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“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy.” – Homer’s Odyssey

Greek mythology is not a religion, in the sense we use the world religion today. However, it was a part of the religion and religious beliefs of ancient Greece. Greek mythology is a collection of myths told by the ancient Greeks and which deal with the numerous Greek gods, mythological creatures, and heroes of ancient Greece.

Even thought it was always assumed that mythological stories are not real, in recent years many scholars tend to believe that many elements of Greek mythology have strong factual and historical roots.

Over the years, Greek mythology has changed to accommodate the evolution of the Greek culture. The earlier inhabitants of the Greek mainland and islands were an agricultural people who, using Animism, assigned a spirit to every aspect of nature. Eventually, these spirits assumed human forms and entered the local mythology as gods, demigods or other mythological creatures. When tribes from the north (Dorians) invaded mainland Greece, they brought with them a new pantheon of gods, based on conquest, force, prowess in battle, and violent heroism. Other older gods of the agricultural world fused with those of the more powerful invaders or else faded into insignificance.

Epic poetry created story-cycles and, as a result, developed a new sense of mythological chronology. Greek mythology then unfolds as a phase in the development of the world and of human beings. While several contradictions in these mythological stories make a proper commonly accepted timeline impossible, an approximate chronology can be recognized.

The mythological “history of the Greek world” can be divided into three periods:

The 3 periods of Greek mythology

Greek mythology

The age of gods (myths of origin)Go!
The age when gods and mortals mingled freelyGo!
The age of heroes (heroic age)Go!

Today’s students of Greek mythology seem to find more interest in the age of gods, however, the Greek writers, philosophers, and everyday people of the archaic and classical eras had a clear preference for the age of heroes, establishing a chronology and record of human accomplishments after the questions of how the world came into being were explained.

For example, Homer’s epic poems Iliad and Odyssey dwarfed the divine-focused Theogony in both size and popularity. Under the influence of Homer the “hero cult” led to a restructuring in the spiritual life of ancient Greeks, expressed in the separation of the realm of the gods from the realm of the dead (heroes). Hesiod, in his work “Work and Days” talks about the Four Ages of Man (or Races): Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. These races or ages are separate creations of the gods, the Golden Age belonging to the time when Cronos ruled the world. The rest of the races are the creation of Zeus. The presence of evil in our world was explained by the myth of Pandora, when all of the best of human capabilities, except of hope, had been spilled out of her overturned jar.

Although ancient Greeks had no official church organization, they universally honored certain holy places. Delphi, for example, was a holy site dedicated to Apollo. A temple built at Delphi contained an oracle (prophet), whom travelers questioned about the future. A group of priests represented each of the holy sites. These priests, who also might be community officials, interpreted the words of the gods but did not possess any special knowledge or power. In addition to prayers, the Greeks often offered sacrifices to the gods, most often of a domestic animal such as a goat.

The Greek religion is quite different from today’s dominant religions because in it there is no orthodoxy, and no one deity to depend upon. So more responsibility is left to the individual. It is a religion for adults, which offers responsibilities rather than rewards. It is a religion that encourages questioning of the gods, and the oracles, because such questioning helps lead to a better understanding of human limitations.

Greek mythological stories of gods and heroes are still important and relevant today. Greek mythology has profoundly influenced Western culture. The stories of the Greek mythology are so universally familiar that many words and sayings we use to this day refer to them. For example, the myth of Narcissus produced the word narcissism, or excessive vanity, and something that causes an argument may be called an “apple of discord,” after an apple that Eris (the goddess of chaos, strife, and discord) used to start a dispute among Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera (the golden apple of discord).

We also refer to Greek myths when we talk about “opening Pandora’s box” or about someone’s “Achilles’ heel”. Any modern person who reads or hears of Greek myths will be hard-pressed to stay unaffected. They are simply that good and this proves just how relevant they still are to this day.

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