Greek Mythology: Sources of Greek Mythology and Review of the Mythological History

Greek mythology is a collection of myths and legends written in ancient Greece, containing stories of the gods and warriors of that country. These stories also explain the origin and importance of the universe and the Greeks’ own culture and customs. They are considered part of the religious culture of ancient Greece. Modern scholars study these myths and try to shed light on the religious and political system of ancient Greece and ancient Greek civilization, and at the same time try to understand the nature of myth-writing.

The Greek Trinity and the distribution of the three kingdoms of the earth: Zeus God (heaven), Poseidon (seas and oceans) and Hades (underworld). Theos (minor gods) are the children of this trinity
The Greek Trinity and the distribution of the three kingdoms of the earth: Zeus God (heaven), Poseidon (seas and oceans) and Hades (underworld). Theos (minor gods) are the children of this trinity

Greek mythology was embodied primarily in a vast collection of anecdotes and secondarily in various representational arts, such as pottery or worship. Greek mythology mentions the creation of the world and details many gods, goddesses, warriors, heroines and other mythical creatures. The roots of these stories emerged in an oral poetic tradition. Greek mythology as known today is found mainly in Greek literature. The events surrounding the Trojan War are described in the Iliad and the Odyssey, the oldest Greek literary texts. These two books written by Homer. Contemporaries of the treatise; Their subjects are the cosmology of the world, the emergence of divine rulers, the tradition of human ages, the origin of human suffering, and the origin of sacrificial rituals. These myths are also preserved in the Homeric hymns, the epic poems of the epic cycle, the lyric poetry, the tragedians of the fifth century BC, the works of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic period, and contemporary authors of the Roman Empire such as Plutarch or Pausanias. Archaeological evidence is also a key element in the interpretation of Greek mythology, as the decoration of many antiquities depicted gods and warriors. 8th century BC pottery with various geometric designs depicting the Troy Cycle or Trojan Cycle of HeraclesThe expeditions are depicted. In the later Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods, Homeric and other mythological scenes are examples of contemporary literary evidence. 

Prometheus (1868, illustrated by Gustave More), includes Hesiod's first Prometheus myth. Later it was probably adopted as the original form of Prometheus Bound, Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus Pyphoros, a trio of tragic plays by Achilles.
Prometheus (1868, illustrated by Gustave More), includes Hesiod’s first Prometheus myth. Later it was probably adopted as the original form of Prometheus Bound, Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus Pyphoros, a trio of tragic plays by Achilles.

Greek mythology has not only had a profound influence on the art, art and culture of Western civilization, but has remained a part of Western tradition and language. From ancient times to the present, poets and artists have drawn inspiration from Greek mythology and discovered the contemporary importance and relevance of classical mythological themes. 

Sources of Greek mythology

The Roman poet Virgil recorded many accounts of Greek mythology in his many works, written in this fifth-century manuscript called Virgilius Romanus.
The Roman poet Virgil recorded many accounts of Greek mythology in his many works, written in this fifth-century manuscript called Virgilius Romanus.
Achilles killing a Trojan prisoner in front of Charon. Depicted on a red Etruscan calix-krater of the late 4th or early 3rd century BC.
Achilles killing a Trojan prisoner in front of Charon. Depicted on a red Etruscan calix-krater of the late 4th or early 3rd century BC.

Greek literature is primarily known as Greek mythology. In addition, many parts of this myth are known from visual media representations of the Geometric Age (900-800 BC) and later. 

Literary material

Mythology plays a very important role in almost every branch of Greek literature. However, the only surviving mythological bibliography from ancient Greece is the Library of Pseudo-Apollodorus. This work attempts to harmonize the conflicting stories written by various poets and to provide a comprehensive summary of Greek mythology and hero-legends.

Among the literary elements, the most ancient in terms of antiquity are Homer’s two epics – the Iliad and the Odyssey. Later poets completed the “Epic-cycle”; But all those minor and minor works are now completely extinct. Homer has nothing to do with the Homeric hymns except for the traditional name. Hesiod, a possible contemporary of Homer, recorded a complete account of the earliest Greek myths in a work called Theogony (The Origin of the Gods). The book describes the creation of the world, the origin of the gods, the titans and giants, and detailed family, folklore and etiological myths. of HesiodWorks and Days is an educational poem on agricultural life. This poem also describes the myth of Prometheus, Pandora and the four human ages. The poet states the best way to succeed in this terrible world, which the gods present as even more terrible. 

The lyric poets sometimes drew material for their compositions from the Puranas; But their application is more imaginative than descriptive. Greek lyric poets such as Pindar, Baccylides, Simonides, and pastoral poets such as Theocritus and Bayan described single mythological events.  In addition, the central themes of classical Athenian drama were taken from Greek mythology. Tragic dramatists such as Achilles, Sophocles, and Euripides chose the substance of their stories from the events of the Heroic Age and the Trojan War. Many great tragic stories (namely, Agamemnon and his Sons, Oedipus, Medea, etc.) took their classical form in these plays. The comic dramatist Aristophanes is hisThe Birds and the Frogs also used sources from Greek mythology.

Historians Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus and geographers Pausanias and Strabo recorded numerous local legends they heard while traveling the Greek world. Many of these are little-known passages.  In particular, Herodotus traces the origins of various traditions and discovers the difference between the historical and mythological origins of the Orient and Greece.

Although the poems of the Hellenistic and Roman periods were composed from a literary perspective rather than an artistic practice, they saved many important narratives from extinction. The literary works included in this category are:

  • Roman Poets Ovid, Statius, Valerius Flaccus, Seneca and Servius-Virgil with Commentary.
  • Greek poets of later antiquity Nonus, Antonius Liberalis, Quintus Smyrnaeus.
  • Hellenistic Greek poets Apollonius of Rhodes, Callimachus, pseudo-Eratosthenes and Parthenius.
  • Ancient Greek and Roman novelists, namely Apuleius, Petronius, Lolianus and Heliodorus.

The Fabula and the Astronomica are two important mythological prose works in the Roman pseudo-hygienic style. Two important sources are the Imagines and the accounts of Callistratus by Philostatus the Elder and Philostatus the Younger.

Finally, many important descriptions of Greek mythology come from quotations from the Christian apologist Arnobius and the writings of some Byzantine Greek writers to denigrate these cultural traditions. Some of these were derived from now-extinct Greek sources. Among these mythological preservations are the Lexicon of Hesychius, the Suda, and the Treatises of John James and Eustathius. From a Christian moral point of view, the main statement of Greek mythology is considered – “Every myth contains an account of Daidalou’s infidelity” (ἐν παντὶ μύθῳ καὶ τὸ Δαιδάλου μύσος/en panti muthōi kai to Daidalou musos). Incidentally, Sudas’ encyclopedia attributes the role of Daedalus to Pasipius’s ‘unnatural desire’ for Poseidon’s bull: “The origin and responsibility of all these evils rests upon Daedalus, and that he is identified with them, has become a matter of proverb today.”

Archaeological material

The discovery of the Mycenaean civilization by the German hobbyist archaeologist Heinrich Schilliemann in the 19th century and the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the 20th century answered many questions about Homer’s epics and opened the door to archaeological evidence of many gods and warrior myths. Unfortunately, the mythological and ritual evidence found at Mycenaean and Minoan sites is entirely architectural. Because the Liner B font used here (an ancient form of Greek found in Greece and Crete) was used for accounting for goods. Although the names of gods and goddesses and warriors are also revealed here, there is room for doubt. 

Geometric designs used in pottery from the 8th century BC depict scenes from the Trojan cycle, the expeditions of Herakles.  These visual representations of mythology are important for two reasons; On the one hand, as many of the myths of Greece were depicted on vessels long before the literary elements (eg, the twelfth labor of Herakles, only the story of the expeditions of Cerberus is described earlier in literature); Also, on the other hand, these visual representations often show some mythological or mythical scenes that do not appear in any surviving literary material. Sometimes, the first geometric art representation of a myth is composed centuries before the first poetic representation composed in later antiquity. In the Archaic (750–500 BC), Classical (480–323 BC) and Hellenistic periods, Homeric and other mythological scenes are added to the surviving literary evidence. 

A Review of Mythological History

Along with the cultural evolution of the Greeks, the form of their mythology also evolved. Incidentally, the stated and unspoken source of this culture is Greek mythology. According to Gilbert Cuthbertson, the surviving literary forms in which we find them are political in nature.

The agrarian primitive inhabitants of the Balkan Peninsula attributed an entity to each natural entity. Over time these shadowy beings took on human form. They entered the local mythology as gods and goddesses. As the tribes of the northern Balkans began to migrate, with them came a new theology centered on conquest, power, war, and fierce heroism. The ancient gods of the agricultural world either merged with these more powerful gods or disappeared into oblivion.

From the Middle Antiquity onwards, myths relating to male gods and male warriors abound. This is suggestive of a parallel development of educational pederasty or boy-male sex (Eros paidikos, παιδικός ἔρως) which was introduced around 630 BC. By the end of the fifth century BC, poets associated the name of at least one Eromenos with all the other gods and many legendary characters besides Ares.  Some ancient myths, such as the story of Achilles and Patroclus, are also seen in the light of boy-man sex. First the Alexandrian poets and later the literary mythologists of the early Roman Empire began to adopt the stories of Greek mythological characters in general.

The achievement of epic poetry is the creation of a story-cycle, resulting in the development of a sense of mythic chronology. Thus Greek mythology appears as a stage in the development of the world and of human civilization.  Although many conflicting statements are major obstacles to establishing a precise chronology of the stories, a rough chronology is not impossible:

  • Era of Greek Gods (Theognis, Origin of the Gods): Myths about the origin of the world, the gods and mankind.
  • The era of free association of gods and humans: the story of the original connection between gods, sub-gods and humans.
  • Age of Warriors: In which the activity of the gods decreased. The last and greatest heroic legend is the Trojan War and its aftermath (some scholars date this episode to the Fourth Period). 

Although the s are of more interest to modern students of Greek mythology, there is clear evidence that the Heroic Age was a favorite of ancient and classical Greek writers. For example, the theocentric Theogony and Homeric Hymns are dwarfed in size and popularity by the Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey. The hero-worship or hero-cult that arose under Homer’s influence also heralded a change in spiritual life; which manifests itself in the separation of the God kingdom and the mortal (heroic) kingdom and the division of the Olympians and Cthonians. Works and Days In the book, Hesiod speaks of four human ages (or races): the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. These eras and races are separate creations of the gods. Golden Age Reign of Cronus; The other ages are the creations of Zeus. Just after the Bronze Age, Hesiod adds the projected heroic age (or race) section. The last age is the Iron Age; The era in which the poet himself lived. The poet calls this age the worst, citing the source of the myth of Pandora as the reason for the presence of evil. Ovid also follows Hesiod’s four-age concept in the Metamorphosis.

Era of Greek Gods

Mythology and cosmology

Myths of origin or creation myths are the attempt to describe the world and explain its origin in a language understandable to the common people.  The most popular account of the origin is found in Hesiod’s Theogony.

Gaia (Primordial goddess and personification of the Earth)| Anselm Feuerbach: Gaea (1875). Ceiling painting, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
Gaia (Primordial goddess and personification of the Earth)| Anselm Feuerbach: Gaea (1875). Ceiling painting, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

According to this account, everything began in an all-pervading void called Chaos. From this void arose Gaia (Earth) and several other divine entities: Eros (Love), Abyss (Tartarus) and Erebus.  Unmated, Gaia gave birth to Uranus (Sky), who later impregnated Gaia. First born of the union of the two were the Titans: six men and six women (Oceans,Coeus and Creas, Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Nemosine, Phoebe and Tethys); Then the one-eyed Cyclops and the thousand-eyed Hecatonchires. Cronus (“clever, youngest and most terrible of Gaia’s offspring”) sought out his father and became king of the gods. He married his sister Rhea and the other Titans became his subjects. The father-son conflict is repeated in Cronus’ son ZeusIn case After betraying his father, Cronus feared that his son might do the same to him. So every time Rhea gave birth to a child, Cronus would snatch and eat the child. Rhea hated this job; So when Zeus was born, he tricked Cronus by hiding him and wrapping a stone around the newborn’s neck. Cronus ate this stone. When Zeus grew up, he made his father drink a potion, so that Cronus vomited up all of Zeus’ brothers and sisters, and the stone that had been in his stomach came out. Zeus then challenges Cronus to battle for the position of god king. In the end, with the help of the Cyclops (whom Zeus had freed from Tartarus), Zeus and his siblings won the battle. Cronus and the Titans were thrown into Tartarus and imprisoned.

Zeus holding a thunderbolt. Zeus de Smyrne, discovered in Smyrna in 1680
Zeus holding a thunderbolt. Zeus de Smyrne, discovered in Smyrna in 1680

In the earliest poetic consciousness of the Greeks, creationism was the ideal poetic genre—the ideal “mythos” or myth—and characterized as having almost supernatural powers. According to Apollonius’s Argontica, Orpheus, the ideal poet and singer of creation, not only calmed the seas and storms, but also upset the hard-hearted gods of the underworld after his fall to Hades. As seen in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Hermes invented the lyre and first sang it, the birth song of the gods.  Again, Hesiod’s Theogony is not only a fully preserved account of the gods; Its long primary museIt is also a complete account of the motives of the primitive poets, along with the avahanis. Srishti Purana is also the subject of several now-extinct poems. These include the works of Orpheus, Museus, Epimenides, Abaris, and other legendary seers, which were used in personal ritual purifications and various esoteric rituals. There are also indications that Plato was familiar with some versions of the Orphic creation myth. Fragments of these works can be found in quotations from neo-Platonist philosophers and in some recently discovered papyri. One of these figures, the Derveni Papyrus, proves that a creation-mythological poem of Orpheus existed at least as far back as the fifth century BC. This poem also attempts to surpass Hesiod’s Theogony. Here the creation of the gods goes back to the story of Nyx (night) before Uranus, Cronus and Zeus.

Philosophical creationists of the early period sometimes spoke out against, or relied on, the popular mythology of the time in Greece. Some examples of these popular ideas can be found in the poems of Homer and Hesiod. In Homer’s work the earth is a flat disk floating on the river Oceanus; Above him is the hemispherical sky; Sun, moon and stars in that sky. The sun (Helios) rides the heavens in a chariot; At night float around the world in a golden vessel. The sun, earth, heaven, rivers and air were addressed and were said to be Sakhisapatha. The natural pits were thought to be entrances to the subterranean building of Hades, the realm of the dead.

Greek theology

According to classical mythology, a new pantheon of gods and goddesses was formed after the Titans were banished. Among the main Greek gods were the Olympians (probably in more modern times their number was limited to twelve). They lived at the top of Mount Olympus under the watchful eye of the god Zeus. In addition to the Olympians, the Greeks also worshiped a number of village gods. For example, Pan, Nymphs (water goddesses), Naiads (fountain dwellers), Dryads (tree gods), Nereids (ocean dwellers), river gods, satyrs etc. With it were the dark forces of the underworld. eg, Erines; It is said that he used to chase those guilty of crimes against blood relatives. It was in honor of this Greek pantheon that poets composed the Homeric Hymns (a collection of 33 songs). Gregory Nagy notes, “Most Homeric hymns are simple prologues (compared to theogony) each invoking a god.”

According to various fables and legends of Greek mythology, the well-known gods of the Greeks had human, but ideal bodies. According to Walter Burkert, the main characteristic of Greek anthropomorphism is that “the Greek gods were persons, not abstract imaginations or concepts.” Aside from their original form, the ancient Greek gods possessed many amazing powers. The most important of these was that they were not susceptible to disease and could not be injured except in very exceptional cases. The Greeks believed that a distinguishing feature of the gods was immortality. This immortality and eternal youth was maintained by the gradual consumption of nectar and ambrosia, which always revived the divine blood in the veins of the gods.

Zeus in the guise of a swan is chastising Sparta's queen leader. A sixteenth-century imitation of a lost painting by Michelangelo.
Zeus in the guise of a swan is chastising Sparta’s queen leader. A sixteenth-century imitation of a lost painting by Michelangelo.

Each god arose from his own lineage. Each of them had different areas of interest and specialization; Each was driven by a distinct personality. Although these descriptions were in many cases produced by the division of ancient vernacular texts, which did not always agree with each other. When poets commemorated the deities in poetry, prayer or worship, they combined the names and titles of the deities. so that their particular aspects could be easily distinguished from other aspects (for example, Apollo the Musegate is Apollo, the leader of the Muses). Alternatively, epithets also denoted a specific and local characteristic of the deity, which was sometimes considered ancient even in classical Greece.

Most gods were associated with some aspect of life. For example, Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, Ares was the god of war, Hades was the god of the dead, and Athena was the goddess of wisdom and courage. Gods such as Apollo or Dionysus were multi-faceted and complex characters. Again Hestia (literally fire) or Helios (literally sun) was nothing but personification. Manohara temples were built for very few deities. These gods were the main attraction of the Greater-Hellenic culture. Although local cults of the inhabitants of individual regions or villages were often seen to develop around minor deities. In many cities the Vishruta deities were also honored with local customs not commonly observed elsewhere. In these cases strange fables uncommon in other regions were also associated with the stories of those gods. Although the worship of heroes or deities began in the heroic age, similar incidents continued to occur there.

Age of immortals and mortals

The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, illustrated by Hans Rottenhammer
The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, illustrated by Hans Rottenhammer

In the age of Gods the Gods were alone; and in the age of heroes or warriors divine intervention in human life was greatly reduced. Again these two eras were connected during which gods and humans could freely associate. God-human closeness was not possible in later times. Most of the stories from this period are described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These stories fall into two categories. Namely – love story and punishment story.

Dionysus with satyrs. Interior painting of cup, Brigos Painter, Cabinet des Medielles
Dionysus with satyrs. Interior painting of cup, Brigos Painter, Cabinet des Medielles

The themes of the love stories were fornication (ie, forbidden sex with relatives) and the chastity or rape of mortal women by male gods; As a result many brave warriors were born. But such a relationship of gods and mortals is avoided – a hint is also noticed in these stories. Because, in very few cases such stories would be reconciled. On the other hand, in a few cases, goddesses of heaven have also had intercourse with mortal men. One such example occurs in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. Here Aphrodite and Anchises gave birth to Anise.

The second type of story (punishment story) involves the introduction and discovery of several important cultural traditions. For example, Prometheus’ theft of fire from heaven, Tantalus ‘ theft of nectar and ambrosia from Zeus’s table and revelation of that divine secret to his subjects, introduction of Prometheus or Lycan sacrifice, Demeter’s teaching of agriculture and Elysian mysteries to Triptolemus, discovery of Aulos by Marsyas and competition with Apollo in musical contests. The expeditions of Prometheus are said to have “a prominent place in the history of gods and men”. An anonymous third-century papyrus manuscript tells a detailed story of how Dionysus’ terrible curse on Lycurgus, king of Thrace, extended into the afterlife to delay the king’s deification. The story of the arrival of Dionysus to establish his religion in Thrace is also one of the themes of the Aeschylean trilogy. In another tragedy, Euripides’ The Backe, King Pentheus of Thebes is also punished by Dionysus; Because he dishonored her and hired female priests named Minad as spies.

In a similar story from ancient folklore, Demetrius disguises himself as an old woman named Doso and receives a warm welcome from King Selyus of the kingdom of Elesis in Attica, in search of his daughter Persephone. Satisfied, he wants to elevate Demophon to divinity. But there is a disruption in that rite of deity-upanayana. Demophon’s mother, Metanira, arrived at the scene and screamed in horror as she saw her son standing on the burning pyre. An angry Demetrius laments that foolish mortals do not understand the meaning of religious rites.

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