Like the Egyptians the Greeks also had many myths to explain their world and created gods which could be evoked for support and comfort. Unlike the Egyptians the Greeks not only had gods but they also had heroes (mostly children with one divine parent). However, like the Egyptians and all other ancient civilizations their religion and rituals were based upon these myths.
In the beginning there was only chaos and within chaos the four elements were constantly stirring, never forming anything. Then a miracle happened and heaven and earth were created, a sky was formed over the world and the sun and stars came into being. Heaven and earth are known as Ouranus and Gaia. Ouranus and Gaia were the first divine couple who had very strange children, their children were giants (the Titans) and Cyclopes’. These creatures were so powerful that even their own father feared them and threw them into an abyss, Tartarus. Gaia was desperate to help her children and in secret she climbed down into Tartarus and freed her youngest son, Kronos, and told him to kill his father and rule the universe himself. Kronos was freed from Tartarus and killed his father with a scythe. Just before Ouranus was cast into Tartarus himself he cursed his son, Kronos would fall in the same way Ouranus had fallen, by the hands of his own son. Kronos ruled the universe with his siblings and ultimately married his sister Rhea. Kronos and Rhea had many children, but all these children were devoured by Kronos in fear of his father’s curse. After the birth of baby Zeus Rhea was desperate to save her baby and she brought him to Crete and gave Kronos a large stone in swaddles to devour. The greedy god did not notice the deceit and Zeus was able to grow into adulthood. Once Zeus was old enough he fought his father for the throne and after Kronos was defeated he was given a liquid that made him throw up all his brothers and sisters; Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter and Hestia. Before they ruled the world, they had to face the Titans who were not willing to surrender to the son of Kronos. In order to gain the upper hand in the war, Zeus released the Cyclopes’ from Tartarus on the condition that they make for him an invincible weapon; they created his master thunderbolt. The war lasted a long time but eventually the Olympians came out victorious and they divided the power of the world amongst themselves, as the Titans had done, and created a home on the mountain Olympus.
After creation the god Eros (the god of love and lust) had created plants and flowers to cover the earth. Then he created animals of all kind; crawling, flying, walking and swimming but yet the last animal was still not created; man. Eros created Prometheus, the first walking man and Pallas Athena gave him the gift of intellect. First humankind remained in caves and fed of the land but soon they started to improve their own situation, placing themselves above other animals. The only thing humans did not have, and the gods did, was fire. Prometheus eventually created fire and hid it from the god, but not for long. See the gods were afraid that if the humans also had fire they would eventually become as powerful as the gods themselves. So when Zeus found out Prometheus had created fire, he decided to punish Prometheus for this; Prometheus was bound to a rock and everyday an eagle would peck out his liver which would grow back during the night. Prometheus was eventually saved by the hero Hercules.
To punish the rest of humankind Zeus and the rest of the gods created women, and one woman Pandora in particular was especially destructive. Pandora was given a box in which she was told by Zeus never to look in, but of course soon the woman burned with curiosity and she opened the box. Zeus had hidden all kinds of awful things in the box; diseases, disasters and crimes, all the things the humans had lived without before Prometheus created fire. Now the only thing left inside the box was Hope, hope that the world would one day go back to before the Pandora box was opened.
The Greeks believed in four ages, and the best of these ages happened long before humankind was ever created. In the time that Kronos ruled the universe the Greeks experienced the Golden Age; it was springtime all year round and the earth provided all that was needed. With the birth of the Olympian gods seasons were created (the goddess Demeter was responsible for those) and the earth now had to be worked in order to live of the lands, this is the Silver Age. In the Bronze and Iron Age humans lived on the earth and had to work hard to survive, and with Prometheus his fire they were able to melt Bronze and Iron to create the tools they needed.
Sons of Zeus
The Greeks have a great abundance of myths and the ones chosen here are chosen by personal preference and not importance or relevance. The myths about the sons of Zeus are well known throughout the world and a few will be discussed here.
Minos was son the of Zeus and the princess Europa who ruled the islands of Crete. Minos had asked the god of the sea Poseidon to send him a bull as a sign of his favor which Minos would sacrifice on the altar for Poseidon in return. But the bull Poseidon send was magnificent and Minos decided to trick the god and sacrifice a regular bull instead. Of course Poseidon was angry and as his revenge he made Minos his queen, Pasiphae, fall in love with this bull. The queen and the bull had a child together, half bull and half human, the minotaur. The minotaur was a disaster because not only did he destroy half the island, he ate human flesh. In his desperation Minos had an inventor create an elaborate maze (The Labyrinth) into which he placed the Minotaur to roam forever. This myth has been reduced in size and slightly edited for the sake of this article.
Perseus was the son of Zeus and princess Danae, Zeus was with her as golden rain because the princess was locked up in a high tower by her father. Danae was not supposed to have children because a prophecy had told her father that he would be killed by his grandson. When the king found out his daughter had a son he had her and her son thrown into the sea in a coffin. By the protection of Zeus they reached safety and Perseus grew up to be a strong man. He was challenged to cut off the head of Medusa, the most terrible of the three Gorgon sisters. He knew this was a very dangerous task but he was aided by three gods; Athena, Hermes and Hades. After a long and dangerous journey Perseus was able to cut off her head by using a shield Athena gave him as a mirror. After this adventure he ventures many other places before he returns home. This myth has been reduced in size and slightly edited for the sake of this article.
Perhaps the best known of all heroes but also the most hated by Hera of all Zeus’ sons. He is the son of Zeus and Alcmene. Soon after his birth the goddess Hera wanted to kill this hero by sending two snaked to his crib but Heracles was already protected by Zeus and the baby crushed the snaked with his tiny fists. Heracles grows up and becomes a good man, who marries a princess and has many children, but Hera has not forgotten him and she creates a madness in him. In this madness he no longer recognizes his wife and children and kills them all. Afterwards he has to expiate for the crime and he is punished with doing 10 tasks, each even harder than the other, two of these tasks Heracles refuses to do and two more were added making “the 12 works of Heracles”. After these he went of many other adventures and lived a heroes life. After death he was allowed to enter Olympus and live amongst the gods as their equal. This myth has been reduced in size and slightly edited for the sake of this article.
If you are interested in reading the full myths and/or more myths please read one (or all) of the following books:
- Greek Mythology - an introduction, by F. Graf
- Mythology - gods&heroes, the Trojan War, the Odyssey, by K. Servi
- The complete world of Greek mythology, by R. Buxton