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The Mythology BookDK
More than 80 classic myths retold and explained, from early creation beliefs to classical hero narratives and the recurring theme of the afterlife.
The latest title in the bestselling Big Ideas series,The Mythology Book explores the compelling worlds and characters depicted in myths and legends. Delve into each myth and discover the meanings behind these stories, getting to the heart of their significance to different cultures worldwide. More than just stories, myths are testament to the amazing creativity of humans striving to explain and make sense of the world around them.
The latest title in the bestselling Big Ideas series,The Mythology Book explores the compelling worlds and characters depicted in myths and legends. Delve into each myth and discover the meanings behind these stories, getting to the heart of their significance to different cultures worldwide. More than just stories, myths are testament to the amazing creativity of humans striving to explain and make sense of the world around them.
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CONTENTS HOW TO USE THIS EBOOK INTRODUCTION ANCIENT GREECE Gaia first gave birth to her equal, Ouranos Origin of the universe Rhea swaddled up a stone and passed it to Kronos to swallow The birth of Zeus Zeus in his first youth battered the earthborn Titans The war of the gods and Titans No wind beats roughly here, no snow nor rain Mount Olympus He bound cunning Prometheus in inescapable fetters Prometheus helps mankind Her impulse introduced sorrow and mischief to the lives of men Pandora’s box Zeus had many women, both mortal and immortal The many affairs of Zeus Mighty Hades who dwells in houses beneath the earth Hades and the Underworld He slipped a pomegranate, sweet as honey, into her hand The abduction of Persephone The raving ladies streamed out of their homes The cult of Dionysus Turning round, he caught a glimpse of his wife and she had to return below Orpheus and Eurydice A bringer of dreams Hermes’ first day Athena presents the olive tree, Poseidon the wave The founding of Athens I will give infallible counsel to all who seek it Apollo and the Oracle of Delphi One loved; the other fled the name of love Apollo and Daphne Life and death are balanced on the edge of a razor The Trojan War This pair of tyrants. They murdered my father Orestes avenges Agamemnon Tell me oh muse, the hero’s story The quest of Odysseus After the labours had been accomplished, he would be immortal The labours of Herakles He had the face of a bull, but the rest of him was human Theseus and the Minotaur Disdaining his father’s warnings, the exhilarated Icarus soared ever higher Daedalus and Icarus Watching the Gorgon’s head in the polished shield, he beheaded her Perseus and Medusa Hate is a bottomless cup, I will pour and pour Jason and Medea Unfortunate Oedipus – of all men, least to be envied! The fate of Oedipus She wants Adonis more than she does heaven itself Aphrodite and Adonis Whatever I touch, may it be transformed into tawny gold King Midas In a single day and night the island of Atlantis disappeared beneath the waves The legend of Atlantis ANCIENT ROME I sing of arms and the man Aeneas, founder of Rome A desire seized Romulus and Remus to build a city The founding of Rome The father of gods spurts red flames through the clouds Numa outwits Jupiter Conceive of Vesta as naught but the living flame Vesta and Priapus The fates will leave me my voice, and by my voice I shall be known The sibyl of Cumae I love you as I love my own soul Cupid and Psyche I am on fire with love for my own self Narcissus and Echo She yet spins her thread, as a spider Arachne and Minerva I pay the due penalty in blood Cybele and Attis Mithras is the Lord of generation Mithras and the bull He carved a statue out of snow-white ivory Pygmalion For lying with me, take control of the hinge Carna and Janus No wood nymph could tend a garden more skilfuly than she Pomona and Vertumnus Even death shall not part us Pyramus and Thisbe Those whom the gods care for are gods Philemon and Baucis NORTHERN EUROPE From Ymir’s flesh the earth was made Creation of the universe The ash of Yggdrasil is the noblest of trees Odin and the World Tree The first war in the world War of the gods They mixed honey with the blood and it turned into mead The Mead of Poetry Thor might smite as hard as he desired and the hammer would not fail The treasures of the gods Am I wrong in thinking that this little fellow is Thor? The adventures of Thor and Loki in Jötunheim The unluckiest deed ever done amongst gods and men The death of Baldur Brother will fight brother and be his slayer The twilight of the gods When the worm comes to the water, smite him in the heart Sigurd the dragon slayer Wonderful the magic sampo, plenty does it bring to northland The Kalevala The Dagda was eighty years in the kingship of Ireland A complex god As soon as he touched the earth, he was a heap of ashes The voyage of Bran One will be long forgetting Cúchulainn The cattle raid of Cooley He has the name of being the strongest and bravest man in Ireland Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway So they took the blossoms and produced from them a maiden Blodeuwedd Who so pulleth out this sword is the rightwise king born of all England The legend of King Arthur ASIA From the great heaven the goddess set her mind on the great below The descent of Inanna Command and bring about annihilation and re-creation Marduk and Tiamat Who can rival his kingly standing? The epic of Gilgamesh Two spirits, one good, the other evil, in thought, word, and deed Ahura Mazda and Ahriman Brahma opened his eyes and realised he was alone Brahma creates the cosmos Siva placed the elephant’s head on the torso and revived the boy The birth of Ganesha O king, it is wrong to gamble oneself The game of dice Rama is virtuous and the foremost among all righteous men The Ramayana I am the lady, ruler of the worlds Durga slays the buffalo demon O! Meenakshi! Fish-eyed goddess! Grant me bliss! The fish-eyed goddess finds a husband You are to be the king over all the world The origins of the Baiga Yang became the heavens Yin became the earth Pangu and the creation of the world The ten suns all rose at once, scorching the sheaves of grain Yi shoots the sun I’ll roam the corners of the oceans and go to the edge of the sky The adventures of the Monkey King Having finished making the lands, they went on to make its spirits Izanagi and Izanami All manner of calamities arose everywhere Susanoo and Amaterasu Your rice of the Skyworld is good Fire and rice There was a man called Dan’gun Wanggeom who created a city and founded a nation The legendary foundation of Korea Hae Mosu made the sun shine and its rays caressed Yuwha’s body Jumong THE AMERICAS The Earth is a giant island floating in a sea of water Cherokee creation It will not be well if they omit it Spider Woman Begin a Deerskin Dance for it because everything will come out well from that The Woge settle a dispute She was the shade of the whale The raven and the whale And the sun belongs to one and the moon to the other The Hero Twins So then the sun went into the sky The legend of the five suns In the beginning, and before this world was created, there was a being called Viracocha Viracocha the Creator The canoe was a wonder The first canoe The creator of the world has always existed The sky makes the sun and earth ANCIENT EGYPT AND AFRICA I was alone with the Primeval Ocean The creation and the first gods Hail to you, Ra, perfect each day! The night barque of Ra Isis lived in the form of a woman, who had the knowledge of words of power Ra’s secret name He will not die! Osiris will live a life forever Osiris and the underworld If they built fires, evil would come San creation myth I will give you something called cattle En-kai and the cattle Tie the calabash behind you and then you will be able to climb the tree Ananse the spider The life-force of the earth is water The Dogon cosmos The queen wants to kill you Eshu the trickster OCEANIA Come and hear our stories, see our land The Dreaming Spear me slowly. I still have more to teach you The killing of Luma-Luma The world of myth is never far-off The Déma Master of everything that is Ta’aroa gives birth to the gods Death obtained power over mankind Tane and Hine-titama But the redoubtable Maui was not to be discouraged Maui of a thousand tricks What would you say to our driving the birds to Easter Island? Makemake and Haua When I utter his name, he hears in the heavens Mapusia and the Work of the Gods I do not forget the guiding stars Aluluei and the art of navigation DIRECTORY INDEX CONTRIBUTERS QUOTE ATTRIBUTIONS ACKNOWLEDGMENTS COPYRIGHT How to use this eBook Preferred application settings For the best reading experience, the following application settings are recommended: Colour theme: White background Font size: At the smallest point size Orientation: Landscape (for screen sizes over 9”/23cm), Portrait (for screen sizes under 9”/23cm) Scrolling view: [OFF] Text alignment: Auto-justification [OFF] (if the eBook reader has this feature) Auto-hyphenation: [OFF] (if the eBook reader has this feature) Font style: Publisher default setting [ON] (if the eBook reader has this feature) Images: Double tap on the images to see them in full screen and be able to zoom in on them With rare exceptions – such as a recently discovered Amazonian tribe, the Pirahãs – every human culture has developed its own mythology to explain its origins and make sense of the phenomena observed in the natural world. The word “mythology” comes from the Greek muthos, meaning “story” and logia, “knowledge”. Myths tell of the creation of the world or predict its end; they explain how animals were made and the land formed; they bridge the world of humans and the world of the spirits or gods; they try to impose order on a terrifying chaos, and to confront the mysteries of death. Crucially, myths are also the foundation of religions: they define cultures and codify their values. Ancient civilizations The mythologies of the ancient world take up much of this book. In ancient Mesopotamia – in the crucible of civilization of the 4th millennium BCE, when humankind first learned to live in cities – the Sumerians developed the first recorded pantheon of deities. It was preserved in statues, carvings, and ancient texts – such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, in which the eponymous hero searches for immortality. Such a quest was repeated in myths the world over. Subsequent Mesopotamian civilizations developed, demoted, or culled the Sumerian gods and the myths associated with them. The powerful goddess Inanna, for example, became Ishtar in the Babylonian pantheon and later the Phoenician goddess Astarte. Like other civilizations, ancient Mesopotamia was shaped by the narratives it used to explain the cosmos. Its rulers were guided by the gods, whose capricious will was interpreted by priests. The gods had to be continually praised and placated. During the Akitu, a 12-day festival held in the great temple of Marduk, people chanted the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian myth of Creation, with the force of a magical incantation in their ritual reenergizing of the cosmos. Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter. Maya Deren Anthropologist Great cultures Myths had a great influence on the societal fabric of history’s greatest civilizations. The rich and complex mythology of ancient Egypt emphasized the creation of order out of chaos. Such stories validated the governance of society and legitimized a status quo in which the pharaoh himself was viewed as divine and therefore worthy of being served. The Egyptians also saw time as cyclical; events that happened in their society were merely repeating what had happened before and had been recorded in their myths. In ancient Greece and Rome, the foundation myths of city states were fundamental to the concepts of citizenship; they bound ideas of patriotism and common interest with divine authority. In Greece, which consisted of more than 1,000 city-states, each had a founding myth and a protective deity, which led to a highly complex set of myths that was often contradictory. It took the poets Homer and Hesiod to create a comprehensive, pan-Hellenic record of Greek mythology. Homer’s epic stories – the Iliad and Odyssey – and Hesiod’s Theogony comprised the first and most authoritative attempts to weave the disparate Greek myths into one narrative thread. In ancient Rome, the local myths of Italic peoples, such as the Latins and the Etruscans, blended with the Greek myths that had gone before them. The poet Virgil composed a foundation myth for Rome, the Aeneid, consciously modelled on the epics of Homer, while Ovid retold many Greek myths in his narrative poem Metamorphoses, and recorded the myths of a number of purely Roman deities in his poem on the religious year, Fasti. The Romans enriched the mix by adding deities from Phrygia (such as the Great Mother Cybele), Egypt (the goddess Isis), and Syria (Elagabal, or Sol Invictus, briefly the chief god of Rome). Preserving myths The line between literature, myth, and folktale is blurry; many myths have been preserved as literary works. The popular tales of King Arthur are rooted in Celtic myth; while the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the great works of Hindu mythology, are celebrated masterpieces of epic poetry. In preliterate societies, myths were recited and passed along orally. The written recording of a myth depended on luck, which probably led to the disappearance of a great many mythologies. Even in literate societies, such as the Viking-Age Norse, some myths survived through only a single source. Had the manuscripts of the mythological poems known as the Edda – and of Snorri Sturluson’s later Prose Edda – been destroyed, we would know as little about Norse mythology as we do about the myths of the ancient Britons. Living religions Many tribal peoples – including the Dogon of Mali, the Baiga of central India, the Tikopia of the Solomon Islands, and the Ifugaos of the Philippines – still live in a world suffused by what outsiders might call myths. Oral tradition in these societies is remarkably enduring: as proven by the abundant myths or Dreamings of the Aboriginal Australians, the myths of the déma (creation spirits) among the Marind-Anim people of New Guinea, or the eloquent Chantways of the Navajo in North America. Many myths from these peoples, however, have not reached the outside world because they are secret, or they have not been collected or translated, or they have been lost as exposure to outsiders has attacked and destroyed indigenous cultures. Mythology is the territory of poetic imagination, and the stories individual cultures tell are a profound expression of the creative impulse. Yet myths are more than simply stories; they are the stories cultures tell themselves about the great mysteries that perplex and intrigue us all: questions of birth and death and everything in between. Even now, myths remain the bearers of tradition and the spiritual and moral guide of peoples all across the globe. Myth … takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significance hidden by the veil of familiarity. C. S. Lewis Writer, scholar, and author of The Chronicles of Narnia The ancient Greeks first entered the territory now associated with them in about 2000 BCE, when Egypt was still a great power and the Minoans of Crete were evolving into a highly sophisticated society. The first migrants, who probably came from Russia and central Asia, settled in the mountainous north and the Peloponnese to the south, where the city of Mycenae was founded c. 1600 BCE. Described by Homer as “rich in gold”, the Mycenaean civilization prospered thanks to trade networks across the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. With the Bronze Age collapse of palace culture and the end of Mycenaean civilization c. 1100 BCE, Greece entered its Dark Age. By the 8th century BCE, poleis (“city-states”) began to emerge as agricultural and trading hubs. Greece became a collection of separate city-states – such as Athens, Sparta, and Corinth – united by a shared language and the worship of common gods. However, Greek religion was not standardized; there was no book of doctrine to tell people how they should worship. Their mythology borrowed from their ancestors – the myth of the Minotaur came from the Minoans in Crete, and the Mycenaean era was the setting for the Trojan War, immortalized in Homer’s Iliad. Athenian dominance The Classical era in Greece began with the fall of the powerful Persian empire in 479 BCE. Having defeated the Persians, the city-states of Athens and Sparta fought each other for dominion over Greece. As the pre-eminent power, Athens was the setting for many Greek myths, from its origins under the care of its patron goddess, Athena, to tales such as Jason and Medea. Many of the surviving Greek myths come to us via Athenian dramatists: from the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides in the 5th century BCE to the comedies of Aristophanes (c.446–c.386 BCE) and Menander (c.342–c.291 BCE). These works told stories about the gods and heroes of Greek mythology and inspired later writers such as Shakespeare (1564– 1616), whose A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet borrow from Greek myth. The era of Athenian dominance ended in the 4th century BCE, when the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great built his empire. Thanks to Alexander’s conquests, Greek culture and mythology were exported as far as Asia Minor, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India. The major deities It was the poets Homer and Hesiod who imposed order upon the myriad gods and beliefs inherited from earlier times. Homer set down his poetry from oral tradition around 800 BCE, after the migrations that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean culture. His two epic poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, gave the Greeks a history, a pantheon, and guidelines for how to live their lives. As the Olympian family of 12 principal gods dwelling on Mount Olympus gradually replaced older beliefs, Homer and Hesiod gave them distinct characters and appearances. Because Homer’s epic poems were set in an aristocratic and feudal society – which preceded the birth of democracy in Athens in the 5th century BCE – his gods behaved like chieftains, motivated solely by their own desires. Like other ancient agrarian peoples, the Greeks were local in their focus. They ordered their religious life around local places, identifying different hills, streams, and plains with different deities. This mythic lore invested every corner of the land with spiritual significance. The earth was the source of existence: divine power originated in its depths, as did the crops. Myths sought to explain aspects of agrarian life. The tale of Persephone – daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter – and her imprisonment in the Underworld by Hades was a way of accounting for the changing cycles of the agricultural year. The rise of the cult At the end of the 5th century BCE, various mystery cults arose in the Greekspeaking world. Chief among these were the Eleusinian mysteries, an ancient agrarian cult honouring Demeter and Persephone and promising paradise for the dead. The Dionysian cult, which originated in Asia, worshipped Dionysus and involved wild dancing, drinking, and ecstasy. Unlike the public worship of the gods, which was well documented, these mystery cults consisted of secret rites and doctrines that remain enigmatic to this day, but would go on to influence the beliefs and myths of ancient Rome. IN BRIEF THEME Creation by Mother Earth SOURCES Theogony, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Argonautica, Apollonius of Rhodes, c. 250 BCE; Natural History, Pliny the Elder, 79 CE; Library, PseudoApollodorus, c. 100 CE. SETTING Chaos – a vast and infinitely dark void at the origin of the universe. KEY FIGURES Gaia The primordial earth-mother goddess, and personification of the solid world. Ouranos The sky god, Gaia’s spontaneously conceived son; later father of the Titans, the Hecatoncheires, the Kyklopes, the Erinyes, Aphrodite, and many other gods and goddesses. Kronos A Titan who castrated his father, Ouranos; also associated with the harvest. In the beginning was Chaos, an open chasm of emptiness – infinitely deep, dark, and silent. In his vision of the universe’s origin, set down in Theogony, the Greek poet Hesiod saw creation as the imposition of a positive reality on this negativity and absence. Key to that reality was the capacity for change. The nothingness of Chaos could have continued, eternally unaltered, but existence, once created, brought with it endless cycles – the comings and goings of the seasons, generations of humans, birth, and death. These cycles were set in motion by the making of the original division between night and day; time was now measurable and meaningful. Out of the Chasm came Night, and from Night in turn came Day. Theogony Earth mother The first Greek goddess, Gaia, was the earth in its mineral form – its rocks and soils, its mountains and its plains. From its solid and seemingly inert state, it became. vibrant with the potential for new life. The first manifestation of that new vitality was Ouranos, god of the sky, spontaneously conceived within the womb of the great Earth Mother Gaia, with whom he would subsequently father children. Though Gaia’s son, Ouranos was her equal. Hesiod wrote that she bore him specifically so that he could “cover her”. While this was a statement of fact – the sky being above the earth – it adds more than a hint of sexuality to the relationship between the earth and heaven. In real life, the Greeks were as horrified at the idea of incest as we are. Its function in their mythology appears to have been to show that all the different aspects of existence are intensely conflicted, yet intimately linked. The sky was not simply positioned above the earth; it conjoined with it dynamically and, ultimately, creatively, just as night did with day, darkness with light, and death with life. Gaia, the Earth Mother, sits with her two godly progeny at her side in an ancient Greek stone relief. It was said that an oath sworn by Gaia would prove irrevocable. Kinship and conflict While creative, these conjunctions inevitably cast opposing principles into a never-ending struggle for supremacy. Hesiod’s portrayal of primal sexual relations was essentially violent; male and female forces as complementary but also competing. It was far from an idealized world view, and the depiction of Ouranos was even more extreme; the despotic patriarch would brook no rival – not even his own children. Ouranos’s jealousy of his sons and daughters was such that, at each birth, he took them away and stowed each one in some hidden recess of the earth – which was actually his wife’s body. He did this to establish his ownership of Gaia. Her sexual attentions had to be entirely and eternally available to him, so their offspring could not be allowed to see the light of day. Successive infants were consigned to subterranean depths. First came the 12 Titans – the sisters Theia, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Themis, Tethys, and Rhea, and their brothers Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Kronos. Each in his or her turn was rammed into some convenient crack or crevice of the earth and left there, trapped. After the Titans came three giant brothers, the Kyklopes, each of whom had a single eye at the centre of his forehead. Like their siblings, they were consigned at birth to be buried in the heart of the earth. Then came three more giants of even greater strength– the Hecatoncheires, whose name means “hundredhanded” in Greek. Each was also said to have 50 heads, making them formidable – they too were incarcerated by Ouranos deep inside the earth. The sky god Ouranos is depicted as a benign father with offspring draped around him in a wood engraving after a fresco by the Prussian artist Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841). Hesiod and his Theogony The ancient Greek poet Hesiod may well be a myth in his own right for there is no evidence that any such person actually existed. The works attributed to him –assorted poetry from the eighth and seventh centuries BCE – may simply have been conveniently bundled together. They include a miscellany of poems, from brief narratives to genealogies that record the heroic ancestries of important families. The importance of these works in tracing back traditions and uncovering origins is undeniable. The genealogical poems discuss human beginnings, while the Theogony, Hesiod’s most famous work, focuses on the birth of the gods and is the source for much of what we know about Greek myth. Hesiod was not the only available authority; other more mysticminded thinkers and writers promoted an alternative “Orphic” tradition, built around the myth of Orpheus, the bard and musician. For the most part, however – and for well over 2,000 years now – it has been the version of mythical events attributed to Hesiod that has held sway. The upstart son As for Gaia, the Earth Mother felt both physically burdened by the number of infant bodies literally forced back inside her and also deeply upset by the attempted suppression of her children. Finally, she rebelled and appealed to her sons for help. She secretly made a sickle out of adamant – by legend an unbreakable mineral – and gave it to Kronos. The next time Ouranos spread himself over her, attempting to force her into intercourse, Kronos leapt out from his hiding-place to aid his mother. Wielding his sickle, and with one fell swoop, he sliced off his father’s genitals. It was the ultimate patriarchal nightmare – the father not just supplanted by his son but castrated by him, with the connivance of his wife. Even now, however, Ouranos’s potency was not quite spent. The splashes of blood and semen that flew from his wound sowed spirit life wherever they landed, bringing into being a vast assortment of new-born nymphs and giants, good and bad. The Erinyes, three baleful sisters better known to us now as the Furies, were angry and avenging spirits. Aphrodite was a deity of a very different kind. Where Ouranos’s wound-spatter landed in the ocean, this most beautiful of goddesses was born. She stepped from the waves, bringing with her all the delights of erotic love. Beautiful Aphrodite emerges from the ocean, where the seed of her brutal father had fallen. The Birth of Venus (her name in Roman mythology) was painted by Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1637). A white foam arose where the immortal skin touched water: amidst the waves, a beautiful maiden took form. Theogony Titans of all trades When Kronos had finally freed his brothers and sisters from captivity in the earth, the Titans were to serve a twofold mythic function. First, they were living, breathing, loving, and fighting personalities. Each of them symbolized a different aspect of existence, so that collectively they represented a way of ordering and enriching the world. The eldest daughter Mnemosyne, for instance, stood for the faculty of memory and all it brought with it in terms of history, culture, and heritage. Later, having lain with her nephew Zeus, she would give birth to the nine Muses – divine patronesses of scientific study, historical study, poetry, and the performing arts. Tethys, who married her brother Oceanus, went on to bear him 3,000 sons – all river gods – and as many daughters, the Oceanids, who were nymphs of springs, rivers, lakes, and seas. Her younger sister Theia, too, took a brother, Hyperion, for her husband; she bore him Helios, the sun, and his sister Eos, goddess of dawn. Helios and Eos had a sister, Selene, who was a goddess of the moon, though her aunt Phoebe – sister to Tethys, Mnemosyne, and Theia – also had lunar associations. Themis, the youngest female Titan, was associated with reason, justice, and with the orderly conduct of existence in the universe. Like her sister Mnemosyne, she would for a time become consort to her nephew Zeus. Of their children, the Horae (“Hours”) would oversee the measurement and passage of the seasons and of time. Another daughter, Nemesis, took her mother’s association with justice to violent extremes; as her name suggests, she became notorious as the personification of punishment and divine retribution. The name of the youngest male Titan, Iapetus, comes from iapto, a Greek word meaning “wound” or “pierce”. The implications of this translation have long been debated. Ancient poets seem to have been unsure whether he was given this name because he sustained an injury or because he made the weapon that inflicted it. Meanwhile, in classical literature, Iapetus appears both as a deity of mortality and of skill in crafts. Thousands of Greek deities, unanimously descended from Gaia and Ouranos, all embodied the values, virtues, and vices of humans, vividly dramatized in the colourful mythology of ancient Greece. Patricidal patriarch Artists in ancient Greece almost invariably represented Kronos carrying a sickle – an emblem of his attack upon his father. The sickle also has more mundane and practical associations. Kronos came to be seen as the godly guarantor of a successful harvest. The connection between these two functions – the idea that one generation had effectively to be destroyed for its successor to survive and thrive, took an early hold on the Greek consciousness. Kronos, having killed his father, now replaced him as the head of the household: he then married his sister Rhea and began to produce children of his own. Much like his father, Kronos would soon confront the idea that human life can only advance through intergenerational struggle. This theme runs through the Greek mythological tradition, and is most notoriously associated with the story of King Oedipus. See also: The Olympian gods • The war of gods and Titans • The many affairs of Zeus • The fate of Oedipus IN BRIEF THEME Origin of the Olympian gods SOURCES Theogony, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Library, Pseudo-Apollodorus, c. 100 CE. SETTING Crete. KEY FIGURES Kronos King of the Titans; son of Gaia and Ouranos. Rhea Sister and wife of Kronos. Hestia Goddess of the hearth. Demeter Goddess of the harvest. Hera Queen of the Olympian gods. Hades Lord of the Underworld. Poseidon God of the seas. Zeus King of the Olympian gods; killer of Kronos. Kronos, Titan son of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Ouranos, proved every bit as possessive a patriarch as his father had been. After just one generation, a dismal pattern of godly conduct was emerging; just as Ouranos had dominated Gaia, Kronos required his wife and sister Rhea to be exclusively and endlessly available to him in order to meet his sexual needs. No one else, least of all his children, would be allowed to compete for her attention. Having deposed his own father to become king of the Titans, Kronos knew how dangerous it was to let a child grow in envy and rage. Both Earth and Sky foretold him that he would be dethroned by his own son. Library Determined that no one should pose such a threat to him, Kronos ensured that the children Rhea bore him were destroyed just as quickly as they were conceived. As soon as she gave birth to a new baby, he would swallow it whole. Hestia, the first child that Rhea bore, was gone in a single gulp, before her mother could even cradle her in her arms. Another daughter, Demeter, soon followed: she too was swallowed promptly. Hera, the third daughter, went the same way, and Kronos’s sons fared no better. First came Hades – bolted down before he could utter his first helpless cry – swiftly followed by the next son, Poseidon, who met the same fate. Kronos, known as Saturn by the Romans, as depicted in Saturn Devouring His Son, Francisco Goya, (1821–23). The work is part of the artist's “Black Paintings” series. The despairing Rhea finally turned to her mother, the elderly Gaia, and her neutered father Ouranos, for help. Together they hatched a devious plan to save their daughter’s next child. Switched with a stone Rhea followed her parents’ advice. As soon as she had given birth to Zeus, the last of her sons, and before his father Ouranos had a chance to see him, she hid the baby away. Then she wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and handed it to her unsuspecting husband in place of the infant. Kronos, in his rapacious greed, did not even look at the bundle before he tipped back his head, opened his mouth wide, and dropped it in. The “baby” tumbled straight down into his stomach, ready to join the jostling crowd of children already there. Unknown to Kronos, they had all survived in the deep darkness of his belly. There they grew in size and resentment. Brought up in safety Meanwhile, Rhea, on the recommendation of the child's grandmother, Gaia, spirited the infant Zeus away, carrying him across the sea to the fertile island of Crete. There, in a concealed cave on the thickly wooded slopes of Mount Ida (now known as Psiloritis, the highest mountain on Crete), Rhea left her son in the care of a warlike tribe called the Kouretes. They, in turn, gave the baby to a nymph named Adamanthea (Amalthea in some sources), who nursed Zeus in secret. According to Hesiod, the nymph was frightened that Kronos – thanks to his universal authority over the earth, sea, and sky – would be able to see where his son was being hidden. To prevent Kronos from finding him, she hung Zeus from a rope that dangled between the earth and the heavens but was in neither one realm nor the other. Adamanthea cared for Zeus and nursed him with milk from a herd of goats that grazed nearby. Whenever the baby gurgled, squealed, or cried, the Kouretes danced and chanted to disguise the sound. As a result, Kronos was completely unaware that his youngest son was still alive. Zeus seeks his father In no time at all, it seemed, Zeus grew to manhood. He was hungry for revenge against his cruel father. Yet, if Zeus was ever to emerge from hiding, some sort of showdown between them would be inevitable. Kronos could not afford to let a potential usurper live. If he became aware of Zeus’s existence, he would view his son only as a threat to his power. Zeus is protected from all-seeing Kronos by his attentive nymph carers and the noise of the Kouretes, as shown in this 17th-century painting The Childhood of Zeus on Mount Ida. Kronos’s fear of being usurped was fully justified. When he finally met his son, whom he believed to be dead, he was forced to yield to Zeus in the most brutal way: Zeus simply turned up one day and, with the help of his grandmother, Gaia, ambushed his father. He kicked Kronos violently in the stomach and forced his father to vomit up the contents of his stomach. First to emerge was the stone Kronos had swallowed, believing it to be the infant Zeus. The young god took this stone and set it upright in the earth as a monument to Kronos’s cruelty, and a symbol of his triumph over the wicked god. Zeus placed the stone at the omphalos or “navel” of the Greek ancient world – at Delphi, in the very centre of Greece. In future ages, the stone would become a shrine, renowned for its oracle. Pilgrims would visit it to seek the guidance of the priestess, or Sibyl, regarding their personal problems, and the Sibyl would provide them messages of wisdom, which were said to come directly from the gods. First he vomited up the stone, which he had swallowed last. Zeus set it up to be a sign … a wonder to mortal men. Theogony Great deities disgorged After vomiting up the stone, Kronos began to disgorge his offspring. One by one, Zeus’s elder brothers and sisters came out of their father’s mouth – no longer babies, now, but fully grown. Once reborn, they became the Olympian gods and were revered for their powers. Soon after their rebirth, the sons and daughters of Kronos went to war with the mighty Titans for control of the cosmos. After their victory, the gods set up their seat of power on Mount Olympus and drew lots to decide who would take which role in ruling the universe. The three sons of Kronos divided the cosmos up between them; one would take control of the sky, another would have the sea, and the third would preside over the Underworld. Zeus, whose weapon of choice was the thunderbolt, became ruler of the sky and leader of all the Olympian gods. Hades, the first son to be born, and the last to be regurgitated, became lord of the Underworld. His name came to stand for both the deity and his unseen realm, where souls go after death. Hades was not happy to have been allocated this dismal domain, but there was nothing he could do about it. Meanwhile, Poseidon, who had been the tiniest baby, became the almighty “Earth-Shaker”, the god of the sea in all its awesome power. Hestia Kronos and Rhea’s eldest child, Hestia (“hearth”), was the first to be swallowed by her father – and the last to reappear when Zeus forced him to vomit up his offspring. Given that she was both the oldest and youngest of the children, she was widely referred to as “Hestia, First and Last”. Like the later Roman god Janus, Hestia was seen as the embodiment of all of life’s ambiguities and ambivalences. Like Janus, too, she quickly came to be associated with the home, with domesticity and all its blessings. In particular, her realm was that of the hearth – the fire that was a household’s warm and hospitable centre. The hearth was also the site of the altar where sacrifices were offered to any domestic gods; she presided over these rituals, too. Though herself a sworn virgin, having refused all proposals of marriage, Hestia was considered the protector of the family. The metaphorical family of the state was also part of her realm, and she would look after the public altar or hearth within a city. Disparate goddesses The three female children of Kronos also had important roles to play. Hestia, goddess of the hearth, ruled over people's domestic life. As goddess of the harvest, Demeter was a life-giver to the worshippers who relied on her annual bounty. She proved a fickle protectress, however, ready not just to cross swords with her siblings but to withhold favours from humankind at any perceived slight. Hera’s role was more prominent than that of her sisters, and she became the foremost female deity following her marriage to her brother Zeus. To her great dismay, however, Hera never quite received the recognition and honours she expected as the queen of the gods. As the goddess of women and marriage, Hera was supposed to represent the archetypal wedded state, but she became known for her marital troubles. Nor was Hera the goddess who inspired men’s passions. While Hera was portrayed as a wifely figure, Aphrodite was the goddess associated with feminine beauty, sexuality, and erotic pleasures. The Greeks had these two different deities for what, in ancient times, were considered two separate spheres of affection. One deity represented marital love, the other romantic and erotic love. While this distinction may now be alien to many people, in most cultures and at most times in history, the majority of marriages were arranged – as transactions for the management and transmission of property and land. The idea of “companionate” marriage – in which the love between a husband and wife is the driving factor – is a relatively modern convention. Zeus and Hera become man and wife in a scene from a decorative, marble-and-limestone frieze that was part of a temple in Selinunte, Sicily, dating from the 5th century BCE. The Dodekatheon Aphrodite was the only member of this first generation of Olympians who was not a child of Kronos and Rhea; some accounts suggest she was the daughter of Zeus, but Hesiod, Pausanius, and Ovid all described her as Kronos's sister who was born from sea foam after the castration of Ouranos. Despite being the same generation as Kronos and Rhea, she was always considered an Olympian, rather than a Titan, and one of the gods and goddesses who eventually made up the Dodekatheon – the 12 most important Olympians in the Greek pantheon. The Dodekatheon included Zeus, Demeter, Hera, Poseidon, and Aphrodite from the first generation of Olympians. The hearth goddess Hestia was not among them, as she later chose to live on earth to avoid her siblings’ squabbles; Hades, similarly, was not included because he resided permanently in the Underworld. After the war between the gods and the Titans established the Olympians as rulers of the cosmos, the first generation of gods went on to have many children. Many of the gods and other figures in Greek mythology were children of Zeus. Of the second generation of gods, several joined the Dodekatheon, and were powerful deities in their own right. The gods Apollo, Ares, Dionysus, Hephaistos, and Hermes all joined the ranks of Zeus and his siblings on Mount Olympus, as did the goddesses Artemis and Athena. The Dodekatheon met as a council to discuss matters in their ruling of the cosmos, and Dionysus, god of wine, attained his seat at the table only after Hestia left Olympus to reside on Earth. Aphrodite had an illicit affair with another Olympian – Ares, the god of war. They were caught in bed by her husband, Hephaistos, the blacksmith god, who threw a net over the pair. Athena and her uncle Poseidon did battle over Athens – a family squabble that the goddess won. The struggle is illustrated in this Venetian fresco by Giambattista Mengardi (1787). Human personalities The Olympian gods were all too human in their personalities, and often lacked the lofty transcendence of the supreme beings in later religions. In a dramatic soap opera of fierce rivalries and petty spats, their actions were influenced not by a desire to work for the good of humankind, but by their own selfish desires and whims. The Greeks therefore did not worship the gods by attempting to emulate them, instead treating them as they might a powerful human ruler, by offering sacrifices and celebrating the deities at regular festivals. At its core, this was a system of exchange: people offered gifts to the gods in the hope that the gods would give them what they asked for. The gods often rewarded mortals who treated them well and showed them the appropriate deference and respect. Zeus and his siblings could be needlessly cruel and were often subject to jealousies and petty fights. His brothers Poseidon and Hades often used humans as pawns in these squabbles, which usually stemmed from a reluctance to accept the supreme god's authority as unquestionable. Still more reluctant was his sister Demeter, a strong-willed deity in her own right. After she was pursued and raped by Poseidon, and Hades abducted her daughter Persephone, Demeter wreaked havoc across the world. Infidelity, too, was a major theme in all Greek myths – not just in the affairs (and assaults) committed by Zeus that riled the jealous Hera. Marble sculptures from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis in Athens show the gods – from left to right: Dionysus, Demeter, Persephone, and Artemis – reacting to the birth of Athena. Demeter was wroth with the gods and quitted heaven. Library Twixt god and mortals Despite their power, in many ways Greek deities appear to have an intermediate status, hovering somewhere between the spiritual and the real. Their attributes reflect the countless aspects of Greek everyday life in which the gods played an implicit part. All the gods had specific areas of influence, such as Zeus and Athena, who were among the theoi agoraioi (gods of the agora – the marketplace and people’s assembly). Both Zeus and the goddess Hestia were also gods of the home (theoi ktesioi). Hestia, Dionysius, and Aphrodite were among the theoi daitioi, who presided over feasts and banquets. The gods themselves also needed sustenance. According to Greek tradition, they lived on a diet of nectar and ambrosia, carried up Mount Olympus by doves. To later belief systems, the notion that deities needed material sustenance seems at odds with their divinity. Ancient Greek authorities, however, agreed on the importance of this nourishment for the gods to empower and sustain them. See also: Origin of the universe • The war of the gods and Titans • Mount Olympus • The founding of Athens • The sybil of Cumae IN BRIEF THEME Olympians take power SOURCES Iliad, Homer, 8th century BCE; Theogony, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Library, Pseudo-Apollodorus, c. 100 CE. SETTING The slopes of Mount Olympus and plains of Thessaly, northern Greece. KEY FIGURES Olympians The gods Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia. Titans Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Tethys, Phoebe, Rhea, Mnemosyne, Themis, Theia Crius, Kronos, and Iapetus. Kyklopes The one-eyed giants Brontes, Steropes, and Arges; sons of Ouranos. Hecatoncheires The giants Briareos, Kottos, and Gyges; sons of Ouranos and Gaia. Zeus slipped easily into a position of authority over his brothers and sisters: though the youngest, he had been in the world by far the longest. His siblings supported him as he strove to overthrow his father and assert his primacy across the cosmos. So began the Titanomachy – the War of the Gods and Titans. Zeus, with the support of his siblings, launched a concerted and determined attack against the Titan gods. The siblings were joined by some of Ouranos’s cast-out sons. The three Kyklopes – the one-eyed giants Brontes, Steropes, and Arges – sided with Zeus after he freed them from the Underworld. They were skilled craftstmen who made weapons for the gods: a mighty thunderbolt for Zeus, a cloak of invisibility for Hades, and a trident for Poseidon. The Hecatoncheires – Briareos, Kottos, and Gyges – also fought for the gods. Each of these terrifying giants had 50 heads and 100 hands, and howled as they rampaged across the battlefield. Zeus, leader of the gods, stands beside an eagle in this 4th-century statue. The eagle, Zeus’s messenger, remained a symbol of power from ancient Rome to Nazi Germany. Total war The war was fought on the lower slopes of Mount Olympus and across the open plains of Thessaly, but the earth-shattering conflict encompassed the entire world. Huge rocks were hurled around; entire mountaintops were ripped up and sent flying back and forth as projectiles; bolts of lightning flashed like javelins across the sky. Flames rose up to the farthest heights of heaven; the thud of marching feet caused quakes in the most remote reaches of the Underworld; swirling dust clouds darkened the sky, and the din of conflict was deafening. According to Hesiod, the intensity of the fighting “pained the soul”. The advantage tipped back and forth without any real interval for a full ten years. Neither side would yield, so finally Zeus rallied his cohorts. He refreshed the Hecatoncheires with nectar and ambrosia – the divine and exclusive sustenance of the gods, which conferred immortality on any mortal who consumed it. This may not have been the effect it had on the Hecatoncheires, but according to Hesiod, “the heroic spirits grew in all their hearts” after Zeus gave it to the giants. The Fall of the Titans by Giulio Romano (1532–35). Depicting the war of the Titans, this continuous fresco covers the walls and ceiling of the Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo Te, Italy. Ultimate triumph Reinvigorated, the Hecatoncheires proved the tipping point. With such formidable allies and weapons, the gods were at last able to defeat the Titans. They banished them to Tartarus, the lowest pit of the Underworld, where the Titans were imprisoned for all eternity under the watch of the Hecatoncheires. Zeus and his siblings now had full control over the cosmos. They set up their imperial seat on the top of Mount Olympus, from where they ruled the universe. Warfare in ancient Greece After the rise of the city states of Athens, Sparta, and beyond, warfare became a way of life for the people of ancient Greece. The states fought each other for territory, trade, and power in highly ritualized wars – both sides would consult with oracles and sing hymns to the gods before meeting for set-piece battles. Scholars use the term “limited warfare” to describe the ancient Greek model, in which cities were destroyed but the victors were honourable, fighting within a set of rules of conduct. Some city states, such as Sparta, became very militaristic. This perhaps explains the recurrence of the idea of a war in heaven. Such stories dramatized real-life shifts in theological and spiritual thinking in ancient societies: for example, the Titanomachy could explain the shift from an earth-cult, centred around deities who lived in the Underworld, to the more sky-based theology found in ancient Greece. Zeus’s bolts flew thick and fast from his mighty hands, with flash and thunder and flame. Theogony See also: The Olympian gods • War of the gods • A complex god • The game of dice IN BRIEF THEME Home of the gods SOURCES Theogony, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Illiad and Odyssey, Homer, c. 800 BCE; Description of Greece, Pausanias, c. 150 CE. SETTING Mount Olympus, northeastern Greece. KEY FIGURES Zeus King of the Greek gods. Hera Wife and sister of Zeus; queen of the gods. Hephaistos The blacksmith god; son of Hera. The Muses Children of Zeus. The Horai Three sisters; goddesses of time and the seasons. The Moirae Three sisters; goddesses of fate. Originally, the dwellings of ancient Greek deities were not in the heavens but in the heart of the earth. Once Zeus and his siblings defeated the Titans, however, the Greeks turned their eyes heavenward to worship the new generation of gods and goddesses. Hephaistos, god of fire and the forge, built them palaces in the sheltered ravines of Mount Olympus. Hesiod described the mountain as “many-folded”, a phrase suggestive of a sky-high stronghold full of secrets. The palaces were built of stone on bronze foundations. They were both gigantic and luxurious, their floors inlaid with gold and precious stones. Zeus set up his throne at the top of the peak of Stefani. From here he hurled his thunderbolts at those who displeased him in the world below. Mount Olympus, home of the Greek gods, rises from the Plain of Thessaly. Thessaly was the site of the decade-long war fought between the Titans, and Zeus and his siblings. Life on Olympus The council of the gods typically met in Zeus’s golden courtyard to discuss their rule of the cosmos, and gathered in Zeus’s hall to while away the evenings with feasting. Apollo sang to them, accompanying himself upon his lyre. Sometimes the Muses came up from their home at the foot of Olympus to sing, dance, and tell stories. There were separate stables for the creatures that drew the gods’ chariots – most famously, those that pulled the blazing car of Apollo, the sun god. Zeus had a chariot drawn by the four Anemoi, gods of the winds – Boreas (north), Euros (east), Notos (south), and Zephyros (west). Poseidon’s chariot was pulled along by fishtailed horses of the sea, while Aphrodite’s was drawn by a team of doves. The Horai – the sisters Eirene, Eunomia, and Dike – guarded the gates to Olympus and saw to the orderly passage of time and the seasons. Another trio of goddesses, the Moirae (Fates), sat at the foot of Zeus’s throne and watched over the lives of mortals. The council of the gods meets amongst the clouds on Olympus in this fresco by Italian Renaissance master Raphael (1518), which shows Zeus conferring immortality on Psyche. Physical and symbolic What we refer to today as “Mount” Olympus is actually a massif, with over 50 distinct peaks almost 3,000m (9,850ft) above sea level. Much of the time, its upper slopes are wreathed in snow or dense cloud, cutting off the summit from the view of mortals down below. It is no wonder that the ancient Greeks held this to be the royal seat of their reigning dynasty of gods. The idea of the sacred mountain existed long before the Greeks began to worship the Olympians, and is found in many other cultures. Mount Meru, for example, towered at the cosmological centre of Indian religions; Mount Fuji dominated the Japanese religious scheme; and Inca priests in Peru offered sacrifice high up on the Andean summits. In mythology, the mountain peak has often seemed to occupy a separate physical space from the earth. Homer underlined this by showing Mount Olympus from different perspectives. Viewed from earth, it was described as “snow-topped” or “cloud-enveloped”; for the gods, however, their home was a place of permanent sunshine and clear blue sky. Changing gods Anthropologists use the term “syncretism” to describe the merging of strands from different religious systems. Ancient Greece had many examples of this. The sanctuary of Dodona, in northwestern Greece, lay in a valley surrounded by a grove of oak trees. The site seems to have been sacred to a matriarchal earth goddess since at least the second millennium BCE – before the idea of Zeus took root. After the ascendancy of the Olympians, the earth goddess was supplanted and one of Zeus’s many wives, Dione, was worshipped at Dodona. Isthmia – on the narrow land connecting the Peloponnese peninsula with the rest of Greece – was the obvious site for a shrine to Poseidon, god of the sea, beset on the narrow strip of land by roaring waves on either side. Yet archaeologists have found remains at Isthmia dating back long before the era of the Olympians, dedicated to a deity or deities unknown. The gods pressed far-seeing Zeus of Olympus to reign over them. Theogony See also: The Olympian gods • The war of the gods and Titans • Cupid and Psyche • Pangu and the creation of the world • The legendary foundation of Korea IN BRIEF THEME Origin of humanity SOURCES Theogony and Works and Days, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Library, Apollodorus, c. 100 CE SETTING Greece, the Aegean, and the Caucasus Mountains, Western Asia. KEY FIGURES Zeus King of the gods. Iapetus The youngest Titan, son of Ouranos and Gaia. Klymene A sea nymph, daughter of the Titan Oceanus. Prometheus Son of Iapetus and Klymene. Deukalion Human son of Prometheus. Pyrrha Wife of Deukalion. Hephaistos The blacksmith god. Zeus’s victory in the war with the Titans had been hard won but decisive. He and his brothers held unchallenged sway over the heavens, earth, and sea. The usurper of a usurper, he had seized supremacy by dethroning Kronos, who had himself toppled the tyrant Ouranos. No ruler could afford to become complacent, however seemingly unassailable their position – and a challenge to the authority of Zeus was fast approaching. Spirit of rebellion Prometheus, a young Titan and therefore a survivor of the old regime, was the son of Iapetus and Klymene, celebrated for quick intelligence, dexterity, and skill. Prometheus’s very name meant “Thinking Ahead”: he was an inventor and a strategist. Different sources disagree on the precise part Prometheus played in the continuing struggle between Zeus and his subjects. Despite this, all sources regard him as a central part of the conflict. Self-confident in his cleverness, Prometheus was independent-minded, irreverent, and defiant. His contempt for Zeus’s authority was all too clear. Worse still, he appeared to pass on this rebellious spirit to Zeus’s human subjects. Prometheus Carrying Fire, by Flemish painter Jan Cossiers (1671), shows the young Titan stealing the precious resource for mankind. From clay to stone According to Apollodorus’s Library, Prometheus was the creator of humanity, shaping the first man and woman from moist clay. This first race of humans walked the earth for only a single generation before being swept away by an angry Zeus in a worldwide flood. Prometheus’s human son Deukalion and his wife Pyrrha were the only survivors. Typically, Prometheus had out-manoeuvred Zeus, prompting his son and his daughterin-law to save themselves by building a floating wooden chest in which to ride out the deluge. Deukalion survived the great flood and its aftermath by showing more tact than his father. He thanked Zeus for letting him and Pyrrha live, built an altar, and offered sacrifice. Zeus was so pleased to see this submissive spirit that he not only allowed Deukalion and Pyrrha to go on living but told Deukalion how he could re-create humanity. He and his wife were told to pick up stones and throw them backwards over their heads. They did so and wherever Deukalion’s stones landed, the bodies of living men immediately took form; where Pyrrha’s came to rest, women sprang up out of the ground. Prometheus shaped men out of water and clay. Library Klymene’s children According to Hesiod’s Theogony, “Iapetus took Klymene, Oceanus’s elegant-ankled daughter to his bed”. Other ancient authors, however, referred to her as “Asia”. With Iapetus, Klymene bore four sons, each of whom was, ultimately, fated for misery. During the war of the Titans, Zeus killed Klymene’s prideful son Menoetius, by hurling him into the underworld with a lightning-bolt. Following the victory of the Atlas carries the heavens on his shoulders. Although commonly Olympian gods, another of Klymene’s sons, mistaken for an earth globe, the Atlas, was made to suffer for his role in round structure weighing on Atlas leading the Titan forces. He was sentenced represents the celestial sphere. by Zeus to carry the heavens on his shoulders as punishment for resisting the Olympian ascendancy. Epimetheus, Klymene’s third son, was every bit as foolish as Prometheus was cunning. Against his brother’s advice, he was duped into accepting Pandora as a gift and marrying her. He had no idea that she had been created to be both beautiful and deceitful, and was sent by Zeus to bring all manner of sorrows into the world. A trick backfires Unlike Appolodorus, Hesiod’s genealogy incorporated mortal humans almost from the beginning, though he said little about their origins. They were mentioned as existing during the reign of Kronos, but only incidentally, emerging into the foreground only in the age of the Olympian gods. When Zeus summoned humans for a meeting on the sort of sacrifices they would have to offer him, Prometheus intervened on their behalf. Wrapping some choice beef inside an ugly oxhide, and a bundle of bones inside some of the most delicious meat, he offered Zeus the choice of which sacrifices should be made to him thenceforth. Zeus appeared to have fallen for the trick, asking for the outwardly appealing bag of bones – though Hesiod hints the king of the gods may have chosen this deliberately, to have an excuse for hating humans. Either way, Zeus was enraged. Far from easing people’s plight as he had intended, Prometheus’s cunning made them victims of Zeus’s rage. The angry god hid the secret of fire from his human subjects. This not only deprived them of warmth and comfort but also hindered human progress. Mortal men and women sprung up fully formed from the stones thrown by Deukalion and Pyrrha, as shown in Peter Paul Rubens’s 1636 painting, and repopulated the earth. The stones which Deucalion threw became men; the stones which Pyrrha threw became women. Library The Five Ages Kronos’s reign may have been unpleasant for the Titan’s children but was, says Hesiod, a “Golden Age” for mortal humans. Sickness, war, and discord were unknown; men and women lived for centuries, trees and fields yielded their produce freely through an endless Spring. The rise of Zeus saw an immediate decline in human fortunes. The men and women of this “Silver Age” lived only a hundred years, most of it spent in an extended childhood; when they finally grew up, they were foolish and quarrelsome. An “Age of Bronze” came next: its men were warriors, who spent their short lives squabbling and fighting. The “Heroic Age” which followed was an improvement on the Bronze Age in the sense that its perennial wars took on a noble and epic character. This was the age of Homer’s Trojan War, and very different from Hesiod’s “Iron Age” in which he himself lived – and in which we all live now – in fearfulness, scarcity, misery, and toil. Out in the cold Without fire or the technologies it makes possible, mortals existed in a miserable state of subsistence. They foraged for food in darkness, damp, and cold, with only animal skins for clothes, surviving on raw roots, berries, and fruits (when they were in season) and uncooked carrion. They used twigs as rudimentary tools and old bones for weaponry, in what could scarcely be qualified even as a “primitive” existence. As they fought a daily battle to stave off starvation, any possibility of shaping their wider destiny was unthinkable. Stolen fire Prometheus came to humanity’s rescue. He took some glowing embers from a blaze built by the gods high up on Mount Olympus and, secreting this fire inside a hollow fennel-stalk, he carried it down to the little encampments where mortal men and women shivered on the plains below. Soon, “visible from afar”, fires twinkled across the length and breadth of the peopled world. In that moment, human life was instantly and permanently transformed. Heat, warmth, light, and safety from predatory beasts was just the start. In no time at all, mankind began to thrive – smelting metal, fashioning the finest jewellery and the strongest tools, blacksmithing all kinds of weapons, from hoes and hammers to spears and swords. Each new innovation opened the way to others – suddenly, humanity was progressing at a breakneck pace. Prometheus was punished by the gods for giving humans fire. He was chained to Mount Caucasus to endure constant torture, as depicted by Jacob Jordaens (1640). Harsh punishment Zeus was enraged by Prometheus’s theft of fire. Not only had he been defied in the most public way, but his power over humanity had been significantly weakened. Zeus decided that Prometheus deserved an eternal and painful punishment. He had the thief seized by his henchmen Bia (“Violence”) and Kratos (“Power”) and carried to a high mountain peak. Here, with the help of Hephaistos, the blacksmith god, they chained Prometheus to a rock. An eagle flew down, tore at his abdomen, then pulled out the living, pulsing liver, and gorged on it. Despite the agony of this torture, it was no more than a beginning for the rebellious Titan. Each night his internal organs and his skin grew back, ready to be attacked afresh by the eagle the next day. For centuries, Prometheus was tied to the rock. He was finally rescued from his torments by Herakles, who found him while hunting for the elusive apples of the Hesperides. Prometheus would only give Herakles the apples’ location after he killed the eagle and set Prometheus free. Prometheus was not the only one punished for stealing fire from the gods. Zeus also inflicted his rage upon humankind, instructing Hephaistos to create the woman Pandora to punish the humans by bringing them hardship, war, and death. It stung anew Zeus, high thunderer in his spirit, and he raged in his heart when he saw among men the far-seen beam of fire. Theogony See also: Origin of the universe • The war of the gods and Titans • Pandora’s box • The many affairs of Zeus IN BRIEF THEME Origins of evil SOURCE Works and Days, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE. SETTING The foot of Mount Olympus, Greece. KEY FIGURES Prometheus Titan brother of Epimetheus; creator of humanity – and its greatest benefactor. Zeus King of the gods of Mount Olympus. Hephaistos Olympian blacksmith god and creator of the first woman. Pandora The first woman; created on Zeus’s instruction. Epimetheus Titan brother of Prometheus. In Hesiod’s account of humanity’s mythic origins, Works and Days, man was first created alone, with no female mate to accompany him on his journey through the world. Woman would make her first appearance not as man’s helpmate and partner, but as his punishment. A jealous god When the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods, he did much to empower humanity, at high personal cost. In an existence that had been largely trouble-free, humanity, to whom he gave the gift of fire, continued to thrive and prosper. In punishment, however, Prometheus would be held captive and tortured eternally at the hands of Zeus, who was a jealous and grudging deity. Far from rejoicing in man’s improving fortunes, the god felt threatened by humanity’s growing confidence. Zeus concluded that in order to correct the balance between divine and human power, some great calamity in the world was required. That calamity was woman. On Zeus’s orders, the blacksmith and fire god Hephaistos set to work, shaping soft clay into a female mate for man. The glorious lame god moulded clay into the shape of a demure and decorous young maiden. Works and Days Gilding the lily The other Olympians then added their own contributions to the woman’s make-up: Aphrodite gave her beauty and attractiveness; Athena gave her skill in sewing; Hera gave her curiosity; and so on. Hermes, the gods’ messenger, gave woman the power of speech to help her communicate – but he also gave her the dangerous gift of guile. This new woman was enchanting in her beauty, seductive in her softness, inspiring in her smile, and soothing in her gentleness. In light of these traits, she was given the name Pandora (literally meaning “all gifts”). Her name alone would have caused Prometheus concern. He had previously warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept any offering from Zeus, in case it unleashed “some evil thing for mortal men”. However, due to the punishment of Prometheus, Epimetheus had been left in charge in the world of men. Whereas Prometheus’s name meant “Thinking Ahead” or “Foresight”, Epimetheus’s meant “Thinking After”. He was gullible and did not stop to think when Zeus’s messenger Hermes presented him with Pandora as a goodwill present to humanity from Zeus. Nor did he give a second glance to the present that she herself brought with her – a pithos or ceramic jar (usually re-imagined as a richly ornamented box in modern retellings). The all-gifted girl was both gift and giver. Prometheus had warned him never to accept a gift from Zeus. Works and Days Fatal curiosity There was nothing inherently evil about Pandora. Although she had been warned against opening the pithon, it was her innocent curiosity – itself a characteristic given by Hera – that led to her downfall. When she could not resist peeping inside the jar, she pulled back the lid, all the ills and misfortunes of the world flew out: Hunger, Sickness, Loss, Loneliness, and Death. Horrified, Pandora hastily pushed the lid back on – just in time to prevent Hope from escaping. With hope, the world could still persevere, despite the adversity that the jealous Zeus had inflicted on mankind. Pandora, as depicted by the British Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828– 1882). She is holding the infamous box from which all the troubles of the world poured forth. Hephaistos At least one source states that Hephaistos was ugly and squat from birth, which explains why he was thrown from the top of Mount Olympus by his disgusted mother, Hera. Landing further down the mountain with a crash, he was then rendered lame as well. The unprepossessing appearance of this first divine artisan was in sharp and highly symbolic contrast to the beauty of the many things that he created. He was often aided by attendants such as Cedalion, who helped with his creations. Hephaistos is widely known as the Greek “blacksmith god” and presided over manufacture in its broadest sense – perfecting his craft in everything from metalwork and the manufacture of weapons to fine jewellery and intricate items of clothing. Of all his many creations, Pandora is certainly the most wonderful – and the most flawed. According to Hesiod, it was Hephaistos who created the first woman, thereby enabling each generation of humanity to repeatedly replicate itself. In this sense, the craft of Hephaistos gave birth to humanity’s future. See also: The Olympian gods • Prometheus helps mankind • The Mead of Poetry • Nanga Baiga IN BRIEF THEME Lovers of the gods SOURCES Iliad, Homer, 8th century BCE; Theogony, Works and Days, The Shield of Heracles, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Library, Pseudo-Apollodorus, c. 100 CE. SETTING Greece and the Aegean. KEY FIGURES Zeus Father of the gods. Hera Zeus's wife; queen of the gods. Mnemosyne Goddess of memory. Europa Phoenician princess. Antiope Daughter of the river god Asopos. Leda A Spartan princess. Metis Daughter of Oceanus. Athena Daughter of Metis. The sexual adventures of Zeus, the king of the gods, made up a significant strand of ancient Greek mythology. Without Zeus’s many infidelities, the myths suggest that knowledge and artistic expression of any kind – poetry, music, drama, or works of art – would not exist. One of Zeus’s first affairs was with Mnemosyne, the Titan goddess of memory. After he slept with her on nine consecutive nights, nine daughters were born. Collectively known as the Muses, each of these daughters became responsible for inspiring mortals in a particular area of artistic endeavour: Calliope inspired epic poetry; Clio history; Euterpe lyric poetry and song; Erato love poetry; and Polyhymnia sacred poetry. Melpomene became responsible for inspiring tragic drama, Thalia took charge of comedy and pastoral poetry; Terpsichore inspired dance, and Urania astronomy. All through the classical period, musicians and poets called on the Muses for assistance as they worked. “Blessed is he whom the Muses love,” said the Greek poet Hesiod after invoking their help in Theogony, his poem about the genealogy of the gods. With the inspiration of the Muses, Hesiod said, musicians and poets could relieve a suffering mind of its cares. The nine Muses lived on Mount Helicon, central Greece. In this scene by Jacques Stella (c. 1640) they are visited by Minerva (Athena), goddess of wisdom and patron of the arts. The Muses gladden the great spirit of their father Zeus in Olympus with their songs, telling of things that shall be. Theogony Hera and the cuckoo Zeus’s instinct for trickery was an integral part of his character and informed all of his erotic exploits. He had assumed the form of a mortal – a handsome shepherd – to seduce Mnemosyne, and many of his other love affairs involved similar sorts of shape-shifting. Hera, Zeus’s wife, had also been won this way. The notoriously formidable goddess had dismissed Zeus disdainfully when he had first approached her, forcing him to take deceptive measures to win her affections. First, he summoned a thunderstorm, then he stood outside her window and took on the form of a fledgling cuckoo, its expression helpless and its feathers ruffled up as if chilled and battered by the wind-blown hail. Hera could not bear to see this tiny creature suffering. She cupped the cuckoo in her hand and placed it inside her dress against her bosom, so that it could get warm. At this point, Zeus assumed his normal quasi-human form and seduced her. The conquest of Hera was not the only time Zeus took the form of a bird. Zeus took on the shape of a swan in order to seduce the Spartan princess Leda. As with Hera, he took advantage of his victim’s compassion. Apparently fleeing from an attacking eagle, he fell into her arms, but when she cradled him protectively, Zeus raped her. In the case of the Theban princess Semele, his choice of species – a raptor – clearly signalled his predatory intentions. Taking the form of an eagle, his royal emblem, he visited Semele and made her pregnant. Dionysus, god of wine and festivity, was the result of their union. Ruined innocence Zeus’s conquest of Alcmene – a mortal princess with whom he fathered Herakles – was more sinister. Alcmene was a paragon of beauty, charm, and wisdom. She was betrothed to Amphitryon, the son of a Theban general. Zeus assumed his guise to approach Alcmene while her fiance was away avenging the deaths of her brothers. King Acrisius of Argos was particularly anxious to keep his only daughter Danaë chaste. He had been warned by an oracle that she was destined to bear a son who would one day slay him. To avoid this fate, he placed her in a cell so that no one could come near her. However, Zeus took the form of a shower of gold to pour himself through her prison skylight. The child of the encounter, Perseus, would later unwittingly cause her father’s death. Hera As the daughter of the Titans Kronos and Rhea, and wife and sister of the mighty Zeus, it might seem odd that Hera was commonly associated with cattle. She was often pictured with a sacred cow and in the Iliad is described as “cow-faced” or “oxeyed”. Such imagery was probably more flattering than it sounds. To the ancient Greeks, the cow was an emblem of motherhood and prosperity; wealth was often measured in the number of livestock owned. While Hera was clearly no sex symbol – a role more associated with the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite – she did exemplify the importance of women in everyday life in Greece. She was celebrated as a goddess of both marriage and virginity. At Kanathos, in the Peloponnese, she was worshipped as Hera Parthenos (“Virgin”) and was said to renew her virginity by bathing in the spring every year. The Heraion of Argos – possibly the first of many temples dedicated to Hera – honoured her as Zeus’s consort and queen. Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae, according to Homer, were the cities she loved best. Zeus as beast Despite her name, Europa was a child of Asia, a princess from Phoenicia, a region covering parts of Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. Smitten by her charms, Zeus took on the form of a fine, white bull and mingled among her father’s cattle. Picking flowers, Europa noticed the new bull and was struck by its beauty and its seeming gentleness. When she drew near to pet it, the bull lay down and she climbed onto its back. Suddenly, the bull leapt up and sped away across the fields and over the sea while the terrified girl clung on for dear life. The bull only stopped when it reached the island of Crete, where Zeus at last revealed himself and bedded his young victim. Zeus rewarded Europa by making her Crete’s first queen. In time, she gave birth to Minos, the island’s first king. Scholars think the story of Europa may have originated in Crete, where the cult of the bull also produced the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. For his assault on Antiope, the daughter of Asopos, a river god from Attica in central Greece, Zeus took the shape of a satyr – a half-man, halfgoat who roamed the wild woods. Usually associated with the idea of lechery, satyrs were often depicted with erections in ancient art: Zeus had disguised his identity, not his lust. A fearful Europa rides the waves, clinging to Zeus, who took the form of a bull to abduct her. The powerful image was painted in 1910 by the Russian artist Valentin Serov. Suddenly, the bull, possessed of his desire, jumped up and galloped off towards the sea. Europa Hiding from Hera In some stories, it was Zeus’s quarry who had to take a different shape. In the case of Io – the daughter of the king of Argos, and a priestess in the temple of Zeus’s wife Hera – Zeus transformed himself into a cloud to make his approach and conceal it from the watchful Hera. Once he had raped Io, he turned her into a beautiful white heifer, to hide her from his wife. Hera saw through the trick and asked if she could have the heifer as a gift. Zeus had no option but to agree. Hera consigned Io to the care of the hundred-eyed giant Argus to watch over. Maddened with frustration, Zeus sent his son Hermes to slay the all-seeing herdsman; the divine messenger blinded Argus with a touch from his kerykeion, or staff. As the giant lay there dead, Hermes collected up his hundred eyes and set them in a peacock’s tail: the bird was sacred to Hera from that time on. If Zeus thought the way was now clear for him to pursue Io, he was wrong. Hera sent a fly to attack her. Buzzing about, and biting her again and again, the insect put Io to flight and chased her across the earth. Io was never to find rest. The birth of Athena Metis, Zeus’s cousin – and in some accounts, his first wife – wrought her own transformation in a bid to shake off Zeus’s pursuit. Metis assumed a series of different forms to avoid him, but Zeus eventually succeeded in catching her and making her pregnant. Nevertheless, Zeus was worried: Metis was renowned for her sharp intellect and wiliness, and an oracle had told him that Metis was destined to bear a child who matched her strength and cunning. Zeus – a usurper who had overthrown his own father – was on his guard against this child. Just before Metis was due to give birth, Zeus challenged her to a shape-shifting match. She was vain enough to agree. When Zeus told her that he did not believe she could transform herself into a tiny fly, she promptly did – and was swallowed by a triumphant Zeus. Athena springs from a gash in Zeus's head, in a scene decorating an amphora (c.500 BCE) from Attica, Greece. Behind Zeus, Prometheus holds the axe that made the wound. It was a clever trick, but it did not succeed. When Zeus developed an unbearable headache, the Titan god Prometheus swung an axe at his head, splitting it wide open. Out from the wound sprang Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom, in a full suit of armour. She became one of the most important deities on Olympus and the patron goddess of the powerful city state of Athens. Asteria in the form of a quail flew across the sea, with Zeus in pursuit. Library Both transformed In some stories, both predator and prey underwent changes. Zeus again disguised himself as an eagle to pursue Asteria, the Titan goddess of shooting stars. She transformed herself into another bird – the timid quail – in a desperate bid to escape and finally dived into the sea. There she changed her shape again and was preserved forever as an island, later variously identified as Delos or Sicily. It was on this island that Asteria’s younger sister Leto was to find sanctuary some years later, after she too caught the lecherous eye of Zeus. Here she gave birth to twins: Apollo, the god of the sun and of poetry, prophecy, and healing; and the divine huntress Artemis, goddess of the moon. Mythology relates scores of Zeus’s exploits, highlighting a sexual appetite that apparently drew little censure in ancient Greece. Despite his countless acts of rape, deception, and infidelity – the king of the gods was not seen as a villain. In his dialogue Euthyphro, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, declared: “Do not men regard Zeus as the best and most righteous of the gods?” See also: The birth of Zeus • The war of the god and the Titans • The Olympian gods IN BRIEF THEME The Underworld SOURCES Iliad and Odyssey, Homer, 8th century BCE; Theogony, Hesiod c. 700 BCE. SETTING The Underworld. KEY FIGURES Hades Brother of Zeus; god of the Underworld. Charon Ferryman of the River Styx. Cerberus Three-headed guardian of the Underworld; son of the serpentine Typhon and Echidna. Tantalus A Phrygian king held captive by Hades. Sisyphus King of Corinth, who tricked Hades into letting him go free. Hekate Goddess of witchcraft and necromancy. While Zeus ruled over the skies and Poseidon over the seas, their brother Hades guarded his subject-souls in the Underworld – the kingdom that bore his name, where mortal humans went when they died. Five dark rivers marked the boundaries of Hades’s kingdom. Acheron was the river of sadness, Cocytus of mourning. Lethe was the river of forgetfulness, and Phlegethon an impassable river of fire. The River Styx marked the main border between Earth and the Underworld. The dead queued on one side of the river and paid the ferryman, Charon, with a coin to grant them passage into Hades. Because of this belief, the ancient Greeks were sometimes buried with a coin in their mouth, known as “Charon’s obol”. On the other side of the river lay a dark and dismal realm. There, the new arrivals had to go through a large gate, guarded by the three-headed, snaketailed monster, Cerberus. Though loosely described as a dog, this creature was born of the union between the giant snake-man, Typhon, and the maneating serpent-maiden, Echidna. Cerberus turned this same ferocity on those who attempted to escape. Charon and Cerberus were not the only non-human residents of Hades. Nyx, the goddess of night, lived there – as did Eurynomos, a flesh-eating demon, and the goddess Hekate. The Furies served Hades as his torturers, while Tartarus was both a deity and the pit where Titans were punished. Hades and his abducted bride, Persephone, watch over the tortured souls of the dead in François de Nomé’s 17th-century depiction of the Underworld. Hellish punishments Some souls faced hideous torments in Hades. The crimes of Tantalus, a Phrygian ruler, were twofold: to test the gods, he had cooked and served up his son at a banquet he was hosting for them; and, as a guest at Zeus’s table, he had tried to steal nectar and ambrosia, which would make him immortal, to take back with him to Earth. For this, he was imprisoned in Hades, wracked with thirst and hunger, surrounded by a pool of water, and with fruit-laden branches that dangled inches from his face. When he leaned over to taste either the water or the fruit, they withdrew from his reach, driving him into a frenzy. Sisyphus, King of Corinth, had tricked Hades into thinking that he had been taken to the Underworld prematurely, and managed to get himself returned to Earth. As punishment, he was sentenced to push an enormous boulder up a hill. Each time he got to the top, the stone rolled back down to the bottom and he had to start all over again – and again, and again, for the rest of all time. Round the pit from every side the crowd thronged, with strange cries, and I turned pale with fear. Odyssey Once Death has caught hold of a man, he never lets him go. Theogony The Greek afterlife Hades was not the only realm for the dead. According to the ancient writers, fallen heroes and the most virtuous were sent to the Elysian Fields – paradisiacal islands where they could live in bliss. Neither Hades nor Elysium, however, were representative of the ancient Greek view of the afterlife. Stories about Elysium, or the punishment of Sisyphus, were isolated tales: there is no sense that the ancient Greeks, as a whole, believed in a systematic judgement of the dead. Hekate Despite Zeus’s victory over Kronos and his Titans, and his otherwise unchallenged authority over the universe, Hesiod’s Theogony tells us that the goddess Hekate, associated with darkness, was honoured “above all others”. Darkness and death were seen as powerful, immutable elements. Hekate was conventionally depicted with three heads, representing the full moon, the crescent moon, and the empty dead-black sky. She was often identified with crossroads, especially those where three different paths met. Associated with liminal spaces and transitions, she was often worshipped by those wishing loved ones a safe crossing into the realm of the dead. Hekate was invited to stay in the Underworld as a companion to Hades’s wife, Persephone, but was allowed to come and go as she wished. In myth, Persephone is often seen as the maiden and Demeter the mother; Hekate is the crone to complete the trio. See also: The war of the gods and the Titans • The abduction of Persephone • The quest of Odysseus • The Sibyl of Cumae IN BRIEF THEME Life, death, and the seasons SOURCES Theogony, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Hymn to Demeter, Homer, c. 600 BCE; Description of Greece, Pausanias, c. 150 CE. SETTING Sicily; the Underworld. KEY FIGURES Demeter Goddess of the harvest, sister of Zeus and Hades. Persephone Demeter’s daughter, who became the queen of the Underworld. Hades God of the Underworld and Demeter’s brother. One of classical Greece’s Homeric Hymns refers to Demeter as the “sacred goddess with the glorious hair” – her thick and lustrous golden tresses were emblematic of the abundance of the harvest. Demeter was the goddess of the harvest, charged with ensuring that the fields were rich and fertile. Before tragedy struck, there was no winter, cold, or decay. Hades kidnaps Persephone in a field of daffodils in British artist Walter Crane’s The Fate of Persephone (1877). Two of his four horses rear up between a sunlit world and ominous darkness. Demeter’s despair One day, Demeter’s beloved daughter Persephone was out with some nymphs in one of Sicily’s prettiest vales, picking flowers. Persephone marvelled at the “roses, crocuses, lovely violets … irises, hyacinths, and narcissi”, exulting in the beautiful colours and heady fragrances of the scene. When Persephone pulled a narcissus from the ground, the earth split and opened up beneath her. A huge chariot thundered forth, drawn by sable-black horses. As her companions fled, Persephone stood transfixed. A tall, shadowy figure leaned down from the chariot and scooped her up. Persephone’s uncle, Hades, had come up from the Underworld to take her as his bride. Persephone struggled and wept, crying out for her father, Zeus. But her pleas went unanswered. Some versions of the myth suggest that Zeus himself had played a part in the abduction by conspiring with his brother. Hades took Persephone with him down into the gloomy Underworld. He promised that she would be queen of his subterranean kingdom, revered and beloved by all – but she was inconsolable. Hades dragged Persiphone into his speeding chariot and she screamed out loud. Hymn to Demeter Demeter’s despair Persephone’s mother, Demeter, was equally distraught. Frantically combing the forests, fields, and hills in search of her daughter, she called out Persephone’s name over and over again – but received no reply. In her grief, Demeter blighted the countryside, causing the crops to die and all the leaves to turn brown. It seemed as if the entire earth had died. Eventually, the sun god, Helios, told Demeter that her brother Hades had snatched her daughter and spirited her off to his dismal realm. At this news, Demeter was filled with rage, and wrought yet more destruction upon the earth. Hades’s abduction of Persephone had set all of creation askew. At last, Zeus was forced to intervene in the quarrel between his siblings. He ruled that, so long as Persephone had not taken food or drink since she arrived in the Underworld, Hades must agree to release her. A seasonal solution Unfortunately, Persephone had eaten something in the Underworld. Hades had given her a pomegranate, the fruit of the dead, and she had consumed several of the sweet seeds. This resulted in a fresh judgement from Zeus, who decided that Persephone could return to the world above – but she would have to go back down to the Underworld and reside with Hades for three months of every year. Persephone’s sentence explained why, with the onset of winter, the world appears to fade and die, as Demeter mourns her daughter’s absence. Then, as spring approaches and Persephone returns to the surface of the earth, its fields and forests once again come into bloom. Stealthily, though, Hades slipped a pomegranate, sweet as honey, into Persephone’s hand. Hymn to Demeter Eleusian mysteries Priests at the shrine of Eleusis, a settlement near Athens in the region of Attica, developed an elaborate set of ceremonies based on the story of the abduction of Persephone. The “Eleusinian Mysteries” are among the oldest and best known of the secret religious rites of the ancient Greeks. By the Greek classical period (5th–4th century BCE), the Eleusinian The priests of Eleusia honoured Demeter, Kybele, and Persephone on this altar from Chalandri, Attica, c. 360 CE. The male figure is Iakhos, leader of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Mysteries were already ancient. The cult spread to Athens soon after the annexation of Eleusis in 600 BCE. As with similar rituals in other early societies, the Eleusinian cult strove to assert a sense of control over the growing cycle and the seasons. The highpoint of the Eleusinian calendar came toward the end of winter, with ceremonies designed to ensure the return of the sun and the renewal of the earth. The ceremonies involved rites of personal purification, animal sacrifices, libations (the ritual pouring of wine onto the earth), fasting, and feasting. See also: The Olympian gods • Hades and the Underworld • Cupid and Psyche IN BRIEF THEME Passion versus restraint SOURCES Homeric Hymns to Dionysus, Homer, c. 600 BCE; On Nature, Heraclitus, c. 500 BCE; The Bacchae, Euripides, 405 BCE. SETTING The countryside around Thebes, central Greece, during the reign of King Pentheus. KEY FIGURES Dionysus God of fertility, wine, and madness. Zeus King of the gods. Semele Dionysus’s mortal mother. Hera Zeus’s wife; goddess of women and marriage. Maenads Delirious, drunken female followers of Dionysus. Pentheus King of Thebes. Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy, was born after Zeus’s liaison with a mortal named Semele. Her insistence on seeing Zeus revealed in his full divine glory resulted in her death, because a mere mortal was not permitted to see an undisguised god. Zeus rescued the fetus and sewed the unborn child into his thigh. After this, Dionysus was born again – both as a boy-deity and as an emblem of fertility. Zeus’s wife Hera then cursed Dionysus, sending Titans to dismember and kill him. Zeus, however, brought his son back to life once more. Women, here he is: the man who mocks you and me and our unruly rituals. The Bacchae The Maenads Dionysus presided over fertility both for the vineyards and for women’s wombs. His followers, predominantly female, were known as Maenads – meaning “raving ones”. These women shared their god’s love of wine and raucous behaviour, and he encouraged them to indulge in both. Marauding bands of Maenads terrorized the Theban countryside so much that Pentheus, the King of Thebes, banned the cult of Dionysus. The king’s decree was angrily rejected by many women – including the king’s own mother – who went out into the countryside to praise the wine-god in one last, climactic rite. Dionysus convinced Pentheus to climb a tree to enjoy the view of the final orgy. Dressed in women’s clothes, the king went to watch, but was seen by the ecstatic Maenads. Mistaking him for a wild animal, they tore him limb from limb. See also: The Olympian gods • The many affairs of Zeus • Vesta and Priapus • A complex god IN BRIEF THEME The finality of death SOURCES Argonautica, Apollonius of Rhodes, c. 250 BCE; Library, PseudoApollodorus, c. 100 CE. SETTING Greece and the Underworld. KEY FIGURES Orpheus A renowned musician; the son of Calliope and Oeagrus. Eurydice The bride of Orpheus; killed on her wedding day Hades The king of the Underworld. Persephone The young wife of Hades and queen of the Underworld. Greek mythology’s great bard, Orpheus, was born of the relationship between Calliope, the Muse of poetry, and Oeagrus, a Thracian river god. Orpheus’s most heartfelt verses were dedicated to Eurydice, who became his wife – only to be killed by a snakebite on her wedding day. Lyrical lamentation Wandering through the woods, Orpheus mourned Eurydice in impassioned song, which surpassed anything he had ever composed. The music was so moving that the nymphs and gods wept to hear it. Eventually, Orpheus decided to travel to the Underworld to beg Hades and his queen to take mercy on him and return Eurydice to life. In the Underworld, Orpheus played for Hades and Persephone. The queen was so touched by the music that she begged her husband to break the rules of the Underworld and release Eurydice. Hades agreed, on the condition that Orpheus did not lay eyes on Eurydice while she remained in the Underworld. Orpheus led his bride through the caverns of darkness and despair, slowly winding upwards towards the earth’s surface. Eurydice followed after him at a distance, so that he would not look upon her. At last, Orpheus caught a glimpse of daylight up ahead. Happily, he glanced back at his wife, only to realize even as he saw her that she was lost to him – pulled back down, despairing, into the realms of death. Orpheus plays his lyre in a 3rd-century CE Roman mosaic from Antakya, Turkey. The bard is surrounded by wild animals that are entranced by his sublime music. See also: Hades and the Underworld • The abduction of Persephone • The descent of Inanna • Osiris and the Underworld IN BRIEF THEME Unpredictability and change SOURCES Odyssey, Homer, 8th century BCE; Theogony, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Homeric Hymns, Anonymous, c. 600 BCE; Orphic Hymns, Anonymous, c. 250 BCE– 150 CE. SETTING Mount Olympus, Greece. KEY FIGURES Hermes The messenger god; son of Zeus and Maia. Zeus King of the gods. Maia Daughter of Atlas and Pleione; mother of Hermes. Atlas A Titan; father of Maia. Pleione A sea nymph; mother of Maia. Apollo The sun god. Orion A giant hunter. Hermes, generally described as the “messenger of the gods”, was that and much more. Famously, he was able to flit from one place to another in an instant, carried through the air on winged sandals that would become emblematic of the god himself. His ability to fly was key to his role as courier. Symbolically, though, the god’s rapid travel suggested his quickness of thought and his heedlessness of the normal restrictions of time and space. The god Hermes, with a painted whiplash in his right hand, leads a chariot carrying the nymphs Basile and Echelos in this marble votive relief dating from 410 BCE. Springing to life Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maia, daughter of the Titan Atlas and the sea nymph Pleione. Known to the Romans as Mercury, he showed his mercurial character from the very beginning of his life, when (according to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes) he “jumped straight from his mother’s womb” and landed in his cradle. The young god did not lie there long, but instead leapt out of the cave that had been his mother’s refuge – despite being only one hour old – to find and steal the cattle of the sun god, Apollo. Hermes had barely stepped outside the cave when he was diverted by the sight of a tortoise. Scooping out the animal, he turned the hollow shell “into a singer”. He covered the opening with cowhide, leaving a sounding-hole; he then stretched strings across it and built a little wooden bridge to make the world’s first lyre. Plucking the strings, he burst into song, recounting epic stories of the world and its creation – of Titans, Olympians, nymphs, men and women, and other beings. Maia and the Pleiades Hermes’ mother was one of Zeus’s many amatory conquests. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Maia, daughter of Atlas the Titan and Pleione the sea nymph, had gone up to Zeus’s “holy bed”, slept with him, and bore him a son – the messenger god. Maia in turn would be rewarded with her own winged transformation. After the war of the gods with the Titans, while Atlas was forced to carry the The seven daughters of Atlas and sky and heavens upon his shoulders, his Pleione – depicted here by Elihu wife Pleione was romantically pursued by Vedder (1885) – fly to the heavens Orion, the great huntsman. For seven years and become the Pleiades. Orion harassed not only the sea nymph but her seven daughters as well. At last Zeus answered their prayers and intervened, first turning Orion into the group of stars now associated with his name – Orion’s belt. He then transformed Pleione and her daughters – including Maia – into doves. They flew into the night sky to become the Pleiades, a cluster of stars whose appearance is traditionally associated with the onset of rainy weather. [Hermes] fastened on his feet the immortal golden sandals which carried him faster than the breeze. Odyssey Multi-faceted god Not yet a day old, Hermes was already the world’s first musician, poet, and historian. His multi-faceted genius was also capricious.The Homeric Hymn states that, even as he sang, he was “inwardly attending to other matters”: as Apollo’s sun went down, Hermes crept onto the lands of the god and took his cattle. Walking the beasts backwards, so their trail seemed to lead in the opposite direction, he herded them back to his home. The quick cunning displayed by Hermes had much in common with “trickster” spirits of other mythologies, such as West Africa’s Ananse, or the Loki of Norse legend. Despite his love of pranks, Hermes also possessed a capacity for more serious deeds. For example, he is held to have invented the ritual sacrifice when he slew two of Apollo’s cows, skinned, and roasted them, and – hungry though he was – left the aromatic flesh on a platform to atone for his theft. The caduceus, the rod that Hermes carried in his left hand, could confer sleep and healing at a touch. The two symmetrically coiling serpents that wound around the caduceus suggested its ability to balance and reconcile opposing sides, whether through changing them from one form to another or through negotiation and trade – Hermes was also believed to be the god of commerce. And Maia bore to Zeus glorious Hermes, the herald of the deathless gods. Theogony See also: The war of the gods and Titans • The many affairs of Zeus • The quest of Odysseus • Arachne and Minerva • The adventures of Thor and Loki in Jötunheim • Ananse the spider IN BRIEF THEME Origins of the state SOURCES Homeric Hymns, Anonymous, c. 600 BCE; Library, Pseudo-Apollodorus, c. 100 CE; Description of Greece, Pausanias, c. 150 CE. SETTING Athens, Greece. KEY FIGURES Athena Goddess of wisdom and patron deity of Athens. Hephaistos The god of blacksmiths and craftworkers; father of Erichthonius. Erichthonius Founder of the city of Athens. Poseidon God of the seas and contender for patron of Athens. Cecrops First king of Athens. The Homeric Hymn to Athena begins with the words, “Of Athena, guardian of the city, I sing”. No other Greek deity was so closely identified with a particular location, nor does any other location loom so large in our modern- day perceptions of Greek culture. When we think of ancient Greece – its literature, its art, its democracy – we are thinking largely of ancient Athens. The mythological associations of Athens with the goddess of wisdom are reflected in its reputation as a cultural and intellectual haven full of philosophers, artists, and playwrights. This dazzling legacy arose from the solid foundations of trade and industry, as the prosperity, confidence, and technical expertise of its people came together to make the city grow and prosper. The Parthenon (“Temple of the Virgin Goddess”) was built at the top of the Acropolis of Athens in the mid-5th century BCE. It replaced an earlier temple dedicated to Athena. Work and pleasure One foundation myth makes this connection between beauty and technology explicit, linking the beginnings of Athens with the craftsman-god Hephaistos. Lame and ugly though he was, Hephaistos was married to the lovely Aphrodite. This union was symbolically suggestive of the marriage of utility and beauty, of work and pleasure, that was prevalent in Greek culture. However, in common with other Olympian marriages, their union also featured frequent infidelities. A son is born At one point, Aphrodite deserted her husband entirely for the war god, Ares. After she left, Hephaistos fell passionately in love with Athena, then pursued her and attempted to rape her. Athena put up a furious resistance and pushed Hephaistos away just as he ejaculated. His semen struck Athena’s thigh, and she brushed it off disdainfully. It landed in the Greek soil, and there produced a new life; in some retellings, this offspring was Erichthonius (“born of the very soil”), who would go on to found the city of Athens. By land and sea Athena played a central role in another of the city’s foundation myths. When Erichthonius was establishing his community on the coast of Attica, he called on the gods for a divine patron to come forward. With Athena and Poseidon both eagerly desiring the role, a contest was arranged to see what each deity could offer the future city and its people. Its victor would be decided – fittingly, for the birthplace of democracy – by a vote. In the contest, Poseidon shook the earth, smiting it with his trident and making a vast wave come rolling forth. This was a bounteous spring – but its waters salty. In response, Athena then poked the ground, which produced an olive tree, laden with its abundant and valuable fruit. The goddess of wisdom was confirmed by Cecrops, king of the city, as the people’s choice. However, Poseidon’s gift ensured that the seaport status of Athens was as important to its prosperity as its fertile fields and groves. “Look kindly on those who make their way in ships”, says the Homeric Hymn to Poseidon. The sea god remained in the city’s prayers. Athena and Poseidon’s contest is depicted on an amphora created by the Amasis Painter, c.540 BCE. The signature between the two gods reads Amasis mepoiesen (“Amasis made me”). The Athenians are far more devoted to religion than other men. Description of Greece See also: The Olympian gods • The many affairs of Zeus • Cupid and Psyche • Arachne and the spider IN BRIEF THEME Inspiration, poetry, and wisdom SOURCES Homeric Hymn, author anonymous, c. 600 BCE; Description of Greece, Pausanias, c. 150 CE. SETTING Delphi, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus in central Greece. KEY FIGURES Apollo God of the sun and the arts, who was also associated with wisdom. The Pythia Apollo’s high priestess at Delphi. Hera The wife of Zeus. Zeus King of the Olympian gods; father of Apollo. Leto Mother of Apollo and Artemis. Artemis Sister of Apollo. Asclepius Son of Apollo. The Temple of Apollo at Delphi, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, in central Greece, was the site of the most important oracle in the ancient world. It was believed that the god Apollo channelled prophecies through the Pythia, the high priestess of the temple. Raising a temple Apollo’s association with Delphi began when he was just four days old. Taking the form of a dolphin, he left his birthplace on the island of Delos in the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, to seek out and kill the feared Python, a huge and ferocious dragon that lived in the innards of the earth, beneath what was regarded as its omphalos, or “navel”, near the town of Delphi. An enraged Hera, the wife of Zeus, had sent the monster to hunt down Apollo’s mother, the goddess Leto, who had become pregnant by Zeus. The Pythia sits on a sacred tripod as she receives a message from Apollo in Camillo Miola’s The Oracle (1880). The figures in the foreground shake bay leaves as part of the ritual. Although Leto escaped and gave birth to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis on Delos, Apollo wished to avenge the attempt to destroy his mother. Apollo slayed the Python with a bow and arrows made for him by the blacksmith god, Hephaistos. He buried the creature beneath the omphalos stone, which marked the geographical centre of the earth, and established his temple to symbolize the resounding triumph of heaven over earth. Joy and wisdom By the fifth century BCE, Apollo had supplanted Helios the Titan as the sun god in the Greek pantheon. The Homeric