Greek mythology is filled with numerous events, stories, and tales that have shaped Western thought, art, and culture for millennia.
In no particular order, World History Edu present ten major events from Greek mythology:
Creation of the World
In the beginning, Chaos existed as a void. From Chaos came Earth (Gaia), the Abyss (Tartarus), and Love (Eros). Gaia gave birth to Uranus (the Sky), and together they produced the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the Hecatoncheires (hundred-handed giants). Portrait: British painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts.
ALSO READ: 13 Creation Myths From Around The World
The battle between the Titans and the Olympian gods. Led by Zeus, the Olympians defeated the Titans and imprisoned them in Tartarus. Image: The Battle Between the Gods and the Titans, oil on copper, by Dutch painter Joachim Wtewael, 1600
Birth of Athena
Prometheus and the Gift of Fire
Prometheus, a Titan, defied Zeus and stole fire from the gods to give to humanity. As a punishment, Zeus had him chained to a rock where an eagle would eat his liver every day, only for it to regrow each night. Image: Prometheus Brings Fire by Heinrich Friedrich Füger.
To atone for killing his wife and children in a fit of madness, Heracles (often called Hercules in Roman tales) was commanded to perform twelve nearly impossible tasks, which he successfully accomplished. Image: “Heracles and the Erymanthian Boar” by Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán, 1634 (Museo del Prado)
Heracles, known as Hercules in Roman tales, was tasked with Twelve Labors as atonement for killing his family, influenced by Hera’s curse.
Set by King Eurystheus, these challenges included: slaying the Nemean Lion, defeating the Lernaean Hydra, capturing the Golden Hind without harm, seizing the Erymanthian Boar, cleaning the vast Augean Stables in a day, ridding the Stymphalian Birds, apprehending the Cretan Bull, obtaining man-eating Mares of Diomedes, securing the Amazon Queen’s belt, rounding up Geryon’s cattle, collecting the Hesperides’ golden apples, and retrieving Cerberus from the Underworld.
Demonstrating immense strength and intelligence, Heracles accomplished all tasks, cementing his legendary heroism and embodying the victory of human perseverance against daunting odds.
Image: The Farnese Hercules, Roman marble statue on the basis of an original by Lysippos, 216 CE
Stymphalian Birds: One of the Most Legendary Creatures from Greek Mythology
The Trojan horse was a giant wooden horse left behind by the Greeks for the Trojans. Image: Detail from The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773), inspired by Latin poet Virgil’s “The Aeneid”.
Aeneas: The legendary Trojan hero who founded Rome
Odysseus’s Journey Home
After the fall of Troy, Odysseus embarked on a ten-year journey to return to his homeland of Ithaca, facing numerous challenges like the Cyclops, the Sirens, and the witch Circe along the way. Image: Calypso calling heaven and earth to witness her sincere affection to Odysseus (i.e. Ulysses) by Swiss Neoclassical painter Angelica Kauffman (18th-century)
Following the fall of Troy, Odysseus’s journey home to Ithaca takes ten years, a tale famously narrated in Homer’s “Odyssey”. This odyssey is marked by various adventures and encounters.
Odysseus blinds the Cyclops Polyphemus, incurring the wrath of Poseidon, who then makes his journey treacherous. He withstands the bewitching songs of the Sirens, evades the deadly pass between the monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis, and spends years detained by the nymph Calypso and the sorceress Circe. He even visits the Underworld, consulting spirits to find a way home.
Image: Odysseus and the Sirens, Ulixes mosaic at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Tunisia, 2nd century AD
Upon reaching Ithaca, he finds his palace overrun by suitors for his wife, Penelope. With the help of his son Telemachus and Athena, he devises a plan, slaughters the suitors, and reunites with Penelope, concluding his arduous return.
Odysseus slaughtering the suitors at his home
Pandora, the first human woman created by the gods, was given a box (or jar) and instructed not to open it. Curiosity overcame her, and when she opened it, all evils and hardships were released into the world, leaving only hope inside. Image: Pandora by English Painter John William Waterhouse, 1896
The Kidnapping of Persephone by Hades
Persephone, daughter of Demeter, was abducted by Hades to be his queen in the Underworld. Her mother’s grief affected the seasons. Eventually, a deal was made where Persephone would spend part of the year in the Underworld (winter) and the rest with her mother (spring and summer). Image: Hades abducting Persephone, fresco in the small royal tomb at Vergina, Macedonia, Greece, circa 340 BC
Oedipus and the Prophecy
King Laius of Thebes was prophesied to be killed by his own son. To prevent this, he ordered his newborn son, Oedipus, to be killed. Oedipus survived and, unaware of his true parentage, later fulfilled the prophecy, unknowingly killing his father and marrying his mother. Image: Oedipus and Antigone by C. W. Eckersberg (1812)
Oedipus is best known for the tragic events surrounding a haunting prophecy. Before his birth, it was foretold that he would kill his father and marry his mother. In an effort to prevent this, his parents, King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes, abandoned their infant son with pierced ankles on a mountainside.
Rescued and raised by the King and Queen of Corinth, Oedipus later learns of the prophecy. Believing his adoptive parents to be the subjects of the prophecy, he flees Corinth.
Oedipus and the Sphinx. Painting by the French Neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
On his journey, he unknowingly kills his biological father, Laius, and later solves the Sphinx’s riddle, saving Thebes. As a reward, he’s made king and marries the widowed queen, his mother Jocasta. The tragic truth eventually unravels, leading to Jocasta’s suicide and Oedipus blinding himself.
Antigone: The Woman Who Defied the Theban King in Greek Mythology