Even now, the Greek legends of gods, heroes, and monsters are recounted and repeated all across the world. The first documented versions of these tales extend back more than 2,700 years, appearing in the works of the Greek authors Homer and Hesiod. But the stories most of us know today were written down by some of Europe's most famous writers: Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, and others.
The earliest written sources for the myths come from the 8th century BC. But the actual authorship of many of the texts that have survived is disputed. Some believe that they were composed by multiple writers over a long period of time, but others argue that they were written by single individuals. Whatever their origin, the writings served to not only preserve the stories, but also to develop and expand on them through the eyes of the Greeks.
The myths were important for society at large because they provided explanations for natural events and human behavior. Gods were believed to govern individual lives as well as the entire universe so it made sense that humans would need to pray to them for help with everyday problems or in seeking special favors. Parents told their children fairy tales about the gods in hopes that this might make them behave better or discourage them from doing harmful things. And poets used the myths as inspiration for their own poems.
In addition to preserving history, the authors of mythologies also wanted to influence the attitudes of their readers.
However, some of these misconceptions date back far further. Indeed, the Greeks stole some of their greatest content from older myths. Examples include Ares, who is often called the "god of war" because he used to be worshipped using weapons, rather than animals. The idea of gods with a jealous nature that would lead to wars between them existed long before Homer's time.
Homer and Hesiod may have been the first to write down some of these stories, but they were not the first to tell them. The origins of many myths can be found in ancient cultures across the world. For example, the story of Zeus and Hera is similar to stories found in other religions around the world. It also has similarities to Asian stories such as that of Indra and Vritra.
Some myths may have begun as early as 3,000 B.C. or earlier. Others may have started as late as A.D. 200. Some historians believe that some myths were created to explain ancient customs while others may have been inspired by actual events. Any way you look at it, myths are a part of our history that we share together.
Greek Mythology's Origins Homer's epic poems, the Odyssey and Iliad, which pertain to the events of the Trojan War, are the oldest Greek literary sources we know of, as are Hesiod's Theogony and the Works and Days. To this day, myths are recognized to play a vital part in practically every genre of Greek literature. From comedy to philosophy, elegy to epigram, fiction to logic, myth has been used to explain natural phenomena, individual lives, and cultural traditions.
They also played an important role in religion. Myths were told about the origin of things, such as cities or temples; they explained how gods had interceded on Earth with humans; some stories told of heroes who had fought and died for their countries. And many religions included rituals performed in honor of specific gods or goddesses. For example, priests at Athens' most important temple to Athena wore golden masks to mimic the appearance of the goddess when she stood in judgment over human actions. They also sang hymns in her honor while playing a musical instrument called a tympanum.
Today, these stories still have many readers around the world. The tales of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Erebus, Demeter, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Athena and Aesculapius remain popular even though many other myths have been lost. Some people only read myths for entertainment purposes but many others find information about society, morality or spirituality in them.
The Greek myths were first spread orally, most likely by Minoan and Mycenaean singers in the 18th century BC; later, the tales of the Trojan War and its aftermath formed part of the oral legacy of Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Written accounts of the myths date from the 5th century BC. Although they share many themes and characters, each myth is unique.
In order to explain how such diverse creatures as humans, gods, and monsters could have co-existed in a world ruled by law, philosophers and scholars have often turned to the idea of mythology. From Plato to Nietzsche, this word has had different meanings but usually refers to false stories that explain natural phenomena or other human actions. Modern scientists have also used the term to describe similar explanations given for features of the universe or of living things.
Mythology has been described as the oldest science: it studies patterns and relationships in existence and in human culture. As such, it is thought to be the source of all other sciences including history, anthropology, and sociology. Mythology also provides insight into how people think, what matters to them, and why they do what they do.
Myths are important because they deal with fundamental questions about life and reality. They ask what happens after we die? What is good and evil? What role does violence play in society? What is the meaning of life? Etc.