Ancient Greece is synonymous with myth and culture.
Regarded as the birthplace of Western culture, the Greeks have always been big on philosophy, art, science, and perhaps more intriguingly, mythology.
Some of the best Greek myth stories have gone a long way in shaping the world’s cultural scene as we know it today.
Not only are these stories entertaining, but they hold within them important life lessons and shed light on how the world came to be.
Many of these stories seek to explain complex concepts such as love, jealousy, courage, and the consequences of the choices we make.
While many aren’t based on reality as we perceive it, these stories and myths somehow always seek to highlight the ever-changing dynamic between man and his gods.
Most are shocking or captivating and absolutely entertaining.
Here are some of the most ancient Greek myths and stories that you may enjoy.
The 12 Labors of Hercules
Perhaps the most famous of all Greek myths and stories, The 12 Labors of Hercules (Heracles in ancient Greek) is the story of a man who was half-god and half-human.
His father was the one and only Zeus, the god of the gods. Hercules was the center of attention for that very reason and the fact that he was the strongest man alive.
It is, therefore, inevitable that the gods would toy with him. He was driven mad by the goddess Hera who caused him to kill his own kids.
To atone for that heinous act, he was forced to perform 12 impossible tasks by his archenemy Eurystheus. These tasks included crazy things like:
- Killing the Hydra – a fire breathing beast with the body of a lion and nine serpent heads.
- Capturing the Cretan bull – a wild rampaging bull.
- Killing the Stymphalian birds – incredibly violent creatures with bronze beaks.
Hercules lives a life of test and torment, all of which he bravely overcomes until he finally dies and goes to live on Mount Olympus with the gods.
The world in which ancient Greece is set was a brutally patriarchal one.
It was therefore perhaps inevitable that there would be a tale of a band of strong women who opposed this societal setup.
The Amazons (probably the world’s very first feminists) were a clan of extremely powerful and borderline magical women who set themselves apart as an autonomous clan.
They lived by themselves, protected themselves, and opposed the rule of men in every way.
While little is known about these amazing Amazonian women, it is clear from the myths and stories that they were a match for any male warrior that came their way. Including Hercules. It goes to show that anything a man can do, so can a woman.
Prometheus, the First Human Rights Activist
Prometheus, despite being a god (son of Titan) and a genius inventor, was a fan of man and did all he could to help his advancements.
In fact, the story of Prometheus and the theft of fire could be considered to be the very first myth that involved a human rights activist.
Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, thus advancing the age of men further into the future with one single act.
He was punished by Zeus – eternal torment by getting his innards eaten by an eagle, healing overnight, and going through it all over again in the morning.
King Midas and the Golden Touch
You have probably people say that someone has “the Midas touch,” meaning that everything they touch turns to gold or prospers.
That was the gift that King Midas asked for from the gods and received.
What he didn’t know was that this gift would be a curse since even his food would turn to gold, dooming him to starvation.
It’s a classic Greek myth highlighting the tragedy that befalls those who have everything but still desire more.
The Best Greek Myths Book
To be honest, Greek myths and stories are just too numerous to list here.
As such, it’s often best to find a book of two that covers most of them or that at least gives you an intriguing look into some of the most fascinating timelines in Greek mythology.
Unfortunately, the sheer number of books that cover this subject matter is almost as bewildering as the array of stories and myths.
So which ones deserve your attention? Quite frankly, almost all of them.
However, let’s take a look at a few that are considered a “must-read” for any Greek mythology enthusiast:
We consider “The Iliad” and the “Odyssey”, Homer’s work, the most important myths.
Mostly because The Iliad covers one of the greatest Greek stories of all time, the legend of the city of Troy.
Beautifully depicted in the epic movie starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom among many other stars, the fall of the city of Troy is as mythically Greek as any of the myths about the gods you have ever heard.
In Greek mythology, Zeus and his partner gods were considered “meddling gods”.
It means that they incessantly inserted themselves into and interfered with human life.
The battle for Helen of Troy (previously Helen of Sparta and the daughter of Zeus) is what led to the decade long conflict that nearly drove the Trojans extinct.
As the most beautiful woman on earth, Helen of Sparta was kidnapped by Paris, a prince of Troy and Hector’s younger brother.
This led to a coalition between Menelaus, King of Sparta (Helen’s original husband), and his brother Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, to attack Troy to retrieve her.
It is heralded as the greatest in all of mankind’s history. It involved epic warriors such as the almost immortal demi-god, Achilles, the highly skillful crown prince of Troy.
Also, Hector as well as Odysseus, perhaps the most intelligent man of his time.
In the Iliad, you see the events that led to the war and how much the gods inserted themselves in it, thus drawing it out for ten years as the two great sides constantly fought to a stalemate.
It is also in this book that we learn of the Trojan Horse – the trick that finally broke the deadlock.
There are other Greek myth books that give you a rundown of most of the stories, including:
- The Library of Greek Mythology
- Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical
- The Complete World of Greek Mythology
The Best Zeus Myths
Greek mythology is quite literally incomplete without Zeus playing a part. As the Greek god of the sky, lightning, and thunder, Zeus was the most powerful god, and as such, that made him the King of the gods. That, however, doesn’t mean he did not have his faults.
From numerous sexual conquest with goddess and humans alike, Zeus’ indulgence in almost every single one of his whims brings the world to the brink of destruction on more than one occasion on the back of his jealous wife’s (Hera) wrath.
Zeus is perhaps best known for fathering Hercules, the strongest man to ever live. However, the greatest Zeus myth has to be the one where he overthrows his father and the Titans.
The story goes: Cronus, Zeus’ father, had overthrown his father Uranus to become the ruler of the world. However, a prophesy foretold that one of his sons would also overthrow him. So every time his wife Rhea gave birth, Cronus would swallow them at birth. Six kids later, Rhea grew tired of this and decided to hide Zeus (her sixth child, from Cronus).
She gave Cronus a rock covered in blankets instead.
When Zeus came of age, he tricked his father into drinking a poisoned glass of wine and proceeded to disgorge him, thus releasing his siblings and overthrowing the Titans to become the new King of the gods.
The Best Poseidon Myths
When Zeus overthrew his father and released his siblings, he shared among the different domains. He became lord of the sky, lightning, and thunder, and one of his brothers, Poseidon, become the god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses.
Like most gods, Poseidon was ill-tempered and rather vengeful when vexed. Perhaps one of the most integral and Poseidon’s best myths has to do with how Medusa came to be.
Medusa was an astonishingly beautiful woman and a priestess in the temple of the goddess Athena. To become a priestess, one had to be a virgin.
However, Poseidon desired Medusa and, despite her rebuffs, eventually forced himself upon her on the floor of the very temple to which she was a priestess.
On discovering this, Athena became enraged and punished Medusa by turning her hair into serpents and her face so hideous that simply looking at it would turn onlookers to stone.
Perseus (another demi-god and son of Zeus) finally killed Medusa . From her neck came Pegasus, the winged horse and Chrysaor.
Greeks believed that these creatures were the children born from the non-consensual sex had between her and Poseidon.
As mentioned, Greek myths and stories are way too numerous to exhaustively list here. However, the books listed above will give you a good and expansive look into that wonderful and exciting world.