The most important element of Greek culture were myths, i.e., legends, traditions, legends dating back to ancient times. They make up the richest treasury of images and plots. The myths reflected the human need for creativity, in the knowledge of the world and himself. Myths were created at a very early stage in the development of Greek society, in various parts of European continental Greece, in Attica, Boeotia, Thessaly, Macedonia and other areas, on the islands of the Aegean Sea, on Crete, on the coast of Asia Minor.
In these regions, their local cycles of myths developed. Later they merged into a single pan-Greek system, in which the artistic talent and religious worldview of the ancient Hellenes manifested.
Birth and death, change of seasons, ebbs and flows, thunderstorms and rains, weather changes, flowering and wilting of plants, the appearance of fruits on them, these and many other phenomena in the world were attributed to the action of some fantastic, divine forces. These phenomena often appeared in the form of concrete, visible images; they personified, i.e., manifested themselves in the form of living beings. If a person could not explain a natural phenomenon, let alone overcome it, such as a drought or an epidemic, he attributed it to the action of some fantastic forces.
It seems that Greek nature itself predetermined that particular multi-color that permeates mythology: valleys and mountain ranges, a sparkling blue sea with many islands, cozy bays, a blinding southern sun, evergreen vegetation, warm climate. The land was inhabited by fabulous creatures; mountain nymphs – oreads lurked in the mountains, dryads in the forests, mollusks in the rivers. But myths did not just reflect the bold flight of folk fantasy.
They often embodied wisdom, observation of the surrounding life, penetration into the nature of man. This made Greek mythology a part of universal human culture. That is why situations and heroes of myths came into our everyday speech, embodied in expressions and phrases that became winged.
We use the expression “Sisyphean labor”, referring to hard, meaningless work. The origin of this concept is as follows. According to the myth of Sisyphus, the king and founder of Corinth, and according to another version, the father of Odysseus, was famous for his enviable cunning and suffered punishment in the underworld for his fraud.
He had to roll a heavy stone onto the mountain, which, having reached the top, fell down, after which everything was repeated again. We are talking about titanic efforts, about gigantic proportions. Titans and giants are huge giants who fought with the gods themselves.
Myths are closely related to folk cultures and beliefs. They often absorbed popular common sense. So, the ancient Greeks had a custom of sacrifice to the gods; at the same time, a lot of edible meat disappeared.
Then the titan Prometheus found a way to help people. Having killed the sacrificial bull, he chopped it up so that two unequal heaps formed: in one there were bones and tripe, in the other – pieces of fresh meat. Prometheus covered both heaps with skins and suggested that the supreme god Zeus choose one of them.
Zeus was flattered by a larger pile. This incident, reproduced in myth, enshrined the rule: after the ritual of sacrifice, the Greeks began to leave the inedible parts to the gods, and to themselves what could go into food.
Greek mythology was “inhabited” by various creatures: demons, satyrs, rampant and frisky; half-humans and chimeras, fire-breathing creatures, etc. The main characters of mythology were gods and heroes.
At the heart of the Greek religion lay anthopomorphism, the principle of assimilation to man. The gods had a human appearance, were beautiful, and most importantly – immortal. They are characterized by a variety of human qualities, though manifested with special strength, intensity: generosity, generosity, jealousy, treachery. Gods and heroes not only resembled ordinary people, but also communicated with them, mere mortals, and could enter into love relationships.
Some ancient Greek aristocrats numbered gods in their ancestors, were proud of their divine origin.
Greek gods in terms of significance were divided into several categories. The twelve main, supreme gods lived on the snowy, about 3,000 meters high, Mount Olympus in the high part of Greece. At the top of Olympus were the palace of Zeus and the dwellings of other gods, whom they called the Olympians.
The name “Olympus” itself is close to the concept of “sky”. The Greeks believed that there were three generations of gods, and, according to legend, the younger overthrew the power of the elders. In mythology, thus, the rivalry between individual clans and tribes for supremacy was reflected.
The main supreme god, the father of all gods and people, was Zeus. He was considered the son of Kron, the god of time, and therefore was called Kronid. Zeus rode across the sky in a golden chariot, portrayed sitting on a throne with an eagle and a scepter in his hands and a bunch of lightning as the main attributes of power.
From the heights of Olympus, he scattered his gifts to people and established order on the earth, established laws.
The wife of Zeus Hera was the supreme Greek goddess, the queen of the gods, who patronized marriage, conjugal love and childbirth. She was portrayed as a magnificent woman of rare beauty. Zeus’s brother Poseidon was the god of the sea, all sources and waters, as well as the earth’s bowels and their wealth. At the bottom of the sea was his palace.
The god of death was another brother of Zeus – Hades, who reigned deep underground. The kingdom of Hades, where the sun did not penetrate, looked gloomy, terrible and cold, and the afterlife – a complete misfortune. The son of Zeus Apollo is the god of harmony and spiritual activity, the god of art.
He received a lyre invented by Hermes from Hermes and became the patron saint of muses, hence his nickname: Apollon Musaget, i.e., the leader of muses.
Muses were called goddesses, companions of Apollo, who patronized various types of arts. Clio is the muse of history; Euterpa – the muse of lyric poetry; Melpomene – the muse of tragedy; Waist – the muse of comedy; Calliope – the muse of chants; Polyhymnia – the muse of pantomime; Urania – the muse of astronomy; Erato is the muse of love, erotic poetry.
The sister of the golden-wise Apollo was Artemis, the goddess of hunting, fertility, the patroness of animals, as well as everything that lives on the earth, grows in the forest and in the field. In the sculptures, she was portrayed with a bow and a quiver behind her, hunting in forests and fields. The goddess Athena, one of the most revered in Greece, was born by Zeus himself, appeared from his head.
She was the goddess of wisdom; the main city of Greece was named in her honor and the main temple, the Parthenon, was erected. Athena patronized the city-states of Greece, gifted them with wise advice, saved in a moment of danger. The son of Zeus Hermes is a god who patronizes travelers, crafts, and commerce. The god of war Ares, the son of Zeus and Hera, usually appeared in the guise of a heavily armed warrior – the hoplite.
This is the most unloved of the descendants of Zeus, who was not tolerated because of his warlike spirit and bloodthirstiness. The son of Zeus and Hera was the god of fire, as well as blacksmith art. He was portrayed in an apron, armed with a blacksmith hammer, among sparks and smoke.
Hephaestus is the only Olympian engaged in productive labor, who was considered a skilled master of forging.
Ares’s wife, the most beautiful Aphrodite – the goddess of love, outwardly personified the Hellenic ideal of female beauty. She aroused love in the hearts of both gods and mortals, and thanks to this she possessed all-conquering power, reigned over the world. One of the greatest goddesses was considered the sister of Zeus Demeter, giving fertility to the earth: without its mighty power, nothing was born.
The favorite god was also the son of Zeus Dionysus, the sprinkler of vegetation, wine and winemaking. Festivities in honor of the god Dionysos played a large role in the process of the formation of the Greek theater.
In addition to the main Olympic gods, there were numerous gods, as it were, “second grade”. Among them are Eros, the son of Ares and Aphrodite, a playful teenager, a winged archer, the god of love; Hypnos – the god of sleep; Thanatos – the god of death; Hymen – the god of marriage;
Asclepius, son of Apollo and Coronis, is the god of healing; Eris is the goddess of contention; Nika is the goddess of the night, etc.
Along with the gods, heroes, or titans, were “involved” in myths. Heroes were considered semi-divine personalities, standing somewhere between gods and people. Real heroes, historical figures, founders of cities (Miltiad), statesmen (Solon), founders of philosophical schools, major poets, whose deeds played a big role in the life of the Greeks, were also considered heroes.
Their tombs were often located in the center of cities, as a reminder of past feats. There were heroes and legendary figures created by folk fantasy.
One of the most famous and noble heroes of martyrs in mythology was Prometheus, who provided invaluable services to the human race. Among the favorite folk heroes was Hercules, endowed with great power. Literally, his name means: “one who accomplishes exploits because of the persecution of Hera.” When Hera decided to kill the baby Hercules by setting two snakes on him, Hercules strangled them.
Exceeding all by force, not knowing the rivals in military exercises, Hercules completed 12 feats. Among them is the murder of a monstrous Nemean lion; the destruction of the Lernean hydra – monsters with the body of a snake and nine dragon heads; the extermination of the Stiffalia birds, devastating the area, chasing animals and people, tearing them with copper beaks, and many others. These and other episodes form a whole series of fascinating short stories.
Among the popular heroes of Greece, Perseus, known by many myths, the son of Zeus and Danai, also performed many feats. Like Prometheus, he is captured in the works of world art, on the canvases of Rubens, Rembrandt and Titian. Theseus was also considered the greatest hero of Greece, to whom the creation of an ancient political system in Athens was credited.
Heroes honored the legendary singer Orpheus; the greatest architect and architect Daedalus; the rich man Tantalus, so proud that he considered himself equal to the gods, and for this he was severely punished; Pygmalion, a sculptor, even able to revive his creations.
Mythology played a huge role in the development of ancient Greek literature. Plots and images of myths were used in many works: in the “Iliad” and “Odyssey” of Homer, in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. At the same time, cults and traditions associated with mythology served as the basis for the creation of certain genres and forms of literature, such as lyrics, tragedy, comedy, and ancient theater.