatures. Some of the heroes include:

  • Pandora is known for opening the box that released evil onto mankind
  • Hercules, who performed 12 impossible tasks for King Eurystheus
  • Midas, known as the king who had a golden touch
  • Narcissus, who fell in love with his appearance
  • Arachne, who was transformed into a spider due to her arrogance

While monsters you may have come across even in modern life include:

  • Pegasus, a horse with wings
  • Centaurs, a cross between man and horse
  • Sphinx, a cross between a woman and a lion
  • Harpies, a cross between women and birds
  • Cyclops, a one-eyed beast
  • Unicorns, horned horses
  • Automatons, metal being brought to life by Hephaestus
  • Manticores, human-headed lions with the tail of a scorpion

The Legacy of Greek Myths

You may be surprised by the number of Ancient Greek characters and creatures you recognize and how many are still a part of popular culture today. Many popular brands and companies, including Nike and Amazon, use Greek Olympians’ names. This is a testament to the impact of the people, themes, and ideas portrayed in Ancient Greek mythology.

Their legacy has continued to make a difference and appear in both art and literature throughout centuries. From paintings as far back as the renaissance to classic texts like Dante’s Inferno to romantic poetry and new texts and films, the core of these Ancient Greek stories still strongly influences our world today.