How did Greek mythology originate and why are we so attracted to it? As Nilsson (3) observed, over the years many experts have reached the conclusion that Greek myths are based on actual historical facts. However, if we were to analyze Greek mythology in relation to other mythological systems, they would find many common fabulous elements that have been systematized and rationalized by sapient logographers and historians in such a way to turn them into powerful religions. As of today, most scholars agree that while many Greek myths can be traced back to the Mycenaean period, there are a number of folktale motifs that cannot be reduced to history (Graf 69).
Greek mythology is all that’s left of an ancient religion that combined a vast array of regional beliefs and involved many different characters. Being the twelve Olympian Gods particularly fascinating and powerful, it is no surprise that their stories have stood the test of time, whereas many others have been sadly forgotten. According to Stewart, their success stems from the fact that unlike their predecessors, the Olympians did not prohibit or discourage the pursuit of knowledge. On the other hand, they were widely associated with beauty, poetry, music, please and art (Stewart). In his Theogony, Hesiod explains how the world and the Olympians were created: at first there was Chaos, which may be defined as a non-being. Gaia (the earth), Eros the Erebus and Tartarus emerged out of the void. Without mating with any male gods, Gaia gave birth to Uranus (the sky). Gaia and Uranus’ union resulted in the birth of the first generation of titans (i.e. Cronus, Hyperion, Theia, Themis, Coeus, Phoebe, Iapetus, Crius, Mnemosyne, Oceanus, Rhea, and Tethys), as well as the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires. However, Uranus found the Hecatonchires so disgusting that he pushed them back into Gaia’s womb, thus prompting her to ask the Titans to punish their father. Kronos castrated his father and threw his testicles into the sea from which Aphrodite was born.
Cronus married his sister Rhea and became the ruler of the Titans, however, having betrayed his own father, he feared that his children would also turn against him. As a result, he ate all of his children, until Rhea decided to hide one of them, i.e. Zeus, who grew up and defeated his father, thus forcing him to throw up his siblings. Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hestia and Hades decided to live on Mount Olympus. Nearly all of them had children with other mythical creatures, who joined the Olympians. In ancient Greece, most poems and stories revolved around the lives, endeavors and feelings of twelve major Olympians, namely Zeus, Hera, Artemis, Demeter, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Hephaestus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Hermes and Hestia. As new cults emerged and the last few pagans were forced to convert to Christianity in the 9th century, Greek mythology slowly came to an end.
Interestingly, Greek, Norse and Egyptian myths share numerous similarities that are worth exploring in greater depth. Similarly to Greek mythology, both Norse and Egyptian myths revolve around a number of major deities, each with their own responsibilities, distinctive traits and stories. The Greek, Norse and Egyptian pantheons are all dominated by a male deity (Zeus, Odin and Ra respectively) whose wives (Hera, Frigg and Hesat) were more influential than the other gods. Both Greek and Norse mythic systems acknowledge the existence of fate, which was controlled by three female gods, the Fates and the Norns. In his comparative analysis of Greek and Egyptian deities, Herodotus reports that Zeus was known as Amun among the Egyptians. Interestingly, between the 16th and the 11th century BC, Ra was fused with another popular deity as Amun-Ra (Livingston).
- Graf, Fritz. Greek Mythology: An Introduction. Baltimore: JHU Press. 1996.
- Livingston, Lucas. Greek And Egyptian Religious Parallels, 2002,
http://www.artic.edu/~llivin/research/greeks_egyptian_gods/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.
- Nilsson, Martin Person. The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1992.
- Stewart, Michael. “Origins of Greek Mythology”, Greek Mythology: From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant, June 26, 2009, http://messagenetcommresearch.com/myths/essays/origins.html. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.