Temple of Apollo at Didyma The Greeks built the Temple of Apollo at Didyma, Turkey (about 300 bc). The temple supposedly housed an oracle who foretold the future to those seeking knowledge. The predictions of the oracles, delivered in the form of riddles, often brought unexpected results to the seeker. With Ionic columns reaching 19.5 m (64 ft) high, these ruins suggest the former grandeur of the ancient temple. Bernard Cox/Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York
Greek Mythology, set of diverse traditional tales told by the ancient Greeks about the exploits of gods and heroes and their relations with ordinary mortals. The ancient Greeks worshiped many gods within a culture that tolerated diversity. Unlike other belief systems, Greek culture recognized no single truth or code and produced no sacred, written text like the Bible or the Qur’an. Stories about the origins and actions of Greek divinities varied widely, depending, for example, on whether the tale appeared in a comedy, tragedy, or epic poem. Greek mythology was like a complex and rich language, in which the Greeks could express a vast range of perceptions about the world. A Greek citystate devoted itself to a particular god or group of gods in whose honor it built temples. The temple generally housed a statue of the god or gods. The Greeks honored the city’s gods in festivals and also offered sacrifices to the gods, usually a domestic animal such as a goat. Stories about the gods varied by geographic location: A god might have one set of characteristics in one city or region and quite different characteristics elsewhere.
II PRINCIPAL FIGURES IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY
Poseidon, Ruler of the Sea Ruler of the sea and brother of Zeus, Poseidon was one of the Olympian gods of Greek mythology. He is usually represented in Greek art wielding a fishing spear known as a trident. In this large bronze statue from about 460 bc, Poseidon seems poised to strike with his trident, which today is missing. The statue is in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece. Nimatallah/Art Resource, NY
Greek mythology has several distinguishing characteristics, in addition to its multiple versions. The Greek gods resembled human beings in their form and in their emotions, and they lived in a society that resembled human society in its levels of authority and power. However, a crucial difference existed between gods and human beings: Humans died, and gods were immortal. Heroes also played an important role in Greek mythology, and stories about them conveyed serious themes. The Greeks considered human heroes from the past closer to themselves than were the immortal gods.
Given the multiplicity of myths that circulated in Greece, it is difficult to present a single version of the genealogy (family history) of the gods. However, two accounts together provide a genealogy that most ancient Greeks would have recognized. One is the account given by Greek poet Hesiod in his Theogony (Genealogy of the Gods), written in the 8th century BC. The other account, The Library, is attributed to a mythographer (compiler of myths) named Apollodorus, who lived during the 2nd century BC.
A1 The Creation of the Gods
According to Greek myths about creation, the god Chaos (Greek for “Gaping Void”) was the foundation of all things. From Chaos came Gaea (“Earth”); the bottomless depth of the underworld, known as Tartarus; and Eros (“Love”). Eros, the god of love, was needed to draw divinities together so they might produce offspring. Chaos produced Night, while Gaea first bore Uranus, the god of the heavens, and after him produced the mountains, sea, and gods known as Titans. The Titans were strong and large, and they committed arrogant deeds. The youngest and most important Titan was Cronus. Uranus and Gaea, who came to personify Heaven and Earth, also gave birth to the Cyclopes, oneeyed ...
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