Greek Mythology
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Basic Information

Greek Mythology is the body of Myth and Legend of Ancient Greece.

Major themes of Greek Myth:

  • Generational Conflict: Uranus is castrated by his son, Cronus. Cronus is killed by his son, Zeus. This leads to the Titanomachy, a war between the gods and the Titans (Cronos's generation, filling the role of primal gods as well as giants). Zeus in turn sidesteps multiple prophecies concerning his own defeat at the hands of his children. Humans and gods compete frequently.
  • War: The birth of the gods lead directly to the world's first war. Wars pop up all over Greek Myth, and the Trojan War is the setting of the entire Epic Cycle.
  • Morality: It is from the Greek myths that we coin the term/trope Aesop, as many of the myths (especially those written by a fellow named Aesop) were intended as allegories to teach proper moral behavior. It's worth noting, however, that the Ancient Greek's idea of morality doesn't really match our modern concepts of the same. (Actually, it didn't always match the Ancient Greek's ideas either; some of the later philosophers worried that the older tales of randy gods didn't really inspire awe and reverence and so tried to downplay them):
    • Heroes and Greatness: The myths immortalize many great warriors, along with a few great artists, thinkers, and kings. However, some of the depictions of these heroes do not match our modern concept of heroism. Example: Achilles, "hero" of the Trojan War, is moody, vengeful, and self-centered.
      • The Tragic Flaw: Many of these heroes had a flaw or character defect which led them to destruction. Often this was hubris, or an overweening pride.
    • Kinky Sex: The greeks didn't shy away from many sexual topics that are largely taboo in our era. Zeus in particular is depicted as taking nonhuman forms to commit acts of adultery and rape, yet he's one of the "good guys" in many of the myths. See also Historical And Cultural Perspectives On Zoophilia. Sometimes this weird sex would result in weird births, like when Athena burst from Zeus' head.
  • Fate: Prophecy and Destiny figure strongly into many of the tales.
  • Transformation: There's a lot of shape-shifting in the myths, much of it involuntary. The gods transform people to punish them. The gods transform themselves for *ahem* other reasons. The Roman poet Ovid entitled his retelling of many of the old Greek myths "Metamorphoses".
  • Conflicting Truths: The greeks had more than one mythological origin of man, more than one list of the 12 Olympians, more than one version of the Trojan War myth, more than one version of the cyclops, etc. Clearly, a little contradiction in their myths wasn't viewed as a major cause of concern. See also Interpretatio Graeca, Bisociation and Syncretism for more on the subject.

For a list of tropes relevant to Greek Myth, see Classical Mythology.


Mythological Characters of Greek Myth

For their correspondences to Roman Mythology, see the Interpretatio Graeca page.

Twelve Olympians

Here's a list of the primary gods and goddesses of Greek myth. It's frequently stated that there are 12 gods and goddesses who make their home on Mount Olympus, aligning them with the months of the year and the signs of the zodiac. However, the sources don't always agree who those twelve are…

These 11 are almost always on lists of the 12 Olympians.

  • Aphrodite - "Goddess of love, beauty, desire, and fertility."
  • Apollo - "The Sun God; god of light, healing, music, poetry, prophecy, archery and truth."
  • Ares - "God of war, frenzy, hatred, and bloodshed."
  • Artemis - "Goddess of the hunt, of maidens, and the moon."
  • Athena - "Goddess of wisdom, crafts, and strategic battle."
  • Demeter - "Goddess of fertility, agriculture, nature, and the seasons."
  • Hephaestus - "Blacksmith to the Gods; god of fire and the forges."
  • Hera - "Queen of the Gods and of the heavens; goddess of women, marriage, and motherhood."
  • Hermes - "Messenger of the Gods; god of commerce, speed, thieves, and trade."
  • Poseidon - "Lord of the Sea; god of the seas, earthquakes, created horses."
  • Zeus - "King of the Gods and ruler of Mount Olympus; god of the sky, thunder, and justice."

The 12th Olympian is usually (especially on modern lists) one of these two:

  • Dionysus - "God of wine, parties, and merriment."
  • Hestia - "Goddess of the hearth and home."

But some ancient sources included one or more of the following on the list:

  • Alpheus - "A river-god."
  • Asklepios - "God of medicine and healing."
  • the Charites - "Goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity and fertility."
  • Cronus - "Titan; father of Zeus."
  • Hades - "Lord of the Dead; god of the Underworld and earthly (gems and precious metals) wealth."
  • Hebe - "Goddess of youth, and cupbearer."
  • Helios - "Titan; Personification of the Sun."
  • Heracles - "Greatest hero of the Greek myths."
  • Persephone - "Goddess of the spring and death, daughter of Demeter."
  • Rhea - "Titaness; mother of Zeus."

Other Gods and Titans

This is a list of additional divinities, deities, gods, titans, primordials, cthonics, supernatural beings, etc, in Greek Mythology:

Heroes and their most famous adventures

Intelligent Species in Greek Myth

See also Mythological Creatures and Fantasy Races


Greek Mythology as Religion

Religions and Cults

Rites and Practices

Sacred Places

Other Traditions


Greek Mythology as History or Story

Written Sources

Ages of Man

  • Golden Age - the rule of Cronus, and the origin of the Gods. For man, it is a time of peace, and men lived to old age. Spirits of the dead live on as Guardians.
  • Silver Age - the rule of Zeus. Humans were infants for 100 years, and only briefly as adults. Zeus destroyed mankind for their impiety. Spirits of dead went to the underworld, where they are blessed.
  • Bronze Age - The new men were hard, and focused on war. Homes were made of bronze. Their spirits went to the underworld are unnamed.
  • Heroic Age - Age of demigods and heroes, an improvement upon the Bronze Age. Heroes died and went to Elysium. The Age Homer wrote about.
  • Iron Age - The Age that Hesiod lived and wrote in. Marked by toil and misery, dishonor, the loss of hospitality, and the abandonment of humanity by the Gods.

Cross-Mythological Pollinization

The Greeks had a habit of assuming everybody elses Gods were simply avatars of their own gods, and would rename them as such. See Interpretatio Graeca for the details, but the concept can be summed up simply as: the Egyptian god Amon had certain traits of the Greek god Zeus, so the Greeks decided that Amon was a facet of Zeus. This sort of Syncretism allows the practitioner of the ancient Greek religion to tolerate foreign gods, rather than worry that expansionism might anger the local dieties.

Greek Myth, along with Roman Mythology, is the bulk of Classical Mythology. This is because Greek Mythology was largely incorporated into Roman Mythology, via a process called Interpretatio Romana, whereby the Romans too would assume that local gods were aspects of their own deities. For example, the Romans built their own god Jupiter on the existing Greek myths of Zeus, who as we saw had already borrowed elements of Amon. Most Roman myth is based heavily on Greek Myth, and Etruscan Mythology, but also has elements incorporated from other cultures the Roman Empire conquered or traded with.

Classical mythology largely takes this bissociation in stride, with many modern writers not really caring to distinguish between Zeus and Jupiter. To the modern point of view, it's all Classical Mythology. Strangely enough, most modern writers still usually distinguish between Zeus and Amon despite the Greeks and Romans thinking they were basically the same god. Likewise, Heracles and Thor were sometimes combined by the ancients via something called Interpretatio Germanica, but our modern viewpoint sees them as distinctly different characters.


Tropes:

A list of Tropes used in myth can be found on the Classical Mythology page.


Sources

Most of the one-line summaries of the Gods were quoted directly from Wikipedia pages, especially the page on the 12 Olympians.

Game and Story Use

  • Suggests more than one campaign setting:
    • A campaign set in Ancient Greece will see Greek Mythology as an active Religion. The GM can decide for their own campaign whether the myth is "just myth" or a higher truth. Does any of the glory of the early ages remain? Will any of the historical personages of ancient greece make a cameo?
    • The Heroic Age is a natural campaign setting, probably more exciting than the historical reality. This is an era where the gods are still capable of meddling in the affairs of man, but prefer to act via mortal heroes. The biggest event of the era is the Trojan War, which deprived all of Greece of a generation of men and upset the political and power structure of the whole world.
    • Various parallels to classical mythology can be made in any setting. You could have the Illiad in space, with space amazons and the Trojan Space Station.
    • For a different take, that blends the Celts and the Greeks, see Celtic Troy.
  • Is Interpretatio Graeca accurate or foolhardy? Are the gods merely Mythago who continually reinvent and reform themselves to accommodate the latest interpretations? Or are Zeus and Amon distinct individuals, and somewhat annoyed at how often they get lumped together?
    • A campaign set in the parts of Greece that end up conquered by the Roman Empire, could feature some conflict between the "old" local priests and the "newer" or "imported" Roman counterparts. Or the conflict may be between the Gods. Jupiter vs Zeus in a secret war. Maybe the battle is between the Priests, who cast it as a war of Gods.
  • Hide the women! Zeus is on the prowl!
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