Through the Ages – Ancient Greek Mythology
Unlike many modern religions, ancient Greeks were polytheists, and believed in multiple gods, rather than just one omnipotent figure. As each of the gods had a powerful and unique personality, there was no dirth of conflict, even in the divine realm.
The ancient Greeks are famous for their mythology, and had myths to explain everything. It would be impossible to detail the all here, or even to correctly detail any single myth, as many variations an the myths are presented in ancient Greek writings, and the myths have been reinterpreted countless times through various lenses of time and culture.
With so many gods, politics and changes of power, it is difficult to keep the goings-on in the immortal Greek world quite straight. What follows is a condensed account of the happenings in Greek god-land
Myth of Creation
In the beginning, Chaos was the fathomless space from which everything arose. Chaos spawned Gaea, who became the mother of all things, and also Nyx, the goddess of the night, who gave birth to Eros, the god of love.
Gaea was the earth and she was alone, until she spawned Uranus, the heavens. Eros named the earth and the heavens, and he caused them to fall in love. Uranus was both son and husband to Gaea. From earth and heaven, the earliest creatures were borne: the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the Hecatoncheires (Giants) were conceived.
Remember the Titans?
Uranus was soon overthrown by his own children, the Titans, who castrated him. Uranus’ blood created the Furies, and his genitals fell into the ocean and created Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, and protector of sailors.
Of the Titans, Kronus, emerged as the leader. Out of fear that his own children would betray him as he had betrayed his father before him, Kronus made a rule of eating each all of his children before they had the chance to overpower him.
However, in despair, Kronus’ wife (and sister) Rhea hid her one child in a cave in Crete. This was Zeus. Eventually Zeus came back….
Zeus gave Kronus a poison that caused him to vomit up all of his eaten children. Thus, with the aid of his brothers and sisters, Zeus attacked his father and the rest of the Titans. After 10 years of fighting, the younger generation emerged victorious.
The emergent gods drew lots to distribute their power. Zeus won Heaven, Poseiden won the Sea, and Hades won the Underworld. During the course of the fight, Zeus and his siblings had freed the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires from imprisonment. In thanks, the Cyclopes gave Zeus thunder and lightning, and gave Zeus’ siblings other gifts of power.
Not all gods of Zeus’ generation had ‘Olympian’ status. The official Olympians include: Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hestia, Hades, Poseidon, and –from here we get into Zeus’ children- Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares, and Hephaestus.
The Olympians and their kin began to set about to furnish Gaea with life, and Uranus with stars. Zeus’ sons Prometheus and Epimetheus were given the task of creating animals, and finally, men. But by the time they got to creating men, Epimetheus had run out of gifts to give to new creatures. So Prometheus gave man the gift of fire, which was supposed to belong solely to the gods.
In retribution, Zeus gave the beautiful goddess Pandora an irresistible box filled with violence and plague and all of the horrors that have stricken men. Zeus was a wrathful and lascivious god, but he was also a fair judge, who worked hard to maintain order among men and Gods.
Zeus was infamous for getting himself married or otherwise involved with sisters, cousins, nieces, mortals, and even animals. Thus the Olympians were all closely inter-related to Zeus. Thus also, man was bestowed with heroes like Herakles (Hercules) and beauties like Helen (the woman who cause the Trojan War and, eventually, the onscreen pairing of Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom).
A Closing Note
In the interpretation of some scholars, the Greeks did not understand their gods to be actual figures, but saw them as representational ideas, abstractions that were not actually taken to be true. Thus, while a legend might read “Zeus struck Gaia,” Zeus and Gaia would not be intended as actual deities, but literal, tangible things. With Zeus being the controller of storms and Gaia representing the Earth, such a sentence might be more accurately translated as “lightning struck the earth.”
Of course this manner of interpretation does not work quite as neatly when the myths tell more specific tales, such as the trickster jokes played by one god on another, or Orpheus’ failed ascension from the underworld with his wife in tow.
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