Ancient Greek Mythology
A breif description of many of the tales in ancient Greek mythology, from the creation of the world to the creation of man. The stories of Ancient Greece in a simple, easy-to-read narrative.
First, there was a dark nothingness called Chaos. It was thick with struggling and noise. Invisible enemies fought, banged, thundered and roared. Deep in Chaos were hidden seven immortal seeds.
An unseen force separated the elements. The sky divided from the land, Earth settled and was nestled in the arms of the ocean. The seven immortal seeds, nourished by the air and the soil, began to grow out of Mother Earth.
Slowly, they became seven glittering creatures, The Titans, and they seized control of the Universe. Mother Earth also produced a “Golden Race”, who lived in peace. Unfortunately, they all died out, but their helpful spirits still remain.
The King of the Titans was Uranus, who planted and tended the Earth. Then he lay with Mother Earth and she gave birth to a second race of Titans. Among them were hundred-handed giants and the one-eyed Cyclops, and terrible monsters that resembled mountains. Violent and ignorant, they tried to seize control from their father, Uranus.
Uranus laughed at their puny attempts, and flung them into a deep, terrifying hole called Tartarus.
Uranus was killed by his eldest son, Cronos. Mother Earth, still unhappy at her husband’s treatment of her previous children, had encouraged him to rise up against his father. Some say that Cronos castrated him.
The Titans roared in triumph to hail their new king. Uranus was torn into pieces and thrown into the sea. But three drops of blood had fallen onto the Earth, and there rose up three winged monsters: the Furies, who would avenge fathers who had been murdered by their sons.
As Cronos slept in his bed with his wife Rhea, the Furies came to him. They whispered to Cronos in his dreams that his son too would conquer him. Night after night, they whispered to him, until he became tormented and haunted.
Rhea bore him a child, but he could not forget the whisperings, so in madness he swallowed the baby. But that night, the Furies visited as usual.
Rhea bore him more children, but he swallowed them all: the three girls, Hestia, Demeter and Hera; and two boys, Poseidon and Hades.
Finally, she gave birth to a beautiful boy. She was determined that this child would not suffer the same fate. So she hid him, and fed her husband a stone wrapped in cloth instead.
The baby’s name was Zeus.
Zeus was taken secretly to a cave on the island of Crete, where nymphs and spirits tended him. The nymphs hung his cradle from a branch so that Cronos would not find him on the earth or in the sky.
Meanwhile Cronos still slept fitfully, dreaming of his terrible murder. At dawn, the Furies would visit him.
One night, the Furies did not visit. Cronos woke refreshed for the first time since his heartless patricide. But he was afflicted with an enormous thirst. He summoned a cupbearer to bring his drink. He drank greedily, but his thirst was not quenched. He ordered the cupbearer to bring him another cup, but still his thirst was not quenched. Rhea and another cupbearer rushed into the room. He accepted the cup from the cupbearer with Rhea. He drank, and as the liquid slipped down his throat, he felt a sharp pain. He had been poisoned. “Who are you?” he asked the cupbearer.
“Ask the Furies”, replied Zeus.
Cronos doubled over in pain as the poison penetrated through him. He began to vomit, and out came the children he had swallowed and the stone with which Rhea had deceived him. While Rhea screamed accusingly at him, Cronos ran.
He called out to the other Titans of the Old Order to help him destroy the gods, and a terrible war began. The sky turned black, and frightening earthquakes and storms battled in the sky. The gods attacked Cronos in his stronghold, but the Titans beat them back.
Then Zeus remembered the prisoners still in Tartarus, including the Cyclopes and the hundred-handed giants.
Zeus, with his brothers Hades and Poseidon, descended into Tartarus and freed these Titans. Together, they moved towards the foot of the mountain of Cronos. The Cyclopes gave Hades a helmet of invisibility, Poseidon a Trident that shakes the Earth, and Zeus a Thunderbolt.
The invisible Hades entered the throne room of Cronos. Unseen, he stole the spear and the horn with which Cronos could summon help from his allies. Cronos, confused, thought it was all another mad dream until he saw Poseidon and Zeus.
Just as another terrible war was about to strike, a shadowy figure at the door uttered a mighty, primal shout, which stopped the Titans in their tracks. The shout came from a mysterious half-god, half-goat figure called Pan, the maker of panic. Some say he was a half-brother of Zeus; others claim he was much older.
Pan’s shout penetrated deep into the brains of the Titans. His shout brought to life a memory of the Chaos from which the Titans had been born. They fled, pursued by the hundred-headed giants, who craved revenge.
The gods hunted down the Titans one by one, and imprisoned them in Tartarus, watched over by the hundred-handed giants. The Titan Atlas was made to carry the world on his shoulders as a punishment. Rhea, her sisters, and Prometheus and his brother were spared, and were allowed to find homes on the Earth. Pan vanished.
The gods chose Mount Olympus as their home. Hades, Poseidon and Zeus drew lots to decide which realm each would control. Poseidon drew the sea, Hades drew the Underworld, (where the dead would wander the fields of Asphodel as “shades” of their earthly selves), and Zeus drew the sky. But the Earth was left free for all.
Zeus then gave his sisters their powers. He gave Hestia dominion over the home; he gave Demeter the fruits of the earth and he made Hera his wife. But Hera felt slighted, and swept from the room in anger.
Zeus pursued her, and on his way, unleashed his passion on the earth-spirits and on Rhea’s sisters. With his seed, Themis gave birth to the Seasons; and Mnemosyne, with whom Zeus remained for nine nights, bore the Muses.
Eventually, Zeus found Hera in the ruined castle of Cronos. He disguised himself as a thin little bird, on which Hera took pity. But as she placed the bird against her bosom, Zeus showed himself, and consummated their relationship.
After a long night of mighty lovemaking, Zeus and Hera returned to Olympus. Hera was pregnant, and seemed happy now, pleased to be carrying the child of Zeus.
But when the child was born, he was ugly and malformed. Hera took one look at the boy and shuddered, and then she gave him a brief kiss and hurled him from the mountain with all her strength. The child screamed, then was quieter as he descended towards the sea.
As he landed in the water, he was saved by the sisters Thetis and Eurynome, who named him Hephaestus, the shining one, because he had shone so brightly in the sky as he fell.
One day, Zeus observed Leto, the daughter of a Titan, walking by a lake. Zeus disguised himself as a swan, and then seduced her. Hera was not amused, and disguised herself as a snake and went in search of the pregnant Leto. But Zeus thwarted her plan and two children were born to Leto. They were Apollo and Artemis, and Zeus gave them, as birthrights, the moon and the sun. Apollo gained fame by killing the giant python at Delphi.
Meanwhile, Zeus welcomed another goddess, a beautiful and wise woman, who kept an owl on her shoulder. Her name was Athena, and Zeus said that she’d been born out of his head. He’d had a terrible headache, and Hephaestus had split open his skull, and out had popped Athena, goddess of wisdom, in full armor. Some say that Athena was in the head of Zeus because he had seduced Metis, a Titaness, who became pregnant by him. A prophecy was made that the child of Metis would be greater than its father. So Zeus turned Metis into a fly and ate her.
Athena accidentally killed her friend Pallas, while they were practicing with their spears. As a tribute, she put her friend’s name before her own, and thereafter was known as Pallas Athena. The capital of Greece is said to be named after her because she gave it the gift of the olive tree.
Another of the children of Zeus was Dionysus, the god of wine, mystical ecstasy, theater and revelry. His symbol was the thyrsos, a stick wrapped with ivy leaves. He was something of an androgynous creature. The Maenads were the frenzied, mainly female, followers of the Dionysus cult.
Zeus continued his sexual exploits on Earth. One of his next conquests was Maia, daughter of the Titan, Atlas. She bore a son who seemed quick-witted and charming.
One day, Apollo’s cows went missing. While searching for them, Apollo found Silenus, the son of Pan, and a number of other satyrs. He offered them plenteous rewards if they located the cattle. They found the skins of the cows in the cave of the baby of Maia. All that was left of the cows were a couple of skins, and a tuneful musical instrument, made from a tortoise shell and cow-gut.
Apollo took the baby to Zeus. The blood on his fingers proved his guilt. The baby admitted that he had tied bark to the hooves of the cattle, so that they had left no prints.
The baby had another musical instrument: a flute made of reeds. He promised it to Apollo if he gave him the gift of knowing the future. Instead, Apollo gave him the golden staff he had always used for his now defunct cattle, and instructed him that, in order to be able to read the future, he must visit the Muses on Mount Parnassus.
Zeus named the baby Hermes, god of thieves, cunning and fantasy. He was also the messenger of Zeus, and Zeus gave him winged sandals so that he could move with the speed of thought.
Hera gave birth to Ares, and while Zeus was considering what his birthright would be, beautiful Aphrodite, the goddess of desire, arose from a huge scallop shell in the sea near Cyprus. One theory is that she was born after Cronos had castrated Uranus, and thrown his testicles into the sea.
At the celebration to honor the birth of Ares, Hera noticed a beautiful brooch fashioned by Hephaestus. Not knowing that he was her son, she summoned him to the palace.
Hermes returned with Hephaestus, who explained to Hera who he was. Hera was ashamed, and welcomed her son back to Olympus. He became god of hammer and fire. When Zeus offered him a birthright, Hephaestus chose beautiful Aphrodite.
Zeus decreed that Aphrodite must marry Hephaestus, his ugly son, which she did unwillingly, but took many other lovers. Aphrodite also rewarded her faithful follower Pygmalion by turning his statue of the perfect woman to life. He named her Galatea, and they were married. One of Aphrodite’s children was the mischievous Eros. She also had an affair with Adonis.
Ares became the god of War, and he was usually accompanied by Deimos (Fear) and Phobos (Terror). He has become associated with the dog and the vulture.
In all the excitement, Ares demanded his birthright, and Zeus made him the god of war. Ares had wanted the forbidden birthright, the earth, and swore that he would fight with whoever had the earth until it was his.
Zeus also seduced Thetis, Leda, Alcmene, Danae and Europa.
The Titan, Prometheus, created man by molding models out of mud, with which he mixed some of the original essence of Chaos from which everything had been created.
His experiment was successful, but the lives of his creatures depended on the whim of the Fates: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. Clotho spun the cord, Lachesis measured it, and Atropos cut it with her shears. When Atropos cut the cord of a certain human, he or she died.
Hermes warned Prometheus to destroy his creation. Prometheus sacrificed a cow and called on Zeus to descend and witness these creatures’ worship of him. But Prometheus tricked Zeus by offering a bowl with fat on the top but only bones beneath. Zeus was angry and forbade men to use fire.
Prometheus stole fire from the forge of Hephaestus.
Delaying his punishment of Hephaestus, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to design the first human woman. He created a more subtle design than had Prometheus. Her name was Pandora, and the gods bestowed upon her gentleness, a benevolent nature, inner fire, grace, modesty, fertility, wisdom, curiosity, deceit, and the ability to cause desire.
Pandora descended from Olympus, and Hermes presented her to Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus.
Epimetheus desired Pandora, and while he seduced her, great Zeus appeared before Prometheus to take his revenge on him for stealing fire from Olympus.
Prometheus was bound to a tall pillar in the mountains. Every day a vulture would attack him and eat his liver. Overnight, the wound would heal, but Prometheus would then be attacked again, in an endless cycle of agony.
Pandora came upon a jar of the original Chaos mixture while snooping in the room that Epithemeus had forbidden her to enter. Ignorant of the contents, she opened the jar and terrible insects escaped, henceforth to be responsible for the evil in the world. All that was left in the jar was a chrysalis: Hope.
Zeus took the shape of an ordinary traveler so that he might see how these humans of Prometheus were living. He came upon the palace of Lycaon, where he introduced himself, and asked for shelter and sustenance “in the name of Zeus”. Lycaon and his comrades contemptuously mocked the name of Zeus.
Angry Zeus revealed himself and turned Lycaos and his decadent companions into wolves. He also unleashed a terrible flood on the world of men. Prometheus, bound to the pillar, shouted a warning to his creatures, but the only one who heard him was Deucalion, who together with his wife, Pyrrha, a daughter of Pandora, survived the terrible flood of Zeus on a boat. To them, who had prayed to him, and to their children, Zeus gave the Earth.
Hades captured Persephone, daughter of Demeter, and made her his wife. Demeter threatened to withdraw her blessings on the earth until her daughter was restored to her. The earth grew cold and infertile. Zeus ordered her release, as long as she had not consumed any of the food of the dead. Unfortunately, she had already consumed some pomegranate seeds, so she could not return forever. But she did visit Demeter every year, and she became goddess of the spring.
Hermes seduced the mortal woman Chione, who was also admired by Apollo. Chione bore a beautiful son called Autolycus, who was the grandfather of Odysseus.
Once, the gods rebelled against Zeus, and bound him up. But Thetis roused Briareus, the hundred-handed giant, who undid the knots. Zeus confronted the gods, and Hera admitted to leadership of the revolt. Zeus hung her in the sky, wearing the stars as jewels.
The Trojan War was fought over beautiful Helen. At the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, the goddess Eris, upset at not having been invited, took her revenge by arriving with an apple on which was inscribed: “For the fairest.” Aphrodite, Athena and Hera each reached for the apple as their own. Rather than upset two of the goddesses by making the choice himself, Zeus ordered that the Trojan Paris should decide. Aphrodite promised that if he chose her, she would give him the love of the most attractive woman in the world: the daughter of Zeus, Helen. Zeus had disguised himself as a swan in order to seduce her mother, Leda, Queen of Sparta.
Helen had never really been in love with Menelaos, and fell in love with Paris when he visited Sparta, some say. Others claim that he raped and abducted her. She left for Troy with him and Menelaos stirred up the Greeks to go to war.
It was a long and terrible war, which dragged on for ten years, and during which both sides endured enormous suffering.
The brave fighter Achilles was struck in his vulnerable heel (the only part of his body not protected when his mother had dipped him into the River Styx) and was killed. Through the trick of the huge wooden horse filled with soldiers, the Greeks ransacked Troy, and Helen was returned to Menelaos.
Odysseus went through numerous adventures on his way home to his wife Penelope on Ithaca. He was captured by the Cyclops, Polyphemus, but escaped. He overcame the Sirens, who sang so hauntingly that any man who heard them would jump into the sea. Odysseus had his men seal up their ears. He had them tie him to the mast of the ship in order that he might hear their song and yet live on.
Tantalus had been a friend to Zeus. He was responsible for stealing ambrosia and nectar from the gods, and he also served up his son, Pelops, at a banquet. He was punished by being made to stand in a pool of water with delicious looking fruit hanging just out of reach.
His descendant, Agammemnon, was subject to a curse from Zeus on his family. After the Trojan War, he returned home to his wife Clytemnestra in Mycenae. She hated him because he had murdered her first husband, and sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, to Artemis. (Artemis rescued her, and Iphigenia became one of her priestesses.)
Despite the warnings of the prophetess Cassandra, (who had the gift of prophecy, but the curse that no-one would ever believe her), Agammemnon was murdered by Clytemnestra.
Their other daughter Elektra witnessed the killing, but their son Orestes did not. On his maturity, he was summoned by the Oracle of Delphi and ordered to avenge his father’s murder. He killed his mother and her new husband, Aegisthus.
The Furies, then, had to punish him for killing a parent. They pursued Orestes, who tried to murder Helen in Sparta for causing all the trouble in the first place, but Zeus rescued her and made her a goddess.
Orestes begged for a trial in Athens, and Athena herself ordered the Furies to stop their attack. Only three of them complied with her wish.
The Oracle told Orestes to sail to the land of the Taurians and bring back their statue of Artemis. The Taurians captured them, but the priestess sent to sacrifice them was Iphigenia, who helped them escape with the statue, thus ending the curse.
Heracles reminded Athena of the infidelity of Zeus with his mother Alcmene. She had refused to betray her husband, so Zeus simply disguised himself as the husband. Athena made the life of Heracles very difficult. King Eurystheus set him twelve seemingly impossible tasks. He completed these, the last one being bringing Cerberus, the three-headed monster, from Tartarus, where he guarded the gates of Hades. Heracles was murdered, but Zeus rescued his son and made him an Immortal.
Theseus, on the island of Crete, faced an ugly monster called a Minotaur, with the body of a man but the head of a bull, and the nasty Medea.
Jason had a huge ship built to fetch the Golden Fleece from Colchis in order that he might take the crown from his uncle Pelias. On the way, he and his fellow Argonauts fought the terrible Harpies, which were birds with women’s heads. The Golden Fleece was guarded by a monstrous serpent with a dragon’s head that never slept, but Jason, guided by the witch Medea, asked Orpheus to play a lullaby on his lyre. The monster slept, and Jason absconded with the Fleece.
I haven’t managed to fit everyone in. There’s still Perseus, Andromeda, Minos, Daedelus and many more. There’s the story of Oedipus, who murdered his father and married his mother. There’s King Aegeus, after whom the Aegean is named, as well as poor Daphne, who was turned into a laurel tree. Greek mythology is a rich and complex tapestry, isn’t it, and I hope I haven’t omitted too many of your favorite stories.