The beliefs of the ancient Greeks were full of the violent storms, volcanoes and earthquakes that were a part of their experience. Greek mythology is based on legends passed down through generations by word of mouth, so there are many versions of Greek mythology and not all of the stories agree with one another.
Myths explained nature, taught moral lessons, and provided entertainment. Greek poets created epic stories based on ancient legends. An epic is a long poem about great heroes and their deeds.
Like most ancient cultures, the ancient Greeks were polytheistic, but unlike other cultures, many of their gods looked and acted like human beings. The ancient Greeks believed their gods had unlimited powers, yet Greek gods married, had children, played tricks and fought great battles with one another. The ancient Greeks attributed natural disasters to conflicts among their gods.
A Greek poet named Hesiod wrote that the Earth goddesses emerged from nothingness called Chaos. The earth mated with the sky to produce the Titans. The Titans were giants who ruled over Greece from atop Mount Othrys. The giants were led by Cronus until he lost a great war with his children. The children of Cronus were called the Olympian Gods because they lived atop Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece.
Zeus was the youngest son of Cronus and the head of the Olympian pantheon. A pantheon is a family of gods. Zeus was also the god of rain who ruled the sky with his powerful thunderbolt. Ancient Greek farmers relied on the rain they believed came from Zeus, but they also feared the anger of Zeus during violent thunderstorms.
Poseidon was said to be Zeus’ brother and the ruler of the sea. Greek mariners and fishermen believed Poseidon had the power to create earthquakes by striking the ground with his mighty trident. A trident is a three-pronged spear used by the ancient Greeks both as a tool and a weapon. Poseidon might cause shipwrecks with his trident, but could also create new islands and favor sailors with food and safe travel to other lands.
A third brother named Hades ruled the underworld. The Greeks believed that people passed to Hades’ territory when they died, and while they were treated fairly in the underworld, Hades would never allow them to return to the world they once knew.
Greek legends say Zeus’ favorite daughter was Athena. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and courage. Legends say Athena gave the Greeks the olive tree. Olives are a staple of the Greek diet. The Greeks also use olive oil for cooking, fuel, and as a medicine. When the Greeks fought one another, they appealed to Athena because she was also the goddess of just warfare.
Most people no longer share the beliefs of the ancient Greeks, but humanity still finds great inspiration in the stories and symbols of Greek mythology.