In Ancient Greece people believed in a religion which is no longer practised. The group of gods and goddesses were called the pantheon. Pantheon means ‘all gods’ in Greek. A goddess is a female god.
The Ancient Greek notion of a god or a goddess was not a moral force. Gods and goddesses could be petty, mean minded, dishonest and have all the same vices as humans. The Greeks believed that the pantheon had bodies. A god could have a romantic relationship with a woman. A goddess could have a romantic relationship with a man. The gods were immortal.
If a child was born as a result of a relationship between a god and a mortal the child was a demigod.
The pantheon lived atop Mount Olympus. That is the highest mountain in Greece. They lived among the clouds. They ate ambrosia. The gods and goddesses had ichor flowing in their veins – a mixture of fire and gold. The gods and goddesses had access to elixir – a magic potion which meant they never aged.
Every four years at the foot of Mount Olympus games took place. A series of these games was called the Olympiad or the Olympic Games. These games were an act of worship. Prayers were offered.
There were several other sets of games in other areas of Greece. But the Olympics were the most famous one.
Zeus was the King of the Gods. His wife was Hera. The gods were descended from Chronos which means ‘time’ in Greek. The word Chronos gives us words such as chronicle and synchronise, chronology.
Zeus was a bearded old man. Despite his age he was not decrepit. He could walk upright and was physically vigorous. The Christian image of god the Father is like Zeus.
Hermes was the messenger of the god. He had wings on his heels so he could travel very fast.
Aphrodite was the goddess of romantic love. She out of a pearl.
There were nymphs. These were nubile ladies who appeared fully grown. They were not born. They simply turned up miraculously perfectly formed. They never aged. The nymphs hung around the beach. There was one nymph who irked a god. Her name was Echo. She was cursed by the god. Echo was punished by being unable to say her own words. She could only repeat the words of others. This is how the Greeks explained the echo effect.
Athena was the goddess of culture. She was also the patroness of the City of Athens. She is sometimes called ‘Athena Nike’. The word ‘nike’ means victory. Therefore the name Nicholas means ‘victory to the people’.
Ares was the god of war. He had a head like a ram with horns.
The god of animals was Pan. His name means ‘all’ because he controlled all animals. The fear that the sight of pan induces is called ‘panic’.
Poseidon was the god of the sea. He lived in the sea and had seaweed for hair.
Morpheus was the god of sleep. If you are sleep you are said to be ‘in the arms of Morpheus’.
The Greeks treated the gods and goddesses almost like services. It was like a marketplace. To get good luck the Greeks would propitiate the gods and goddesses. They would pray and offer sacrifices.
The statues of gods and goddesses were housed in temples. Sacrifices of animals were made on the steps of the temple.
The Greeks believed in Muses. A muse was a gorgeous young woman who personified an artistic talent like poetry, rhetoric, music, painting etc… These days a ‘muse’ is someone or something you think about to inspire you do create some art: to compose a poem, draw a picture or compose music. The word ‘music’ comes from ‘muse’. ‘Music’ means ‘of a muse’.
When people died Charon ferried them across the River Styx if they were wicked. These bad peopled lived in a land under the world which was ruled by Hades. It is sometimes called the Underworld. They were punished. Sisyphus was punished by having to roll a rock to the top of a hill. Every time he got there and the rock then rolled to the bottom. He had to go back and roll the rock up again. This went on for eternity. Tantalus was tormented in a different way. He would reach up to eat grapes but they would move up out of reach. He would then bend down to drink water from a stream but the water would all drain away so fast he could never get a drop. He would then reach up to get the grapes and the grapes would move away again. Tantalus would then bend down to the water but…. This went on for all time.
Good people went to the Elysian Fields when they died. We sometimes called it Elysium. This was an idyllic place to live with plenty of food. There was no need to work.
There was a figure in Greek Mythology named Persephone. She spent half the year in the Underworld and half the year in the world. Her mother was the goddess of fertility. When Persephone was away plants did not grow since her mother was feeling down. When the daughter came back the plants grew once more.
The Greeks believed in mighty giants called titans. The titans sometimes fought each other. Humans were not supposed to be told how to make fire. However, a titan called Prometheus told people the secret of fire. He was punished by being chained to a cliff. Every day a vulture would come along and eat his liver out. It was agonising. Prometheus could not escape from the escarpment. At night his liver grew back. The next day the vulture would come along an eat it out again. Prometheus did not die. He was stuck there.
Percy Shelley wrote a poem entitled ‘Prometheus Unbound’ in the 19th century about the titan getting free. The word ‘titanic’ means ‘like a titan’.
- Where did the pantheon live?
- What is the pantheon?
- Does anyone believe in Greek Mythology now?
- Did the Ancient Greeks think their gods were moral?
- Who wrote Prometheus Unbound?
- What was a nymph?
- Who was Zeus?
- Who was Hera?
- What does Chronos mean?
- Who was Charon?
- What happened to Sisyphus?