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A Small Victory*
Greek Mythology

This assignment was written in Term 2, 2004.


The dictionary definition of mythology is: A system of stories about the gods, heroes etc.. of a culture, race or tribe.

In ancient Greece the tribes were split up but had a common language and mythology but fiercely guarded their independence. In this mythology there are stories of gods, heroes and monsters. The myths about the gods described their births, victories over rivals or monsters, love affairs, special powers, or connections with special places or events. Greek mythology probably began around 3000 BC when kings on the island of Crete controlled the Mediterranean sea trade. Many of the people that lived further north were farmers that had to work very hard for a living; nevertheless they still made time to worship the gods. In about 2100 BC people came from the north and east and set up towns ruled by warriors. Then in 2000 BC Aryans, from Iran & Northern India, came and settled, also urban towns were built and the Minoan Civilisation in Greece was formed. Around 800 BC saw the start of the city states which, in 776 BC, participated in the first Olympic games which was held to honour the gods.

The ruler of the gods was Zeus, who lived on Mt. Olympus. He was the most highly respected being in Greek mythology and could turn himself into anything he liked. He did this a number of times to seduce women and as a result had many children. His wife, who resided on Mt. Olympus was Hera; she often became angry at Zeus for having affairs with other women. Some of Zeus children included Apollo and his twin Artemis, Aphrodite and Hebe, who were gods and goddesses. Two heroes that were off-spring of Zeus were Hercules and Perseus.

Probably the most famous of Greek heroes was Hercules. Sometimes known as Herakles, he was distinguished in stories, sculptures and paintings. He was the son of Zeus and Alcmene. This made Hera (Zeuss wife) so angry that she tried to prevent the baby from being born. When Alcmene gave birth to the baby, she named him Herakles (The Romans pronounced the name "Hercules" and so do we today). The name Herakles means "glorious gift of Hera" in Greek, and that made Hera even angrier. She tried to kill the baby by sending snakes into his crib. But Hercules managed to strangle the snakes, one in each hand, before they could bite him. Hera decided to pay Zeus back for his disloyalty by making the rest of Hercules' life as miserable as she could. When Hercules grew up and was a great warrior, he married Megara and they had two children. Hercules was sent a fit of madness by Hera and killed Megara and the two children. He then went to Apollo, where he was told he would have to perform 12 tasks. After he had finished the tasks he married Deianira.

As a welcome home present after a long trip, Deianira made Hercules a cloak and smeared an ointment on it that a centaur had given her. She thought it was a love potion and that whoever wears the garment with the potion on it would immediately love her for ever. It actually contained a caustic solution and when Hercules put on the cloak, he began to feel an unbearable pain. Screaming through the pain, he yelled for his friends to make a pile of logs on Mt. Oeta, for his funeral pyre. When this happened, the gods looked down and Zeus told Hera that Hercules had had enough suffering. She agreed that Athena could bring Hercules in her chariot to Mt. Olympus where he would become a god. Hercules also had many other adventures: for example, helping Zeus defeat the Giants in a great battle for the control of Olympus and others had monsters like Cyclopes, Titans or sea-monsters.

Cyclopes are one-eyed beasts with enormous strength. The eye was in the middle of their forehead. They were morose and bad tempered demi-gods who lived for a very long time. They fought for Zeus against the Titans and gave him his lightning bolts and Poseidon his Trident.

The Titans were locked in Tartarus by Zeus but escaped and had to be sent back; this was accomplished after a short struggle.

Centaurs were demi-gods who taught heroes how to ride and use bows and arrows. Trusted as wise advisors, they were patient and brave but often drank too much. They had the upper body of a human male and the lower body of a horse. One centaur, Chiron, was the teacher of Jason, Hercules and Achilles. He was wise and knowledgeable about music, medicine and archery. He died when accidentally wounded with a poison arrow shot by Hercules.

Achilles was the son of the mortal Peleus and the Dryad (Nymph) Thetis. He was the mightiest of the Greeks who fought in the Trojan War. To make her son immortal, Thetis held the young Achilles by the heel and dipped him in the river Styx; everything the sacred waters touched became invulnerable, but the heel remained dry and therefore unprotected. When Achilles was a boy, the seer Calchas prophesied that the city of Troy could not be taken without his help. Thetis knew that, if her son went to Troy, he would die an early death, so she sent him into hiding disguised as a maid to the court of Lycomedes, in Scyros. Achilles was found and then went willingly to Troy, leading a host of his father's Myrmidons (soldiers) and accompanied by his tutor Phoenix and his close friend Patroclus. At Troy, Achilles distinguished himself as an undefeated warrior, capturing 23 towns in Trojan territory, including the town of Lyrnessos, where he took the woman Briseis as a war-prize.

Priam's son Paris, aided by Apollo, speared Achilles in the heel with an arrow; Achilles died of the wound. After his death, it was decided to award Achilles' divinely-wrought armour to the bravest of the Greeks. Odysseus and Ajax competed for the prize, with each person making a speech explaining why he deserved the honour. Odysseus won, but Ajax then went mad and committed suicide.

The Phoenix is a creature not often spoken of in Greek mythology. It represents rebirth and immortality, because when the Phoenix dies, it bursts into flame and disintegrates into ashes; it is then reborn from these ashes.

The Olympic games date back to 776 BC, where the people in the games competed for the gods. In the modern Olympics, the participants compete for national glory. Speech, drawings and written words have ensured that many myths and legends have survived for thousands of years. Even when Greece was taken over by the Roman Empire in 146 BC, the myths survived and were integrated, almost directly, into Roman mythology. Even today, references to the beings from Greek mythology are found in books and movies. Creatures such as centaurs and phoenixes in Harry Potter and the Trojan war shown in the recent movie Troy are examples of this.

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