Greek mythology

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Like other myths, Greek myths originated from religious, philosophical, cultural and social ideas of Ancient Greeks. The myths offered a way to think about questions concerning the nature of the universe, human nature, and the relationship between human beings and the supernatural. Greek myth, unlike other ancient myth-systems, has managed to survive intact well after the death of the religion and communities which it sustained. This is because Greek myths served to portray the abstract and universal concepts of beauty, bravery, and cowardice; they were a guide to human behaviors, for good or evil. The myths did not stand alone but were the foundation of Greek ‘imaginative’ literature. Art, from sculptures to wall paintings and pottery, depicted myth’s gods, monsters and heroes. When the Romans annexed Greece in the second century BC, they assimilated their own local gods and practices with little modification to the Greek stories. Some names were changed (e.g. Aphrodite became Venus) or spelled differently, but for the most part, Roman myth culture was a continuation of the Greek. Greek myths survived well through the Christian era because the non-religious tradition, which drew from Greek and Roman themes and style, continued to be guided by the world-view of Greek myth.

The Pelasgian creation myth

In this version of the creation myth, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, rose from Chaos and divided the sea from the sky. Out of the North Wind or Boreas, she created the serpent Ophion. Due to coupling with Ophion or fertilization by Boreas or both, Eurynome conceived and laid the Universal Egg. Ophion coiled seven times around the egg until it hatched and split into two and from it came all things that exist. Eurynome created the seven planetary powers and Titans and Titanesses to rule over each. Theia and Hyperion ruled the sun, Phoebe and Atlas the moon, Dione and Crius the planet Mars, Metis and Coeus ruled Mercury, Themis and Eurymedon ruled Jupiter, Tethys and Oceanus for Venus, Rhea and Cronus got Saturn. The first man was Pelasgus, father of the Pelasgians.

The Olympian creation myth

In this more well known version, Gaia or Mother Earth emerged from Chaos and gave birth to her son Uranus while she slept. Uranus then "showered fertile rain" upon her and she bore all of nature. She also gave birth to the semi-human Hundred-handed Ones or Hecatoncheires, and the one-eyed Cyclopes.

The Castration of Uranus

The Cyclopes rebelled against their father Uranus and for that he banished them into Tartarus, a gloomy place in the underworld. Another account is that they were confined in the body of Mother Earth. Out of revenge or in order to relieve herself of the burden, Mother Earth persuaded the Titans, also fathered by Uranus, to attack their father. She armed Cronus, the youngest of the seven Titans, with a flint sickle. As Uranus slept or as he approached his consort, Cronus castrated him with the flint sickle, grasping his genitals with the left hand and throwing them into the sea by Cape Drepanum. Some myths hold that Aphrodite sprang from the foam which gathered around the genitals. Drops of blood flowing from the wound fell on Mother Earth and she bore the Three Erinnyes, or Furies named Alecto, Tisiphone and Megaera, who were charged with avenging crimes of parricide and perjury. The Meliae, nymphs of the ash-tree, also sprang from the blood. The Titans released the Cyclopes from Tartarus and made Cronus ruler of the earth. Soon after, Cronus re-banished the Cyclopes together with the Hundred-handed Ones into Tartarus and married his sister Rhea.

The dethronement of Cronus

After his defeat, Uranus warned his Cronus that he too will be dethroned by one of his own sons. Therefore, he swallowed the children who Rhea bore him: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. Rhea sought the advice of Gaia who told her to give Cronus a stone to swallow when her next child was born. She did that and hid her son, Zeus, in cave of Dicte on the Aegean Hill where he was cared for by nymphs, nourished by Amalthea, the goat, and guarded by the Curetes, who clashed their spears against their shields to drown the noise of his infant cries . After Zeus was grown, Rhea persuaded Cronus to regurgitate the other children, which he did. Another version has Zeus posing as Cronus’s cup-bearer which allowed him to serve Cronus a honeyed drink with an emetic potion he got from Metis the Titaness; the drink caused Cronus to vomit the five previously swallowed childen. The five asked Zeus to lead them into war against the Titans, who were led by Atlas. The war lasted ten years. Gaia advised Zeus to release the Cyclopes and the Hundred-handed Ones from Tartarus and use them as allies to defeat Cronus and the Titans. After releasing them, the Cyclopes gave to Zeus the thurderbolt, to Hades a helmet of darkness or invisibility, and to Poseidon the trident. The helmet of invisibility allowed Hades to steal Cronus’s weapons unseen and while Poseidon threatened Cronus with the trident, Zeus struck him down with the thunderbolt. Cronus and all the defeated Titans were confined to Tartarus and guarded by the Hundred-handed Ones. For leading the Titans in the war, Atlas was ordered to carry the sky on his shoulders. From then on, Zeus and his brothers divided the universe among themselves: Hades ruled the underworld, Poseidon the seas and oceans, and Zeus the heavens.

The birth of Athene

Several accounts exist of the goddess Athene’s birth. The Pelasgians say that she was born beside Lake Tritonis in Libya, where she was raised by the nymphs of Libya. As a child, she accidentally killed her playmate, Pallas during a friendly fight with spear and shield and to commemorate his memory, she placed Pallas’s name before her own. According to the Hellenes, Athene had a father named Pallas, a winged goatish giant. When he attempted to outrage her, she stripped him of his own skin to make the aegis, and of his wings for her shoulders. In the version told by Hesiod, Athene was born from Zeus and she was first called Tritogeneia. That story was embellished and developed into the one we commonly hear today. In that version, Zeus was warned by Mother Earth (Gaia) that his children by first wife Metis, would surpass him in wisdom and overthrow him as king of the gods (as he overthrew his own father Cronus). When Metis, who personified wise counsel, became pregnant, Zeus swallowed her whole thus taking all of wisdom into him. In time, he was seized by a violent headache which made him howl in pain. One day Hermes found him at the shore of the Triton River and summoned Hephaestus, the smith god. Using his hammer or wedge, Hephaestus cracked open Zeus’s head and out sprang Athene, full grown and armed, with a mighty shout.

The birth of Aphrodite

References

1. Robert Graves, "The Greek Myths" The Folio Society, 1996 2. Michael Stapleton, "A dictionary of Greek and Roman mythology" Bell Publishing Company, 1978