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MYTHICAL CREATURES THROUGHOUT HISTORY: AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT ‘GREEK GODS & GODDESSES’

by Caro, February 20, 2010

By now some of you have seen the Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief movie, but are some of you still new to Greek mythology? Don’t worry, OBS loves you and because it’s all about love this month, in honor of our Book Club we’re here to give you all the info you need.

Brought to you by OBS Staff Manager Chris

For many centuries now, Greek mythology has influenced many aspects of many different cultures. Greek gods and goddess myths have been told over and over again in literature, folk stories, art, theology, and in places of worship. These aren’t just any mythical creatures, because at one point in time, these figures were regarded as real gods and people worshiped them in order to please them. In the present day, an author, Rick Riodian has chosen to write a series about these fascinating Greek gods & goddesses, focusing on their potential offspring with humans. OBS wants to take the time to give you some history on these people that have been worshiped for years and now have become such a significant part of history and fiction.

Just to hit on the most known Gods and Goddesses and how they have impacted many generations by their stories, myths, and legends.

Greek Mythology: Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece and modern scholars refer to the myths and study them in an attempt to shed light on the religious and political institutions of Ancient Greece, its civilization, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.

Most Well Known Gods/Goddesses

Zeus – The king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky and thunder. His symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull, and oak.

Poseidon – God of the Sea. He created horses from sea foam. God of earthquakes as well. Also called ‘Earth Shaker’ and ‘Storm Bringer’. His symbols are horses, sea foam, dolphins, and a trident.

Hades – God of the Underworld and wealth. Brother of Poseidon, Zeus and Hera, and consort to Persephone. His symbols are the bident, the Helm of Darkness, and the three-headed dog, Cerberus (which we can also remember as one of the many guards to the philosopher stone in Harry Potter 😉 ).

Ares – God of War, murder and bloodshed. Brother to Athena, and is the son of Zeus. Has an affair with Aphrodite. His symbols are vultures, dogs, boars, and a spear.

Athena – Goddess of Wisdom, warfare, strategy, handicrafts and reason. Sister of Ares, and is the daughter of Zeus. Sprung from Zeus’s head in full body armor. She is the wisest of the gods. Her symbols are the aegis, owl, and olive tree.

Aphrodite – Goddess of Love, lust, beauty, wife of Hephaestus. Ares is her lover. Eros is her son. Known as the most beautiful of the Greek goddesses. Her symbols are the scepter, myrtle, and dove.

Hera – Goddess of Marriage, women, and childbirth. Zeus’ wife and sister. Appears with peacock feathers often. Her symbols are the scepter, diadem, and peacock.

Artemis – Goddess of the Hunt, wild things, and the moon. Protector of the young  and associated with the moon. Apollo is her twin brother. Artemis is a virgin goddess. Her symbols are the bow, dogs, and deer.

Gods/Goddesses in Art

Each of these gods have in some way or another shaped history in art, literature, music, film, cities, and much more. We have them to think for some of the greatest legends in history, for igniting the imagination, and indirectly the concept of religion and theology. Also for many other beautiful things, like the artworks of Botincalli, Di Vinci, and many more. These figures where not just only represented in beautiful artwork, but in eccentric statues. Below are a few examples of the beautifully crafted painting and statues made in their honor.

Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”
(Venus is the Roman version of Aphrodite. This image depicts her birth which tells how Aphrodite was born of the sea from foam near Paphos, Cyprus caused when Cronus cut off Ouranos’ genitals and threw them behind him into the sea.)

Michelangelo’s “Love Conquers All”
(In this painting of Eros, also known as the Roman version Cupid, all the emblems of human endeavours – violin and lute, armour, coronet, square and compasses, pen and manuscript, bay leaves, and an astral globe, are tangled and trampled under Cupid’s feett. The painting illustrates the line from Virgil’s Eclogues X.69, Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori (“Love conquers all; let us all yield to love!”).)

Monsiau’s “The Twelve Olympians”
(A depiction of the Twelve principal gods of the pantheon. This includes: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Hades, Hestia, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Dionysus, Hephaestus, and Hermes.)

“Zeus of Otricoli”
(Cronus sired several children by Rhea: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon, but swallowed them all as soon as they were born, since he had learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own son as he had overthrown his own father. Zeus became the king of the gods after forcing his father to disgorge all his siblings and destroying the Titans.)

Gods/Goddesses in Literature

Not only did the Gods inspire artwork, they inspired some of the most renowned works of literature, still read today. Below you will find a list of some of the most famous works about the Greek Gods.

  • Homer’s two epic poems “The Lliad” and “The Odyssey”
  • Set in the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of Ilium by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles. Although the story covers only a few weeks in the final year of the war, the Iliad mentions or alludes too many of the Greek legends about the siege.

    It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work traditionally ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon. Indeed it is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature. It was probably composed near the end of the eighth century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the Greek-speaking coastal region of what is now Turkey.

    The poem mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he was known in Roman myths) and his long journey home following the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War, twenty years in total. In his absence, it is assumed he has died, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors, the Mnesteres or Proci, competing for Penelope’s hand in marriage.

  • Hesiod’s poem ‘Theogony’
  • The Theogony concerns the origins of the world (cosmogony) and of the gods (theogony), beginning with Gaia, Chaos and Eros, and shows a special interest in genealogy. Embedded in Greek myth, there remain fragments of quite variant tales, hinting at the rich variety of myth that once existed, city by city; but Hesiod’s retelling of the old stories became, according to the fifth-century historian Herodotus, the accepted version that linked all Hellenes.

  • Bernard Evslin’s collection of work
  • Leon Garfield and Edward Clishen’s “The God Beneath The Sea
  • Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and The Olympians” Series

And many other novels through history have referenced to Greek Mythology and the Gods.

Gods/Goddesses in Film

Now to more of the modern interruptions and influences these Gods have made, we have seen these figures represented in many modern films, such as:

  • Helena (1924)
  • Ulysses (1955)
  • Hercules (1957)
  • Hercules TV Series (1995-1999)
  • The Odyssey (1997)
  • Hercules (1997, Disney)
  • Helen of Troy (2003)
  • Troy (2004)
  • Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lighting Thief (2010)
  • Clash of the Titans (2010 remake of 1981 film)

Other Greek Mythologies

Greek Mythology did not just only spawn Gods & Goddesses, but also led us to widely known creatures, places, heroes, and figures. Here are some examples of these different parts of Greek myth that have also had their imprint on culture. (Source)

Creatures such as:
The Cyclopes
(Gigantic one eyed monsters. The most famous is Polyphemus, the Cyclops blinded by Odysseus. When Cronus came to power he imprisoned the Cyclopes in Tartarus. They were released by Zeus and fought with him against the Titans. As a reward for their release the Cyclopes gave Zeus his weapons of lighting and thunder.)

The Giants
(Generated from Uranus blood resulting from his castration by Cronus. They became powerful enough to try to unseat Zeus and the Olympians early in their rule. When the gods won, they imprisoned the Giants in Tartarus. Giants have made their own special place in culture, with being in many novels and films. Some examples are The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Harry Potter Series and Percy Jackson.)

Sirens
(Beautiful half-woman, half-birdlike creatures who sang such sweet songs that listeners forgot everything and died of hunger. The Sirens are sisters who lure sailors to their death. The song of the Sirens is irresistible but, they reside beyond reefs which destroy the sailors boats when they try to reach the Sirens. Among those tempted were Jason on the Argo and Odysseus.)

Medusa
(Being very curious, she wanted to see the sun, and asked the Goddess Athena for permission to visit the south. Athena refused to allow her to visit. The medusa got angry and dared to say that Athena hadn’t given her permission because she was jealous of her beauty. Athena was angered and punished her by turning her hair into snakes and cursing her by making her so ugly that who ever looked at her eyes would turn into stone.)

Pegasus
(A winged horse and good flyer. The Pegasus was the result of the ill fated mating of Medusa and Poseidon. It was born from Medusa when her head was cut off by Perseus. Tamed by Bellerophon it served as his mount during his adventures including his slaying of the Chimaera. The Pegasus is most known for being Hercules steed.)

The Centaurs
(Half man and half horse. They have the body of a horse but, in the place of the horse’s head they have the torso, head and arms of a man. Most are wild and savage, known for lustfulness and drunkeness. The exception is the wise Centaur Chiron who was known for his exceptional goodness and wisdom. He was the only immortal centaur. He became the tutor for a number of famous greek heros including: Achilles, Aesculapius, Actaeon. The Harry Potter Series had its own Centaurs as well. They were creatures that lived in the dark forest of Hogwarts, who watched and read the signs in the stars and planets. Firenze, helped Harry several times and by the request of Dumbledore, he also agreed to come to Hogwarts and replace professor Trelawney as the Divination teacher.)

Figures such as:
Nereids
(They are the daughters of Nereus and Doris, fifty in number. They are named in honor of their father. All of them lovely, they are the nymphs of the sea. Some of them better known are Thetis and Amphitrite.)

The Pleiades
(Daughters of Atlas; Electra, Maia, Taygete, Alcyone, Merope, Celaeno and Sterope. They were always persuaded by Orion, but always fled him successfully. Zeus took pity on them and placed them in heaven as stars, to keep them out of Orion’s reach. Maia was the mother of Hermes. Electra was mother of Dardanus, the founder of Troy.)

Minos
(He was the King of Create, son of Zeus and Europa. He created a famous legal code. His success as a law giver was such that after his death he was made one of the three judges of the dead in the underworld. During his rule Create became a major power with an excellent education system, wide spread trade, impressive buildings, and flourishing arts. It became the strongest navel power.)

Heroes such as:
Heracles or (Hercules)
(Best known as the strongest of all mortals. Stronger then many gods. So strong he was the deciding factor in allowing the Olympian Gods to win their battle with the giants. He was the last mortal son of Zeus. He is the only man born of mortal woman to become a god upon his death. He has had many books and films about his life. He also was a savior in some eyes, and worshipped like one of the Gods.)

Perseus
(The horrible prison became fields almost as wonderful as the Elysian Fields themselves, but one day Acrisius saw light coming out of the small window. He told his men to tear down one of the walls. He walked into the tower and saw Danae with a baby on her lap, smiling she said, “I have named him Perseus.” Acrisius was furious, he shut Danae and baby Perseus up in a large chest and cast them out to sea. Somehow they got safely to the island of Seriphos where Polydectes was king. The kings brother who was a fisherman, caught them in his net and pulled them to shore, his name was Dictys. Perseus grew up to become a strong young man. Polydectes heard about Danae and wanted her to marry him, but she rejected him. Polydectes would have married Danae by force if Perseus wasn’t there to protect her.)

Theseus
(Athens’s great hero. While having all the qualities of a traditional hero, such as strength and courage, he was also intelligent and wise. His early adventures benefited the city and region. He was a successful king. He consolidated Athens’s position in the region through shrewd political maneuvering. He led Athens’s army on victorious campaigns. He is credited as the founder of Athens’s democracy voluntarily turning many of his powers as king over to an elected assembly. He gained a reputation for helping the poor and oppressed.)

Places such as:
Mount Olympus
(Towers up from the center of the earth. Here the major gods live and hold court. The myths are somewhat vague on weather it is an actual mountain or a region of the heavens.)

The Underworld
(Hidden in the earth. It is the kingdom of the dead and ruled over by Hades. Hades is a greedy god who is greatly concerned with increasing his subjects. Those whose calling increase the number of dead are seen favorably. The Erinnyes are welcomed guests. He is exceedingly disinclined to allow any of his subjects leave.)

The Greek Gods and Goddesses have manifested themselves in everything at our reach through years. No matter if they were a myth or real, authors, painters, movie directors have been able to introduce us to them in ways that make the audience hungry for more, because the Gods will always be a subject of interest and curiosity.

Remember to also check our book club of the month, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief HERE and discuss your questions or opinions.

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