Greek Mythology

Heracles in the cup of Helios (Sun) Photo by Sebastia Giralt

Heracles in the cup of Helios (Sun) Photo by Sebastia Giralt

As mentioned in my last post, this year is all about myths, legends and folktales. I’m going to start off with Greek Mythology but where to start? The field is huge. When I was at high school I found a book in my mother’s bookshelf called The Myths of Greece and Rome. I hadn’t had any exposure to Greek mythology to this point and so when I found it I got quite excited. Ultimately, I couldn’t read it because everything was so alien. I suppose I’d heard of Hercules (Heracles), Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite (as Venus), Odysseus and Achilles but I’m sure I knew nothing about the other fascinating characters. I don’t remember Perseus, Hera, or even Paris, and Helen was just the “face that sank a thousand ships” but I didn’t know what that meant. I have spent the last few years filling in a few of those gaps and, even though I am still just scratching the surface, the search has been very rewarding and I will continue.

This site is for teachers, librarians, parents and students and I’ve been wondering how best to approach the topic of Greek Mythology. I think students today are much more aware than I was of aspects of Greek Mythology: subject choices in years 7-10 are wider than when I was at school and the internet means the information is available with one click for anyone who’s interested. For me there are two possible approaches:

  1. The big topics like the Olympians (the most important Greek gods and goddesses who lived on Mt Olympus), Hercules, the Odyssey and the Iliad (the Trojan War) and perhaps Perseus or Jason and the Argonauts.
  2. Or a focus on smaller stories such as those about Diana (Atalanta) and the Golden Apples, or Demeter and Persephone, or perhaps the story of the Minotaur

The remainder of this post provides a few ideas to start exploring this fascinating world. As this site is also about NZ children’s books, my next post will review the book Murder at Mykenai by NZ author Catherine Mayo. Mayo focuses on a time before the Trojan War when the key players in that event were still teenagers.

The 12 Olympians (Roman names in brackets):

  1. Zeus (Jupiter): King of all the gods, God of Weather, protector and ruler of humankind, dispenser of law and order. Symbols: thunderbolt and eagle
  2. Hera (Juno): Goddess of Marriage and Motherhood, married to Zeus. Symbols: sceptre, peacock and crown
  3. Aphrodite (Venus): Goddess of Love and Beauty. Symbol: dove
  4. Ares (Mars): God of War. Symbols: spear, helmet, shield
  5. Artemis (Diana): Goddess of the Hunt. Symbols: wild animals, bow and arrow
  6. Hermes (Mercury): Messenger God, accompanied souls to the Underworld, a trickster. Symbols: winged feet/boots/sandals, wide brimmed hat or sometimes winged cap
  7. Poseidon (Neptune): God of the Sea. Symbols: trident, sea creatures, horses, bulls
  8. Hephaestus (Vulcan): God of Fire and Forge, a blacksmith, lame. Symbols: hammer, anvil
  9. Apollo (Apollo): God of the Sun and Music, prophecy, healing. Symbols: bow and arrow, lyre, laurel
  10. Athena (Minerva): Goddess of Wisdom and War (more strategic and tactical than physical) highly intelligent. Symbols: owl, helmet, spear, shield
  11. Demeter (Ceres): Goddess of the Earth and Harvest, the Corn Goddess. Symbols: torches, corn, sometimes a serpent
  12. Dionysus (Bacchus): God of Wine, merry making. Symbols: vine, panther/leopard

Because Hades (Pluto), God of the Underworld, lived in the Underworld and not on Mt Olympus he is not usually classed as one of the Olympians. Symbol: helmet that rendered the wearer invisible.

The Twelve Labours of Heracles (Hercules):

Labour 1: The Nemean Lion

Labour 2: The Lernaean Hydra (The Hydra of Lerna)

Labour 3: The Hind of Ceryneia

Labour 4: The Erymanthian Boar

Labour 5: The Stables of Augias

Labour 6: The Stymphalian Birds

Labour 7: The Cretan Bull

Labour 8: The Mares of Diomedes

Labour 9: The Girdle of Queen Hippolyta

Labour 10: The Cattle of Geryon

Labour 11: The Golden Apples of Hesperides

Labour 12: Cerberus

For more information on the 12 Labours of Heracles try these sites:

Diana (Atalanta) and the Golden Apples:

Compare two versions of this story. The first one is a YouTube video aimed at children and the second is based on the original version which was a lot more ruthless!

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