Myths and Legends | Greek Myths

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Learn about Greek Myths, what they are and some of the most famous Greek myths in this new Myths and Legends episode from English Plus Podcast.

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GREEK MYTHS

The ancient Greeks had many myths or stories about gods and heroes. These gods and heroes acted very much like human beings, though on a grander scale. They fell in love, and they quarreled.

Myths try to explain things. Some myths are stories about how the universe, the world, and human beings were created. Other myths offer explanations for why such things as war, earthquakes, and floods happen.

Myths are such great stories that they get told over and over. We still read the Greek myths today.

HOW EVERYTHING BEGAN

According to Greek myths, there was nothing but emptiness at first. Then came Gaea, the earth, who gave birth to Uranus, god of the heavens. Gaea and Uranus had 12 children called Titans.

Uranus was afraid that the Titans would take his power. He was right to be afraid. The youngest Titan, Cronus, killed his father. Cronus then tried to kill his own children by swallowing them. He did not succeed. His youngest child, Zeus, overcame Cronus and helped the other children to escape. Zeus’s brothers were the gods Poseidon and Hades, and his sisters were the goddesses Hera, Demeter, and Hestia.

THE GODS OF OLYMPUS

The new gods—the children of Cronus—were known as the Olympians because their home was on Mount Olympus.

Zeus was king of the gods. Hera was his queen. Zeus’s children included the twins Artemis, goddess of hunting, and the sun god Apollo.

Zeus was also father of the three Fates, who controlled human life and decided when people should die. Even Zeus could not make them change their decisions.

GODS OF THE SEA AND THE UNDERWORLD

Not all the gods lived on Mount Olympus. Poseidon had his own kingdom of the sea. Sailors had to be careful not to offend him. If angry, he might start a storm.

Hades ruled the underworld—a place beneath Earth where the souls of the dead go. Hades kidnapped Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, goddess of grain. Demeter was too busy searching for her child to look after the harvest, and people began to starve.

Zeus ordered Hades to let Persephone go, but she had eaten a little of Hades’s food. Because of that, she had to spend part of every year in the underworld. When Persephone is with Hades, it is winter on Earth and nothing grows. When she returns, spring comes with her.

There are different versions of this myth and of other Greek myths. But most of the stories give the same picture of the Greek gods. The gods were passionate and often fought with each other. They also took part in human battles.

THE TROJAN WAR

The Trojan War was a major event in Greek mythology. The Greeks may actually have fought the Trojans in a long war. Myths that have a basis in history are sometimes called legends.

According to Greek legend, a Trojan prince named Paris was asked to decide which goddess was most beautiful, Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite. Paris chose Aphrodite. She gave him the lovely Helen as a reward.

Helen was already married to a Greek prince. When Paris ran away with Helen, the Greeks declared war on Troy, where the Trojans lived. The fighting lasted ten years, until Athena helped the Greeks to build a giant wooden horse. The Trojans took the horse within their strong city walls without realizing that Greek soldiers were hiding inside it. At night, these soldiers came out of the horse. They opened the gates to Troy and let the rest of the Greek army inside to destroy the city.

A long poem, the Iliad, describes the Trojan War. A second poem, the Odyssey, tells the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus after the war was over. The writer of both poems is supposed to be Homer, a poet who probably lived around the 8th century B.C. However, the legends are much older than that. Greek storytellers passed on the tales for hundreds of years before they were written down.

MONSTERS AND HEROES

Some creatures in Greek myths were terrifying beasts. The Hydra was a monster with many heads. Other creatures were half-human and half-animal. The Minotaur had the head of a bull and the body of a man.

Heroes were the only people who could kill the monsters. Greek heroes were usually the children of gods and humans. Heracles was a son of Zeus. He fought the Hydra and many other creatures.

Theseus was a hero who tracked the Minotaur through a maze and killed him. No one else had ever found their way out of the maze, but Theseus succeeded by following a thread through the twisting tunnels.

GREEK MYTHS IN HISTORY

Ancient Greek writers like Euripides and Aeschylus turned some of the myths into great plays. Their plays influenced later writers.

After the ancient Romans became the major power of Europe, in the 1st century B.C., they gave the Greek gods new names and borrowed their stories. Zeus, for example, became the Roman god Jupiter. Roman statues, paintings, and poetry all used stories from Greek myths.

Later, European artists looked back to Greece for inspiration. Famous painters and sculptors created their own versions of the gods. Musicians and writers took ideas from Greek myths. Even today, you can find the ancient stories in movies and computer games.

ancient

ancient means very old or having existed for a long time.

ancient means belonging to the distant past, especially to the period in history before the end of the Roman Empire.

The ancients are the people of an old civilization, especially classical Greece or Rome.

quarrel

A quarrel is an angry argument between two or more friends or family members.

quarrels between countries or groups of people are disagreements, which may be diplomatic or include fighting.

If you say that you have no quarrel with someone or something, you mean that you do not disagree with them.

swallow

If you swallow something, you cause it to go from your mouth down into your stomach.

If you swallow, you make a movement in your throat as if you are swallowing something, often because you are nervous or frightened.

If you swallow your pride, you decide to do something even though you think it will cause you to lose some respect.

overcome

If you overcome a problem or a feeling, you successfully deal with it and control it.

If you are overcome by a feeling or event, it is so strong or has such a strong effect that you cannot think clearly.

If you are overcome by smoke or a poisonous gas, you become very ill or die from breathing it in.

offend

If you offend someone, you say or do something rude which upsets or embarrasses them.

To offend against a law, rule, or principle means to break it.

If someone offends, they commit a crime.

kidnap

To kidnap someone is to take them away illegally and by force, and usually to hold them prisoner in order to demand something from their family, employer, or government.

kidnap or a kidnap is the crime of taking someone away by force.

to carry off and hold (a person), usually for ransom

starve

If people starve, they suffer greatly from lack of food which sometimes leads to their death.

To starve someone means not to give them any food.

If a person or thing is starved of something that they need, they are suffering because they are not getting enough of it.

basis

The basis of something is its starting point or an important part of it from which it can be further developed.

The basis for something is a fact or argument that you can use to prove or justify it.

If something is done on a particular basis, it is done according to that method, system, or principle.

declare

If you declare that something is true, you say that it is true in a firm, deliberate way. You can also declare an attitude or intention.

If you declare something, you state officially and formally that it exists or is the case.

If you declare goods that you have bought in another country or money that you have earned, you say how much you have bought or earned so that you can pay tax on it.

tale

A tale is a story, often involving magic or exciting events.

An old wives’ tale is a traditional belief, especially one which is incorrect.

If you survive a dangerous or frightening experience and so are able to tell people about it afterwards, you can say that you lived to tell the tale.

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