6 of the Most Popular Greek Myths

6 of the Most Popular Greek Myths

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The Greek myths are some of the most famous, most popular, stories that survive from antiquity. From the Cyclops to the terrifying sea monster Charybdis, this mythology has inspired the works of tragedians, comedians, poets, writers, artists and film-makers right up to the present day.

Below are 6 of the most popular Greek myths.

1. Cerberus – Heracles’ 12th Labour

Hercules and Cerberus. Oil on canvas, by Peter Paul Rubens 1636, Prado Museum.

The last of Heracles’ 12 labours, King Eurystheus ordered Heracles to fetch him Cerberus, the fearsome three-headed hound that guarded the gates of Tartarus (an infernal abyss within the Greek Underworld, reserved for the most terrible punishments).

Alongside its three heads Cerberus’ mane was covered with snakes. It also had a serpent’s tail, great red eyes and long sabre-like teeth.

Having reached the Underworld, Hades allowed Heracles to take Cerberus, so long as he didn’t use any weapons to subdue his ‘pet’. So Heracles wrestled with Cerberus and was eventually able to place a great chain around Cerberus’ neck.

Heracles then dragged Cerberus to Eurystheus’ palace. Frightening Eurystheus senseless, Heracles would later return Cerberus to Hades. It was the last of his twelve labours. Heracles was free at last.

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2. Perseus and Medusa

Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence, Italy.

Perseus was the son of Princess Danae and Zeus. To save his mother from marrying the king of Seriphos, he was ordered to kill the gorgon Medusa.

To help him with this task, Zeus sent both Athena and Hermes to meet Perseus en-route and provide him special equipment for killing Medusa. Athena provided him with a magic shield, polished like a mirror. Hermes provided Perseus a magical sword.

Perseus’ journey to the Gorgons’ rocky island included several encounters. He first met with the Three Grey Women, who only had one eye and one tooth between them. Perseus then headed to the Nymphs of the North and received a magical leather bag, winged sandals and a cap of invisibility.

With this special equipment Perseus headed to Medusa’s island. Medusa was one of three gorgons, but she had the face of a beautiful woman. Anyone who looked directly at her would be turned to stone, so Perseus used his magic shield to find the sleeping Medusa. Cutting off her head, he then made his escape.

3. Theseus and the Minotaur

Theseus was the son of King Aegeus of Athens. He was sent to Crete to kill the Minotaur of King Minos. Half man and half bull, the minotaur lived in a specially-constructed maze in the dungeons of Minos’ palace. It was infamous for eating children, demanded by Minos from subject cities such as Aegeus’ Athens.

Just before he left, Theseus and his father agreed that, upon its return, the Athenian ship would raise a black sail if the mission had failed and Theseus had died. If he had succeeded, the sailors would raise a white sail.

When he arrived on Crete, Theseus was aided in his task by Ariadne, Minos’ daughter. She provided Theseus magic string so he would not get lost in the maze. She also gave him a sharp dagger, with which to kill the minotaur.

After entering the maze, Theseus killed the Minotaur and then retraced his steps using the string. Along with Ariadne and the captive Athenian children, Theseus quickly made his escape. Leaving the labyrinth behind, they fled to the ships and sailed away.

The story did not have a happy ending. On the island of Naxos, Ariadne was taken away from Theseus by the god Dionysius. Dismayed, Theseus sailed back to Athens, but he forgot to change the sails of his ships from black to white.

When he saw the black sails Aegeus, believing his son was dead, threw himself into the sea. The sea was thereafter called the Aegean Sea.

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4. Icarus – the boy who flew too close to the Sun

Jacob Peter Gowy’s The Flight of Icarus (1635–1637).

With the death of the Minotaur, King Minos of Crete sought someone to blame. The blame fell upon his chief inventor Daedalus, the man who had designed the maze. Minos ordered Daedalus to be locked away at the top of the highest tower in the palace at Knossos with neither food or water. Icarus, Daedalus’ young son, was to share his fathers’ fate.

But Daedalus was clever. Together with his son, they managed to survive long enough to prepare a famous escape.

Using the tail feathers of the pigeons sleeping in the rafters above, combined with beeswax from a deserted bees’ nest, Daedalus was able to craft four large wing shapes. Then, having made leather straps from their sandals, the two prisoners jumped out of the tower with the wings on their shoulders and started flying west towards Sicily.

Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, so that its heat did not melt the boy’s wings. Icarus didn’t listen. Flying too close to the sun god Helios, his waxen wings fell apart and the boy crashed into the sea below.

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5. Bellerophon and Pegasus

Born from the blood that had spilled from Medusa’s body onto the sand after Perseus had cut off the gorgon’s head, it was said that this winged horse, Pegasus, could only be ridden by a hero.

Bellerophon was asked by the King of Lydia to kill the pet monster of the neighbouring king of Caria. This was the Chimaera, a beast that had a lion’s body, a goat’s head and a snake’s tail. It also breathed fire.

To kill the beast, Bellerophon first had to tame the winged Pegasus. Thanks to the help of Athena, who provided him a golden bridle, he was successful. Riding above the Chimaera, Bellerophon killed the beast by striking it in its mouth with a spear tipped with lead. The lead melted inside the Chimaera’s throat and killed it.

Bellerophon on Pegasus spears the Chimera, on an Attic red-figure epinetron, 425–420 BC.

6. Jason and the Argonauts

Jason was the son of Aeson, the rightful King of Iolcos (in Thessaly), who was overthrown by his brother Pelias. Jason went to Pelias’ court to demand his father be reinstated as the rightful king, but Pelias demanded that Jason first bring him the magical golden fleece from the land of Colchis (on the eastern coastline of the Black Sea).

Jason agreed, collecting a group of comrades to aid him in this adventure. Their ship was called the Argo; they were called the Argonauts.

The Argo, by Konstantinos Volanakis (1837–1907).

After several adventures across the Black Sea – fighting poo-throwing harpies and rowing through clashing rocks – the ship of heroes finally reached the Kingdom of Colchis. Not wanting to give up the fleece, the King of Colchis set Jason an impossible task of ploughing up and sowing a field with dragon’s teeth. Not to mention that the plough animals were two fiery bulls that burned anyone that came near!

Against all odds, Jason successfully ploughed the field thanks to divine intervention. He was aided by Medea, the witch-daughter of the King of Colchis, who fell in love with Jason after Eros shot her with his love darts.

Medea then took Jason to the grove where the golden fleece was kept. It was guarded by a fierce dragon, but Medea sang it to sleep. With the golden fleece Jason, Medea and the Argonauts fled Colchis and returned to Iolcos, claiming his father’s throne from wicked uncle Pelias.

Jason bringing Pelias the Golden Fleece, Apulian red-figure calyx krater, ca. 340 BC–330 BC.

Greek Myths Why Are They So Popular?

Greek mythology refers basically to bodies of myths and legends belonging to anicent Greeks, concerning gods and anicent rituals. It extends its influence on culture, arts, literature of the Western Civilization. So why are these legends so popular in American culture? I&aposm no expert in this area but i do want to point out some very interesting facts.These gods were believed to have lived around the era of 180 BC (this is date is taken from the first recorded book). These gods and goddess where believed to have incredible powers. I am a believer in that these gods and goddess have gained popularity because they embody qualities that the modern man or woman can&apost not possible do. How they controlled there realm with displays of strength and love make it a great story to read. There were many gods which can be related to by men of this culture by certain characteristics (which is a greek word) they display. Same for women. So lets explore some of the most popular greek gods and goddesses and go into their characteristics and why they are the most popular. :)

Aphrodite and Ares as secret rivals of Hephaestus

On Olympus, Ares became the lover of his legitimate wife Aphrodite, the secret rival of the cunning Hephaestus.

This love affair brought “some” embarrassment. While the goddess was making love, in Greek religion she was pursued by the Sun (“the Helios”), who daily charioted across the sky from east to west.

Helios reported the event to Aphrodite’s husband Hephaestus, who prepared a special, very thin but strong net, which he attached to the lovers’ bed and then left, only to return at an unexpected moment for the lovers. He found them entangled in the net.

Hephaestus summoned all the gods, not just the goddesses. The lovers’ situation became awkward. As a result, Ares was forced to pay Hephaestus compensation for the insult. Ares, however, fled to Thrace after the affair, while Aphrodite travelled to Cyprus. Both did not appear again among the gods for some time.

From the union of Mars and Aphrodite were born the sons, Eros and Andros, Phobos (god of anxiety and fear), Deimos (god of terror), Harmony (goddess of harmony) and Andrestia (goddess of rebellion). Hence his frequent love affairs with mortals and the fact that he was the father of violent, mischievous sons and even capable warrior women, the Amazons.

Ares’ daughter was also Alcipi, who was later raped by Poseidon’s son, Chalirrothius. Ares killed him, and for this murder he appeared before the tribunal of the twelve Olympian gods on the hill of Athens (the Areopagus), which later became the place of the future criminal trials of Athens. At this trial, Ares was acquitted by the court because his violent act against Chalirrothius was justified.

20 Ancient Greek Myths About 20 Ancient Greek Flowers

From birth to death, from innocence to passion, flowers have numerous interpretations and implications in myths and legends of ancient Greece.

Flowers often symbolize youth, beauty, and pleasure but they may also personify fragility and the sudden transition from life to death, several flowers, such as the anemone, crocus and hyacinth, take their names from Greek myths.

Chloris (Flora) and Zephy by Bouguereau. 1875.

Metamorphosis is a typical theme in Greek mythology, gods as well as mortals, had the power to transform themselves into animals, birds, or humans and repeatedly used this power to trick and manipulate.

In ancient Greece,a flower festival, dedicated to Dionysus, the god of pleasure , was held in early spring, in the month of Anthesterion, the eighth month of the ancient Athenian Attic calendar, which falls from mid February to mid March, maybe our modern May Day celebration are a throwback to the ancient Anthesterion.

Chloris, Greek Goddess of Flowers (The Roman goddess Flora)

Evelyn De Morgan – Chloris (Flora), Ancient Greek Goddess of blossoms and flowers (1880)

In Greek mythology, the name Chloris means “greenish-yellow”, “pale green”, “pale”, “pallid”, or “fresh”, and she was a nymph or goddess, connected to spring, flowers and new growth.

Chloris, was abducted by Zephyrus, the god of the west, who turned her into a goddess, once they were married, together, they had son, Karpos, it’s thought her home was the Elysian Fields.

Chloris (Flora) and the Zephyrs- John William Waterhouse 1898

Chloris was also thought to have been answerable for the metamorphosis of Adonis, Attis, Crocus, Hyacinthus and Narcissus into flowers

Below are twenty flowers, whose names derive from, or are associated with, twenty, magical, sweet-smelling, Greek myths.

1. Aconite

Aconite – Aconitum also known as aconite, monkshood, wolf’s-bane, leopard’s bane, mousebane, women’s bane, devil’s helmet, queen of poisons, or blue rocket

Aconite can grow up to a metre tall and bears purple or blue flowers it tends to grow on rocky ground rather than in earth and is extremely poisonous and that is exactly what the ancient Greeks used it for, poison!

In Greek mythology, the goddess or witch, Hecate, is said to have invented the poison, aconite, which Athena used to transform Arachne, a mortal, into a spider.

Athena (Minerva) and Arachne, René-Antoine Houasse, 1706

Arachne, a shepherd’s daughter, challenged Athena, goddess of wisdom and crafts, to a weaving contest, once Athena saw Arachne’s talent was much greater than her own she became consumed with rage and jealousy and beat Arachne around the head.

Ashamed, Arachne hanged herself, on seeing this, Athena, declared, ‘Live on then and yet hang, condemned one, but, lest you are careless in the future, this same condition is declared, in punishment, against your descendants, to the last generation!’ and sprinkled her with Hecate’s poison.

William Blake, Hecate or the Three Fates (ca 1795)

Instantly, as soon the poison touched Arachne, her hair fell out, her nose and ears dropped off, her head shrank, and her whole body became tiny.

Her fingers stuck to her sides as legs, the rest of her was one round belly, from which she still spins a thread.

2. Anemone

Anemone – a genus of about 200 species of flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae,

Greek ἀνεμώνη (anemōnē) means ‘daughter of the wind’, from ἄνεμος (ánemos ‘wind).

Greek mythology links the anemone, sometimes called the windflower, to the death of Adonis, a handsome youth, who was loved by two women, Persephone, queen of the underworld, and Aphrodite (Venus), goddess of love.

One day whilst out hunting alone, Adonis was wounded by a wild boar.

Aphrodite, upon hearing the cries of her lover, ran to his side, only to witness Adonis bleeding to death.

Windflowers 1903 John William Waterhouse

Red anemones sprang from the earth where the drops of Adonis’s blood fell, (In another version of the story, the anemones were white before the death of Adonis, whose blood turned them to red).

Said to bring luck and protect against evil, legend has it that when the anemone closes its petals, it’s a signal that rain is approaching.

3. Aster

Aster – a genus of perennial flowering plants in the family Asteraceae

The name Aster comes from the ancient Greek word ἀστήρ (astḗr), meaning “star”.

The aster is a star-shaped, daisy-like wildflower.

When the god Zeus, flooded the earth in order to kill off warring men, the goddess, Astraea, the ‘maiden’ of the zodiac sign Virgo, (daughter of Astraeus and Eos, the virgin goddess of justice, innocence, purity and precision), was so upset, that all she wished for was to become a star.

Her wish came true, but on seeing the destruction as the flood waters receded she wept for the loss of lives.

As her tears fell to Earth, the beautiful aster flower burst forth.

Astrea, the virgin goddess of Innocence and purity, by Salvator Rosa

Another myth states that when King Aegeus’ son, Theseus, left to kill the Minotaur, he told his father he would change his black sail to white, when he sailed home to Athens, to announce his victory.

Theseus forgot to change his sail and sailed into Athens with a black sail.

Believing his son dead, King Aegeus, committed suicide.

It is believed that asters bloomed where his blood soaked the earth.

Another legend is that asters were formed when Virgo scattered stardust over the Earth, wherever the stardust came to rest, aster flowers bloomed.

Asters were sacred to the ancient Greeks and were used in wreaths placed on altars they also burned aster leaves to ward off snakes and evil spirits.

The aster is also a symbol of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love.

4. Campanula or Bellflower

Campanula or bellflower – one of several genera in the family Campanulaceae

Campanula is also known as Venus’ looking glass and gets its name from a Greek myth in which Venus (Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, desire, fertility, prosperity and victory), misplaces her magic mirror, anyone who looked in it would see nothing but beauty.

A poor shepherd boy found it, but would not give it back because he had become entranced with his own image.

Aphrodite orders her son, Eros (Cupid) to go and look for it, which he does but in his haste, Eros struck the shepherd’s hand and the mirror shattered breaks it into a thousand pieces, everywhere a piece of it landed, a Venus-looking-glass flower began to grow.

Venus in a bikini, depicts Aphrodite as she is about to untie her sandal, with a small Eros. Photo Berthold Werner

5. Crocus

(This Greek myth is the same as the hyacinth myth, only the characters differ.)

One version, the most popular, of this Greek myth, has Crocus, a mortal, as a lover of the God Hermes.

One day, as the lovers were throwing discus, a discus thrown by Hermes hit Crocus on his head, killing him outright.

Overcome by sadness, Hermes transformed crocus into a flower, the three drops of blood, which had fallen from the head of Crocus, became the stigmata of the crocus flower.

Crocus and Similax

Crocus and Smilax – printed by Sebastian Mabre-Cramoisy, 1676

Another variant of the Crocus tale has it that the mortal Crocus was in love with a nymph, Smilax.

The fact that Crocus, a mere mortal, became disenchanted with his love for Similax, enraged the gods, who turned him into a flower, Smilax, who did not escape the wrath of the gods, was given a similar fate and was transformed into bindweed.

6. Dianthus, Flowers of the gods

Dianthus, Flowers of the Gods (Common names, carnations, sweet William and pinks)

Dianthus comes from the Greek words dios, meaning god and anthos, meaning flower.

The Greek botanist, Theophrastus, deemed this the perfect match of words for the name of the flower, dianthus.

Dianthus may have originated from the myth of Artemis (Diana) but as in nearly all Greek myths, there are a few variations of this story.

Artemis (Diana) Hunting, Guillaume Seignac

One interpretation is that Artemis, goddess of the hunt, was on her way home after a disappointing hunting trip, when she chanced upon a shepherd playing a flute, she immediately blamed his music on the unsuccessfulness of her hunt.

In a fit of anger, Artemis, gouged out his eyes but as soon as her rage had passed, she felt such remorse, that where the eyes fell, red carnations grew as sign of innocent blood.

Others suggest the name carnation comes from the word corone (flower garlands) or coronation as carnations were used prolifically in Greek ceremonial crowns.

7. Delphinium or Larkspur

Delphinium or Larkspur – a genus of about 300 species of perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae,

From the Ancient Greek word δελφίνιον (delphínion) which means dolphin, said to be how the plant got its name because of its dolphin-shaped flowers.

In Greek mythology, after the death of Achilles, after the Battle of Troy, Ajax and Ulysses fought with each other, over the body of Achilles, they would each have parts of him, they decided, but could not agree on who should have the arms.

Achilles and Ajax at Draughts, Black Figure Ware Amphora, Greek, 540 BCE

After some deliberation, the Greeks decided Ulysses should have them, Ajax in fit of rage, took up his sword and committed suicide, resulting in his blood pouring onto the ground.

The larkspur, also known as knightspur, bloomed where Ajax’s blood had fallen.

The letters A I A, the initials of Ajax, are believed to appear on the petals of the flowers as a remembrance of Ajax.

8. Hellebore or Christmas Rose

Hellebore or Christmas rose – the Eurasian genus Helleborus consists of approximately 20 species of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae

In Greek mythology, hellebore was used by the ancients for a variety of medicinal purposes, including treating paralysis, gout and even insanity.

Ring 1st c. A.D. Melampus purifying Proetus’ daughters. Lysippe, Iphinoe and Iphianassa.(Médailles et Antiques de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

Melampus, soothsayer and healer and his brother Bias, used hellebore to cure the madness of King Proetus of Argos’s three daughters, Lysippe, Iphinoe and Iphianassa and other Greek women, whom, after being cursed by Dionysus, god of wine, lost their minds and went on the rampage through the mountains and desert of Tiryns, believing they were cows!

As payment, Melampus and his brother Bias, amassed a third of the wealth of Argos, when they married the princesses they had cured, thus claiming their dowry.

9. Hyacinth

Hyacinth – a small genus of bulbous, fragrant flowering plants in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Scilloideae

(This Greek myth is the same as the crocus myth, only the characters differ.)

Known for his great beauty, Hyacinth, Ὑάκινθος Huákinthos, a Spartan Prince, was a lover of Apollo, the sun god but was also much admired by the West wind Zephyrus, who was so jealous of Apollo that he was just biding his time, until an opportunity came along, to put Apollo out of the running.

Jean Broc, The Death of Hyacinthos (1801)

One afternoon, the opportunity arose when Apollo and Hyacinth were throwing a discus around.

Showing off to his lover, Hyacinth ran to catch the discus, Zephyrus saw his chance and blew the discus off course causing it to strike Hyacinth on the head, felling him instantly.

As Apollo wept over Hyacinth, his tears, which dropped on the ground, turned into the beautifully scented flowers, the hyacinths.

Iris – the largest genus of the family Iridaceae with up to 300 species

The Iris takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow, ίριδ- irida, which is also the name for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris.

The iris means eye of heaven, and is named after the Greek goddess of the Rainbow, fertility, Colours, the Sea, Heraldry, the Sky, truth, and oaths, who was said to carry messages between Earth and the god Zeus, and goddess Hera.

Iris Carrying the Water of the River Styx to Olympus for the Gods to Swear By, Guy Head, c. 1793

Iris, was thought to use the rainbow as a bridge between heaven and earth, some say the ancient Greeks believed the rainbow was the many coloured robe of Iris whilst others believed the multi-coloured iris flowers were part of her robe or the flowing veil from her dress.

The most common colours for the iris are purple or blue, although they are found in yellow, pink and red, the ancient Greeks planted purple iris flowers on the graves of women, believing they would entice the Goddess Iris to lead their loved ones in their journey to heaven.

11. Lily

Lily – Lilium ) a genus of herbaceous flowering plants growing from bulbs

The lily was dedicated to the goddess Hera, the goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth, and the wife of Zeus, god of the sky, lightning and the thunder in Ancient Greece, ruler of all the gods on Mount Olympus.

Zeus, not the best of husbands, was having a thing with Alceme, a mere mortal, the end result being, he fathered the the Ancient Greek hero Hercules.

The Birth of the Milky Way – Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)

Zeus, as any father, wanted only the best for his baby son and knew nothing topped the milk of Hera, his wife, when it came to raising Greek gods, how though, could he persuade Hera to nourish the child of her husband’s illicit affair?

There was only one thing for it, Zeus drugged Hera, waited for her to fall into deep slumber, and placed Hercules at her breast.

Hera, though, awoke with a start and flung the poor baby from her, the milk, gushing from her breast, sprayed across the heavens, forming the Milky Way, the few drops which fell to Earth, sprang up as lily flowers.

The lily symbolizes purity and beauty and depending on the colour or type, the lily sends different messages, white is for modesty and virginity, orange is for passion and yellow for joy.

12. Lotus

The Greek name for lotus is λωτός-lotos.

In Greek mythology the lotus-eaters (λωτοφάγοι, lotofagi), were a race of people living on an island dominated by the Lotus tree, the lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were a narcotic, causing the inhabitants to sleep in peaceful apathy.

Herodotus, the fifth century BC Greek historian, was convinced that the lotus-eaters were not a myth but reality and existed in his day, on an island off the coast of Libya.

In Homer’s the Odyssey, Odysseus and his men, after escaping from the island of the witch, Circe, take refuge upon the land of the Lotus Eaters, whose inhabitants existed exclusively on a diet of lotus flowers (thought to be of the Egyptian Blue Water Lily type of Lotus (Nymphaea) it has also been speculated that they may have been eating poppies.).

Odysseus, once they had dropped anchor, at this mysterious island, sent some of his men to look for supplies, and to check out the locals.

Odysseus removing his men from the company of the lotus-eaters. Unknown 18th century French engraving

The locals, being of a generous and laid back nature, at once, on meeting these strangers, offered them lotus flowers, which the sailors happily accepted, ten minutes later, they had not a care in the world.

Time passed, Odysseus became increasingly worried about his men and dispatched another group of men, to see what was going on with the first group, time, again, passed and Odysseus thought to himself ‘if you want a job doing properly, do it yourself!’ and set out to find his men.

He came across them chilling with the natives, at once he realized what had happened, and refusing the native’s offer of these magical, intoxicating lotus flowers, rounded up his men, and herded them back to the ship.

Once aboard ship, the men began to regain their senses, remembered the friendly island people, and wanted to head back, Odysseus, who by now, had had enough of these goings on, tied up his men and set sail immediately, never to return.

13. Narcissus

Narcissus – a genus of predominantly spring perennial plants of the amaryllis family, Amaryllidaceae.

The Greek myth about the narcissus flower is a cautionary tale about the imperfections of humans.

Narcissus had the looks to make any Greek god jealous, and, in his neighborhood, was considered quite the catch, all the village girls dreamed of being the one to take his fancy.

Narcissus, though, had no time for girls he was too taken up with himself and scorned the advances of all, including the poor nymph, Echo (who could talk the hind legs off a donkey), who was head over heels in love with him.

Echo tried her best to gain the attention of Narcissus, to no avail, at her wits end, seeing him alone in the woods one day, Echo drew up her courage and threw her arms around him.

Narcissus, taken by surprise, exclaimed ‘Hands off! I would rather die than you should have me!’

Mortified with shame, Echo ran to hide in the woods and from that time on, lived in a cave, her body wasting away from sadness her bones changed into rocks, there was nothing left but her voice, with which she repeated anything she heard called out by passersby, she had become her namesake, Echo.

Narcissus and Echo John William Waterhouse (1903)

When, Nemesis, the goddess of revenge heard of Narcissus’s abominable behaviour towards Echo, she wanted retribution, she enticed Narcissus to a pond, where he saw his own reflection and instantly fell madly in love with it.

Totally absorbed in his reflection in the water, Narcissus lost his footing and tumbled into the pond, where he drowned.

In the spot where Narcissus had sat gazing at himself in the water, there appeared a flower, the narcissus, a flower symbolizing selfishness and cold-heartedness.

Today psychologists use the term narcissist to describe someone who thinks only of themselves.

14. Orchid

Orchid – The Orchidaceae are a diverse and widespread family of flowering plants

The name Orchid comes from the Ancient Greek ὄρχις-orchis, meaning testicle.

Orchis, a demi-god, was the son of a nymph and a satyr, who, during the wild and crazy Dionysian celebrations, high on goodness knows what, committed the unspeakable act of attempting to rape a priestess.

His punishment was to be ripped limb from limb by wild beasts.

Where his body parts fell, an extraordinary fleshy plant took root the flowers portrayed Orchis’ beauty, while the two bulbous root tubers symbolized the sin which brought about his misfortune.

Statue of Theophrastus, Palermo Botanical Garden

Theophrastus, the most famed botanist of ancient Greece (4-3 century B.C.), pupil of Aristotle and Plato immortalized Orchis in his Historia Plantarum, by attributing his name to the flower species.

He accredited the name to the rounded two tubers, which looked similar to human testes, which gave to the accepted belief that orchids were an aphrodisiac, and caused Greek women to use the Orchid roots in order to determine the sex of their babies If the father ate large, new tubers, the child would be male if the mother ate small tubers, the child would be female.

15. Peony

Peony – or paeony is a flowering plant in the genus Paeonia, the only genus in the family Paeoniaceae.

The peony is named after Paeon (also spelled Paean), a student of Asclepius and the Greek god of medicine and healing.

There are two conflicting Greek myths surrounding the peony, this explains how some consider the peony to symbolize compassion, whilst others think the peony is an unlucky flower.

In one tale, the peonies take their name from the Greek word Paeon, The name “Paeon” was also used in a general sense to refer to anyone who could save people from evil or calamity or had the power to deliver men from the sorrow and pains of living.

Paeon was the physician to the gods who quite unintentionally, drove his teacher, Asclepius, into a rage, after he succeeded in healing Pluto with a milky liquid which he had extracted from the root of a peony.

Paeon was a healer, working under the instruction of Asclepius, the god of medicine.

How could Asclepius, god of medicine and healing, be outsmarted by his pupil? In a fit of jealousy he threatened to kill Paeon .

Zeus, king of all gods, jumped in at the nick of time and saved the day, feeling compassion for Paeon, who had intended no wrong, he saved him by turning him into a beautiful flower, the peony.

The second myth associates the name peony to an alluring nymph named Paeonia, whose beauty caused Apollo to swoon at her feet.

Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, passion and procreation, not known for her loyalty, and who was at the time, even though married to Hephaestus, Greek god of blacksmiths, having a fling with Apollo, the sun god, out of spite turned the nymph Peaonia into a flower.

This myth is probably the one which gave the peony a bad name as the bringer of bad luck.

In ancient Greece peonies were highly regarded for their medicinal properties, and were seen as a symbol of healing.

The root, bark, seed and flowers were all believed to have medicinal uses and were used to treat stomach pains, bladder issues, jaundice and even nightmares.

16. Poppy

The Greek word for poppy is παπαρούνα–paparouna.

In Ancient Greece, the poppy was a symbol of sleep and death, associated with Morpheus, God of sleep and dreams, and Demeter, Goddess of agriculture.

Morpheus slept in a cave full of poppy seeds while shaping dreams and this is why the opium – based medication, used for insomnia, as well as pain, is known as morphine.

Goddess Demeter and poppies

It is said that Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, created the poppy so she could sleep, Theocritus, a Sicilian poet, c. 300 BC, described one of Demeter’s earlier roles as that of a goddess of poppies and in many myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead, as their bright scarlet colour was thought to signify the promise of resurrection after death.

In a clay statue from Gazi , Crete, ‘The Minoan poppy goddess’ wears poppy seeds in her crown, thought to be sources of nourishment and narcosis.

Some sources say, Rhea, the mother of goddess’ and her daughter, Demeter, brought the poppy from her Cretan cult to Eleusis and it is almost certain that in the Cretan cult circle, opium was derived from poppies.

17. Rose

Rose – a woody perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa, in the family Rosaceae

The Greek word for rose is τριαντάφυλλο-triadafilo, or ρόδο-rodo.

In Greek mythology, the rose, the Queen of flowers, is said to have been created by the goddess of flowers, Chloris, who was said to breathe roses as she spoke.

One day, as Chloris was wandering through the woods, she came upon the lifeless body of a breathtakingly beautiful young nymph.

Chloris was greatly saddened by the loss of such exquisite beauty, and feeling compassion for the poor nymph, transformed her into a flower, so that her beauty may live on.

Chloris (Flora) Roman fresco Pompeii – 1st Century A.D.

Chloris summoned her friends, Aphrodite (Venus), goddess of love, and Dionysus, the god of wine to assist her.

As her gift, Aphrodite gave the flower beauty, Dionysus offered nectar to give it a sweet scent, Zephyrus, god of the West Wind, blew away the clouds, allowing the sun of Apollo, the sun god, to shine through to help the flower bloom.

The rose, the flower of passion and love, is also associated with Aphrodite the goddess of love, when her tears fell to the ground, whilst weeping over the mortally wounded Adonis, they became the superb flower which we today call the rose.

According to the poet, Anacreon, white roses appeared from the sea foam which fell from Aphrodite’s (Venus) body as she arose from the sea.

The white colour symbolized her innocence and purity, later in her life Aphrodite bled on a white rose whilst trying to heal the wounded Adonis which resulted in the red roses becoming a symbol of passion and desire.

18. Sunflower or Heliotrope

Sunflower or Heliotrope – Helianthus is a genus of plants comprising about 70 species

The Greek word for sunflower is ηλιάνθου, Helianthus, from the words sun, and flower.

The Greek myth, of how the Sunflower or Heliotrope, came to be, tells the story of the sea nymph, Clytie, a tale of unrequited love.

Clytie, daughter of the titan sea-god Oceanos, was madly in love with Helios, who draws the sun across the sky each day.

Unfortunately for Clytie, Helios had his eye on Leucothoe, another sea nymph and abandoned Clytie, who, hurt and angered at the loss of her love, Helios, told Leucothea’s father, Orchamus, of what his daughter was up to.

Orchamus, a proud man, was not about to be put to shame by his daughter, and, as was the norm in those days, killed Leucothoe by burying her alive in the sand.

Sir Frederick Leighton – Clytie (1895)

Now Leucothoe was out of the way, Clytie fully expected Helios to return to her, but what she had done to poor Leucothoe, only hardened his heart against her.

Desolate, Clytie stripped off her clothes and sat naked on a rock, without food or drink, for nine days, watching Helios as he pulled the sun across the sky.

Eventually, after nine days, Clytie was transformed into the sunflower, or heliotrope, which continuously turned its head, to look wistfully at Helios’ chariot of the sun.

19. Violet

Violet -Viola odorata – Viola is a genus of flowering plants in the violet family Violaceae. It is the largest genus in the family, containing between 525 and 600 species

The Greek word for violet is βιολέτα, violeta, or ιόχρους-iochrous.

The tiny, humble violet has given me more trouble than all the other nineteen flowers put together, what a plethora of information, where to begin?

The ancient Greeks loved this delicately perfumed flower indeed, I’ll just list the best of what I unearthed!

The Greek word for violet is io, which was also the name of the daughter of Inachos, the first King of Argos, Io was a mortal and a priestess of the goddess Hera, goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth, and wife of Zeus, king of the Greek gods.

Zeus, a known philanderer, loved Io deeply but was wary of the legendary wrath of his wife, Hera, and on no account wished for her to discover his affair.

In order to elude Hera, Zeus turned Io into a white heifer (some versions of the myth have it that Hera herself transformed Io).

Io wearing bovine horns watched over by Argos on Hera’s orders.

Zeus did at least think a little about Io’s well-being, and created the sweet-scented flowers, violets, for her to eat.

I’ll quickly tell you the rest of the plot, as Io has a happy end!

Zeus’ plan backfired, somehow, probably using her magical skills, Hera discovered what her husband was up to and begged Zeus to give her the cow as a present, having no excuse to refuse, he had no other choice, and Io, the cow, became the property of Hera.

Hera prevented Zeus from visiting the cow, but, by sending Hermes, to distract Argus Panoptes, a giant with one hundred eyes, whom Hera had employed to watch over the cow, Zeus freed Io, (Still in the form of a cow).

Paris Bordone – Zeus and Io – Kunstmuseum, Göteborg

Hera then sent a horse-fly to sting Io, driving her to wander the world without respite, during her wanderings Io came across Prometheus, who advised Io how she would be restored to human form and become the ancestress of the greatest hero of all times, Heracles.

Io escaped, was restored to human form by Zeus, gave birth to his son, Epaphus, and a daughter Keroessa, went on to marry the Egyptian king Telegonus, their grandson, Danaus, eventually returned to Greece with his fifty daughters, the Danaids, and they all lived happily ever after.

Aphrodite (Venus) got into an argument with her son Eros (Cupid), over who was more beautiful, herself, or a nearby group of girls, Eros, without thinking, replied, ‘the girls’, which sent Aphrodite into such a rage that she beat the girls until they turned blue and purple, and became violets.

Attis, a shepherd, son of the Mother of the gods, Cybele, was either gored to death by a wild boar whilst resting under a pine tree, or, depending on which myth you read, he emasculated himself and bled to death.

Violets are said to have sprung from his blood and in memory of Attis, the priests of Cybele ritually self-mutilated themselves in the same way.

Cybele by Luca Giordano (Naples 1632 – Naples 1705)

During the spring festival of Cybele and Attis, a pine tree was felled, brought to the temple, and covered with violets.

During the third day of the festival the ‘Day of Blood’, the high priest would cut his arms and offer the blood as a sacrifice, while his acolytes would castrate themselves underneath the violet-covered tree.

The ancient Athenians considered the violet a symbol of the city of Athens.

Ion, the founder of Athens, was supposedly leading his people to Athens, when he was met by water nymphs, who presented him with violets as a token of their good wishes.

The violet became the city’s emblem and one would be hard put, to find an Athenian house, or temple, which was not adorned with violets.

The Acropolis of Athens by Leo von Klenze (1846)

In mythology, Eros’s (Cupid), arrow, accidentally hit the violet, turning the flower’s juice into an erotic love portion.

Greeks, decorated banquet tables with violets, believing the flowers could prevent drunkenness, and violet wreaths were used to cure hangovers, when too much violet wine had been consumed.

Violets were also placed on graves of young children, as the flower lent hope of resurrection of young souls.

Another myth tells us that violets first appeared on the spot where Orpheus laid his enchanted Lyre.

20. Yarrow

Yarrow – Achillea millefolium – Achilles’ thousand-leaved plant

Yarrow – Achillea millefolium – Achilles’ thousand-leaved plant, the Greek word for yarrow is μυριόφυλλο-myriofyllo.

Yarrow, ‘the plant of a thousand leaves’, in Greek mythology, is the plant which Thetis, sea nymph, and goddess of water, is said to have added to the bath water, when bathing her son, the ancient Greek hero, Achilles, in order for its protective powers, to cover his skin and make him invincible, a sort of bullet-proof jacket, so to speak.

Ancient Greek polychromatic pottery painting (dating to c. 300 BC) of Achilles during the Trojan War

Now, the above myth confuses me slightly, but then nothing seems to be straightforward when it comes to Greek mythology, which, by the way, is never-ending, as to my knowledge, Thetis, dipped Achilles, into the River Styx, whose waters were said to bring about invulnerability but as she held him tightly by the heel, whilst dipping him in the river, the water never touched his heel.

As a result, Achilles was invulnerable everywhere except his heel, which proved to be his downfall this is where the idiom, ‘Achilles Heel’, comes from.

Sadly, Achilles did not have his coveted yarrow at hand, which he used to treat his wounded soldiers, when he was mortally wounded during the Trojan Wars, some heard him say, ‘oh, If only I had some yarrow, I would surely survive ‘.

Achilles tending Patroclus wounded by an arrow, Attic red-figure kylix, c. 500 BC (Altes Museum, Berlin)

Yarrow leaves have been used in many battlefields to treat injured soldiers, which brought about commonly used names for yarrow ‘soldier’s woundwort’ or ‘warrior plant’.

Yarrow has been used for treating wounds, especially bleeding wounds from iron weapons, since the Middle Ages, the leaves are effective in slowing bleeding, so that the blood will clot. Yarrow also has rich in antibiotic properties.

Yarrow is a symbol of lasting love, owing to the fact that it takes two or more years to propagate from seed before becoming established, but once established, yarrow is a strong and lasting perennial which can endure conditions and neglect which would kill many other plants.

The next time you admire a narcissus, nodding its delicate head in the wind, or bend to smell the intoxicating aroma of the hyacinth, or admire that exquisite orchid, spare a thought for those poor Greek youths of ancient Greece, who gave their lives, so that we, today, may enjoy the beauty of these flowers.

3. Nemesis

The goddess of retribution, Nemesis was a highly revered goddess in ancient Greece. Her sole duty was to offer punishment on such souls that committed crimes or evil deeds or collected huge fortunes by inflicting pain on others. Nemesis saw to it that balance was maintained in the human world where there is no extravagance of anything, either happiness or misery or sorrow. The goddess was known to be remorseless when meting out punishment to those that had committed an act of arrogance against the gods. As per legend, there is a temple built to honour her in Attica. There are many folklore’s associated with the Nemesis and are pretty interesting to read. As per one legend, an egg created by Nemesis hatched to bear two pairs of twins, one set bearing Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, the other Dioscuri. She was also worshiped by other names like Adrasteia and Rhamnousia.


Myths were viewed as embodying divine or timeless truths, whereas legends (or sagas) were quasi-historical. Hence, famous events in epics, such as the Trojan War, were generally regarded as having really happened, and heroes and heroines were believed to have actually lived. Earlier sagas, such as the voyage of the Argonauts, were accepted in a similar fashion. Most Greek legends were embellished with folktales and fiction, but some certainly contain a historical substratum. Such are the tales of more than one sack of Troy, which are supported by archaeological evidence, and the labours of Heracles, which might suggest Mycenaean feudalism. Again, the legend of the Minotaur (a being part human, part bull) could have arisen from exaggerated accounts of bull leaping in ancient Crete.

In another class of legends, heinous offenses—such as attempting to rape a goddess, deceiving the gods grossly by inculpating them in crime, or assuming their prerogatives—were punished by everlasting torture in the underworld. The consequences of social crimes, such as murder or incest, were also described in legend (e.g., the story of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother). Legends were also sometimes employed to justify existing political systems or to bolster territorial claims.


While there were few concepts universal to all the Greek peoples, some common beliefs were shared by many.


Ancient Greek theology was polytheistic, based on the assumption that there were many gods and goddesses, as well as a range of lesser supernatural beings of various types. There was a hierarchy of deities, with Zeus, the king of the gods, having a level of control over all the others, although he was not almighty. Some deities had dominion over certain aspects of nature. For instance, Zeus was the sky-god, sending thunder and lightning, Poseidon ruled over the sea and earthquakes, Hades projected his remarkable power throughout the realms of death and the Underworld, and Helios controlled the sun. Other deities ruled over abstract concepts for instance Aphrodite controlled love. All significant deities were visualized as "human" in form, although often able to transform themselves into animals or natural phenomena. [1]

While being immortal, the gods were certainly not all-good or even all-powerful. They had to obey fate, known to Greek mythology as the Moirai, [2] which overrode any of their divine powers or wills. For instance, in mythology, it was Odysseus' fate to return home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, and the gods could only lengthen his journey and make it harder for him, but they could not stop him.

The gods acted like humans and had human vices. [3] They would interact with humans, sometimes even spawning children with them. At times certain gods would be opposed to others, and they would try to outdo each other. In the Iliad, Aphrodite, Ares and Apollo support the Trojan side in the Trojan War, while Hera, Athena and Poseidon support the Greeks (see theomachy).

Some gods were specifically associated with a certain city. Athena was associated with the city of Athens, Apollo with Delphi and Delos, Zeus with Olympia and Aphrodite with Corinth. But other gods were also worshipped in these cities. Other deities were associated with nations outside of Greece Poseidon was associated with Ethiopia and Troy, and Ares with Thrace.

Identity of names was not a guarantee of a similar cultus the Greeks themselves were well aware that the Artemis worshipped at Sparta, the virgin huntress, was a very different deity from the Artemis who was a many-breasted fertility goddess at Ephesus. Though the worship of the major deities spread from one locality to another, and though most larger cities boasted temples to several major gods, the identification of different gods with different places remained strong to the end.

Our ancient sources for Greek religion tell us a good deal about cult but very little about creed, in no small measure because the Greeks in general considered what one believed to be much less importance than what one did. [4]


The Greeks believed in an underworld where the spirits of the dead went after death. One of the most widespread areas of this underworld was ruled over by Hades, a brother of Zeus, and was itself also known as Hades (originally called 'the place of Hades'). Other well known realms are Tartarus, a place of torment for the damned, and Elysium, a place of pleasures for the virtuous. In the early Mycenaean religion all the dead went to Hades, but the rise of mystery cults in the Archaic age led to the development of places such as Tartarus and Elysium.

A few Greeks, like Achilles, Alcmene, Amphiaraus Ganymede, Ino, Melicertes, Menelaus, Peleus, and a great number of those who fought in the Trojan and Theban wars, were considered to have been physically immortalized and brought to live forever in either Elysium, the Islands of the Blessed, heaven, the ocean, or beneath the ground. Such beliefs are found in the most ancient of Greek sources, such as Homer and Hesiod. This belief remained strong even into the Christian era. For most people at the moment of death there was, however, no hope of anything but continued existence as a disembodied soul. [5]

Some Greeks, such as the philosophers Pythagoras and Plato, also embraced the idea of reincarnation, though this was only accepted by a few. Epicurus taught that the soul was simply atoms which were dissolved at death, so one ceased to exist on dying.


Greek religion had an extensive mythology. It consisted largely of stories of the gods and how they interacted with humans. Myths often revolved around heroes and their actions, such as Heracles and his twelve labors, Odysseus and his voyage home, Jason and the quest for the Golden Fleece and Theseus and the Minotaur.

Many species existed in Greek mythology. Chief among these were the gods and humans, though the Titans (who predated the Olympian gods) also frequently appeared in Greek myths. Lesser species included the half-man-half-horse centaurs, the nature based nymphs (tree nymphs were dryads, sea nymphs were Nereids) and the half man, half goat satyrs. Some creatures in Greek mythology were monstrous, such as the one-eyed giant Cyclopes, the sea beast Scylla, whirlpool Charybdis, Gorgons, and the half-man, half-bull Minotaur.

There was not a set Greek cosmogony, or creation myth. Different religious groups believed that the world had been created in different ways. One Greek creation myth was told in Hesiod's Theogony. It stated that at first there was only a primordial deity called Chaos, who gave birth to various other primordial gods, such as Gaia, Tartarus and Eros, who then gave birth to more gods, the Titans, who then gave birth to the first Olympians.

The mythology largely survived and was added to in order to form the later Roman mythology. The Greeks and Romans had been literate societies, and much mythology, although initially shared orally, was written down in the forms of epic poetry (such as the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Argonautica) and plays (such as Euripides' The Bacchae and Aristophanes' The Frogs). The mythology became popular in Christian post-Renaissance Europe, where it was often used as a basis for the works of artists like Botticelli, Michelangelo and Rubens.


One of the most important moral concepts to the Greeks was the fear of committing hubris. Hubris constituted many things, from rape to desecration of a corpse, [6] and was a crime in the city-state of Athens. Although pride and vanity were not considered sins themselves, the Greeks emphasized moderation. Pride only became hubris when it went to extremes, like any other vice. The same was thought of eating and drinking. Anything done to excess was not considered proper. Ancient Greeks placed, for example, importance on athletics and intellect equally. In fact many of their competitions included both. Pride was not evil until it became all-consuming or hurtful to others.

Sacred texts

The Greeks had no religious texts they regarded as "revealed" scriptures of sacred origin, but very old texts including Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and the Homeric hymns (regarded as later productions today), Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, and Pindar's Odes were regarded as having authority [7] and perhaps being inspired they usually begin with an invocation to the Muses for inspiration. Plato even wanted to exclude the myths from his ideal state described in the Republic because of their low moral tone.

While some traditions, such as Mystery cults, did uphold certain texts as canonic within their own cult praxis, such texts were respected but not necessarily accepted as canonic outside their circle. In this field, of particular importance are certain texts referring to Orphic cults: multiple copies, ranging from 450 BC–250 AD, have been found in various locations of the Greek world. Even the words of the oracles never turned into a sacred text. Other texts were specially composed for religious events, and some have survived within the lyric tradition although they had a cult function, they were bound to performance and never developed into a common, standard prayer form comparable to the Christian Pater Noster. An exception to this rule were the already named Orphic and Mystery rituals, which, in this, set themselves aside from the rest of the Greek religious system. Finally, some texts called ieri logi (Greek: ιεροί λόγοι ) (sacred texts) by the ancient sources, originated from outside the Greek world, or were supposedly adopted in remote times, representing yet more different traditions within the Greek belief system.


The lack of a unified priestly class meant that a unified, canonic form of the religious texts or practices never existed just as there was no unified, common sacred text for the Greek belief system, there was no standardization of practices. Instead, religious practices were organized on local levels, with priests normally being magistrates for the city or village, or gaining authority from one of the many sanctuaries. Some priestly functions, like the care for a particular local festival, could be given by tradition to a certain family. To a large extent, in the absence of "scriptural" sacred texts, religious practices derived their authority from tradition, and "every omission or deviation arouses deep anxiety and calls forth sanctions". [8]

Greek ceremonies and rituals were mainly performed at altars. These were typically devoted to one or a few gods, and supported a statue of the particular deity. Votive deposits would be left at the altar, such as food, drinks, as well as precious objects. Sometimes animal sacrifices would be performed here, with most of the flesh taken for eating, and the offal burnt as an offering to the gods. Libations, often of wine, would be offered to the gods as well, not only at shrines, but also in everyday life, such as during a symposium.

One ceremony was pharmakos, a ritual involving expelling a symbolic scapegoat such as a slave or an animal, from a city or village in a time of hardship. It was hoped that by casting out the ritual scapegoat, the hardship would go with it.


Worship in Greece typically consisted of sacrificing domestic animals at the altar with hymn and prayer. The altar was outside any temple building, and might not be associated with a temple at all. The animal, which should be perfect of its kind, was decorated with garlands and the like, and led in procession to the altar a girl with a basket on her head containing the concealed knife led the way. After various rituals, the animal was slaughtered over the altar. As it fell, all of the women present "[cried] out in high, shrill tones". Its blood was collected and poured over the altar. It was butchered on the spot and various internal organs, bones and other inedible parts burnt as the deity's portion of the offering, while the meat was removed to be prepared for the participants to eat the leading figures tasted it on the spot. The temple usually kept the skin to sell to tanners. That the humans got more use from the sacrifice than the deity had not escaped the Greeks, and was often the subject of humor in Greek comedy. [9]

The animals used were, in order of preference, bulls or oxen, cows, sheep (the most common sacrifice), goats, pigs (with piglets being the cheapest mammal), and poultry (but rarely other birds or fish). [10] Horses and asses are seen on some vases in the Geometric style (900–750 BC), but are very rarely mentioned in literature they were relatively late introductions to Greece, and it has been suggested that Greek preferences in this matter were established earlier. The Greeks liked to believe that the animal was glad to be sacrificed, and interpreted various behaviors as showing this. Divination by examining parts of the sacrificed animal was much less important than in Roman or Etruscan religion, or Near Eastern religions, but was practiced, especially of the liver, and as part of the cult of Apollo. Generally, the Greeks put more faith in observing the behavior of birds. [11]

For a smaller and simpler offering, a grain of incense could be thrown on the sacred fire, [12] and outside the cities farmers made simple sacrificial gifts of plant produce as the "first fruits" were harvested. [13] The libation, a ritual pouring of fluid, was part of everyday life, and libations with a prayer were often made at home whenever wine was drunk, with just a part of the cup's contents, the rest being drunk. More formal ones might be made onto altars at temples, and other fluids such as olive oil and honey might be used. Although the grand form of sacrifice called the hecatomb (meaning 100 bulls) might in practice only involve a dozen or so, at large festivals the number of cattle sacrificed could run into the hundreds, and the numbers feasting on them well into the thousands.

The evidence of the existence of such practices is clear in some ancient Greek literature, especially in Homer's epics. Throughout the poems, the use of the ritual is apparent at banquets where meat is served, in times of danger or before some important endeavor to gain the favor of the gods. For example, in Homer's Odyssey Eumaeus sacrifices a pig with prayer for his unrecognizable master Odysseus. However, in Homer's Iliad, which partly reflects very early Greek civilization, not every banquet of the princes begins with a sacrifice. [14]

These sacrificial practices share much with recorded forms of sacrificial rituals known from later. Furthermore, throughout the poem, special banquets are held whenever gods indicated their presence by some sign or success in war. Before setting out for Troy, this type of animal sacrifice is offered. Odysseus offers Zeus a sacrificial ram in vain. The occasions of sacrifice in Homer's epic poems may shed some light onto the view of the gods as members of society, rather than as external entities, indicating social ties. Sacrificial rituals played a major role in forming the relationship between humans and the divine. [15]

It has been suggested that the Chthonic deities, distinguished from Olympic deities by typically being offered the holocaust mode of sacrifice, where the offering is wholly burnt, may be remnants of the native Pre-Hellenic religion and that many of the Olympian deities may come from the Proto-Greeks who overran the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula in the late third millennium BC. [16]


Various religious festivals were held in ancient Greece. Many were specific only to a particular deity or city-state. For example, the festival of Lykaia was celebrated in Arcadia in Greece, which was dedicated to the pastoral god Pan. Like the other Panhellenic Games, the ancient Olympic Games were a religious festival, held at the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia. Other festivals centered on Greek theatre, of which the Dionysia in Athens was the most important. More typical festivals featured a procession, large sacrifices and a feast to eat the offerings, and many included entertainments and customs such as visiting friends, wearing fancy dress and unusual behavior in the streets, sometimes risky for bystanders in various ways. Altogether the year in Athens included some 140 days that were religious festivals of some sort, though varying greatly in importance.

Rites of passage

One rite of passage was the amphidromia, celebrated on the fifth or seventh day after the birth of a child. Childbirth was extremely significant to Athenians, especially if the baby was a boy.

The main Greek temple building sat within a larger precinct or temenos, usually surrounded by a peribolos fence or wall the whole is usually called a "sanctuary". The Acropolis of Athens is the most famous example, though this was apparently walled as a citadel before a temple was ever built there. The tenemos might include many subsidiary buildings, sacred groves or springs, animals dedicated to the deity, and sometimes people who had taken sanctuary from the law, which some temples offered, for example to runaway slaves. [17]

The earliest Greek sanctuaries probably lacked temple buildings, though our knowledge of these is limited, and the subject is controversial. A typical early sanctuary seems to have consisted of a tenemos, often around a sacred grove, cave, rock (baetyl) or spring, and perhaps defined only by marker stones at intervals, with an altar for offerings. Many rural sanctuaries probably stayed in this style, but the more popular were gradually able to afford a building to house a cult image, especially in cities. This process was certainly under way by the 9th century, and probably started earlier. [18]

The temple interiors did not serve as meeting places, since the sacrifices and rituals dedicated to the respective deity took place outside them, at altars within the wider precinct of the sanctuary, which might be large. As the centuries passed both the inside of popular temples and the area surrounding them accumulated statues and small shrines or other buildings as gifts, and military trophies, paintings and items in precious metals, effectively turning them into a type of museum.

Some sanctuaries offered oracles, people who were believed to receive divine inspiration in answering questions put by pilgrims. The most famous of these by far was the female priestess called the Pythia at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and that of Zeus at Dodona, but there were many others. Some dealt only with medical, agricultural or other specialized matters, and not all represented gods, like that of the hero Trophonius at Livadeia.

Cult images

The temple was the house of the deity it was dedicated to, who in some sense resided in the cult image in the cella or main room inside, normally facing the only door. The cult image normally took the form of a statue of the deity, typically roughly life-size, but in some cases many times life-size. In early days these were in wood, marble or terracotta, or in the specially prestigious form of a chryselephantine statue using ivory plaques for the visible parts of the body and gold for the clothes, around a wooden framework. The most famous Greek cult images were of this type, including the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, and Phidias's Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon in Athens, both colossal statues, now completely lost. Fragments of two chryselephantine statues from Delphi have been excavated. Bronze cult images were less frequent, at least until Hellenistic times. [19] Early images seem often to have been dressed in real clothes, and at all periods images might wear real jewelry donated by devotees.

The acrolith was another composite form, this time a cost-saving one with a wooden body. A xoanon was a primitive and symbolic wooden image, perhaps comparable to the Hindu lingam many of these were retained and revered for their antiquity, even when a new statue was the main cult image. Xoana had the advantage that they were easy to carry in processions at festivals. The Trojan Palladium, famous from the myths of the Epic Cycle and supposedly ending up in Rome, was one of these. The sacred boulder or baetyl is another very primitive type, found around the Mediterranean and Ancient Near East.

Many of the Greek statues well known from Roman marble copies were originally temple cult images, which in some cases, such as the Apollo Barberini, can be credibly identified. A very few actual originals survive, for example, the bronze Piraeus Athena (2.35 m (7.7 ft) high, including a helmet). The image stood on a base, from the 5th century often carved with reliefs.

It used to be thought that access to the cella of a Greek temple was limited to the priests, and it was entered only rarely by other visitors, except perhaps during important festivals or other special occasions. In recent decades this picture has changed, and scholars now stress the variety of local access rules. Pausanias was a gentlemanly traveller of the 2nd-century AD who declares that the special intention of his travels around Greece was to see cult images, and usually managed to do so. [20]

It was typically necessary to make a sacrifice or gift, and some temples restricted access either to certain days of the year, or by class, race, gender (with either men or women forbidden), or even more tightly. Garlic-eaters were forbidden in one temple, in another women unless they were virgins restrictions typically arose from local ideas of ritual purity or a perceived whim of the deity. In some places visitors were asked to show they spoke Greek elsewhere Dorians were not allowed entry. Some temples could only be viewed from the threshold. Some temples are said never to be opened at all. But generally Greeks, including slaves, had a reasonable expectation of being allowed into the cella. Once inside the cella it was possible to pray to or before the cult image, and sometimes to touch it Cicero saw a bronze image of Heracles with its foot largely worn away by the touch of devotees. [21] Famous cult images such as the Statue of Zeus at Olympia functioned as significant visitor attractions. [22]

The role of women in sacrifices is discussed above. In addition, the only public roles that Greek women could perform were priestesses: [23] either hiereiai, meaning "sacred women" or amphipolis, a term for lesser attendants. As a priestess, they gained social recognition and access to more luxuries than other Greek women that worked or typically stayed in the home. They were mostly from local elite families some roles required virgins, who would typically only serve for a year or so before marriage, while other roles went to married women. Women who voluntarily chose to become priestesses received an increase in social and legal status to the public, and after death, they received a public burial site. Greek priestesses had to be healthy and of a sound mind, the reasoning being that the ones serving the gods had to be as high-quality as their offerings. [24] This was also true for male Greek priests.

It is contested whether there were gendered divisions when it came to serving a particular god or goddess, who was devoted to what god, gods and/or goddesses could have both priests and priestesses to serve them. Gender specifics did come into play when it came to who would perform certain acts of sacrifice or worship were determined by the significance of the male or female role to that particular god or goddess, a priest would lead the priestess or the reverse. [25] In some Greek cults priestesses served both gods and goddesses, such examples as the Pythia, or female Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, and that at Didyma were priestesses, but both were overseen by male priests. The festival of Dionosyus was practiced by both and the god was served by women and female priestesses, they were known as the Gerarai or the venerable ones. [26]

There were segregated religious festivals in Ancient Greece the Thesmophoria, Plerosia, Kalamaia, Adonia, and Skira were festivals that were only for women. The Thesmophoria festival and many others represented agricultural fertility, which was considered to be closely connected to women by the ancient Greeks. It gave women a religious identity and purpose in Greek religion, in which the role of women in worshipping goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone reinforced traditional lifestyles. The festivals relating to agricultural fertility were valued by the polis because this is what they traditionally worked for, women-centered festivals that involved private matters were less important. In Athens the festivals honoring Demeter were included in the calendar and promoted by Athens, they constructed temples and shrines like the Thesmophorion, where women could perform their rites and worship. [27]

Those who were not satisfied by the public cult of the gods could turn to various mystery religions which operated as cults into which members had to be initiated in order to learn their secrets.

Here, they could find religious consolations that traditional religion could not provide: a chance at mystical awakening, a systematic religious doctrine, a map to the afterlife, a communal worship, and a band of spiritual fellowship.

Some of these mysteries, like the mysteries of Eleusis and Samothrace, were ancient and local. Others were spread from place to place, like the mysteries of Dionysus. During the Hellenistic period and the Roman Empire, exotic mystery religions became widespread, not only in Greece, but all across the empire. Some of these were new creations, such as Mithras, while others had been practiced for hundreds of years before, like the Egyptian mysteries of Osiris.


Mainstream Greek religion appears to have developed out of Proto-Indo-European religion and although very little is known about the earliest periods there are suggestive hints that some local elements go back even further than the Bronze Age or Helladic period to the farmers of Neolithic Greece. There was also clearly cultural evolution from the Late Helladic Mycenaean religion of the Mycenaean civilization. Both the literary settings of some important myths and many important sanctuaries relate to locations that were important Helladic centers that had become otherwise unimportant by Greek times. [28]

The Mycenaeans perhaps treated Poseidon, to them a god of earthquakes as well as the sea, as their chief deity, and forms of his name along with several other Olympians are recognizable in records in Linear B, although Apollo and Aphrodite are absent. Only about half of the Mycenaean pantheon seem to survive the Greek Dark Ages though. The archaeological evidence for continuity in religion is far clearer for Crete and Cyprus than the Greek mainland. [29]

Greek religious concepts may also have absorbed the beliefs and practices of earlier, nearby cultures, such as Minoan religion, [30] and other influences came from the Near East, especially via Cyprus. [29] Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, traced many Greek religious practices to Egypt.

The Great Goddess hypothesis, that a Stone Age religion dominated by a female Great Goddess was displaced by a male-dominated Indo-European hierarchy, has been proposed for Greece as for Minoan Crete and other regions, but has not been in favor with specialists for some decades, though the question remains too poorly-evidenced for a clear conclusion at the least the evidence from Minoan art shows more goddesses than gods. [31] The Twelve Olympians, with Zeus as sky father, certainly have a strong Indo-European flavor [32] by the time of the epic works of Homer all are well-established, except for Dionysus. However, several of the Homeric Hymns, probably composed slightly later, are dedicated to him.

Archaic and classical periods

Archaic and Classical Greece saw the development of flourishing cities and of stone-built temples to the gods, which were rather consistent in design across the Greek world. Religion was closely tied to civic life, and priests were mostly drawn from the local elite. Religious works led the development of Greek sculpture, though apparently not the now-vanished Greek painting. While much religious practice was, as well as personal, aimed at developing solidarity within the polis, a number of important sanctuaries developed a "Panhellenic" status, drawing visitors from all over the Greek world. These served as an essential component in the growth and self-consciousness of Greek nationalism. [33]

The mainstream religion of the Greeks did not go unchallenged within Greece. As Greek philosophy developed its ideas about ethics, the Olympians were bound to be found wanting. Several notable philosophers criticized a belief in the gods. The earliest of these was Xenophanes, who chastised the human vices of the gods as well as their anthropomorphic depiction. Plato wrote that there was one supreme god, whom he called the "Form of the Good", and which he believed was the emanation of perfection in the universe. Plato's disciple, Aristotle, also disagreed that polytheistic deities existed, because he could not find enough empirical evidence for it. He believed in a Prime Mover, which had set creation going, but was not connected to or interested in the universe.

Hellenistic period

In the Hellenistic period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the Roman conquest of Greece (146 BC) Greek religion developed in various ways, including expanding over at least some of Alexander's conquests. The new dynasties of diadochi, kings and tyrants often spent lavishly on temples, often following Alexander in trying to insinuate themselves into religious cult this was much easier for the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, where the traditional ancient Egyptian religion had long had deified monarchs. The enormous raised Pergamon Altar (now in Berlin) and the Altar of Hieron in Sicily are examples of unprecedentedly large constructions of the period.

New cults of imported deities such as Isis from Egypt, Atargatis from Syria, and Cybele from Anatolia became increasingly important, as well as several philosophical movements such as Platonism, stoicism, and Epicureanism both tended to detract from the traditional religion, although many Greeks were able to hold beliefs from more than one of these groups. Serapis was essentially a Hellenistic creation, if not devised then spread in Egypt for political reasons by Ptolemy I Soter as a hybrid of Greek and local styles of deity. Various philosophical movements, including the Orphics and Pythagoreans, began to question the ethics of animal sacrifice, and whether the gods really appreciated it from the surviving texts Empedocles and Theophrastus (both vegetarians) were notable critics. [34] Hellenistic astrology developed late in the period, as another distraction from the traditional practices. Although the traditional myths, festivals and beliefs all continued, these trends probably reduced the grip on the imagination of the traditional pantheon, especially among the educated, but probably more widely in the general population.

Roman Empire

When the Roman Republic conquered Greece in 146 BC, it took much of Greek religion (along with many other aspects of Greek culture such as literary and architectural styles) and incorporated it into its own. The Greek gods were equated with the ancient Roman deities Zeus with Jupiter, Hera with Juno, Poseidon with Neptune, Aphrodite with Venus, Ares with Mars, Artemis with Diana, Athena with Minerva, Hermes with Mercury, Hephaestus with Vulcan, Hestia with Vesta, Demeter with Ceres, Hades with Pluto, Tyche with Fortuna, and Pan with Faunus. Some of the gods, such as Apollo and Bacchus, had earlier been adopted by the Romans. There were also many deities that existed in the Roman religion before its interaction with Greece that were not associated with a Greek deity, including Janus and Quirinus.

The Romans generally did not spend much on new temples in Greece, other that those for their Imperial cult, which were placed in all important cities. Exceptions include Antoninus Pius (r. 138–161 AD), whose commissions include the Baalbec Temple of Bacchus, arguably the most impressive survival from the imperial period (though the Temple of Jupiter-Baal next to it was larger). It could be said the Greek world was by this time well furnished with sanctuaries. Roman governors and emperors often pilfered famous statues from sanctuaries, sometimes leaving contemporary reproductions in their place. Verres, governor of Sicily from 73 to 70 BC, was an early example who, unusually, was prosecuted after his departure.

After the huge Roman conquests beyond Greece, new cults from Egypt and Asia became popular in Greece as well as the western empire.

Decline and suppression

The initial decline of Greco-Roman polytheism was due in part to its syncretic nature, assimilating beliefs and practices from a variety of foreign religious traditions as the Roman Empire expanded [ page needed ] . Greco-Roman philosophical schools incorporated elements of Judaism and Early Christianity, and mystery religions like Christianity and Mithraism also became increasingly popular. Constantine I became the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, and the Edict of Milan in 313 AD enacted official tolerance for Christianity within the Empire. Still, in Greece and elsewhere, there is evidence that pagan and Christian communities remained essentially segregated from each other, with little cultural influence flowing between the two [ page needed ] . Urban pagans continued to utilize the civic centers and temple complexes, while Christians set up their own, new places of worship in suburban areas of cities. Contrary to some older scholarship, newly converted Christians did not simply continue worshiping in converted temples rather, new Christian communities were formed as older pagan communities declined and were eventually suppressed and disbanded. [35] [ page needed ]

The Roman Emperor Julian, a nephew of Constantine, initiated an effort to end the ascension of Christianity within the empire and re-organize a syncretic version of Greco-Roman polytheism which he termed, "Hellenism". Later known as “The Apostate”, Julian had been raised Christian but embraced the pagan faith of his ancestors in early adulthood. Taking notice of how Christianity ultimately flourished under suppression, Julian pursued a policy of marginalization but not destruction towards the Church tolerating and at times lending state support toward other prominent faiths (particularly Judaism) when he believed doing so would be likely to weaken Christianity. [36] Julian's Christian training influenced his decision to create a single organized version of the various old pagan traditions, with a centralized priesthood and a coherent body of doctrine, ritual, and liturgy based on Neoplatonism. [37] [38] On the other hand, Julian forbid Christian educators from utilizing many of the great works of philosophy and literature associated with Greco-Roman paganism. Julian believed Christianity had benefited significantly from not only access to but influence over classical education. [39]

Julian's successor Constantinus reversed some of his reforms, but Jovian, [40] Valentinian I, and Valens continued Julian's policy of religious toleration within the Empire, garnering them both praise from pagan writers. [41] Official persecution of paganism in the Eastern Empire began under Theodosius I in 381 AD. [42] Theodosius strictly enforced anti-pagan laws, had priesthoods disbanded, temples destroyed, and actively participated in Christian actions against pagan holy sites. [43] He enacted laws that prohibited worship of pagan gods not only in public, but also within private homes. [37] The last Olympic Games were held in 393 AD, and Theodosius likely suppressed any further attempts to hold the games. [8] Western Empire Emperor Gratian, under the influence of his adviser Ambrose, ended the widespread, unofficial tolerance that had existed in the Western Roman Empire since the reign of Julian. In 382 AD, Gratian appropriated the income and property of the remaining orders of pagan priests, disbanded the Vestal Virgins, removed altars, and confiscated temples. [44]

Despite official suppression by the Roman government, worship of the Greco-Roman gods persisted in some rural and remote regions into the early Middle Ages. A claimed temple to Apollo, with a community of worshipers and associated sacred grove, survived at Monte Cassino until 529 AD, when it was forcefully converted to a Christian chapel by Saint Benedict of Nursia, who destroyed the altar and cut down the grove. [45] Other pagan communities, namely the Maniots, persisted in the Mani Peninsula of Greece until at least the 9th century. [35]

Modern revivals

Greek religion and philosophy have experienced a number of revivals, firstly in the arts, humanities and spirituality of Renaissance Neoplatonism, which was certainly believed by many to have effects in the real world. During the period of time (14th–17th centuries) when the literature and philosophy of the ancient Greeks gained widespread appreciation in Europe, this new popularity did not extend to ancient Greek religion, especially the original theist forms, and most new examinations of Greek philosophy were written within a solidly Christian context. [46]

Early revivalists, with varying degrees of commitment, were the Englishmen John Fransham (1730–1810), interested in Neoplatonism, and Thomas Taylor (1758–1835), who produced the first English translations of many Neoplatonic philosophical and religious texts.

Ares’ Most Famous Children

Like many of his fellow gods, Ares had several illegitimate children with both goddesses and mortal women. Majority of Ares’ children came from his union with Aphrodite. What this meant was that, some of Ares’ children turned out to be either full of hate (like their dad) or love (like their mother, Aphrodite).

Usually, Ares’ children Phobos (the god of fear) and Deimos (the god of terror) accompanied him to battle. On some occasions, his sibling, Eris- the goddess of strife, joined him whenever he ransacked a village.

The four main Erotes (Eros, Anteros, Himeros, and Pothos) in Greek mythology refer to Ares’ children with Aphrodite. The Erotes picked the majority of their attributes from Aphrodite. Thus, they were often considered gods of love, desire, and sex. The most famous of the Erotes has to be Eros- the god of love, desire, and sex.

The deity Harmonia was associated with harmony. Among all the children of Ares, Harmonia was the one that worked the most to nullify the evil deeds of Ares and his other warmongering children.

Adrestia was another child that came out of the union between Ares and Aphrodite. She was responsible for keeping the balance between love and hate. According to ancient Greeks, she is also known as: “she who cannot be escaped”. At every point in time, she made sure that there was a perfect balance between the two opposing forces of good and evil. In some cases, ancient Greeks revered her as the goddess of revolt or retribution. This earned her another name- the goddess of nemesis.

In the Amazon regions, Ares fathered a child who later became the Amazon queen Hippolyta. This is why many Greek mythologists sometimes considered the Amazonians descendants of Ares.

Agamemnon, king of Mycenae. Gold funerary mask. Photograph: Universalimagesgroup/Getty Images

When the enthusiastic, romantically minded archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered this golden mask at Mycenae in 1876, he had no doubt that it must be the death mask of Agamemnon himself, the king who led the Greeks in the Trojan war, only to be assassinated on his homecoming. Of course there's no proof of that, but it is one of the most compelling faces in art.

Greek Mythology for kids

The fascinating tales of Greek Mythology are perfect for sparking the imagination of kids around the world. The aforementioned Percy Jackson books are a great way to introduce Greek Mythology to the younger generations. Additionally, a visit to the homeland of these tales will further help kids grasp the age-old stories that follow Greece since ancient times.

If you plan on visiting Greece with kids, you can join out one of our specially-designed kid-friendly tours that will show them around the most important archaeological sites. Along with the expert, licensed guides, they will have the opportunity to discover the myths and legends hidden under each and every rock.

If you want to discover the secrets of the world-renowned Acropolis rock, the Private Mythology Tour of Acropolis and Acropolis Museum is the one for you. For a kid-oriented exploration, opt for Acropolis for Families Tour. For some fun role-playing that will keep your little ones on their toes, Olympians Unleashed: Mythology Tour Of Acropolis & Acropolis Museum Incl. Entry Fees is ideal! To trace the steps of the kid-favorite fictional character, you can join the Acropolis & Acropolis Museum Tour Inspired By Percy Jackson, or the Percy Jackson Full-day Experience In Athens & Sounio. Last but not least, if you want to explore Greek Mythology outside of Athens, you can choose between From Athens: Delphi Day Trip Inspired By Percy Jackson,

The previously mentioned are only a few of the many examples of how ancient Greek mythology remains an integral part of everyday life. In case you want to dive into the wealth of Greek Mythology plan your own trip to Greece or check out one of our Greece tours.

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