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Many stories about how the Greek gods behaved and interacted with humans are found in the works of Homer. He created two epic poems: the Iliad , which related the events of the Trojan War, and the Odyssey , which detailed the travels of the hero Odysseus. These two poems were passed down orally over many generations.

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians, Botticelli Aphrodite, the goddess of love, sits with the war god, Ares in this painting by the Renaissance artist Botticelli.

Aphrodite is one of several Greek goddesses, and is often referred to by her Roman name, Venus. Many Greek myths explained the mysteries of nature. The myth of Apollo, for example, describes how the sun moves across the sky to rise and set each day. The Greeks created gods in the image of humans; that is, their gods had many human qualities even though they were gods.

The gods constantly fought among themselves, behaved irrationally and unfairly, and were often jealous of each other. Zeus, the king of the gods, was rarely faithful to his wife Hera. Hera plotted against Zeus and punished his mistresses. The Greek gods were highly emotional and behaved inconsistently and sometimes immorally. Greek religion did not have a standard set of morals, there were no Judaic Ten Commandments.

The gods, heroes, and humans of Greek mythology were flawed. In addition to Zeus and Hera, there were many other major and minor gods in the Greek religion.


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At her birth, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, sprang directly from the head of Zeus. Hermes, who had winged feet, was the messenger of the gods and could fly anywhere with great speed. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was the most beautiful being in the universe.

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Her brother, Ares, the god of war, was sinister, mean, and disliked. Poseidon, ruled the sea from his underwater place and Apollo rode his chariot across the sky, bringing the sun with him. Hades was in charge of the dead in the underworld. Almost all people went to Hades after they died whether they were good or bad. To get there, the dead had to cross the river Styx. Charon was the name of the boatman who ferried the souls of the dead across the river Styx to Hades.

Typically, the gods punished those who were bad. For example, Tantalus who killed his own son and served him to the gods for dinner was sent to Hades and made forever thirsty and hungry. Although there was a pool of clear, fresh drinking water at his feet, whenever Tantalus bent down to drink, the pool would dry up and disappear.

Likewise, over his head hung the most delicious fruit. However, whenever Tantalus reached for them, a wind would blow them just out of his reach. The English word "tantalize" derives from the name Tantalus. Myths helped explain how the world came to be the way it was. In one myth, Zeus created an incredibly beautiful and nearly perfect woman named Pandora.

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5c. Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes

Her one flaw was that she was very curious and suspicious. Hermes, Zeus's messenger, gave Pandora a golden box. He warned her never to open it because terrible things would occur if she did. But Pandora could hardly contain her curiosity and eventually broke down and opened the special box. Out from the box flew all the evils that plague humanity: famine, greed, pain, sorrow, etc.

Only one thing remained in the box — hope — which humans managed to hold on to. This myth explains the origins of human misfortune. At the same time, it teaches a moral lesson by warning of the dangers of curiosity. In addition to myths about gods, the ancient Greeks also told stories about heroes.

Ares and Aprodite

One of the most famous Greek heroes was Hercules, the world's strongest man. Hercules was the illegitimate son of a mortal woman and Zeus, who tricked the woman by disguising himself as the woman's husband. Hera, Zeus's wife, was angry about Zeus' affair and sought to punish Hercules. Hera tricked Hercules into believing that his entire family were dangerous beasts, which Hercules then proceeded to kill.

When Hercules realized that he had killed his entire family, he agreed to perform 12 tasks to atone for his terrible actions. For one of the tasks, Hercules had to slay the nine-headed monster called the Hydra. For another task, he had to clean the filth from Augean stable, which had not been attended to in 30 years.

To do this, Hercules diverted the course of a river that washed away the mess. In the end, he completed the so-called 12 Labors of Hercules and made up for the murder of his family.

Miscellaneous Myths: Aphrodite

Report broken link. Ancient Civilizations 1. Why did she transform men into animals? What happened to her after Odysseus and his crew sailed away, or in the centuries before they arrived? She decided Circe deserved her own epic. Recycling classical myths is a well-worn literary trope; everyone from Shakespeare to Margaret Atwood and Rick Riordan have riffed on and remixed Greek and Roman stories. Miller, 39, who lives outside Philadelphia, is particularly well equipped to tackle Homer. She began studying Latin when she was 12, started on Greek a couple of years later, and seems to have near encyclopedic knowledge of ancient Western gods and goddesses.

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In Ms. Her family members, who treat her with cruelty or indifference, become infamous in their own right: Her sister Pasiphae marries King Minos and gives birth to the Minotaur, a bullheaded, man-eating monster; while her brother Aeetes grows up to rule Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece, and fathers Medea, who later murders her children. After she turns a nymph, Scylla, into a six-headed sea monster, Helios banishes Circe to a remote island where she spends centuries in exile, with wolves and lions as her companions.

When sailors wash up on her island, she welcomes them with wine and food, and they mistake her for a mortal. After a violent encounter with one sailor, she begins preemptively attacking them, turning them into pigs. Miller looked beyond the Odyssey and consulted a handful of ancient texts. She plucked other details from the Argonautica, an epic poem about the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts, which describes how Circe performs a purification ritual for Jason and Medea. Miller loves the Greek and Roman antiquities at the Met, works of art that feel both timeless and transcendent, yet lifelike.


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She paused to admire a marble figure of Aphrodite crouching in the bath and a headless statue of Hermes. A look of excitement crossed her face as she rushed toward one of her favorite artifacts. Follow Alexandra Alter on Twitter: xanalter.