Greek Mythology

what is greek mythology

Greek mythology is the entire set of stories, myths and legends created to explain the origin of the world and nature in ancient Greece. These records include the narration of the life and actions of the Olympian gods, as well as demigods and heroes, who formed an essential part of ancient Greek religion.

Although Greek mythology was generated and spread through oral tradition, the work of various poets of the time served to record these stories.

Hesiod and his work on the origin of the gods called theogonyand Homer with his epic poems The Iliad Y The odyssey they were two of the most important exponents of what is now known as Greek literature.

However, these stories were not reduced to a literary record. They were also an essential part of Greek cultural expressions, as can be seen in the large number of decorative and utilitarian objects from that period that contain representations of mythological scenes.

Origin of Greek mythology

Greek myths and legends are believed to have originated in 3000 BC on Crete. Its inhabitants, originally from Asia Minor, believed that natural forces and certain objects were endowed with spirits or magic, giving rise to the first legends.

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After several centuries of invasions by European peoples, a new reconfiguration of their beliefs was generated, and from this syncretism emerged the myths that were finally compiled in what is now known as ancient Greece.

Chronology in Greek mythology

The origin of the world is divided, according to Greek mythology, into three great periods:

the age of the gods

Prometheus and Athena, Greek mythology, El Prado Museum

Prometheus and Athena create the first manPrado Museum.

Collect all the stories about how the world was created, the rise of the first gods and human beings.

Here it is narrated how, after Chaos, Gaia, the Earth, emerged, the fertile and safe space for living beings, product of the union of Tartarus (the spectral world) with Eros (the vital force of love).

Then came the darkness (Erebos), the night (Nix), the celestial and terrestrial light (Ether and Hemera) and the sky (Uranus). From there other gods and figures arose that completed the first celestial dynasty, such as Hypnos (the dream), the Moirai, the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires (monsters with 50 heads).

Already at this stage the first conflicts between gods begin to emerge, giving rise to a second dynasty headed by Zeus and accompanied by his brothers Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia and Poseidon, the best-known deities in Greek mythology.

Athena, daughter of Zeus, would be the creator of the first human being.

The Age of Gods and Humans

It is the moment in which gods, demigods and humans shared deeds and dramas.

In this stage, the gods reproduce with the humans, as Aphrodite did with Anchises, and the humans become acquainted with the gods, usually starting conflicts with them, as when Prometheus steals the divine fire.

the heroic age

It is the collection of stories about demigods and humans, such as the Trojan War. In this period, the great gods lose prominence.

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Here the literary record is focused on praising the exploits of mortals who, fulfilling a heroic mission, must go through harsh tests, face mythological animals (Theseus and the Minotaur) or face death (Perseus).

Greek mythology in The Iliad and The Odyssey

Greek mythology

Representation on a Roman sarcophagus of a scene from Canto XXIV of The Iliad: Hector’s body is taken to Troy.

The Iliad is a composition of 15,693 verses that narrates all the events unleashed in the last ten years of the Trojan War and what generates the wrath of Achilles.

While fighting in the Trojan War on the side of the Achaeans, Achilles lost his slave Briseis, who was kidnapped by him during the war and is now in the hands of his enemy, Agamemnon, commander of the Trojan army.

His displeasure makes him withdraw from the Trojan War, which disfavored the Achaeans, until a fatal event (the death of his cousin Patroclus), makes him intervene again.

For its part, in The Odyssey, the epic of Odysseus is narrated in 24 songs, who after fighting ten years in the Trojan War sets out on his way back home, to the island of Ithaca. However, his return takes another ten years, and while that happens, his wife and his son leave him for dead.

Both works are attributed to the Greek poet Homer, and their importance lies in the fact that they are very possibly the first texts of the Greco-Latin epic, which passed from the oral tradition of mythology to the written record, after the invention of the alphabet.

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Greek mythology in the arts

Venus and Adonis, by Rubens.  Greek mythology

Venus and Adonis (1635), by Peter Paul Rubens.

Over time, Greek mythology has served as a source of inspiration in multiple artistic manifestations, such as painting, theater and audiovisual arts.

The Renaissance, in particular, was a period of rediscovery of the myths and legends of ancient Greece, as can be seen in the works Minerva and the Centaurby Botticelli (1492), Diana and Actaeonby Titian (1556) or Venus and Adonisby Rubens (1630).

The theatre, for its part, has been nourished by the varied and complex archetypes present in Greek mythology to represent modern conflicts, or to reinterpret tragedies, such as that of King Oedipus Y Sophocles’ Antigone.

Literature, poetry, and even movies and television have been influenced by Greek mythological stories, their gods and heroes. Troy (Wolfang Petersen, 2004); Wrath of the Titans (Louis Leterrier, 2010) or The Legend of Hercules (Renny Harlin, 2014) are some contemporary film representations based on these myths.

You may also be interested in Greek tragedy and Zeus (Greek god).