Introduction to Greek Mythology

3 rd Six Weeks
English I
 Greek Mythos=“discourse” or “speech”
 Dictionary: A traditional story dealing with
supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that informs
or shapes the world view of a people, by explaining
aspects of the natural world or delineating the customs
or ideals of society. (Webster’s Dictionary)
 Essentially, mythology is a way to explain
 Where we came from
 Why things happen
 Where we go when we die
 Interaction between gods and humans
 Gods as hypertrophied humans
 Gods as flawed beings
 Supernatural beings and monsters
 Larger than life, godly “superheroes”
Hercules fighting the Medusa
 Myths explain natural occurrences.
 Examples?
 Gaea and Uranus (creation of the
Earth, the Gods & Man)
Thunder and lightning (Zeus)
Earthquakes (Poseidon)
Seasons (Persephone & Demeter)
The sun rising and setting
(Helios/Apollo’s chariot)
 These are questions that have echoed
throughout history.
 Fundamental questions:
Who are we?
Why are we here?
How did we get here?
What happens when we die?
 To explain is to have control
 Control is comforting
 It allows people to deal with the
fundamentals of life surrounding us
each and every day.
 Why women
couldn’t vote
 To explain is to control
 Athena and Poseidon both want to rule and protect Athens
 Gift contest
 Poseidon=saltwater well (useless)
 Athena=olive tree (olives, wood, oil – all useful items in
 Men vote for Poseidon, women for Athena
 Athena wins; Poseidon flood the Attic plain
 Athenians blame the women, take away vote
 Myths often relay a message or moral
 Teach cultural traditions, values
 Icarus
 Stole his father’s wax wings and tried to touch the sun. He
flew too high, against his father’s wishes, and the wings
began to melt. Icarus tumbled to his death.
 Moral of the story? Life has limits.
 Narcissus
 A beautiful youth who was tempted to stare at his reflection
in a lake. He was so drawn to his own reflection, he fell in and
 Moral of the story? Excessive self-love and pride are
 A biased version of history – “History is
written by the winners”.
Reinforce Greek culture and power
Trojan War – explains why the war
Crete and King Minos – Minos was the
1st king of Crete.
Founding of Rome
 Founded by sons of Mars, Romulus &
 Brother founded two competing cities.
 They fought, Remus was killed, and
Romulus founded the city of Rome.
 Gave tellers sense of identity, sense of
 Many Greeks could not read or write.
 Oral storytelling provided entertainment for the
 The Greeks loved their stories filled with blood,
shocking situations, and sex.
 The Heroes
 Herakles (Hercules), Odysseus, Theseus, Jason
 Stronger, smarter, more handsome than mere mortals
 Nobility in humanity - Humans are better than gods
 Cultural supremacy
 Greek superiority over non-Greeks
 Other as “barbarians”
 “barbarian” - The Greeks thought everyone who didn’t speak Greek
sounded like “ba ba ba”.
 Religion: Cult & Ritual
 Maintained order
 Gave people reason to be loyal to a city
 Temples and sacrifices
 Feared retribution of the gods
 If you wanted the gods to bless you, your family, your business, your
campaign, etc., you made an offering to the Oracles and Gods.
 Oracle (orare – “to speak”)
 an oracle was a person or agency considered to be a source of
wise counsel or prophecy of the future, inspired by the gods.
 Most famous oracle – The Oracle at Delphi. Dedicated to the
god Apollo.
 Mythical allusions and references
 In order to understand many of the allusions in Western
literature, you need to know Greek mythology.
 Provides the foundation for Western literature.
 Examples
 William Shakespeare
 Titania & Oberon (the fairy Queen & King – A Midsummer Night’s
 The Tempest – many allusions to mythology.
 Poetry
 John Keats & The Romantic Poets
 Art
 Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”
 John William Waterhouse’s “Pandora”
The Birth of Venus
- Botticelli
Venus was born from
the foam of the sea,
perfectly formed.
“Pandora” by John
Waterhouse (1896)
Pandora was allegedly
the first woman, who
was made out of clay.
According to the
myth, Pandora opened
a jar, releasing all the
evils of mankind —
although the
particular evils, aside
from plagues and
diseases, are not
specified in detail—
leaving only Hope
inside once she had
closed it again.
 Archetype
 Characters, situations, and images that are
recognizable in many times and cultures.
 Greek characters, places, themes have
influenced (consciously or not) Western
literature and art
Journeys to the underworld
Serpent figures
Sea monsters
Buried treasure
Suitors’ contests
Loyal servant
Epic Hero
 Word origins – Where did these words originate?
 Volcano – Vulcan, god of fire
 Herculean – Hercules; a great task
 aphrodisiac – Aphrodite; a love potion
 Music – the Muses, goddesses of inspiration
 Atlas – a Titan forced to carry the world on his back.
 Tantalize - Tantalos, punished by food held just out of
 Erotic – Eros, god of Love; desirable
 Narcissism – Narcissis. excessive self-love.