Mythology Study Guide

Mythology By Edith Hamilton

It is commonly misunderstood that Greek mythology depicts Man as blissfully in harmony with nature when in fact, the lives of the characters in Greek myth are full of hardship, disease, and violence. The Greek worldview was the first to put humans squarely in the center of everything (compared with the animal deities of the Egyptians, for example): Greek gods are remarkably human in their foibles, emotions, and physical characteristics. They were powerful, but hardly omni-anything.

At the same time, the Greek myths allow for a real world that is full of mystery and beauty. Unlike other religions, it is possible to this day to visit the place where Aphrodite was born (the island of Cythera), or the city where Hercules lived (Thebes). With this tight link between myth and reality, the Greeks allowed for everyday humans to become heroes through the use of their minds and bodies, unlike many other myths which attributes superhuman powers to their heroes.

That said, there are Greek heroes that an everyman cannot become - Hercules, with his half-deific strength, for example - and there are plenty of horrible magical creatures, ancient curses, and other powers far beyond human control. That said, the classic Greek hero often needs, at most, an allied magical creature (Pegasus) or a bit of assistance from a deity whose interests are momentarily aligned (Perseus' gift of the flying sandals) to defeat these supernatural menaces.

Unlike most creation stories, in which gods create the universe, the Greek creation is the opposite - first, there is only Chaos. Chaos spawns two entities, Night and Hell, who in turn spawn Love, who in turn begets Light and Day. From a mystical merging of Love, Light, and Day comes Earth, who in turn begets Heaven, and then procreates with Heaven to spawn a wave of new creatures called Titans. The Titans slay Heaven, and in turn give birth to the Olympians, who then conquer the Titans and become the ruling deities.

Humans are created by the Titan Prometheus and his bungler brother Epimetheus. They screw up at first, giving all of the useful abilities and body parts to animals instead of people. Then Prometheus has pity, and gives humans the same body shape as the deities, and provides with heaven's greatest secret -- fire, with which the world can be tamed.

From there, the tales of heroes, creatures, gods, and adventures could take a lifetime to read and interrelate - but the glory of Greek mythos lies not in its details, but on the unique position it gave humans, gods, and magic in relation to each other.

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