Introduction to Greek Mythology

Hellenistic-style mosaics uncovered in the year 2000 in Zeugma, Turkey by Ankara University. This mosaic depicts the nine muses.

Greek Mythology is the study of the body of myths found within ancient Greek religion. When most people think about mythology today, it is often Greek mythology that comes to mind. With it's grandiose cast of memorable characters- from all-powerful, yet highly flawed, deities such as Zeus- to the brave, but often tragic, heroes such as Achilles- to the many horrifying, larger-than-life monsters such as the hydra- Greek mythology has everything needed to stimulate the imagination and promote both intrigue and wonder. In spite of the fact that the religion and culture that birthed this lively cast of characters has long since faded into the mists of history, their influence can still be strongly felt to this day within Western culture.

How Do We Know What We Know?

The earliest written sources of Greek mythology come in the form of epic poetry from the 8th century BCE. The first of these are the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey written by Homer, a greek poet who resided in what is now modern-day Turkey. Even though he is well known in the modern-day for his epic poems, little is known about Homer's life. His epic poems recount the events during Trojan war. Rather than being a purely historical account, Homer's recounting paints the war as both a human and divine one, with both gods and mortals on either side. Homer's writings seem to be part of an even older poetic and mythological tradition. In both the Iliad and the Odyssey Homer writes of the Greek gods as if his readers are already familiar with them and know their backstories.

Next are the works of Hesiod, also from the 8th century BCE, but likely closer to 700 BCE. Hesiod was a Greek poet from the town of Ascra, in central Greece. Like Homer, little is known about Hesiod's life. The first of his famous works is the Theogony, which accounts how the world first formed out of chaos in the ancient Greek creation myth, as well as the origin and history of the gods. His second famous work, Works and Days, accounts the myth of Prometheus stealing fire for mankind, the creation of woman in the story of Pandora's Box, as well as humanity's decline from a mythic golden age. Due to Hesiod's renown, many other later poetic works have been falsely attributed to him throughout history.


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