Greek Mythology
Greek Mythology, beliefs and ritual observances of the ancient Greeks, who
became the first Western civilization about 2000 BC. It consists mainly of a
body of diverse stories and legends about a variety of gods. Greek mythology had
become fully developed by about the 700s BC. Three classic collections of myths-Theogony
by the poet Hesiod and the Iliad and the Odyssey by the poet Homer-appeared at
about that time. Greek mythology has several distinguishing characteristics. The

Greek gods resembled humans in form and showed human feelings. Unlike ancient
religions such as Hinduism or Judaism, Greek mythology did not involve special
revelations or spiritual teachings. It also varied widely in practice and
belief, with no formal structure, such as a church government, and no written
code, such as a sacred book. Principal Gods The Greeks believed that the gods
chose Mount Olympus, in a region of Greece called Thessaly, as their home. On

Olympus, the gods formed a society that ranked them in terms of authority and
powers. However, the gods could roam freely, and individual gods became
associated with three main domains-the sky or heaven, the sea, and earth. The 12
chief gods, usually called the Olympians, were Zeus, Hera, Hephaestus, Athena,

Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hestia, Hermes, Demeter, and Poseidon. Zeus
was the head of the gods, and the spiritual father of gods and people. His wife,

Hera, was the queen of heaven and the guardian of marriage. Other gods
associated with heaven were Hephaestus, god of fire and metalworkers; Athena,
goddess of wisdom and war; and Apollo, god of light, poetry, and music. Artemis,
goddess of wildlife and the moon; Ares, god of war; and Aphrodite, goddess of
love, were other gods of heaven. They were joined by Hestia, goddess of the
hearth; and Hermes, messenger of the gods and ruler of science and invention.

Poseidon was the ruler of the sea who, with his wife Amphitrite, led a group of
less important sea gods, such as the Nereids and Tritons. Demeter, the goddess
of agriculture, was associated with the earth. Hades, an important god but not
generally considered an Olympian, ruled the underworld, where he lived with his
wife, Persephone. The underworld was a dark and mournful place located at the
center of the earth. It was populated by the souls of people who had died.

Dionysus, god of wine and pleasure, was among the most popular gods. The Greeks
devoted many festivals to this earthly god, and in some regions he became as
important as Zeus. He often was accompanied by a host of fanciful gods,
including satyrs, centaurs, and nymphs. Satyrs were creatures with the legs of a
goat and the upper body of a monkey or human. Centaurs had the head and torso of
a man and the body of a horse. The beautiful and charming nymphs haunted woods
and forests. Worship and Beliefs Greek mythology emphasized the weakness of
humans in contrast to the great and terrifying powers of nature. The Greeks
believed that their gods, who were immortal, controlled all aspects of nature.

So the Greeks acknowledged that their lives were completely dependent on the
good will of the gods. In general, the relations between people and gods were
considered friendly. But the gods delivered severe punishment to mortals who
showed unacceptable behavior, such as indulgent pride, extreme ambition, or even
excessive prosperity. The mythology was interwoven with every aspect of Greek
life. Each city devoted itself to a particular god or group of gods, for whom
the citizens often built temples of worship. They regularly honored the gods in
festivals, which high officials supervised. At festivals and other official
gatherings, poets recited or sang great legends and stories. Many Greeks learned
about the gods through the words of poets. Greeks also learned about the gods by
word of mouth at home, where worship was common. Different parts of the home
were dedicated to certain gods, and people offered prayers to those gods at
regular times. An altar of Zeus, for example, might be placed in the courtyard,
while Hestia was ritually honored at the hearth. Although the Greeks had no
official church organization, they universally honored certain holy places.

Delphi, for example, was a holy site dedicated to Apollo. A temple built at

Delphi contained an oracle, or prophet, whom brave travelers questioned about
the future. A group of priests represented each of the holy sites. These
priests, who also might be community officials, interpreted the words of the
gods but did not possess any special knowledge or power. In addition to prayers,
the Greeks often offered sacrifices to the gods, usually