In order to explain certain natural events, such as earthquakes, windstorms, and
thunder and lightning storms, The Greeks invented a collection of myths and
characters. Just as with most modern religions, Greek Mythology bases most of
it’s myths on morality and ethics issues. Unlike Egyptian Mythology, the
Greeks did not focus on what was going to happen in their afterlife. They were
more concerned with the here and now. There was no written special commandments
in Greek Mythology. The Greeks did, however, base most of their moral and
ethical ideals on the Iliad and the Odyssey, both written by Homer. In his work,
Homer says that man holds his own fate in his hands. He portrays that wrath will
cause much suffering, pain, and even death. Homer formed the fundamental
attitude of the Greek mind. He established the foundation of excellence for all
aspects of life, and the Greeks put these into their reality. Nothing was known
about Homer or any part of his life, so the question arises as to whether Homer
was a single individual or was he, in actuality, a collection of authors. The
Greeks had a polytheistic culture. Unlike the religions of other ancient
civilizations, the Greeks created the gods in their own image. They were holy
deities that could make contact with humans, often in a disguise. The gods had
the same desires and weaknesses as human beings and the myths often portrayed
them as lustful, greedy and vengeful. There was no holy place that the Greeks
went and prayed to the gods. Instead, the temples that were erected, were for
the gods to come and visit. Festivals were often held to praise the gods. During
these festivals, no war could be fought. The gods spoke to humans through
oracles and people often went to these oracles for advise on what the gods
wanted. The gods were used to explain whether humans would have great fortune or
hardships. They lived at the highest point of Greece, Mount Olympus. According
to the myths, there were three generations of gods. The first were the Titans.
The second group of gods were the Olympians and the last were the Lessor Gods.
Cronus was the leader of the Titans. He was married to Rhea. As the ruler of the
Titans, he had been warned that one of his children would overthrow him. To
prevent this, he swallowed all five of them. Rhea became pregnant again, and did
not want her sixth child to be swallowed. She hid away until the baby was born.
This baby was Zeus, later to become the king of the Olympians. When Rhea
returned, she deceived Cronus by giving him a rock wrapped in cloth to swallow.
After being raised by Nymphs, Zeus grew strong and went back to find Rhea. Gaea,
the Earth goddess, gave Zeus a potion. Cronus was, once again, deceived and he
drank the potion. The magic potion forced Cronus to vomit up all of Zeus’
brothers and sisters; Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. A war broke out
between the Titans and the Olympians. It was a war of natural disasters and
using thunder, lightning, rough seas and volcanoes, the Olympians were
victorious over the Titans. Zeus sent his father and uncles to the underworld.
Zeus was the god of the sky and the rain. His weapon was a thunderbolt. He
married his sister, Hera, the goddess of marriage. Zeus gained marriage to her
through trickery. He pretended to be a bird to convince Hera to feel sorry for
him. As soon as she comforted the little creature, he changed back into his
normal form. He then raped her. Hera only married him because of the shame that
she felt. Hera was often been portrayed as a jealous nuisance but Zeus
repeatedly chased earth women and goddesses, having many affairs that bore many
children. The greatest temple in Greece was in honor of Hera. In actuality, the
myths show that man worshipped her For before Zeus was worshipped. “god”
originally was thought to have the form of the woman. Early man worshipped the
female body either pregnant or of age to have children. The only power humans
had was over reproduction, so this was sacred. Zeus had two brothers that helped
him defeat his father Cronus. Poseidon was the God of the sea, earthquakes and
horses. He also had the ability to change shape, and, oftentimes, he changed
into a horse. The trident was his weapon and although he was allowed to live on
Mount Olympus, he spent most of the time underwater. Hades was Zeus’ other
brother. He chose to rule the underworld. He possessed a helmet that made the
wearer invisible to both gods and humans. Aside from the many other gods that
reigned in Mount Olympus, there were dozens of mythical , and sometimes
frightening creatures. The Cyclopes were three brothers, Arges, Brontes and
Steropes. They each had only one eye in the middle of their forehead. They were
friends of Zeus because they made the lightning bolts, the trident and the
helmet that later defeated Cronus. Another creature was the Sphinx. She had the
body of a lion, the wings of an eagle and the head of a woman. She would pose a
question to passers-by who wanted to go into Thebes. “What being in one
lifetime goes on four legs, at another time on two, and yet when it is old, goes
on three?” A wrong answer would earn the travelers death by strangulation of
the Sphinx’s lion claws. One day, Oedipus came upon this hideous creature and
she asked the question of him. His answer was, “Why the being is man, for as a
baby he crawls on four legs and then, when he is grown up, he walks on two. In
old age, a walking stick becomes his third leg.” The Sphinx was furious at
Oedipus because he guessed the answer correct. He broke the spell. One look at
Medusa could turn any man to stone. She was once a beautiful girl turned into a
monster, with snakes coming from her head, by Athena, the Goddess of wisdom.
Ever wonder why the city of Atlantis was lost? The myth states that Poseidon,
deeply in love with a mortal girl, made an island for her. He married her and
they produced five sets of twins, all male. Atlantis was named after the eldest
of the sons, Atlas, after he died. Atlas’ sons made Atlantis the richest
kingdom in all the world.. It had a brass-covered wall around the kingdom and a
temple built from solid gold. Soon this wealth became overwhelming. People were
fighting and they became very greedy. Zeus, after finding what was happening to
this city, ordered that something be done. He sunk the island to the bottom of
the ocean sea using a huge tidal wave. Whether or not Atlantis really existed is
not proven, but many have tried to find it. Greek myths gave the Ancient Greeks
answers to the unexplainable that they could relate to. They sent messages to
the people that greed, lust, and wrath could have devastating consequences.
Through myths about the god’s and mythical creatures, man could see his own
faults and, possibly prevent or correct them. The Greeks had no idea why
lightning burned a whole city to the ground or wind tore apart ships in the
Mediterranean. They blamed themselves and their “gods,” the only way that
they knew how to deal with everyday life.
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1999. Available http://www.math.utk.edu/ ~vasili/GR_link/Greek_myth/greek_myth.
html#Greekmythintro. Mythweb. San Francisco: Fleet Gazelle, 1993. Online.
Metacrawler. 25 September 1999. Available http://www.mythweb.com. Parada,
Carlos. Greek Mythology Link. 1997. Online. Metacrawler. 25 September 1999.