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Myths and legends

Greek myths

Theseus confronts the MinotaurTheseus confronts the Minotaur The mythology of the ancient Greeks tells of a world of gods, monsters and heroes. They inhabited a land that reached from the home of the gods atop Mount Olympus, down to underworld below ground. Despite their awesome powers, the Greek gods and goddesses were similar to humans, or “mortals”—their actions were often driven by pride, jealousy, love and the desire for revenge. The gods often left Mount Olympus to become involved in the affairs of mortals. Greek myths originate with two ancient civilizations: that of the Mycenaeans, on the Greek mainland, and the earlier Minoan civilization, on the island of Crete. The ancient beliefs merged with legends from Greek kingdoms and city-states as well as myths borrowed from other peoples. The works of Homer, which date from the 700s BC, are important sources for Greek mythology. His epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, show how the gods influenced human destiny.


Gods and goddesses

The twelve principal Greek gods (six gods and six goddesses) lived on Mount Olympus. Zeus (called Jupiter by the Romans) was the king of the gods and reigned over all the others. Many myths tell of his love affairs with various goddesses and human women—and of the consequences. Hera (Roman: Juno), queen of the gods, was both sister and wife to Zeus. Poseidon (Roman: Neptune), Zeus's brother, was god of the sea and of earthquakes. Demeter (Roman: Ceres), a sister of Zeus, was the goddess of grain, farming and the soil. She had a daughter, Persephone, by Zeus.

According to legend, the family of giants who ruled the earth until they were overthrown by the Greek gods of Olympus were known as Titans. Zeus was the son of Titan parents. Some of the other gods, including Athena, Apollo, Artemis and Hermes, were the children of Zeus and Titan mothers.

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