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Greek Myths

How Philosophers Challenged Greek Mythology and Worship of the Gods

In Ancient Greece the gods were all-powerful and they all admired beings of the universe. However, during the 6th century B.C.E., a new wave of thinking took place and the age of Greek philosophy was born. The philosophers, unlike the majority of the Greek populace at the time, looked to challenge the beliefs of the Greek pantheon and wanted to view the world from a more scientific perspective. This movement began during the period of the Ionian philosophers, particularly due to the work of one of the founding fathers of philosophy, Anaximander. Anaximander was the first scholar to have made a map of the inhabited world and developed a theory of the creation of the world without the influence of the Greek pantheon. Anaximander came up with a theory of the origin of the world known as the concept of the Apeiron.

Anaximander explains this theory as “the first principle and element of existing things was boundless . . . he has creation take place not as a result of any of the elements undergoing qualitative change, but as a result of the opposites being separated off by the means of motion, which is eternal,” (Decibelboy, 2012).

Anaximander’s views of the creation of the world through the concept of Apeiron is the first time that somebody had taken the perspective of the creation of the world as, if not scientific, at least a perspective that is non-mythic. However, having said this Anaximander’s attempts to explain the realities of the world the Ancient Greeks were living in were still tied within a mythic context as it seemed he still considered the Aperion to be a result of divine intervention. However, what is important was that it completely ignored the influence of the Greek pantheon.

Anaximander’s views birthed a new revolution and led to the inspiration of countless philosophers. Another great philosopher around the same time as Anaximander was Xenophanes. He too had his own theory of the universe outside of the influence of the Greek gods. Xenophanes’ ideas were strongly linked to a reason. He was known to challenge the ideas of the anthropomorphic gods.

However, at the pinnacle of the use of reason, scientific perspective, and logic to challenge the ancient Greek myths was the legendary philosopher Socrates. Socrates himself did not write a single word, however, his teachings were used extensively by the Greek philosopher Plato. Thanks to Plato’s work, we can learn from Socrates’ beliefs through the dialogues Plato had documented. Through this documentation, we are able to learn about how Socrates challenged the gods and are left to see how many holes in the myths of Greek mythology have been prodded upon through arguments of science, reason, and logic.

However, Socrates’ story does not end well, as the ruling classes of ancient Greece took a dislike to the teachings of Socrates and would sentence the philosopher to his death. This is an incredibly important event in the evolution of Greek society and the progression of classical mythology. Before the philosophers, the myths of the ancient Greek world were used as a means to understand and explore the realities of the world. However, at this point in history, it seems it was the first time that the myths’ power as tools of explanation had been credibly challenged. These challenges to the ancient myths represented a desire among the Greek populace to escape from what they had been brought up to believe and move towards a more logical explanation of the realities of the world.

The ruling bodies of the ancient Greek world were not fond of this idea and realized that if this was left unpunished, problems would occur from Socrates’ new logical thinking. The ruling bodies believed that if Socrates was allowed to continue expressing his views it would change their society and everything in it which the ruling classes would not accept. Instead, they would act, by labeling all philosophers as criminals, to ensure that the myths stay intact to shield the majority of the Greek populace from this new form of thinking. Thus, this marked the age where there was a divide in belief between those who believed in the gods and those who desired to seek a more logical and scientific explanation of the world.

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Greek Myths

The Children of Chaos and Gaea

The great poet, Hesiod, wrote an epic poem during the 8th century B.C.E. about the creation of the world, titled Theogony. According to Hesiod’s poem, three crucial elements played a role in the creation of the world. These elements included Chaos, Gaea, and Eros. In the poem of Theogony, it is stated that Chaos slept with Eros and gave birth to Erebus, the god of darkness, and Nyx, the goddess of the night. Chaos’s children Erebus and Nyx formed a romantic union and gave birth to Aether, who was the bright upper air of the world, and Hemera, who brought the daytime. Nyx would go on to have twelve more children, each representing other parts of nature and life. Nyx’s twelve children included the hateful Moros (fate), Hypnos (sleep), Momos (blame), Philotes (sexual pleasure), Apate (Deceit), Eris (Strife), Oizus (pain), Nemesis (Revenge), Ker (Doom), Oneiroi (Dreams and Nightmares), Geras (Old Age), Thanatos (Death), and Hesperides (the daughter of the evening).

While Chaos and Nyx had their own children, Gaea gave birth to Uranus (who created the story sky) and Oceanus (who created the oceans). Uranus was appointed as Gaea’s protector, and over the years the two of them became lovers and were the first gods to rule over the world as we know it. Uranus and Gaea had eighteen children. Twelve of these children would be born as Titans, three of these children were born as Cyclopes, and three were known as Hecatoncheires (monstrous giants with 50 heads and 100 arms).

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Greek Myths

What Were the Greek Myths?

To many people the ancient Greek myths will simply only be viewed as epic tales of the Greek pantheon gallivanting around the earth, going on crazy adventures, and achieving all sorts of supernatural feats. This is true, but only on the surface. If you only view these tales with tunnel vision, then you will only believe them to be ancient fairytales. However, if you look beyond the bloody tales, epic battles, and the supernatural, you will see that these myths are more than simple legends. A deeper look will help you uncover the lessons, morals, philosophies, and even warnings that these myths taught the ancient Greek world and quite honestly still teaches modern civilization to this day.

Take note that very few of these stories have happy endings, which is something the world has become very accustomed to today. There are often no happy endings in Greek mythology as they were not stories that were written for the purpose of entertainment. Instead, they were stories to teach, understand the world, and a model for ancient Greeks to ensure their actions were in line with. 

These stories, or myths, were not designed to tell a story for the sake of telling a story, but, instead, played a crucial role in ancient Greek society to impart knowledge from generation to generation. The stories open windows for us to see into the past and their lessons are still true today. It allows us to catch a glimpse of what the lives of the ancient Greek populace were like back then.

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Greek Myths

Why Is Greek Mythology Still Studied?

The truth is reading and hearing about Greek mythology and the ancient myths is one thing, however, studying the matter is another. Thus, the question that many may have is why are these mythological beliefs still being studied in the 21st century? The answer is to learn. Plainly put and said, we still study Greek mythology in the 21st century as we want to know how the Ancient Greeks lived. Studying to understand how the Ancient Greeks lived is no different than an anthropologist studying how the Khoi-san people of South Africa live. We study ancient cultures not only to understand the culture but to learn from them too.

After all, after studying a culture as progressive as the ancient Greeks and breaking down how they lived and what they believed in, you really can’t help but learn a thing or two. These myths are time capsules. They show the modern human how humanity’s concept 0f the world compares to their own. It allows 21st-century humans to glance at the past, see what the ancient Greeks considered important, how their civilization operated, what their moral compass looked like, and how they viewed the world with extremely limited scientific explanations they had access to. What’s more, studying ancient Greek myths has helped us understand classic literature. Greek mythology has also contributed to and influenced many box office hits, TV shows, modern literature, comics, and more.

It has been said by experts that by studying or even simply reading Greek mythology, people tend to have more control of their actions and utilize more rational thinking before they act due to the teachings of the myths (Smith, 2020). This is an interesting claim as many of the Greek myths communicate tales about how humanity’s stupidity, follies, and hubris constantly lands humankind in danger. Perhaps being versed in the myths makes you second guess your actions’ consequences. What is ironic is that people to this day still tend to be guided by foolishness, give in to temptation, make selfish or stupid decisions, and possess excessive pride despite the warnings and teachings of Greek mythology. It is quite humorous to witness just how accurately the ancient Greek myths still capture the essence of human behavior and is relevant to how 21st-century human behaves.

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Everything You Need to Know About The Creation of the Human Race According to Greek Mythology

According to the myths, the Olympian Gods thought it would be interesting to create beings in their image, but as mortals without divine powers, to inhabit the earth. When the mortals were created, Zeus ordered Prometheus and Epitameus, the sons of the Titan Iapetus, to bestow various gifts among the mortals. Zeus ordered these gifts to be given to the mortals as he hoped that the human race would evolve into interesting creatures that would act as a source of amusement for the gods.

Thus, Prometheus and Epitamus began to divide these gifts among themselves and started to give them to the new inhabitants of Earth. It was decided between the two brothers that Prometheus would hand out the first gifts. Prometheus handed out the gifts to the animals first. He handed some animals beauty, some animals were given strength, others were given agility, and the rest were given speed. However, Prometheus left the mortal humans defenseless and did not give them any natural weapons. Prometheus loved mankind and realized the error of his ways, and to make up for his error, he promptly distributed his gifts to mankind in the form of superior intellect and reasoning. He stole the gift of reason from the goddess Athena and bestowed it upon man. Prometheus then stole fire from the gates of Hephaestus to make sure that the humans could keep themselves warm and cook. Due to Prometheus taking a liking to mankind, he shared all the knowledge he had with them and became the protector of the human race.

However, Prometheus did not consult Zeus. Zeus was furious. Until that point, a fire had been reserved for the use of the gods and Zeus did not want the mortals to resemble the gods. Due to Prometheus’s negligence, he was heavily punished. Prometheus was chained up for thirty years on the peak of the Caucasus, hovering over the edge of the world. Every day, an eagle would feast on his liver, only for it to grow back the next day. However, after thirty years the seemingly never-ending nightmare came to an end. Herakles (Hercules) relieved Prometheus from his punishment and he was allowed to return to the land of the gods. 

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