Greek mythology is a culmination of various influences. Civilizations in the Mediterranean have a history of invasion and assimilation. The conquered would adopt the invader’s traditions and vice-versa. Add Ancient Greek’s system of separate city states and favored deities, and the multitude of Greek myths and gods is understandable. This Greek Myths study guide will help to sort them out.
The Olympians were the ruling deities of the Ancient Greeks but not the first supernatural forces revered by Ancient Greeks. In fact, the Twelve Olympians were not believed to be the creators of the world. Instead they were thought to be the third generation of reigning gods.
The Greek poet Hesiod traces the lineage of the Olympians and the creation of the cosmos, gods, and humans in The Theogony..
According to Hesiod, all that existed sprang from a vast darkness called chaos. To the Greeks, chaos meant “a yawning void" and its origins are not given in The Theogony. (Mythology, The Illustrated Anthology of World Myth and Storytelling, Littleton, C. Scott., Duncan Baird Publishers, London, UK. pg. 136) From chaos, the five initial elements arose; namely,
- Gaia (Earth)
- Tartarus (the underworld in the depths of the Earth)
- Erebus (the gloom of Tartarus)
- Eros (Love)
- Nyx (Night)
These entities would produce the other elements of the world either through mating or spontaneously.
For example, the formidable Nyx got together with Erebus and gave birth to Day and Aether (the upper atmosphere). She also bore some of the more dreaded aspects of human existence: Doom, Death, Misery, Resentment, Deceit and Strife. Strife in turn gave birth to Murder, Carnage, Battle and Lawlessness. (Gloom and doom must have been the theme at Nyx family gatherings!)
Gaia and Uranus
Gaia, on the other hand, produced her earliest offspring all by herself. Gaia’s children were Uranus (the stars and heavens), Mountains and Pontus (the sea personified). Later Gaia would give birth to many children by different fathers, but her most legendary children were conceived with her husband and son, Uranus. To the Ancient Greeks, incest was only taboo amongst mere mortals and the marriage of Gaia and Uranus was considered sacred in that it joined the earth and heavens.
Rise of The Cyclopes
They would have many children, some monstrous such as the three one-eyed Cyclopes, and the three Hecatonchires (Hundred-handed) whom were part human and had fifty heads and one hundred hands each. These offspring were forced to reside in Tartarus. Some of the couple's other children were exquisite such as Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Their most legendary children were the six sons (Oceanus (god of the seas), Hyperion (a sun god), Iapetus, Coeus, Crius, and Cronus) and six daughters (Tethys, Theia, Themis (an earth goddess), Rhea (an earth goddess), Mnemosyne (goddess of memory), and Phoebe) known as The Titans. Fearing he would lose his power to one of his sons, Uranus traps them inside their mother, Gaia.
This Greek Myths study guide continues on page 2 with information on two of the best known of the Twelve Olympians, Zeus and Aphrodite.