Greek Gods and Myths



This Mythology page comes from the students of World Literature classes at GSU. For each of the Gods, we provide the following information:

1. The Roman (or Latin) name of the god
2. Genealogy or important "family" connections
3. The natural element or special power(s) most closely associated with the god
4. Any special symbols or attributes associated with the god
5. One illustrative tale involving the god

For each of the myths, we offer a lively retelling of the story.

THE OLDER GODS

Zeus

(Latin: Jupiter or Jove)

·   Power and attributes: He was known as the ruler of the gods and men, as well as the lord of the sky and the rain god. He had the ability to send thunder, lightning, rain and winds to earth, but is most famous for hurling his weapon--the thunderbolt--at those who displease him. The eagle was also a prominent symbol associated with him.

·  Family connections and Zeus' rise to power: Of all the Olympians (the older gods who were all related in some manner and resided upon Mt. Olympus), Zeus was the most powerful, which can be illustrated by the story of his destined rise to rule the heavenly kingdom and earth. Upon learning that one of his children would dethrone him, Cronus--king of the Titans and Zeus' father--began eating all of his children as soon as they were born to try and avoid this awful fate. Zeus' mother, Rhea, wanting to save her infant son and future Olympian ruler, devised an ingenious plan. She protected her child by wrapping a stone in a blanket for Cronus to accidentally swallow instead of Zeus. 


The great Zeus was then brought up in 
Mount Dikte on the island of Crete by the Nymphs. They disguised his crying by dancing and clashing their weapons and shields. As he entered manhood, Zeus would realize the strength and awesome abilities he possessed. To claim his kingdom, he managed to trick his father, Cronus, by poisoning his drink and making him vomit his swallowed children . Now, while his two brothers Hades and Poseidon helped to preoccupy Cronus, Zeus struck his father dead with his punishing thunderbolt. The Titans, incredibly angered by Cronus' death, plotted to retaliate against Zeus and his siblings. But the Olympians prevailed with the help of the Cyclopes and the Hundred-handed ones. Along with his two brothers, Zeus drew straws to determine who would rule what dominion. Zeus won the influential skies, Hades the Underworld, and Poseidon received the oceans.

Despite the genius and courage Zeus employed to become ruler of the universe, he did not live a totally honorable life himself. He is famous for his promiscuity and many affairs behind the back of his wife Hera, which created constant hostility between the two. In order to fulfill his armorousness, he constantly transformed himself into animal mirages, such as a cuckoo when he ravished Hera, a swan when he desired Leda, and a bull when he wanted Europa. Some of the offspring that resulted from his affairs include the twins Apollo and Artemis by the Titaness Leto, Persephone by the goddess Demeter, and Dionysus by the nymph Semele. Athena was born from his forehead after he swallowed theTitaness Metis.

Zeus became the supreme ruler of the world from the heavens atop Mount Olympus, the highest point in Greece. From this exalted position he could view the affairs of all men and gods and would hurt the evil and creatively punish those who offended him, lied or broke oaths. Zeus was an extremely influential and powerful god, who would act on the simplest of whims. The respect that the other gods and mortals held for him only reinforced his authority and would sustain him for eternity.

--Jackie Shoemaker


Hades

(Roman: Pluto)

·  Special Power: Hades is god of the Underworld and the dead. Hades is also the god of wealth because both crops and precious metals came from his realm below ground. One very interesting item Hades has in his possession is a helmet that was given to him by the Cyclops. The helmet renders its wearer invisible. Hades sometimes lends this magnificent gift to both mortals and immortals.

·  Genealogy: Hades is the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea and brother to Zeus and Poseidon. After Zeus overthrew their father Cronus, the three brothers drew lots to divide shares of the world amongst themselves. Zeus had the best draw and proclaimed himself god of the heavens. Poseidon, with the second best draw, claimed dominion over the sea. Thus Hades was left with rule over the Underworld. 

·  Symbols and Attributes: When someone mentions the Underworld, Hades almost automatically pops into your head. Hades is a grim and pitiless god, but he can't be regarded as being capricious. Rarely has Hades ever released someone from the Underworld. Hades' three-headed dragon-tailed dog, Cerberus, is also well known as his pet and guardian to the gates of the Underworld.

·  Tale: At Hades' side in the Underworld is his wife Persephone. Persephone was carried off from the world above by Hades and taken to the Underworld. This kidnapping of Persephone gives us the etiological story of the seasons. After Hades took Persephone to the Underworld, her powerful mother Demeter went all over the earth looking for her daughter Persephone. While in the Underworld, Persephone ate a seed of pomegranate. When Zeus ordered Hades to return her, Persephone, because of her eating a seed of pomegranate in the Underworld, had to divide her time between the under and upper world. When Persephone is in the Underworld, Demeter doesn't allow the earth to produce crops and the world becomes cold and barren. These six months out of the year are known as Fall and Winter. When Persephone is returned to her mother for the other six months, Demeter allows the earth to become fruitful and warm. These six months are called Spring and Summer. Hades continues to sit upon his throne and watch his domain increase with souls.

--Marion Lewis

Hera

(Latin: Juno)

·  Genealogy: Daughter of Titans Cronus and Rhea. Wife and twin sister ofZeus. Mother of Ares, Hebe, Hephaestus, and Eileithyia

·  Special Power: She has the gift of prophecy.

·  Symbols and Attribute: Goddess of marriage, childbirth, and the home. Deity of women and marriage. She is often dressed, crowned and seated (sometimes with Zeus), with a peacock or holding a spectre.

 
 Hera was the wife and twin sister of Zeus, the king of the gods. She was the goddess of marriage, childbirth, and the home. These attributes make the literal meaning of her name "lady" more appropriate. She was originally a pre-Greek deity and the earth goddess of Argos. She was known in Greek mythology for her many schemes and vengeful plots against Zeus and his affairs. For these plots and schemes, she was often depicted as the jealous and vehement wife and mother.

The marriage of Hera and Zeus is pretty well-known, but the mystery lies in the myth surrounding the circumstances of their marriage. When competing for the king of the gods, Zeus banished his father Cronus. With his father gone, Zeus began to court his twin sister Hera. His many attempts were unsuccessful. He finally realized that the only way she would accept him is if he disguised himself. He disguised himself as a cuckoo bird, and Hera foolheartedly comforted the poor bird at her bosom. The crafty Zeus then changed back to his original form and ravished her. This act shamed her into marrying him. Despite her many children and marriage, Hera bathes frequently in the spring of Canathus and this renews her virginity.

Hera is often associated with peacock. The peacock's ancient meaning is also the only trait that Hera possesses that equalizes her power with Zeus. This meaning and power is wise vision. Hera possesses the gift of prophecy.

--Anne Vonderhaar


Poseidon

(Latin: Neptune)

·  Genealogy: He was the son of Cronus and Rhea and his most well known sibling was Zeus. Zeus is the only god that was more powerful than Poseidon in ancient mythology. Poseidon was the father of a number of children with different wives. Some of his children included Pegasus and Polyphemus, who is widely recognized as the Cyclops in Homer's The Odyssey.

·  Power: god of the sea.

Poseidon was also the god of a wide variety of subjects. He was a patron of herdsmen and a god of fertility.

·  Symbols: He carried a three pronged spear called a trident which could cause earthquakes, hurricanes, and typhoons. Poseidon became the god of all three of these natural disasters.

One of the best known myths that surrounds Poseidon can be found in The Odyssey, book six. The myth begins when Odysseus the Greek warrior is returning home from the Trojan war. He becomes stranded on an island called Ogygia after a great storm. The nymph that inhabits this island is named Kalypso. When Kalypso finds Odysseus she nurtures him back to health and then makes him a prisoner on the island. When Zeus finally arranges Odysseus' release, he is made to cross the sea in a lashed together raft. Poseidon had become Odysseus' foe after Polyphemos had prayed to him before Odysseus' return home. Polyphemos had wanted trouble and plight to accompany Odysseus on his trip home. When Poseidon spotted Odysseus sailing on the sea, he had an obligation to make his trip a troublesome one. At this point one learns about how serious a grudge Poseidon can hold. Poseidon with his mighty trident churns the sea and causes a great storm that destroys Odysseus' raft and almost drowns him. If it was not for InoKadmos' daughter who gave him her sash for protection, he could have very easily perished. The moral of this myth is not to stick a flaming spear in the eye of a cyclops who has powerful family members. This is just one of many tales that so boldly illustrates the omnipresent power of Poseidon, king of the sea.

(Source: Wilkie, Brian. Literature of the Western World. MacMillan, 1997 and http://graham.neb.net/mythology/gods.html.)

--Brad Wells



THE YOUNGER GODS

Apollo 

(Phoebus)

·  Genealogy: Born Phoebus Apollo to the king of the gods, Zeus and goddess Leto, he became god of the sun (light). Because his reign was so vast, there is no true destination for Apollo's origin. Despite his wide-ranging nature, it is believed that Apollo was born on the Isles of Delos. He is, in some accounts, the father of the Muses.

·  Special Power: He was associated with first with the sun and, later, healing, music, poetry, archery, purification, and prophecy.

·  Symbols and Attributes: Apollo is often portrayed with a lyre or bow. The Greek ideal of male beauty, Apollo is depicted as a beardless young man either naked or robed.

·  Tale: Extra! Extra! Read all about it: Being the son of a god--the king of the gods--should have been enough for Apollo, but for him this was only the beginning. Although there were many children fathered by Zeus, including Apollo's twin sister Artemis, it was Apollo who sat second in worship to his father. Apollo went on to establish his oracle Delphi at Pytho after he slew its female dragon guardian Python. Because it was believed that at Delphi Apollo foretold the future, the Greeks believed that Pythia, an elderly woman, was the medium of Apollo. She would go into frenzies, which the priests would interpret as words of Apollo. 

From this, a general assumption made is that because Apollo was widely worshiped, he was well liked. False! His sister and he were often blamed for sudden deaths. For example, Niobe, Queen of Thebes, boasted that because her children outnumbered those of Leto, she was superior to Leto. Dearly devoted to their mother, Apollo and Artemis killed Niobe's children so that her sorrow would forever be lamented in retribution for usurping herself with a god.

Another example of Apollo's negative side concerns his unsuccessful love affairs. His pursuit of Daphne, a beautiful nymph, led her to flee from him and call upon the gods, who changed her into a Laurel tree. A second love affair proved tragic. Coronia became the "apple of Apollo's eye." Her mistake was not her unfaithfulness but getting caught. Artemis then killed Coronia's lover and her out of vengeance for her brother. The lesson to be learned from these tales, ladies, is that no mortal should attempt to compare herself or get involve with a god because it is sure to be disastrous for the mortal!

("Apollo." The New Encyclopedia Britannica. 1988 . Phillips, F. Carter. "Apollo." The World Book Encyclopedia. 1995 .)

--Kathy M. Pierce


Artemis 

(Latin: Cynthia or Diana)

·  Powers: goddess of the moon and the hunt; associated with chastity

·  Genealogy: daughter of Zeus and Leto; twin sister of Apollo

·  Attributes: often pictured as a young huntress

·  An Original Tale:  

One fair afternoon, as Apollo took his place high in the azure sky, a young girl was taking a walk among the foothills of Mt. Olympus. After a while , she came upon what appeared to be an old beggar man. His skin was like leather that had been weathered by the sun and wind, and his garments were barely more than tattered rags. Despite his appearance, she was not afraid to approach him. In his hand was a dandelion, which he handed to her in return for water that she had offered him. As she thanked him for this polite measure, she looked into his eyes and noticed some immortal quality. Then, he spoke: "I want to tell you about the beautiful goddess Artemis . . . "

He began by telling of her birth. "She was born unto the Zeus and Leto, on the desolate island of Delos, where Leto fled to escape Hera's wrath in the form of the monster Python. After she was born, she midwifed the birth of her twin brother Apollo. As a result, she is considered to be the protectress of youth and women in childbirth."

He continued, "She has been bestowed with many titles. She is most commonly known as the Goddess of the hunt but she is also the Goddess of the moon. Being one of three Virgin Goddesses, she represents chastity and purity. The hunter Acteon learned all to well, how much she cherishes her purity."

The young girl asked, "Did she live on Olympus with her brother and father"?

To this the old man responded, "Yes, but she but she spent most of her time running through the forests of Arcadia. She was fond of all wild animals but especially the bear and wild boar. Though she was away from Olympus most of the time she was still loyal to her family. Apollo and Artemis punished Niobe for boasting that she was a better mother than Leto. Apollo killed all seven of her sons while Artemis killed her seven daughters."

The old man noticed admiration for Diana, as she was also called, in the eyes of the young girl. So he quickly added," Though Artemis was a being of light, the moon also has a dark side. On one side she was peaceful, nurturing and compassionate, and on the other hand she was bloody, vengeful and destructive. This destructive and vengeful nature is most evident in the Tale of ActeonActeon was a young hunter, lost in the woods. As he tried to make his way out of the forest, he came upon Artemis bathing with her nymphs. When she discovers him, she is enraged by his impropriety and turns him into a stag. He wanders until his own hunting dogs find him, and they rip him to shreds."

The sun was beginning to set and the little girl looked homeward. She turned to thank the old man, but he had vanished. On the way home, she took a shortcut. She came across a statue that somewhat resembled the old man. Then she noticed the tarnished plaque that read: "Zeus, Father of the Gods".

--Janelle Mahdi


Aphrodite 

(Roman: Venus)

·  Genealogy: in the Iliad she is said to be the daughter of Zeus and Dione. However, in later poems she is said to have come from the foam of the sea ("Aphros" in Greek means foam). 

·  Special Power: She was the goddess of Love and Beauty. In some areas of mythology she also has power over marriage. Some seamen prayed to her so she may have had some power over the oceans as well.

·  Symbols and Attributes: She is often portrayed in a half shell, representing her rise from the ocean. The myrtle was her tree and the dove, sparrow, and swan were her birds. Her attributes included the power to make every man fall in love with her. Even the immortals were not immune (Zeus himself attempted to win her affections and, when he failed, he forced her to marry the lame and deformed Hephaestus).

·  Tale: Aphrodite often had the tendency to wield her powers over love indiscriminately and with vengeance.  She took a great deal of pleasure in viewing the tortured souls who needed her aid in the romance department. She is often depicted as a petty and cruel goddess. However, in a new twist, Aphrodite was once forced to feel some of the pain that comes with love. She saw Adonis, the most beautiful mortal in the world, when he was born and immediately knew that she must have him. She gave him to Persephone to raise. But, by the time Adonis had reached adulthood, Persephone loved him too. The goddesses began to argue, and it finally took the power of Zeus to end the quarrel. He deemed that Adonis should spend the autumn and winter with Persephone and the spring and summer with Aphrodite. Aphrodite loved the time they spent together and would often be seen running through the forest with him in a manner much like the goddess of the hunt, Artemis. One day, she sat with Adonis's head upon her lap and warned him about hunting dangerous animals with tusks. However, he failed to heed her warning and attempted to kill a wild boar. He only injured the animal, which then turned and gored him in the groin. Aphrodite heard him call as he lay dying, and she held him as he bled. Finally, she transformed him into an anemone, which would bloom every spring and be worshiped by all young Greek girls. 
 

  --Natalie Kleparek


Athena 

(Roman : Minerva)

·  Genealogy: child of Zeus and Metis( a titaness); prophecy of Metis' second child destroying Zeus led him to eat her. He suffered a great headache and when Hepaestus split his skull, a beautiful warrior-bride leaped from inside. She was the half sister of Hercules, one of three virgin goddesses (Artemis and Hestia), and had the city of Athens named for her in a competition between her and Poseidon.

·  Symbols and Attributes: goddess of reason in war and peace, intellect, arts and literature, arts and crafts. Her symbols are the olive, serpent, owl, lance, and crow.

·  Tale: The Story of Arachne

  
There was a young girl from the city of Lydia, who was called Arachne. She loved to weave and had become famous for her beautiful works. She received much praise, and soon she began to boast. " I am the greatest weaver in the world, the best this land has ever known! Greater than Athena herself!"

Athena, hearing this mockery from Olympus, appeared on Earth at Arachne's door. Arachne did not have to question who stood before her. She began to tremble in fear and wept uncontrollably. Athena asks the maiden why she should not kill her on sight, but Arachne had no answer. She offers the goddess a gift before she surrenders her life. "I'm sure you have nothing so fine as this" she says.

Athena warns the girl about being too vain, "Your talent has corrupted you, but I shall be merciful and give you another chance". She challenges the young girl to prove who is indeed the best weaver. The people of Lydia were to make judgement. If Archne wins, the Gods will withdrawl their punishment. If she loses, her life will be taken. Arachne goes first and does her best work. The people applaud her. Then Athena begins and her loom is the size of a cottage. She uses the clouds as her wool and creates scenes from Olympus that no mortal could have imagined. She dies them with the colors of the sunset, dawn, and storms. The people bow down and weep even before she is finished. Arachne slips away and hangs herself. The Goddess touches the rope which the maiden hangs from and she is transformed into a small creature with hair and many legs that hangs on a shiny thread. The creature begins to weave and will do so throughout eternity. Thus, spiders are called Arachnids by those most fond of them.

Pictures: www.csc.calpoly.edu/~dcheng/athena.html

--Kameelah Martin


Dionysus 

(Latin: Bacchus)

·  Genealogy: Dionysus was saved from the womb of his burning mother, Semele, who was fatally struck by a fierce bolt of Zeus's angry thunder. It is in the thigh of Zeus, his father, where he was nourished and grew to become a stripling young god.

·  Special Powers: He is to all the god of wine, song, intoxication, and "creative ecstasy." It is through the indulgence of this intoxicating and sweet liquid that many come to know too of his love for orgy and pleasures of the flesh.

·  Symbols and Attributes: In iconography his attributes include a drinking vessel, grape vines, an ivy wreath, and the thyrsos (a long fennel stalk that with ivy leaves flowing from the top). He is usually depicted in both literature and art in the company of maenads and satyrs.
 

There is a tale told many times and passed down from the days of old when the great Zeus lived high atop Mt. Olympus and Gods walked the earth beside mortal men. One day Dionysus was captured by a group of pirates and taken aboard their ship. There they found no bonds could contain such strength as to hold him prisoner and realized he was not of the same flesh as they. It may have been the helmsman who foolishly challenged his mortality whose senses first did stir with the sweet scent of the wine which now ran streaming through the ship. Ivy twined about the boat and crept up the mast in explosions of beautiful flowers and lush berries. It was then that the great god changed his form into a lion roaring with all his majestic pride. There he also created an angry bear which stood tall upon his back legs and fiercely growled as he towered over the terrified sea men. The lion surged forth and attacked the foolish helmsman while the others leapt into the water and swam off,spared, as they were transformed into dolphins.

There is a very important lesson to be learned from this tale that is present in many of the stories of the great gods. When mortals mingle with immortals and, especially, when they dare to challenge the divinity of a god, it always results in adversity, loss, and often transformation or death for the mortal man. So heed this warning and take company with your own kind and play not with the Gods, lest you risk your life!

Cindy Whitlow


Ares 

(Latin: Mars)

·  Power: Ares was the god of war and chaos (as opposed to Athena, who was more of a martial strategist).

·  Genealogy: Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera and the most hated God by his father. According to ancient stories, it was said that Zeus hated Ares because of his violence and aggression. Perhaps Ares's reputation would not have been so terrible had he not stopped the soldiers with his crying and bawling every time he was injured. Zeus disrespected Ares so much that he even called him a coward. Tantalus was the son of Ares.

·  Special Powers and Attributes: Ares was disliked and unpopular because most Greeks felt he represented violence without a just cause or without the use of strategy. Ares wore a golden helmet and carried a large spear covered in blood. His followers were considered crazy or insane because they were so mean and vicious. Some of his followers included Pain, Panic, Famine, Oblivion, and his sons Phobos (fear) and Deimos (Terror). Phobos and Deimos symbolized the horrors of war. The two animals that Ares represented that match his character wonderfully were the dog and the vulture. Ares was identified with the Roman God Mars, but only his title carried over. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans considered war morally correct. Mars was a respected and noble God to the Romans.

·  Tale: Ares had an affair with one Olympian, Aphrodite, wife of Hephaestus. The story goes that Hephaestus had heard word that Aphrodite was fooling around on him, so he invented a trap to catch her in the act. With his metal skills, he made a wire mesh trap. After he placed it over their bed (secretly), he falsely told his wife he was going out of town for a while. Shortly after leaving, Hephaestus returned home and found Ares and his wife Aphrodite trapped snuggled together in his own bed. The moral of the tale for the Greeks of the time was that women are very untrustworthy and that men should have an excuse to be suspicious of their wives. Odysseus's encounter with the tale revealed that he seemed to enjoy the story because he even gave Alkinoos a complement after his men sang the tale. Odysseus's complement also revealed his masterful ability with words, because after his complement the king rewarded him with bars of gold and gifts. And there may well be a final relevance to Homer's telling of the tale, as his hero Odysseus comes close to being trapped by beautiful goddess-women (Kalypso and Kirke) himself. 
  

--Eric Collins

Hephaestus


TALES OF METAMORPHOSIS

There are many ways to read the tales of metamorphoses or "changes," one being an account of how objects of the natural world (like flowers, trees, animals, etc) came into the being. Another valuable way is to read them as commentaries upon the errors or limitations of mortals, especially those who dare challenge the gods or attempt to assert their individuality. These mortals are punished for their various assertions and transgressions by being pulled back into nature and losing their identities. The objects into which they "metamorphose" provide ironic or symbolic commentaries upon their former identities.

The Story of Narcissus and Echo

Narcissus was a person of legendary beauty. He was conceived in an act of violence which foreshadows his tragedy. His mother, Liriope, was bathing in a river when a river god Ceciphus took control of her with his waters and raped her.

And so was born Narcissus. He was a man of beauty who loved himself so much he was unable to love anyone else. It was on the occasion that Narcissus caught his reflection in the water for the first time that the meaning of the words of Tiresisas was brought to light. The prophet had said Narcissus would live a long life if he never saw himself. As he went to take a drink one day, however, Narcissus saw himself. It was love at first sight. In fact, Narcissus was so enthralled with himself he became "caught in the mirror". He stayed there by the water, engaged by his own reflection until he had wasted away to a flower.

Narcissus's punishment for his disdain of others did not occur by whim or chance. A vengeful nymph whom Narcissus had neglected prayed that Aphrodite would give retribution for her poor state. Her name was Echo. When Narcissus spurned her, as he did all the maidens, she was unable to bear the slight, retreated to the mountains, and, wasted away to a mere shadow of a being. Even to this day, "Echo" can still be heard in the mountains responding to all who call, a reminder of the tragic story of obsessive and ill-fated love.

Retribution was given. Narcissus never knew the love of anyone but himself. There by the water, he is said to have turned into a flower which carries his name. The flower, like Narcissus, looks down, bent upon itself, like the infatuated boy. From his story, we get the word "narcissistic," meaning one too vain or enchanted with self.


--Cara Hunt


Phaeton




Phaeton, son of Helios (god of the sun) and Clymene (a nymph)adopted the Latin name, Shining. The story of Phaeton is an interesting fable mirroring everyday parenthood struggles. Helios loves his son dearly, and in order to express his love he grants Phaeton anything his heart desires. When Phaeton requests the enormous privilege of driving the sun-chariot across the sky, Helios regrettably gives in. Feeling honored, Phaeton excitedly sails the chariot through the sky and loses control of the burning mass while over 
Africa. The incident offers an explanation of how Africans received dark skin and Africa became known, in Homer's phrase, as the "Sunburned" land. Before the sun-chariot could set the whole world ablaze, Zeus came to the rescue. Being left no other option, he zapped the boy with a thunder bolt and he vanished forever. The fable brings to one's awareness the strictness of the gods and their lack of tolerance for mistakes. Phaeton is, like Icarus, a youthful variant of the over-reacher: a mortal who in his exuberance dared to appropriate the powers of an immortal and must pay the price.



--Julie Ann Drown

The Judgment of Paris

Paris was the son of Hecuba (the Greek form of her name is Hecabe.)and was first exposed to the Gods through a dream his mother had. During his infancy he was saved by the shepherds who found him on Mt. Ida. His tale show how discord and jealousy among the gods can have a fateful effect on the lives of individuals and of nations.

The tale begins with a marriage and then concerns the breaking of a marriage. The marriage of Peleus and Thetis was celebrated on Mt. Pelion, and all of the Gods attended except one, Eris, the Goddess of Discord. Upset by no invitation, she threw a golden apple upon the table where the gods feasted. On this Golden apple were the inscriptions "Let the Beautiful One take Me." After reading the apple, the three goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite each claimed that they were the most beautiful and took this matter to Zeus. Zeus, no fool, wisely refused to judge them, and he sent Hermes, the apple, and the three goddesses to Mt. Ida to have Paris act as a judge. Paris was bedazzled by the goddesses' beauty and could make no decision. Then each of the goddesses offered Paris one thing in return for his judgement. "I will make you commander of the Phrygians and will lead you to victory over Greece," Athena told him (Hathorn 346). "I promise you lordship over Asia and the bounds of Europe," said Hera (346). Aphrodite's promise was simpler but far more persuasive (as it turned out): "If you let me win the contest, you shall have the most beautiful women in the world" (346). Paris then decided to give the apple to Aphrodite in return for Helen, Queen of Sparta (346).  His abduction of her leads to the Trojan War.

The Judgement of Paris can follow along well with the decisions made in today's world. This short tale asks Paris to decide which is most valuable: beauty, power, or wisdom. Every one faces the challenges of making these decisions. Paris chose the most beautiful woman. Which would you choose?


(Hathorn, Richmond Y. Greek Mythology. BeirutAmerican University, 1977 )

--Robbie Tigert



TRANSITIONAL TALES

Differing from the tales of Metamorphoses, the following tales show mortals or friends of mortals beginning to exert a degree of power in the face of the gods. These mortals may transgress divine law, but through their ingenuity and artfulness manage to maintain and assert their identities. They point the way to such figures as Odysseus, implacably opposed by Poseidon yet managing to survive through the use of his wits (and, of course, Athena's aid). They provide an early expression of humanism.


Daedalus, The Minotaur, and the Labyrinth

Two men were responsible for the creation of the freak half-man, half-bull creature known as the Minotaur.   King Minos, a Cretan king, was a profound bragger, and he annoyed the gods when he claimed that they would do anything for him that he wished.  Daedalus the inventor was his craftsman, who had an awful past left behind in Greece, for he had jealously murdered his own nephew.  He was well known for his great talent at crafting new and advanced constructs.

One day, Minos was exercising his divine talents as he prayed for a beautiful bull to come from the sea.  The bull soon came forth, continuing to enlarge Minos’s already grand ego.  Poseidon, god of the sea, then waved his Trident as he cursed Minos’s wife, Queen Pasiphae, to fall in love with his newly created beast.  When Pasiphae realized she couldn’t fulfill her lusty desire for the bull, she asked Daedalus to help her.  Daedalus constructed a less-than-authentic cow-like contraption for the queen to do with as she wished.  When the queen took full advantage of the cow, the god’s curse continued.  She then gave birth to the epitome of all bastard sons, the horrible Minotaur.  The creature looked like a man except for its head, which was that of a bull.  It also had a continuous appetite for humans, which proved to be quite a drawback of the semi-royal child. 

Minos embarrassingly had Daedalus construct a house for the Minotaur.  The inventor built a maze called the Labyrinth for the creature.  King Minos, obviously an easily bored man, continued to entertain himself as he threw helpless men and women into the Labyrinth and watch them get devoured by his wretched pet.

Tragedy befell King Minos when his son was killed by King Aegeus’s men because of a rumor that the young man was conspiring with King Aegeus’s enemies.  When the king of Crete got Zeus to help him avenge his son’s death, Athens, Aegeus’s home, was pounded with earthquakes and drought, leading to famine.  The Grecian king tried to settle the dispute with Minos.  Minos, always thinking of his family, made a proposal to Greece that the disaster would cease if seven men and seven women were given every nine years to sacrifice to the Minotaur.  Greece accepted.

Several years later, when the payment of men and women was due to King MinosTheseus, supposed son of Aegeus who was well known for his heroics, decided to accompany the group to Crete and bring them back safely.  Aegeus toldTheseus to fly a white flag when he returned to the harbor instead of his usual black flag so the king knew his prodigal son was safe.

When Theseus arrived in the land of King Minos, the king’s daughter, Ariadne, fell madly in love with the young hero.  She wished to help him in his secret plot to save those who were to be sacrificed.  She brandished a sword forTheseus and commanded Daedalus to help Theseus get through the Labyrinth.  The brilliant craftsman told the hero to drop a ball of string behind him so he could find his way out of the maze.  Theseus entered the Labyrinth and killed the Minotaur.

Previously, unbeknownst to the Cretans, several feminine-looking Greek men had easily disguised themselves as women and joined the group of women to be sacrificed to the Minotaur.  The resourceful young lads use their masculine strength to break out of their cell and free the women just in time to meet up with Theseus and escape in their ship.

Ariadne escaped with Theseus, but King Minos found out about Daedalus’s participation in the creation of the Minotaur.  The inventor was exiled from Crete with his son Icarus, who turned out to not have the brain his father had.

--Ben Simpkins

Daedalus and Icarus

Daedalus and his son, Icarus, wished to flee to their homeland from the isle of Crete.  Since their land was over the ocean, there was a limited range of possibilities for a mode of transportation.  Daedalus decided that the easiest way would be to fly.  He gathered different sized feathers to make wings for himself and his son.  He then tied the feathers together with twine and wax. 
 As Daedalus fitted the wings onto Icarus, he warned his son not to fly too low because the water from the ocean would weigh down the feathers.  He also warned not to fly too high because the sun would melt the wax on the wings.  The best option would be to take the middle ground and to stay together. 
 As they got up in the air, however, Icarus became overwhelmed with the beauty of the view, so he flew higher and higher.  Soon the wax on his wings began to melt and he began plummeting to the ground.  He fell into the ocean.  His father gathered up Icarus’s body and buried him in a respectable manner.  The body of water into which Icarus fell is named after him. 
 This tale reveals a central tension in Greek culture.  While their literature shows admiration for figures of great ingenuity and daring, heroes who possess these traits often get carried away with their powers.  Icarus is one such “over-reacher.”  His tragedy underscores the need for moderation.   He should have heeded the advice from one of the phrases over the Delphic oracle:  “Nothing too much.”  If Icarus had only taken the middle ground as his father advised, he would not have plummeted to his death at such an early time in his life.

--Bonny Dukes 
 


Prometheus

Greeks exalted great thinkers and those who used reason to counter difficult situations. Prometheus, one of the first deceivers of the gods, gave men upright stature and the power to wield fire. Zeus distrusted Prometheus because Prometheus deceived Zeus and obviously favored man. Prometheus inspired the Greeks and many later generations of rebels and free-thinkers because of his defiance of Zeus's tyranny and his ability to suffer endlessly without giving in to his oppressor. The life of Prometheus was praised and inspired countless others to endure suffering to protect principle.

Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus, sons of Iapetuswere assigned the task of giving the creatures of earth characteristics that would enable their survival. Prometheus, who had created man out of clay and water, allowed Epimetheus to equip the creatures of earth. Epimetheus, whose name means "afterthought," gave all the best traits to the animals. When he got to man, all of his resources had been exhausted. Prometheus, whose name means forethought, finished Epimetheus's task by giving man an upright posture like the gods, enabling man to rule the earth.

Prometheus's benevolence for his creation increased with his aversion for the Olympians. Although Prometheus remained neutral when the Olympians rebelled against the Titans, he became bitter when Zeus imprisoned his fellow Titans in Tartarus. Zeus's decision disturbed Prometheus, who become increasingly angered at the gods and sought to help mankind.

When the gods and man were arguing about what part of the animal was to be sacrificed, Prometheus presented the choice to Zeus. With skillful deception, Prometheus wrapped the sumptuous meat and the rich inner parts with the unsightly hide. He then carefully and beautifully arranged the bones with silvery fat. When Zeus was presented with the choice between the two, he laughed at the disproportion. Zeus eagerly picked the bones laced with silvery fat. His angered swelled when he realized he had been deceived. In retaliation Zeus put out the ash trees' weariless fire. Prometheus, unwilling to leave man helpless against nature without the aid of fire, placed heaven's fire in a fennel stalk and gave it to man to control.

Zeus, weary of Prometheus, discovered Prometheus knew the name of the god who was to end Zeus's reign. Because Prometheus was unwilling to reveal his secret, Zeus chained him to a rock. Everyday Zeus sent an eagle to eat Prometheus's liver, which grew back every night. Freedom could only be obtained if Prometheus betrayed Zeus's adversary or both an immortal must give his life for Prometheus and the eagle had to be killed. After years of enduring agony, Heracles killed the eagle and Centaur Chiron died for Prometheus.

Prometheus, an icon of endurance, suffered much pain for mankind. His animosity toward the gods and his quick wit solicited him the epitaph: benefactor of mankind. His ability to deceive even rivals that of the great strategist, Odysseus.Either stealing, deceiving, or keeping secrets, Prometheus used his intellect to better the condition of man. The story of Prometheus demonstrated the power of reason and of endurance, man's only defense against the gods.

--Michael-Paul James


Io and Argus

The myth of Io is a tale that reminds the reader of the volatility of the relationship between gods and mortals. Io was the beautiful daughter of Inachus, an ancient hero or river god of Argos. It is written that she dreamed that she should go into the fields and see Zeus. Troubled by the dream, she recounts it to her father. Inachus consults the oracles and learns that he must disown his beloved daughter in order to save himself and his people.

Some versions of this story say that what happens next to Io is a result of Hera's anger with Zeus. In other accounts, however, it is said that Zeus performs these actions to protect Io from Hera's wrath. Whatever the reason, a god (Hera or Zeus) transforms Io into a white heifer. Hera continues to torture the once beautiful mortal by having a "gad-fly" chase her unmercifully. Hera then adds one more pest to Io's new existence by having Argus, an ugly creature with one hundred eyes, follow her every movement. In anger, Zeus sends his son Hermes to kill Argus; he does so with the use of artful music, gently lulling Argus's many eyes to sleep. Io's troubles, however, are not over. She is still being chased by the persistent "gad-fly."

During this pursuit she encounters Prometheus bound to a rock surface. Io questions Prometheus, a known seer of the future, about how long will she stay in this form. Feeling sympathetic towards her, Prometheus informs Io that her pain will be long, but he guides her to the paths she should follow. He concludes by telling her that her journey will end at the Nile and that she will be transformed back to her original beauty. Indeed Io's travels do end at the Nile, and there Zeus touches her and she is transformed back to her original form.

The reader may conclude that one of Io's descendants (thirteen generations later) was thanking Prometheus for helping Io and avenging her pain, when he releases Prometheus from the chains that bind him. That descendant is no one less than the mighty Hercules.

--Barbara Perez