Greek mythology is the set of legends which come from the religion of ancient Hellenic civilization. These stories were familiar to all ancient Greekss and, although some thinkers professed skepticism, they provided the people with both rituals and history.
In Greek mythology, the gods in the Greek pantheon are given human form, but are first and foremost personifications of the forces of the universe. As such they are more or less unchanging, and while they sometimes seem to have a sense of justice, they are often petty or vengeful. The gods' favors are won by sacrifices and piety, but this does not guarantee them, for the gods are known to be prone to frequent changes of mind. Their anger is harsh and their love can be just as dangerous.
The world of Greek mythology is quite complex. It is full of monsters, wars, intrigue, and meddling gods. And there are heroes to help overcome these problems. Men and women were much greater in those days, of course, though the Greeks did not see any wide gulf between their history and their religion (see, for example, The Iliad and The Odyssey). Such beliefs can be compared to the way in which, for instance, some Christian creationists today equate the Bible literally with their history. The Greeks saw themselves as the direct descendants of the mythological heroes and their culture. In addition to the continuing use of and allusion to mythology in literature, Greek mythology today makes for some wonderful stories that remain enjoyable.
Greek mythology continues to be an important cultural reference long after the Greek religion with which it was entwined ceased to be practiced. There was, to be sure, a Christian move to deface or destroy idols and other images that reflected the public cult of the gods when Christianity replaced paganism as the official faith of the Roman Empire. Literature posed a harder problem to the Christians; it would be impossible to erase the influence of Greek mythology there without casting aside the Iliad and the other works of Homer, Theocritus, Vergil, Ovid, and hundreds of other authors that none but a few zealots were willing to cast aside. Greek mythology thus has persisted for more than a millennium after Greek religion became extinct. Even the most Christian literature is often filled with allusions to Greek and Roman mythology, as a glimpse at Milton's Paradise Lost makes plain:
- By younger Saturn, he from mightier Jove
- His own and Rhea's Son like measure found;
- So Jove usurping reign'd: these first in Crete
- And Ida known, thence on the Snowy top
- Of cold Olympus rul'd the middle Air
- Thir highest Heav'n; or on the Delphian Cliff,
- Or in Dodona, and through all the bounds
- Of Doric Land; or who with Saturn old
- Fled over Adria to th' Hesperian Fields,
- And ore the Celtic roam'd the utmost Isles.
- --Paradise Lost, book I
- --Paradise Lost, book I
Some important mythical places:
Ovid, The Metamorphoses -- Apuleius, The Golden Ass -- Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey -- Hesiod, The Theogony