Final Paper: Drama of Ancient Greece
The Greek dramatists have bequeathed immensely to the current mode of modern Western literature. Shakespeare and his contemporaries revered them for their distinct and explicit language, their dramatic scenes, and their extravagant processions. The language of their stories has connoted itself into both, the Western dialect and Western literature in general.
The establishment of Ancient Greek culture that has left the most immutable impression on our current world is the myth. The many mortal heroes who are seen throughout the extensive deployment of myths are accompanied by the ostentatious and mighty immortals, led by Zeus in the palace on Mount Olympus. Their structural case is not restricted to storytelling. Most of Greek comedy and tragedy is contingent on a working knowledge of all of the following ancient myths.
Aeolus was the keeper and god of the winds. After Zeus triumphed over the Titans, who were an earlier race of gods, he assigned his brothers, sisters, and relatives tasks in the realm of Mount Olympus. The winds needed to be contained and looked after, so that they wouldn’t destroy the earth. Hera put forward Aeolus, because she was impressed with his steadfast nature. Aeolus was sent to an island named Aeolia, beneath which ran four deep passages in which the north, south, east, and west winds were locked up, to escape only when Aeolus or another god deemed it necessary.
Aphrodite, who is one of the best-known goddesses in our modern culture, was the goddess of love. Born of the foam of the sea, she came to symbolize passion and lust. She is a primary model of the anthropoid temperament of the Olympian gods, being inclined to fits of pride and temper and drawn to trouble making. Although given in marriage to Hephaestus by Zeus, she was well known for her liaisons with other gods and even mortals. Her son, Eros, inherited both, her mischievous nature and her iconography.
Apollo was the god of light, the intellect, the arts, and healing. He was the son of Zeus and the Titan, Leto. Also heralded as Phoebus, Apollo signifies light, order, and the sun. The most beautiful of all the gods, Apollo represents the more rational side of both the universe and man. His oracle at Delphi, on Mount Parnassus, was revered throughout the mortal world as a vessel of Apollo’s predictions for the future. Mortals sought the oracle from vast distances to discover the will of the gods.
Ares/Mars was the god of war, and the son of Zeus and Hera. He loved to fight, and to cause torment and battle, although he lost his courage immediately after he himself was wounded. Followed by Panic, Terror, and Trembling, and accompanied by his sister, Eris, and her son, Strife, everywhere Ares walked he brought death and violence.
Artemis, who was the twin sister to Apollo and goddess of the hunt and unmarried women, had vowed to remain chaste. Attended by her hunting hounds and nymphs, Artemis ranged throughout the mortal forests, hunting with her silver bow. Any mortal man who saw her bathing, or in any way harassed her, met with a horrible fate. She changed one man into a stag and set his own pack of hunting hounds on him. Like the moon she was always related to, though, Artemis had two sides. She was gentle and protective towards women and their young children.
Athene was the goddess of wisdom, laws, and jurisprudence, arts and crafts, culture, and learning. She was said to have sprung fully-grown and fully armored from Zeus’s head, who was complaining of a headache and asked Hephaestus to split his skull. In all of the myths but one Athene has no mother. In the Homeric Hymn-28, however, Athene is described as the daughter of Metis, a titan. Metis was renowned for her wisdom and cleverness, and she was fated to have two children: first a girl and later a boy. The boy was destined to someday overthrow his father. When Zeus heard of this he flew into a rage and consumed the pregnant Metis. He later developed a headache, and here the divergence among the myths merges. Athene was by all accounts Zeus’s favorite child, and in many ways she was the most powerful god on Mount Olympus. Athene had many facets. She was her father’s child in bravery, protecting heroes in battle and just causes in war. But she was her mother’s child in her just, compassionate behavior. She is the patron of the city of Athens, her gift of the olive tree defeating Poseidon’s gift in their conquest for the city. Athene is a virgin goddess, but unlike Artemis, she is equally compassionate towards men and women, and her favorite mortal was a man, Odysseus, whose cunning appealed to her. In one story Athene, unlike the other gods, acknowledges her mistakes. She accidentally killed her dearest friend, the mortal Palas, when she was new to the world, misjudging her own strength. From then on she placed his name before hers, making Pallas Athene her proper name, and her friend and terrible act a part of her forever.
Circe was an enchantress encountered by Odysseus in Book X of The Odyssey. She amuses herself by turning the reconnaissance messengers, sent by the tactical Odysseus into pigs. Hermes saves Odysseus himself from succumbing to this fate by apprising him of the situation, giving him both, a magic flower to resist Circe’s magic and the warning not to go to her bed without first exacting a binding promise to ensure his safety. The now benevolent sorceress thus entertains Odysseus for a year. When Odysseus decides that he feels homesick again, Circe sends him to the realm of the dead to question the seer, Teiresias, telling him that he is fated to wander many strange paths before he can return to Ithaca.
Demeter, goddess of the harvest, was Zeus’s sister. She was responsible for bringing crops to fruition, wild and cultivated. If she did not give her blessing to the earth, famine and starvation would follow. Her daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld, to be his queen. Demeter was so stricken that she disguised herself as an old woman, and wandered the earth crying and seeking her lost daughter. The god of the sun, Helios, tells her at last where her daughter is and she becomes coldly furious. She refused to heal the barren earth, and Zeus, knowing that if his sister was not given aid the mortal world would perish, sent Hermes to bargain with Hades for the return of the sunny Persephone. Hades slyly told Persephone that was free to go, and he gave her a handful of pomegranate seeds to eat if she got hungry along the way. She ate four and was bound to spend four months of the year with Hades in his dark kingdom. During that period Demeter was so sorrowful that the earth became cold and bare, the ground froze despite the light from the sun, and nothing grew.
Eros/Cupid, the god of love and passion, was said in the later myths to be the son of Aphrodite. In some of the earliest myths, however, he was considered to be the very first god, the son of Darkness or Chaos, who brought light and order, and therefore life, through love. This idealistic and all-powerful view of love is far from the erotic version associated with Eros in later myths. Portrayed as the conceited and spoiled young son of Aphrodite, he used his magical bow and arrows to cause mortals and immortals to fall hopelessly in love. Although he obeyed his mother, he shot most of his arrows for his own personal entertainment.
Hades, god of the undead and king of the underworld, was Zeus’s brother. He rarely leaves his silent, gray palaces underground to visit the brightness of Mount Olympus. Hades is also the god of wealth, for he owns all of the precious gems and minerals that lie below the earth.
Helios, the god of the sun, drove his fiery horses and golden chariot across the sky each day, bringing day, heat, and light. Although his own origins were obscure, there was one myth that concerned his son by the mortal Clymene, the boy Phaeton. Granted one wish, he chose to drive the chariot. Phaethon set fire to the earth in his dipping and diving until Zeus was forced to throw a thunderbolt at him to cease the destruction. Eventually the earth recovered, and Helios, deeply saddened by his son’s actions, returned to his daily task.
Hephaestus was the god of fire, craftsmen, the protector of blacksmiths, and the son of Zeus and Hera. He walked with a limp because Zeus threw him over the palace wall when he sided with Hera in an argument. He fell for an entire day and was nursed by the sea goddess until he could return. The only ugly god, Hephaestus was loved by both, gods and mortals because he was a pacifist and kind-hearted. A skilled craftsman, he made the furniture and weaponry to arm and adorn Mount Olympus.
Hestia was Zeus’s sister. She was the goddess of the hearth and home, and the third virgin goddess. Her sole task at Mount Olympus was to keep the fire burning brightly in the palace hearth.
Both sister and wife to Zeus, Hera/Juno is the goddess of marriage and the protector of women. She initially refused to become Zeus’s wife, knowing his reputation of philandering. But Zeus transformed himself into a shivering little bird and created an enormous thunderstorm, so that Hera took pity on him and took him into her arms. However, Zeus continued to woo women incessantly, making Hera furious with jealousy. The myths are full of tales depicting Zeus’s infidelity and Hera’s ensuing rage.
Hermes, the messenger of the gods, was the son of Zeus and a demigoddess named Maia. A mischievous trickster, Hermes was also the god of thieves, travelers, shepherds, and merchants. With his winged cap and sandals, Hermes could travel back and forth from the ends of the earth in a blink of an eye. His more serious duty was that of escorting the newly dead to the underworld. Hermes has two famous sons, Pan, the god of shepherds, and Hermaphroditus, the son of Aphrodite and Hermes. Hermaphroditus possessed his father’s handsome virility and his mother’s beautiful face. In some stories it is said that the nymph Salmacis, upon falling in love with Hermaphroditus, prayed to be joined with him forever. Her prayers were granted and their two bodies were physically united, thus making the first hermaphrodite.
The Moira were the three sisters of Fate. They were the children of Zeus and the titan Themis. Clotho, whose name meant ?spinner,? created the thread of life, signifying the birth of a mortal being. Lachesis, whose name meant ?apportioner,? measured the thread. And Atropos, whose name meant ?inflexible,? cut the thread, ending the life span of a mortal being. Not even the gods had control over the Fates, who were in some earlier myths born of Necessity, greater and more ancient than even the immortals.
Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, and a child of sun and laughter.
Poseidon/Neptune was the god of the sea and he yielded enormous power. Zeus’s brother, Poseidon lived in a palace beneath the ocean. When he struck the sea with his trident storms of gigantic magnitudes were born, and his golden chariot was able to quiet the waves. If he plunged his trident into the ocean floor, earthquakes rolled out from the epicenter of his rage. His wife, the sea nymph Amphitrite, and his son, Triton, lived with him in his underworld kingdom. Triton was half man, half fish, and rode a sea monster with his conch shell horn. Athene was often pitted against Poseidon in the myths, the ultimate wisdom versus the ultimate chaos.
Prometheus and his brother, Epimetheus, whose name meant ?forethought? and ?afterthought,? were two titans whose aid enabled Zeus to win his battle against Cronos and the other Titans. They were given the task of creating the men and animals. Epimetheus decided that he would create the animals, while Prometheus set about making the first man. Epimetheus, however, gave to his creations all of the useful and beautiful attributes that Prometheus would have liked to have given to man. But all of the swiftness, cunning, courage, claws, wings, and strength, the very finest gifts were already given. Prometheus was determined to find a great gift for man that was better than the other gifts that Zeus had allotted. When Prometheus was chosen by Zeus to determine the means by which men should give sacrifice to the gods, he dissected an ox and covered the better parts with the skin and stomach, to make them appear poor. He created a second offering, this one consisting of bones, offal, and the less desirable parts, but covering the pile with fat. Zeus realized that Prometheus was trying to trick him, but he chose the poorer portion anyway. Zeus retaliated by taking away from the men the fire that they needed to cook the fine meats, which they withheld from the gods. Athene took pity on the cunning and inventive titan and showed him how he could steal the fire back for mankind, the perfect gift to make up for his brother’s mistake. When Zeus found out he created Pandora, whom he sent to earth to marry Epimethus and release all of the evils into the world. Zeus then punished Prometheus by changing him to a rock, where by day an eagle ate his liver and at night his flesh grew again so that another day of torture would ensue. He later relented, allowing Hercules to kill the eagle, thus ending the torture.
Zeus/Jove was the god of thunder and lightening, and the king of the gods. He was the son of the Titan queen and king, Rhea and Cronos. His grandmother, Mother Earth/Gaea first bore the Cyclopes, and then the Titans, to her consort Father Heaven. Father Heaven thought that the Cyclopes were ugly as well as fearsome, and he trapped them under the earth. Gaea was greatly angered by this, and she sent the Titans to slay Father Heaven and to bring back her children. Cronos, the strongest of the Titans, wounded Father Heaven badly, enabling the Cyclopes to escape. The Titans made Cronos the leader, and Rhea, his sister, became his wife and queen. With his power came corruption, and Cronos imprisoned the Cyclopes once again. Gaea was even angrier than before, but she hid it this time, for she knew that Rhea’s child would grow up to overthrow his father.
Cronos, however, also knew of this prophecy. He swallowed his children as soon as they were born to prevent them from reaching adulthood and gaining enough power to defeat him. Rhea was in despair as Cronos swallowed her first five children, Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. She plotted to save her sixth child from Cronos. She gave the infant Zeus to Gaea to hide and protect, and offered to Cronos a stone wrapped in a blanket to swallow. Zeus grew strong on the isle of Crete, where he drank milk and honey, and was raised by kind nymphs and protected by armed guards. His mother, Rhea, visited him often and told him of the cruelty of his father, and why he must be hidden from him. If the baby Zeus cried too loudly the guards would beat on their shields to drown out the noise, so that Cronos would not hear the baby’s powerful wails and realize that he had been fooled. When Cronos did finally discover the trick, Zeus changed into a serpent and Cronos searched for the child in vain. Zeus bided his time as his hatred of his father grew, and he vowed to rescue his brothers and sisters.
When Zeus was of age he disguised himself as a menial serving man in Cronos’s great palace. Rhea mixed a potent poison that Zeus served to Cronos. The drink caused Cronos to vomit, first the stone, and then each of the children that he had swallowed. Zeus’s brothers and sisters vowed their endless loyalty to him and for ten long years they waged war against the Titans. Gaea finally told Zeus that the secret to his victory was to release the Cyclopes because they would fight for him and help to overthrow the ancient race of gods. After Zeus did this the Cyclopes displayed their gratitude by giving Zeus the thunderbolts, Poseidon the trident, and Hades the magic helmet of darkness. The three hundred handed Cyclopes heaved boulders at the stronghold of Cronos and the three brothers made use of their gifts in order to win the battle. All of the Titans, excluding Prometheus and Epimetheus, who had aided them, were punished. Gaea then gave birth to the horrible monster Typhon, who possessed hundreds of heads and fire spouting eyes. Zeus defeated it with his thunderbolts.
Zeus and his two brothers then drew lots to see which one of them would become the ruler of the new gods because they wanted to avoid becoming evil and corrupt like their father. Zeus won the sky, becoming king of heaven and ruler of the gods. Hades won the underworld and all of its riches, and Poseidon won the sea.
Throughout the ancient Greek myths the connotation of the gods as a younger race pervades. They are portrayed almost as new as the human beings who worship them. The myths also indicate that there are older forces in the earth that even the gods of Mount Olympus do not understand.