Greek mythology consists of the legends of ancient Greek gods and goddesses as well as other ancient Greek heroes and heroines.
These legends were originally created and spread within an oral-poetic tradition that spanned many centuries and the wide area of Greek cultural influence. The surviving sources of information about them are either contemporary transcriptions of such oral traditions or later literary rewritings of them. The legends are also reflected in surviving artifacts, most notably paintings on vases.
These gods and others are nearly all described as being human in appearance and some aspects of their psychology. However, they are god-like in other ways, including that they are able to travel vast distances almost instantaneously, nearly immune to all wounds and illnesses, able to speak through human beings with or without their knowledge, capable of becoming invisible and immune to aging.
They are described as belonging to a large, multi-generational family. the oldest members of which created the world as we know it. Each has his or her own specific appearance, genealogy, personality, interests and area of expertise, although there are some variations in the descriptions according to the documents and their localities.
The generation of the gods most relevant to the ancient Greeks was thought to have appeared in person during the age of heroes, which apparently was the Greek dark ages (around 1200 BC to 800 BC) that preceded the Greek classical civilization. At that time the gods provided the early Greeks with a number of miracles, instructed them in useful skills, taught how to worship and fathered children by humans. The descendants of these half-human, half divine children claimed the right to rule on the basis of their ancestry.
The ancient Greeks generally believed that there was at least some truth behind their myths. To them these legends preserved part of their history and also helped explain natural phenomena and human relations. However, some philosophers in the Hellenistic era pronounced that they were myths based on confused memories of ancient kings and events and that the supposed gods were not real.
It is important for a well-educated person to have a basic knowledge of Greek mythology not only because it a fascinating topic in itself but also because it is an important part of the Classics which have served as a basis for Western civilization.
Created October 23, 2006.