How did Greek Mythology originate?

Greek mythology as its name suggests is the set of myths, beliefs on which Ancient Greece was built.

To help you better understand certain sites and museums in Greece, Mania F, an archaeologist by training, explains to you in this article the birth of Greek mythology .

When did Greek mythology begin?

As happens in almost all human societies, the ancient Greeks believed that their lives were dominated by forces that were beyond their ability to control. They made efforts to adapt to them and, if possible, ask for their favors and protection.

We find the first testimonies of the Pantheon of the Olympian gods who will predominate throughout antiquity, on the tablets of the writing of Linear B of the Mycenaean period (1650 to 1100 BC).

Alongside the great gods, the majority of whom controlled natural phenomena, there were a host of lesser deities, demigods, and heroes.

The Greeks had created a largely polytheistic religion.

Mythology in the Writings: Homer and Hesiod

The two most important sources for knowledge of Greek mythology are Hesiod and Homer. 

Hesiod (7th century BC) in his book “The Theogony”, describes how the gods were created.

Homer , in his two sagas “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”, gives valuable information about the gods who inhabited Mount Olympus. 

Representation of Homer with his muse

The works of these two poets are above all literary and the imaginary element is present everywhere.

Nevertheless, their texts were landmarks for the Greeks for centuries and they provided valuable evidence for understanding the Hellenic world, its constitution and its beliefs.

The gods and goddesses of Greek mythology

The Olympian gods have a human body, but their power is far superior to that of men. They were born once, but since then they are immortal

The gods share with mortals the same joys, the same bitterness of life. They have like them the same passions or defects, they fall in love, they hate, they are jealous or they take revenge. 

In the religion of the gods of Olympus, there are traces of older beliefs, where certain beings are inferior demons such as Pan, centaurs, jellyfish, harpies etc…

Greek Mythology at the Archaeological Museum of Athens

Greek Mythology: Aphrodite and Pan at the Archaeological Museum of Athens
Greek Mythology: Harpy at the Archaeological Museum of Athens
Greek Mythology: Pan at the Archaeological Museum of Athens

It was Homer who first mentioned Mount Olympus as the abode of the gods.

It is likely that those who originally placed the gods on Mount Olympus, dwelt in northern Greece, in the shadow of that mountain. Olympus is also visible from the sea and, perhaps, the abode of the gods was placed at the edge of the world hitherto known in the North.

It should be noted that the majority of the names of the gods are of Mycenaean origin. Nevertheless, Herodotus reports that the names of the gods came to Greece from Egypt. 

The Titanomachy: the fight between the Titans and the Olympian gods

In the beginning there was nothing: no light, no land, no sea, no gods, no men. There was only Chaos .

From Chaos arises life. Gaia, born first, is in a relationship with Ouranos. Together they created the mountains, the forests and the sea. The light spread everywhere.

Moreover, Ouranos and Gaia gave birth to six sons and six daughters, the Titans. Ouranos fearing that one of his children would take power from him, he kept them locked up in the bottom of the Earth. 

However, the youngest of the Titans, Cronos, managed to dethrone his father by force. Ouranos then cast a spell on him, so that his own children would do the same to him. Thus, Cronos swallowed his children as soon as they came into the world.

His wife Rhea, sought to save her last child, Zeus. She gave birth secretly in a cave in Crete. Instead of the child, she gave Cronos a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow.

Psychro cave in Crete: where Zeus was born

When Zeus grew up, he gave Kronos a magic drug to drink. From the belly of the latter came the children he had swallowed: Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter and Hestia. 

Having taken Zeus as their leader, they then waged war against Cronus and the Titans for world sovereignty. The Titanomachy lasted ten years.

The gods emerged victorious and they imprisoned the Titans in the depths of the earth, Tartarus.

More Greek Mythology….

And even more articles to read to learn all about Greek history and culture, about Zeus, the God of Olympus or even about Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.

And if your children like mythology, don’t hesitate to look at our selection of books and why not concoct a treasure hunt for them in pursuit of the Minotaur!

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