Zeus is the ruler of Mount Olympus and the leader of all Greek gods and goddesses but also humans. His arrival was predicted by an orator. Before Zeus was in charge, the world was ruled by a Titan with cannibalistic tendencies: Cronus. Cronus feared the prophecy that said that one of his children would violently overthrow him. As soon as his wife would give birth to a baby, he would eat it alive. Zeus was the Titan’s youngest son and the only one who survived. Zeus saved his siblings from his father’s belly and destroyed him. He became Greece’s leading god, and he is often associated with the “father god” of monotheistic religions. However, his appearance and personality are far from these figures.
Zeus Looks Much Hotter Than You Might Think
Fatherly god figures are usually portrayed as old wise men with long white beards, rather than muscular and powerful young men. In some modern-day films and depictions, Zeus is also portrayed as an old man. But, in reality, Greek gods and goddesses were thought to be fit, young, and more attractive than most humans. The same goes for Zeus. Ancient Greek sculptures and pieces of art depict him this way. Although he sports a beard, his facial hair is not that of an old man. Zeus’ appearance evolved over time and there was a time when he was mostly depicted as a wise grandfather.
Zeus is an attractive god who used his looks to seduce mortal women on a regular basis. It is impossible to count all of his affairs. Zeus is married to his sister, Hera, who ends up punishing the women Zeus sleeps with. When the ruler of Mount Olympus is rejected in his regular form, he transforms himself into different animals. He appeared to Europe as a bull, to Danae as golden rain, and Leda embraced Zeus in his swan form.
Zeus Weapon of Choice is the Thunderbolt
Zeus’s signature weapon is the thunderbolt. That is why he is also named as the “god of thunder”, throwing lightning bolts to his enemies from Mount Olympus. Zeus’s weapon was created by the Cyclops as a “thank you” gift for freeing them from the tyranny of the Titans.
Zeus Is Associated with Hospitality (Xenios Zeus)
Apart from the ruler of the gods and the god of thunder, Zeus has also another role; that of Xenios. Xenios Zeus is the god of hospitality (philoxenia). The latter was taken very seriously in ancient Greece. There were sacred rules that were followed religiously by those welcoming someone in their home. At the same time, people who wandered in places they’ve never been before had a god to pray to for protection. That was Xenios Zeus.
Zeus Was Raised by a… Goat
As mentioned earlier, Zeus was the only child of Cronus that was not consumed alive. That is because Rhea, his mother, had managed to hide him far from his tyrannical father. Cronus ended up eating a rock, which was swaddled like a baby. Zeus then grew up far away from his family in a cave in the island of Crete. He was raised by a goat named Amalthea. In some variations of the myth, Amalthea is not a goat but… a beautiful nymph.
Zeus Has a Different Name in Modern Greek
Ancient Greeks called Zeus “Ζευς”, hence his international name. But modern Greeks refer to Zeus as “Δίας” (Dias). If you studied ancient Greek in school, then you might know that the genitive of “Ζευς” is “Διός”. And it is assumed that this is the reason why modern Greeks call Zeus “Δίας”.
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When looking for the evilest ancient Greek god or goddess, usually three come to mind: Pluton/Hades, Pan, and Hecate. But what if I told you that there is another divine being that shares more characteristics with the devil, than the previous three.
Pluton was the brother of Zeus, Hera, and Poseidon. He was the most unfortunate one because he ended up being offered the underworld as his kingdom, when the rest resided in Mount Olympus. However, Pluton willingly agreed to take care of Hades, the ancient Greek kingdom of the dead, and all the chthonic deities that resided there.
Hades is often described as the ancient Greek version of hell since it is located under the ground. But Hades was both heaven and hell. And Pluton had both positive and negative traits. He had abducted his niece, Persephone, but Zeus and other Olympian gods had committed similar acts. He was feared because he was associated with death, but he was not considered evil.
Pan and Hecate were two chthonic deities; they also resided under the surface of the Earth. Hecate is associated with witchcraft and magic and got a bad reputation in late antiquity and Medieval times. But she wasn’t necessarily an evil goddess. She was actually the only Titan who was liked and respected by the Olympians and she was the only one who felt bad for Demeter and helped her find her daughter, Persephone.
Pan on the other hand is not only a chthonic deity but he also has some physical similarities to the devil. He is half-man, half-goat. He is a trickster but, in certain circumstances, he can instill fear to people. For example, when Greeks and Persians were fighting in the battle of Marathon, Pan exited a cave and started yelling and making horrifying sounds. He caused panic to the Persians – and now you know where the word pan-ic comes from. But he was never considered an evil god.
There is in fact another deity from ancient Greek mythology who is the most diabolical of them all.
Eris: The Evilest Greek Goddess
The devil is the personification of evil. In Greek, the term «διάβολος» derives from the Greek verb «διαβάλω» (to slander). It represents all negative feelings but primarily jealousy and power-seeking by creating division. Just like the serpent that offered the apple to Eve in the creation myth. The snake slandered God and instilled the idea of rebellion to the first humans. It created division.
By looking at ancient Greek myths and specifically at the Homeric hymns, we can easily detect a goddess who, not only created division motivated by jealousy, but also did this by offering… an apple. And the result was a violent war that we call the Trojan War.
“Strife whose wrath is relentless, she is the sister and companion of murderous Ares, she who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making men’s pain heavier.”, Homer says about Eris.
“Potter is angry with potter, craftsman with craftsman, and beggar is jealous of beggar (…)”, writes Hesiod in Works and Days.
Eris (Έριδα) is the Greek goddess of strife and discord. Contrary to Pan, Hades, and Hecate, Eris had no temples in ancient Greece. It is safe to say that she was the least liked deity. She is also thought to have inspired countless evil characters in fairytales, including Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. She even inspired a parody religion in the 1950s called “Discordianism”.
According to some sources, she was the daughter of the Night and she also gave birth to many children – including Ponos (pain), Loimos (death by pestilence), and Fonos (Murder). She is supposedly behind every fight, divorce, and problems that result from jealousy. But she is mostly well-known for the “apple of discord myth”.
Once upon a time, the mortal king named Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis got married on the mountain range of Pelion. All gods and goddesses were invited to the reception to celebrate the union of a mortal with deity. All except one: Eris. It was deemed inappropriate to invite the goddess of discord in the celebration of a marital union.
But Eris found a way to bring chaos from a distance. The ancient Greek goddess approached the wedding party holding a golden apple. She had inscribed on the apple the phrase: “to the fairest of them all”. Once she saw a group of goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, chatting with each other, she tossed the apple towards them and left.
What ensued was a vanity-fueled dispute among the goddesses, who asked for the help of a beautiful mortal man, Paris. They asked Paris to give his honest opinion but, they then proceeded to offer him different prices in return. Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love and probably the objective winner of the prize, offered Paris the only thing he was missing: a partner to stand by his side. Aphrodite ensured him that he will marry the “most beautiful woman in the world” who was no other than Helen, queen of Sparta. She won and a new war soon began.
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Aphrodite was the ancient Greek goddess of beauty, love, and procreation. You may know her with her Roman name, Venus. The Greek goddess played an important role in countless mythological stories, including the Iliad. Here are some facts about Aphrodite (Venus) that few people know.
Facts about the Greek Goddess of Beauty and Love, Aphrodite:
Aphrodite’s (Venus’) birth has been depicted in countless paintings and frescos since the Renaissance. The goddess of love and beauty rises from the sea foam, near the island state of Cyprus. But what happened few moments earlier, is not so graceful. Aphrodite’s birth was the result of titan’s Chronus’ castration by Zeus and the other Olympian gods, as narrated in Helinika’s video titled “The 12 Olympian Gods | Greek Gods Family Tree: From the Titans to The Olympians”. The Olympians threw the cut body part of Chronus into the sea and Aphrodite was born.
Eros and Himeros are the two main Aphrodite’s attendants – her loyal companions who followed her around. They are both depicted as young winged men. Eros is the personification of romantic love and Himeros the personification of strong romantic attraction. Other attendants of Aphrodite are Pothos, passion, and Peitho, persuasion. Peitho refers to both romantic and political persuasion. In romance, it can be described as the art of seduction. It is worth mentioning that in Roman mythology, the attendants of Venus are depicted as winged babies – at least this is the case of Cupid, the Roman version of Eros. In ancient Greek mythology, Aphrodite and her attendants are eternal young adults.
Aphrodite’s Complicated Love Life
As the goddess of love, Aphrodite is known for her various love stories. Her love interests were both gods and mortals. Unfortunately, the mortals who were involved with Aphrodite had very tragic endings, such as Adonis, who was shared between Aphrodite and Persephone, and ended up dying during a hunting trip. Another mortal is Anchises, who revealed the identity of his lover to his mortal friends and was hit with a lightning sent by Zeus. When it comes to her immortal lovers, these include Hephaestus, Ares, Hermes, and Dionysus. In some texts, she is reportedly in a steady relationship with Hephaestus and cheats on him with Ares.
Aphrodite’s followers included any woman who wanted to ensure she remains beautiful and fertile, while enjoying a successful love life. There was also the cult of Aphrodite in her temple in the city of Corinth, where she had several female servants called hetairai. These women would often perform “sacred mating” in exchange for money.
Aphrodite’s Festival: the Aphrodisia
Aphrodite is also associated with a summer festival called “Aphrodisia”. The “Aphrodisia” were celebrated in numerous Greek city-states but were of great importance in Athens, Corinth, and Cyprus. On the ancient Greek month Hekatombaion -which started on the third week of July and lasted till the third week of August- the hetairai and other women worshipped the goddess. They would purify her temple with the blood of a dove and they would offer salt. Flowers and incense were also offered to the goddess. In some places, the statue of the goddess was washed in the sea and the worshippers dined together. In Thebes, women would dress up as men, and in other places choreographies were performed. It is not clear how men participated in these festivals, but we do know that they were banned in the Aphrodisia of Thessaly.
Aphrodite’s Role in the Trojan War
Aphrodite also played a crucial role in the mythological story behind the Trojan War. It all started when the prince of Troy, Paris, abducted Helen, queen of Sparta, and took her to his kingdom. The Greeks then united and fought against the city of Troy. But it was Aphrodite that told Paris he should take Helen and she was also the one who helped him do so. Paris had offered the “golden apple of discord” to Aphrodite, instead of Hera and Athena. The goddess of beauty and love had promised him a trophy wife, the most beautiful woman in the world.
Aphrodite as an Art Model
Since classical times, Aphrodite has been sculpted and painted from countless artists who wanted to depict the beauty standards of their time. The most well-known Aphrodites are the sculpture of Aphrodite of Milos (130-100 BC) and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” (mid 1480s).
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One of the most well-known ancient Greek myths is the one of Daedalus and Icarus. You might remember these two as the architects who designed the labyrinth, the huge maze that was the home of the Minotaur in Crete. We talked about the birth and destruction of the legendary beast in another Greek mythology video. Today, we will be following the tragic story of a talented father and son duo: Daedalus and Icarus.
Daedalus was a legendary ancient Greek hero who possessed many talents. He was an inventor, an architect, and craftsman. Rumor had it that he had god Hephaestus’ blood running through his veins, giving him the ability to create innovative constructions. There is no proof that there was a real craftsman bearing the same name in ancient Greece. Therefore, Daedalus is considered a mythical figure.
The talented man was an Athenian of aristocratic background. His name derives from the Greek verb “δαιδάλω” meaning “to work cunningly”. He was reportedly the creator of a wooden cow for queen Pasiphae of Crete. The latter was attracted to bulls after meeting god Poseidon in this form and used the wooden cow to… attract bulls. Daedalus’ less weird and most admired creation, however, was the Cretan labyrinth of the Minotaur. A huge maze with countless traps and dead ends.
Icarus, on the other hand, was the son of Daedalus. His mother was a slave. The young man possessed many of his father’s talents and followed him around his trips. Father and son once travelled to the island of Crete, where they were hired by king Minos to construct the labyrinth, the wooden cow, and many other items.
Creators and Prisoners of the Minoan Labyrinth
King Minos was very impressed by the works of Daedalus and Icarus. But everything changed when an Athenian prince, who we have seen in a previous video, visited Crete. Prince Theseus wanted to end a barbaric tradition that wanted young Athenian men and women to be sent to the labyrinth of King Minos as a sacrifice to the beast that resided there: the Minotaur.
Daedalus and Icarus were from Athens and rooted for Theseus. One night, Minos’ daughter, princess Ariadne visited the two men and asked for their advice. She was in love with Theseus and wanted to protect him. Was there a way to find his way through the labyrinth and destroy the beast? Daedalus then recommended that she utilized her yarn. Theseus would attach it at the entrance of the labyrinth and use it to explore the maze safely.
Daedalus recommendations were indeed very useful. Once Theseus destroyed the Minotaur and escaped, King Minos ordered the prosecution of the two craftsmen. Father and son were thrown into the maze with no tools or weapons to use. But cunning Daedalus was able to come up with a new plan, after watching the birds flying above their heads.
According to the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus, Daedalus utilized the only two things he could find in the maze: feathers from the birds flying above him and wax from the numerous candles that would light up their way. After days of collecting feathers and hard work, Daedalus was able to create two sets of wings by gluing the feathers together with the wax.
He then instructed his son how to wear the wings on his hands and what movements to make in order to fly. He also warned him of how dangerous it would be to fly too high. The sunlight could melt the wax and the feathers would be scattered around.
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The two men were successful. They were able to fly high over the maze they had built and look over Crete. Daedalus instructed Icarus to hurry up; they needed to reach Sicily now that their wings were intact. They couldn’t reach Athens, because Daedalus was unwanted there after committing a crime.
But Icarus was completely blown away – literally and metaphorically. He was ecstatic seeing the whole world from above and continued flying higher and higher. But the sunlight was also getting stronger and stronger. Icarus wanted to be at the top of the world. But his wings started losing all their feathers as the wax started melting away. The young man fell from the sky and his short life ended in an area that we now call Icarian Sea, where the island of Icaria is found.
Daedalus was shocked at the sight but managed to travel to Sicily safely. His life, however, ended there, since he was murdered by the daughters of a local king. It is worth mentioning that, before the Bibliotheca, there were many other variations of the myth which are less popular nowadays. Some of them, for example, want Daedalus and Icarus to successfully escape Crete on a boat.
What Does Icarus’ Myth Represent?
Icarus’ myth and specifically the ending is a story of hybris. The latter is extreme or foolish pride and dangerous overconfidence. Ancient Greeks believed that there was nothing that Olympian gods disliked the most than arrogance.
Icarus was a young person who was able to escape a dead-end situation with his and his father’s cunningness. However, instead of being thankful for making it alive, he wanted to show-off. He flew aimlessly in the sky and even tried to reach the sun. He paid for this with his life. This is not the first time we encounter this. We have seen stories of hybris in the past, especially in the Odyssey, but also in the story of Atlantis.
One of the most fascinating ancient Greek myths is the one of Theseus. The young Athenian hero is a legendary figure, although many scholars believe that he might had been a real king during the Late Bronze Age. But let’s see his story from the beginning.
The lost city of Atlantis is a legend that survives for thousands of years. According to the myth, it was a utopian civilization with a great naval power. Founded by semi-gods, Atlantis was one of the most affluent and successful city-states in the Mediterranean region. But its people soon started getting greedy and believing they are the greatest in the world. Until the great city sank and disappeared from the face of the Earth.
Is this story real? What is the connection to Plato, the philosopher? And if it is not real, could it be based on a true story? Today, we are resurfacing the story of Atlantis.
The story of Atlantis is a made-up story, and the creator is no other than the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. The philosopher was using allegories to make his points clear. In a previous video, we discussed Plato’s allegory of the “Cave” and its symbolisms. But what is the allegory of the lost city of Atlantis about?
In the Socratic dialogues “Timaeus” and “Critias”, both written in 360 BC, Plato describes the conversations between his teacher, Socrates, with other thinkers of his time. These include the Pythagorean philosopher Timaeus of Locri and the Athenian politician and author Critias. Although Plato is not involved in the conversation, the main ideas and allegories are attributed to him.
Plato used the city of Atlantis as an example of what “hybris” can do to humanity. How an affluent state can sabotage itself. Hybris is any wrongful action against the divine order, usually stemming from over-confidence. Odysseus, for example, committed Hybris when he attacked a Cyclops for self-defense reasons but, instead of stopping there, he started teasing and mocking him. You can compare it with the concept of bad karma.
Atlantis, according to the philosopher, was a Mediterranean civilization, close to modern-day Gibraltar, that existed thousands of years before Plato’s birth and the beginning of the Classical Era. It was a land surrounded by sea and, from the description, we understand that it was a giant island. It was ruled by kings and it had well-organized military and naval forces. The city had an excellent irrigation system, and its land was fertile. Its god-protector was Poseidon, the god of the sea, and bulls were their sacred animals.
But the rulers of Atlantis were not satisfied with how successful the city was and wanted to dominate the world. Its army started occupying nearby lands and steal their resources. They would enslave people and force them to work for their own benefit. But one small city-state, Athens, wanted to stop the imperialistic plans of Atlantis. The Athenians managed to defeat the Atlantian army and even liberate some of the nearby occupied lands.
What followed was a period of decline for the city of Atlantis. Not only that, but a natural catastrophe gave Atlantis the final blow. Hit by earthquakes and floods, the legendary city sank and disappeared from the face of the Earth. Its rulers and citizens had committed hybris. Blinded by success, they became greedy and wanted more, even if others had to suffer.
Scholars agree that the story of Atlantis is fictional. Plato is widely known for his imagination and his ability to craft stories to make his points clear. There is no proof that this civilization existed but there are several theories: that Atlantis was located in Santorini, in Spain, even in the Bermuda Triangle. These theories are considered pseudoscientific, rather than scientific.
But could Plato have been inspired by real events and then came up with this fictional city? This is possible. Plato could have been inspired by the destruction of the Minoan civilization (3000 BC – 1100 BC), the first advanced civilization in Europe. The civilization bears a lot of similarities with Atlantis: both located in the Mediterranean, both were islands, both were dedicated to god Poseidon, and both considered bulls as sacred animals.
Just like Atlantis, the Minoans suffered from a series of natural disasters, mostly earthquakes, until the great catastrophe known as the Minoan eruption. A catastrophic volcanic eruption that submerged part of the island of Santorini and caused enormous tsunamis that destroyed the ports of the Minoans in Crete. Not only that, but the ashes that covered the nearby lands, made the soil infertile, causing famine. Archaeologists speculate that this catastrophe caused the decline of this great civilization.
One of the most fascinating ancient Greek myths is the one of Theseus. The young Athenian hero is a legendary figure, although many scholars believe that he might had been a real king during the Late Bronze Age. But let’s see his story from the beginning.
Who Was Theseus?
Once upon a time, before the era of Classical Athens and Democracy, the Greek city-state was ruled by kings and queens. One such king was Aegeas. He had many riches and he was ruling a successful city-state. However, he had no luck in his love life. All of his marriages ended in disaster, he remained childless, and most importantly, heirless.
Aegeas believed he was cursed by Aphrodite, goddess of romance, and he introduced the worship of Aphrodite Urania (Heavenly) in Athens. He also visited the Oracle of Delphi and asked for a prophecy. However, there was no solution to his problem.
The Athenian king finally met Pittheus of Troezen who introduced him to his daughter, Aethra. The two spent the night together and Aethra was able to conceive a child: a boy she later named Theseus. Rumor had it though that Theseus’ real father was Poseidon, god of the sea, and not Aegeas.
The latter was happy to finally have a son. He left Troezen to rule his city, Athens, but made sure to leave his sword, shield, and sandals behind. His son would wear them upon he reached adulthood to claim his birthright.
Years passed by and Theseus was now a brave young man. After retrieving his father’s possessions, he started his trip to Athens. Instead of reaching the city by sea, he decided to follow a dangerous path, completing a series of tasks, known as “labours”.
Among other things, he killed a giant pig and countless bandits, including a serial killer named “Procrustes” or simply “the Stretcher”. This man would place his victims on an iron bed and would cut off any parts that didn’t fit. If the victim was too short, he would stretch their legs – often splitting them in half.
Theseus arrived in Athens safe and sound and he was finally greeted by a cheerful Aegeas and his new wife, Medea. You might remember the latter as the wife of Jason, leader of the Argonauts. Since Medea’s story will be narrated in a different video series, all you have to know for now is that Medea’s first marriage did not have a happy ending. It was a literal tragedy.
Theseus and Aegeas would spend a lot of time together to compensate for all the years they spent apart. Medea was getting jealous. She also feared that her son would have no rights to the kingdom of Athens. The sorceress decided to poison Theseus but her plans were revealed. Aegeas threw her out of the castle and Medea run away from Athens. The king did not know that this would not be the only time his dear son would be in danger.
The Sacrifice to the Minotaur
When Aegeas was younger, he participated in the Panathenaic Games – a religious ceremony and athletic competition that took place in Athens and resembled the Olympic Games. One of his competitors was Androgeos, son of King Minos of Crete. Androgeos was able to win against Aegeas, with the latter being filled with envy.
There are many different variations of the myth that explain what happened next: Aegeas challenged Androgeos with an impossible task that ended up killing him, Aegeas ordered someone to kill Androgeos, or Aegeas killed Androgeos himself, or another man named Pallatides. No matter how it happened, the result was the same. Androgeos died in Athens and Aegeas was to blame.
King Minos learned the news and declared war on Athens. But the two kings were able to avoid war with a mutual agreement. Every nine years, seven Athenian young men and seven Athenian young women would be sent to Crete as a sacrificial offering to a vicious monster known as the Minotaur – the taurus, meaning “bull” in Greek, of Minos.
The Minotaur was the result of Minos’ wife mating with a white bull, known as Marathonian or Cretan bull, that was sent to Minos by Poseidon. Poseidon wanted Minos to sacrifice the bull to him but Minos was charmed by the bull’s rare appearance. That comes as no surprise.
Regardless of whether this myth is real or not, the Minoan civilization was a real Bronze Age Aegean Civilization – the first advanced civilization in Europe. You can still see their remains by visiting the palaces of Knossos and Phaestos in Crete. If you have ever visited these archaeological places, then you might have noticed the fascination the Minoans had for bulls and bull-leaping or taurokathapsia – a non-violent ancient Greek sport involving bulls.
The king decided to keep the bull at his residence, and he made a different sacrificial offering to the god of the sea. Poseidon was furious and made Mino’s wife fall in love with the animal. The result was the birth of the Minotaur. The beast resided in a special area of the palace; a labyrinth that was designed by the architects Daedalus and Icarus.
When Theseus learned about the agreement between Aegeas and Minos, he became angered. As the future king of Athens, he wanted to end this and he decided to travel to Crete with the next ship sailing with the young Athenians. He would find the Minotaur and destroy him, just like he did with the monsters and criminals he had found in his way.
The future king of Athens promised to Aegeas he would return victorious. He would depart with black sails – a sign of mourning- but he would return with white sails. In this way, his father would be able to see the boat from afar and start organizing the celebrations that would follow. If he was defeated, the captain wouldn’t change the sails and his father would be able to start preparing for his funeral.
Theseus arrived with the rest of the young men and women at the palace of Knossos and he was surprised to see a luxurious and colorful palace with a very strange design. It resembled a labyrinth. The Athenians had to leave any weapons behind and they soon learned that they would be left to wonder in the palace’s corridors for days and the Minotaur would hunt them down and eat them one by one. Even if the Minotaur was unable to find them, escaping the labyrinth was considered an impossible task.
The prince was not scared. He was able to hide a small knife in his tunic to protect himself, but his most helpful weapon were actually his good looks. King Minos had many children and one of them was princess Ariadne. The young woman felt a strong attraction towards Theseus and wanted to help him. When no one was looking, she offered him a ball of thread and advised him to tie it at the entrance of the labyrinth and use it to escape once he defeats the beast.
Theseus followed Ariadne’s instructions and started exploring the labyrinth holding the thread. It didn’t take long to find the Minotaur sleeping. The monster woke up from his sleep and attacked him. Theseus, having Poseidon’s blood running through his veins, was able to overpower him and with his small knife he was able to give him a fatal blow in his neck. He then run back to the entrance of the labyrinth, along with the rest of the Athenians.
They were all free and no one was there to stop them from leaving. They all entered the boat that was waiting for them and soon realized that Ariadne and her younger sister, Phaedra, were also on board. Ariadne wanted to escape with Theseus and live with him in Athens.
The trip back home started with celebrations. Not only did they survive this ordeal, but a very dangerous custom was coming to an end. No other Athenian would have to be sacrificed to the Minotaur anymore. At some point, they made a stop at Naxos island. Goddess Athena visited Theseus and instructed him to leave Ariadne there for god Dionysus.
Theseus was distraught but he knew that he had no choice. He couldn’t disobey the gods. Ariadne was abandoned in Naxos island and Theseus left with the rest of the crew, including Phaedra. The mood onboard had shifted. No one was in the mood to celebrate and they forgot to change the sails from black to white.
Aegeas was standing at a cliff at Sounion in Attica, near Poseidon’s temple. He was staring at the horizon, waiting for Theseus’ boat. And he finally saw it. But the sails were black, meaning that the crew wasn’t bringing any good news. Was his favorite son, the one who was conceived under such difficult circumstances, gone? Aegeas jumped off the cliff and drowned in the waters that we now know as the Aegean Sea; the sea of Aegeas.
The myth of Theseus ends here, however, countless poems and plays have tried to give another ending to his story. Most of the variations mention that Theseus ended up marrying Phaedra, he had many children with her and other women, and ended up dying after falling from a cliff. Others, want him married to the queen of the Amazons.
As mentioned in the beginning, it is not clear whether there was an Athenian king named Theseus, whose life resembled the myth. However, Theseus’ myth signifies a transitional period in history – from Bronze Age, to Iron Age, and then, finally, to the Archaic Period.
Ancient Greek mythology features many outstanding and admirable female characters, such as goddess Athena and heroine Atalante. At the same time, there are countless other women that got a negative reputation due to a lack of knowledge or shallow knowledge regarding their background. Let’s see the ten (10) most misunderstood mythical women.
Before we look at every character, it is important to remember that characters in ancient Greek myths are not necessarily “evil” nor “saints”. These terms were introduced centuries later. In the Greek pagan religion, gods and goddesses were similar to humans, meaning that they possessed negative and positive characteristics. With this in mind, we should understand that ancient Greeks were not necessarily judging these heroines the way they are judged today.
Circe was a mythical sorceress featured in Homer’s Odyssey and other legends. She is known as the “evil witch” of ancient Greek mythology and she has inspired a fictional supervillain that appears in DC Comics with the same name. Was she really that bad? Circe would use her potions and magic powers to transform her enemies into animals and to hold the men she desired as captives. Odysseus was one of these men. She was definitely not a saint but, if you count and evaluate the crimes she committed in the Odyssey with those committed by Odysseus, she is quite innocent.
If you are not new to this channel, you are already familiar with Hecate. Hecate was the goddess of darkness, witchcraft, and necromancy. She was also a chthonic deity, meaning that she resided under the surface of the Earth and not on Mount Olympus with Zeus and the rest of the gods and goddesses. In Christianity and other monotheistic religions, the underworld is a place of punishment and a place were evil resides, contrary to the heavens in the sky. Therefore, Hecate is often considered a fallen angel, a demon in the Judeo-Christian sense. However, Hecate is one of the least evil deities in pagan mythology. Yes, she would help people who wanted to put a curse on someone, however, she did not commit a series of crimes like other gods and goddesses with a good reputation.
Hera, the goddess of marriage, is one of the most vengeful mythological characters, punishing the women Zeus would cheat on her with. If you have watched all videos made by Helinika, then you might know that she tormented Leto by keeping her from giving birth anywhere on planet Earth. At the same time, it is worth understanding her background. Hera was eaten alive by her father, Chronos, and she was finally rescued by her brother, Zeus. In the end, she was forced to marry him and witness his infidelities, without complaining. As a protector of the sanction of marriage, she wanted to protect her own marriage from any external forces but she picked the wrong targets. But is she up to her terrible reputation? Absolutely not.
The myth of Pandora’s jar has been featured on Helinika’s channel in the past. Pandora was a robot-like woman; a creation of Zeus and Hephaestus that was offered to humanity as a “gift” and “curse” at the same time. Just like Eve in the creation myth, Pandora is often blamed as the woman who damned humanity by opening a jar that contained all evils. But if we look closely to the myth’s details, if someone is to blame here, that would be Zeus. The king of the Olympian gods and goddesses wanted to give some disadvantages to humans, since they had acquired the element of fire, enabling them to create advanced technological innovations. Pandora had free will but, at the same time, she was created in a way that predetermined the opening of the jar. The gods gave her the trait of curiosity and then offered her an unlocked jar and told her to never open it. Pandora was indeed curious, she was made that way, but she did not have any bad intentions when she opened the jar. She was simply a pawn in Zeus’ plan.
You might know Clytemnestra as the woman who murdered her husband Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, with the help of her lover. Fewer people though understand why she committed such a crime. Clytemnestra, sister of Helen of Troy, had a daughter, Iphigenia. When Helen was abducted by Paris and taken to Troy, Agamemnon gathered his forces to help Menelaus, Helen’s husband, bring her home. However, the winds were weak, and they were unable to sail away. According to an omen, goddess Artemis had to be appeased by sacrificing Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter. The man sacrificed his daughter and then sailed to Troy and came back with a concubine named Cassandra. Clytemnestra was enraged with the fact that her husband had killed their daughter and then had the audacity to come home with his lover. She killed him and Agamemnon was remembered as a hero of the Trojan war and she was remembered as the jealous wife who killed her husband.
If you have watched Helinika’s video on ancient Greek vampires, then you might remember Lamia. A monster that would take the form of a woman to seduce men and feed off of them. She was also known for abducting babies from their cribs. But why did she target men and why was she abducting babies in the first place? Lamia was another victim of Zeus and Hera. Zeus had forced himself on her, getting her pregnant. Hera got enraged and decided to punish the victim by killing her babies and cursing her with the inability to sleep. Lamia was deeply traumatized and turned into the monster we know today.
You might know Electra from Carl Jung’s neo-Freudian Electra complex, which describes the hostility of a daughter towards her mother. Electra is a character in ancient Greek mythology and numerous Greek tragedies. She was the daughter of Clytemnestra and the younger sister of Iphigenia. When Agamemnon returned home, she was out of Mycenae and she was unaware of his heinous acts. As soon as she came home and learned that her mother had killed her father and was now living with her lover, Electra plotted the murder of Clytemnestra with the help of her brother, Orestes. We do not know whether Electra had inappropriate feelings for her father or if she was always hostile towards her mother, despite the popular belief.
Medea is a character known by most people, whether they are interested in ancient Greek mythology and drama or not. She was Circe’s niece, priestess of Hecate, and, as you can imagine, these two facts would be enough to put her in the “evil” category. The woman, however, is known for murdering her children. This act can’t be excused. What we can do, is try to understand how she ended up there. If you have watched the Argonautica on Helinika’s channel, then you might remember that Medea was the princess of Colchis and was used by the goddesses of Mount Olympus as a pawn in their plan to help Jason flee with the Golden Fleece. Medea was blinded with Eros arrows and got madly in love -literally madly- with Jason. That meant that she would do anything to stop something or someone who stood between her and Jason. The hero did not have any feelings for her but married Medea anyways to receive the Golden Fleece and gain power. After having two children with her, he decided to get married to a younger woman, which enraged Medea. The latter went on a killing spree and fled the city of Iolcos. Her story will be narrated in this channel in the future, so make sure to subscribe and stay connected.
2: Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy was one of the first “trophy wives” to have ever existed. Known as “the most beautiful woman in the world” she was married to king Menelaus of Sparta and either abducted by Paris of Troy or tricked into following him to Troy. She is often blamed for starting the Trojan war and being the source of so many evils. Her reputation was tainted, although she never took any actions herself. She was simply the apple of discord between two men: Menelaus and Paris. Her reputation was restored with a play called “Helen” by the ancient Greek dramatist Euripides. I wont reveal too much about the plot, since it will be discussed in a future video, however, Euripides condemns war and hostility, as the roots of all evils, and portrays Helen as a frank, reliable, and misunderstood character.
1: Gorgon Medusa
The most misunderstood female character in ancient Greek mythology is Gorgon Medusa, a terrifying monster with venomous snakes on her head. Those who gazed into her face would turn to stone but she was finally destroyed by the Greek hero Perseus who used her head as a weapon. Medusa has been interpreted by Freud as a representation of the fear of castration in little boys. However, Medusa is now considered a symbol of female rage against gender-based violence. The monster was once a woman who was assaulted by Poseidon in goddess Athena’s temple. The goddess then decided to blame the victim for the attack and turned her into a serpent-headed monster that no one would be able to look in the eyes without turning to stone. As a result, Medusa hid in a cave in the island she resided in and, although she did not commit any heinous acts herself, she was killed by Perseus and her head was used as a weapon against his enemies.
You may already know that Plato (428/427 BCE – 348-347 BCE) was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. You may also be familiar with him thanks to the Italian Renaissance fresco in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican called “The School of Athens”. Here are five facts about Plato that you may or may not know. Stay till the end and comment down below whether you knew some of the facts already.
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Plato was the student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle
The Athenian philosopher was closely connected to two other highly influential ancient Greek philosophers. Plato was a student of the Athenian philosopher Socrates, whom we know mostly through Plato’s writings. Plato later taught many influential philosophers and leaders, including Aristotle, who is credited with the earliest study of logic.
Plato is one of the most influential authors to have ever existed
Although his teacher, Socrates, did not leave any written heritage, Plato dedicated his life to writing. The philosopher did not view writing merely as a tool to organize and record his ideas, but also as a creative process that he really enjoyed. You might have heard of Plato’s dialogues; a collection of written conversations between different philosophers on various topics, including ethics, politics, physics, and metaphysics. Perhaps, the most well-known dialogue of Plato is “The Republic”, which we will cover in detail in a future video.
The philosopher is also the creator of some highly-influential allegories, such as the “Cave” (which we will also discuss in another video), and his writing style is often described as “poetic”. At the same time, Plato often expressed his disapproval of poets and poetry, because “it is based on falsehood”. Based on this idea, poetry is an “illusion” that drives us away from the “truth”.
Plato was born into an aristocratic Athenian family. His father was Ariston, a descendant of king Codrus of Athens, and his mother was Perictione, who descended from an oligarchic family. The philosopher considered Aristocracy the best form of governance. Aristocracy places the power of a city-state in the hands of a few. The main difference from monarchy is that, in monarchy, the rulers inherit their power, whereas, in aristocracy, the rulers are selected based on their skills. The aristocrats are «άριστοι» (aristoi – meaning excellent). Plato suggested that the ideal ruler is the philosopher, the lover of wisdom, and he even stated that philosophers, who usually despise power, should be forced to rule a city.
Plato was the founder of “the Academy”, the first higher learning institution in the West
The Platonic Academy was founded in 387 BC in Athens. Plato’s Academy was the first school of higher education in the West and it attracted countless great thinkers, such as Aristotle, Heraclides, and Eudoxus. Students would be taught mathematics, dialectics, natural science, among other sciences. You can visit the archaeological site of the Academy of Plato the next time you visit Athens.
Plato was the first most influential dreamer and idealist
Although Plato despised illusions, he is generally perceived as the “dreamer” among the ancient Greek philosophers, especially when compared to the more rational Aristotle. That is because classical idealism is closely associated with Plato, although the philosopher cannot be considered an idealist in the modern sense. In philosophy, idealism is focusing on the perception of reality from a metaphysical point of view. Plato is often considered as the “earliest representative of metaphysical objective idealism”.
Did you know any of these facts about Plato? Leave a comment down below. If you enjoy watching videos from Helinika, don’t forget to subscribe and follow the platform on other social media!
Greece’s geographic location and long history have enabled the establishment and adoption of various traditions. Some of them can be traced back to Greece’s pagan roots, others are related to the Christian Orthodox faith, and some have been adopted from other cultures and religions. Forget Christmas trees, Christmas carols, and Santa Claus. Let’s see some of the most unique Greek customs and traditions that are celebrated during the winter months.
Unique Greek Winter Holiday Traditions:
The Feeding of the Water Spring and the Unspoken Water
Nautical Christmas Decorations
The Smashing of the Pomegranate
Cutting the King’s Pie
The Theophany and the Great Blessing of the Waters
The Feeding of The Water Spring in Thessaly (The Silent/Unspoken Water)
If you have ever visited the picturesque villages of Thessaly, a region located in central Greece, then you must have noticed the traditional stone drinking fountains that are located in each villages’ central square and on some key-locations in the cobblestone routes that surround them. These water fountains, called «βρύσες» (vrises) in Greek, are being “fed” every Christmas eve or New Year’s eve.
The “feeding of the water spring” (το τάισμα της βρύσης) could be described as an offering to a deity that is connected to the water element. Young maidens walk towards the water fountain late at night and pour honey and butter to “please” it. Depending on the location, various other items, such as olive tree branches, are “offered” to the spring. The latter then starts gushing the “silent” or “unspoken” water, as they call it.
The young women fill in their clay pitchers and return home, bringing many blessings to their household. While carrying it home, they are not allowed to talk to each other or to anyone else, hence the name “silent/unspoken water” (αμίλητο νερό). This water is used similarly to “holy water”, mostly for “cleansing” the house on a spiritual level. In certain regions, the unmarried women use the water to make predictions about the future, usually revolving around their marriage and future family.
It is not clear when this custom was established in Thessaly. Its ritualistic nature and the act of making an offering to what appears to be an elemental deity can, however, lead us to the conclusion that it is rooted back to Greece’s pagan culture and religion. The “feeding of the water spring” bears close similarities to another Greek tradition, which takes place every spring or summer (depending on the region).
Klethonas (Κλήδονας) is an ancient Greek ritualistic custom that was re-established by the Christian Orthodox religion and takes place in certain parts of Greece to this day. The custom occurs in the span of two days and it entails the collection of the “silent/unspoken water” and the storage of this water in a container made out of copper. The women drink the water and sit outside, waiting to hear a voice that would reveal the name of their future husband. Another way to predict who they will marry is by falling asleep and seeing the image of their future husband in their dreams. This is not the only way to celebrate the Klethonas and the use of the “silent/unspoken water” may differ from region to region.
Today, Klethonas is connected to John the Baptist who is believed to reveal the future. However, ancient Greek historian Herodotus and the geographer Pausanias do mention Klethonas in their observations; in ancient times, the omens of the Klethonas were revealed by Zeus through Hermes.
Since many young people leave the countryside and move to bigger cities and since the traditional gender roles have evolved during the years, customs such as the ones of Klethonas and the “feeding of the water spring” are becoming less and less known.
Before we get onto the next tradition, it is worth mentioning that similar customs take place in other parts of the world. For example, there is a Scottish custom called the “Unspoken Water” that entails the collection of water from under a bridge late at night and under complete silence. The water is then used to heal someone who is sick. There is no proof that the Scottish custom has been inspired by the Greek custom nor the opposite, which makes the tradition even more fascinating. Perhaps, the answer could be found in Carl Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious and the set of universal archetypes that are manifested in different cultures in similar ways.
Decorating a Christmas Boat Instead of a Christmas Tree
Nowadays, most Greek households associate Christmas with a decorated evergreen tree. This is a custom that was introduced in Greece in 1833 by the Bavarian prince Otto who ruled as the king of Greece for thirty years, but was adopted by the Greeks in the 20th century, after witnessing depictions of holiday gatherings in foreign movies and tv-shows. Since pine and fir trees are not common in the coastal areas of Greece, a lot of people use fake but realistic-looking trees that people store and re-use year after year. But what did the Greeks decorate before the adoption of the Christmas tree?
If you have ever visited Greece, then you know the importance of the sea in the country’s culture and economy. Greece, a country of 11 million people, is the world leader in maritime shipping, with the current value of the Greek-owned fleet standing at almost 100 billion dollars. If you are not new to this channel and you have watched Helinika’s playlists narrating the Odyssey and the Argonautica, then you already know that Greeks have been dominating the seas since ancient times. It comes as no surprise that Greeks have been decorating their boats -big or small- with Christmas lights for centuries.
This custom might be getting less and less popular today, however, it is well-established in the Greek islands and in the most important port-cities of Greece, like Piraeus. Since not every single Greek person owns a boat, it is very common to own a miniature wooden vessel. This vessel is put in display in the living-room and lit with various lights. Since many Greek families have members who work in maritime shipping and are often absent during the holidays, the wooden vessel symbolizes the love and devotion the whole family has for the seamen while waiting for them to return.
The Smashing of the Pomegranate
A panhellenic custom that survives to this day is the smashing of the pomegranate on New Year’s eve. When Greeks are invited to a NY’s eve party, they sometimes offer real pomegranates or objects depicting this fruit to their hosts. A pomegranate often hangs above the house’s or apartment’s main entrance, bringing luck and blessings to the household members and all of their guests.
During the countdown, minutes or seconds before the arrival of the new year, the hosts smash the pomegranate by hitting it with their right hand against their front door. In this way, the fruit’s red seeds scatter around the house, bringing luck to all of its members. If someone ends up getting red stains all over their clothes, he/she is believed to be the luckiest of the year. This tradition may differ depending on the region of Greece you visit.
Vasilopita (King’s Pie) is a pie that is prepared, blessed, and shared by families and organizations, such as schools and companies, on the 1st of January. The pie has a hidden coin, real or fake, and the person who finds it in his/her piece is believed to be the luckiest of the year. The recipe varies from region to region, but it usually looks and tastes like sweet bread.
The tradition is associated with Saint Basil’s (Άγιος Βασίλειος) day on January 1st, hence the name. Saint Basil the Great was the bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia from 370 AD till 379 AD and he is believed to be the one who brings presents to children on New Year’s Day. He is the Greek Orthodox version of Santa Claus with the difference that he is visiting on January 1st instead of Christmas.
The tradition is common in countries that follow the Christian Orthodox religion, and its roots go back to the Byzantine Empire. The tradition of the cut of vasilopita resembles the tradition of the “three kings’ cake” that is established for the past three centuries in France, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and New Orleans. However, this custom is associated with the biblical three wise men (or Kings) who visited Jesus on the day of his birth rather than with Saint Basil.
It is worth mentioning that the name Basil (Βασίλειος) derives from the ancient Greek «βασιλεύς» that means “king”. Therefore, the Greek custom is translated into “King’s Pie” rather than “Basil’s Pie”.
On the 7th of January, people who follow the Greek Orthodox religion celebrate the Theophany, also known as “Phota” (Φώτα). This day celebrates the baptism of Christ and symbolizes people’s spiritual rebirth. There are several customs that take place in Greece on that day but the most common one is the “Great Blessing of the Waters”.
A priest from each village, town, or municipality visits the nearest coastline and sings hymns to bless the waters and protect the people working in the sea, such as fishermen, sailors, and mariners. On the rare occasion that a village or town is not close to the sea, the priests bless the nearest pond or river. The custom’s roots take us back to the third century AD and it is obviously associated with the Christian Orthodox religion.
In some parts of Greece, the 7th of January is also closely associated with the «Dance of the Goblins”. Goblins (Καλικάντζαροι) are believed to be chthonic tricksters that are only able to step foot on the Earth’s surface when the waters are “unbaptized”. According to the legend, they roam the streets between Christmas and the 7th of January, just before the “Great Blessing of the Waters”. In some villages, the locals scare away the goblins by dancing and singing loudly or by organizing bonfires.