Ancient Greek Ghost Stories (Halloween Special) |#GreekMyths

With Halloween approaching, today’s video on Greek mythology is dedicated on ancient Greek ghost stories. Before we get started, make sure to subscribe to Helinika’s YouTube channel and never miss a video in the future.

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Ancient Ghost History: Facts About Ghosts

Cases of ghostly apparitions have been reported since ancient times, particularly in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. There are many references of ghosts in Mesopotamian religions and in the ancient Egyptian culture, where ghosts were believed to be the souls and spirits of people who exited their material body and influenced the lives of the living. Ghosts could either harm people or assist them.

In ancient Greece, ghosts were called «φαντάσματα», a term that could be translated as “apparition”. Ancient Greek ghosts would reside in Hades, the kingdom of the dead and would be contacted by oracles to reveal truths about the past, present, and future – a practice known as necromancy. For example, Odysseus, king of Ithaca, was believed to have contacted the dead to find the safest way to reach his kingdom. In this story, it is revealed that the souls of the dead were blood-thirsty, having characteristics of modern vampires. Moreover, witches would often leave notes and curse tablets in newly dug graves, expecting the dead to act as messengers and deliver their requests to the chthonic deities of the underworld, such as Pan, Persephone, and Hecate.

In classical antiquity, however, the concept of “haunting” was introduced and ghosts were perceived similarly as in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The souls of the dead could walk on the world of the living and haunt them. An example of that would be the story of Athenodorus’ haunting.

Helinika has collected ghost stories from different times of Greece’s ancient history. Some of them were narrated for entertainment purposes, while others were reported by ancient historians as real events. Stay till the end because some of the stories are terrifying.

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Odysseus Crosses the Veil Between the Living and the Dead

Odysseus was an ancient Greek king of the island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea. He is known as the mythical hero of the epic poem “The Odyssey”, which is attributed to the ancient Greek poet Homer. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus goes through a series of adventures to get from Troy to Ithaca. At some point, he is instructed by a witch named Circe to contact the dead and learn more about his upcoming obstacles.

Odysseus arrives at a dark, foggy, and cold place named “Cimeria”, which is estimated to be modern-day Crimea. According to the legend, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is very thin there. As soon as the Ithacan king arrived in Cimeria, he dug a hole in the ground, sacrificed animals, and poured milk and honey in the pit in order to attract the souls of the dead.

The otherwise brave and fearless Odysseus is terrified with the terrifying ghosts that appear before him. However, he manages to keep calm and finally talk to the blind prophet Teiresias, who instructs him how to reach Ithaca safely. He is also able to talk to his late mother – a tragic scene, since the hero was unaware of his mother’s death. It is important to remember that, in order to communicate with the dead, Odysseus had to offer animal blood, milk, and honey. These three things are considered to be attractors of ghosts till this day. So, if you do believe in ghosts, never mix all these ingredients together.

Macabre Tales of Ancient Greek Necromancy

Necromancy (from the Greek “νεκρός” and “μαντεία”) is a divination practice that involves some type of communication with the dead. You might be aware of modern-day mediums contacting spirits through dreams and visions or during seances and even by playing board games. Although these ways of communicating with the dead still give people the creeps, you can’t imagine how terrifying ancient methods of necromancy could get.

The less scary divination and magic practices involved inhaling hallucinogenic gases and chewing Nerium. Just like Pythia did in the oracle of Delphi when she supposedly communicated with gods and spirits. However, ancient Greek witches would often follow macabre rituals that involved digging up graves and stealing parts or entire human bodies. They would then use them to briefly bring the dead back to life and reveal secrets and truths. Sometimes, they would ask the dead man or woman to ask Hecate or another chthonic deity to curse someone. They would then burn the bodies and end their lives a second time.

A macabre story of necromancy is the one of Thelyphron in Apuleius. Thelyphron is a (fictional?) man that visits the Greek city of Larissa, where he learns that the area is infested with shape-shifting witches who try to steal the bodies of people who have recently died. The man is offered a well-paid job: to guard the body of a man the night before his burial. Thelyphron spends a night in a dark room with the dead body, holding a lantern. At some point, a bird enters the room and he tries to catch it. Within seconds, he falls into a deep sleep and awakens only when the sun is shining. Thankfully, the body he guarded was intact.

The widow thanked him and payed him for his service. When he tried to exit the house, he was greeted by an angry crowd. Friends and relatives of the diseased man were accusing the widow that she murdered her husband to live with her lover. A necromancer arrives at the scene to awaken the man. A ghost appears and enters his lifeless body.

The zombie reveals that he was indeed poisoned by his wife. He then turns his head and stares at Thelyphron, who stood there petrified. The zombie thanks his guardian for scaring away the witch who entered his room at night. However, he reveals that the witch, disguised as a bird, hypnotized Thelyphron and stole parts of his nose and ears. Thelyphron is shocked; he touches his nose, then his ear and chunks of wax fall on the ground. The witch had not only stolen his body parts, but had replaced them with wax figures. The crowd starts laughing at poor Thelyphron who runs away from Larissa.

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The Real(?) Haunting of Athenodorus

Athenodorus was a philosopher and student of Posidonius of Rhodes, who eventually became the mentor of the first Roman emperor. However, he is known not only as a great thinker, but also as the witness of the first haunting ever reported. His experience has inspired countless urban legends, novels, and movies, but it has been reported as a true story.

Just like other thinkers in the 1st century AD, philosopher Athenodorus spent time studying in the city of Athens. As a broke student, he was looking for cheap houses to rent. After long research, he came across an amazing opportunity. There was a large and beautiful home offered at an extremely low price. It was a catch!

Athenodorus was warned that the house was rumored to be haunted with the spirit of a chained old man who would roam from room to room at night, dragging his chains and moaning. Not only that, but the ghost was said to have cursed the house. Whoever was brave enough to rent it would suffer from mysterious sicknesses. Rumor had it that those who stayed there for too long would eventually die from the lack of sleep and the abundance of stress and fear.

However, Athenodorus was a sceptic. He kept thinking how much money he would save while staying in a literal mansion. The philosopher rented the house and spent his first day organizing it. The house was a literal mess. And by the time the first night stars started beaming in the Athenian sky, he was able to relax in his new office room and start studying philosophy – his favorite nightly habit.

Athenodorus was concentrated on his studies when he suddenly heard heavy steps and chains rattling within his house. Could the rumors be true? Or was someone playing a prank on him? The young philosopher stayed focused on his books, refusing to look at the source of the noise. The footsteps kept coming closer and closer and he could hear a man’s heavy breathing. He eventually looked up only to see the ghostly figure of a man in chains.

Although terrified, the philosopher asked the ghost to leave his room. He needed to study. The ghost seemed impatient, he rattled his chains and seemed to be asking Athenodorus to follow him. Athenodorus finally understood what was going on and stood up. He was willing to follow the phantom wherever he wanted him to go.

The chained ghost started walking from room to room and finally exited through the backdoor. As soon as the phantom stepped on the courtyard, it vanished. The philosopher grew suspicious. Was someone murdered and buried there?

The next morning, Athenodorus visited the city officials and asked them to excavate his courtyard. He was right; a skeleton tied with heavy chains was discovered there. The bones were removed and buried according to the ancient traditions in a cemetery. No ghosts ever visited Athenodorus again. He was able to enjoy his enormous house all by himself!

Have you ever heard of any of these stories? Feel free to share any ghost stories from your countries and don’t forget to follow Helinika on social media!

This Is Your Sign for Learning Greek

You have been debating whether you should start learning modern Greek and you constantly postpone it. Whatever the reason might be, here is the sign you were looking for. Start learning Greek today.

Minimal Line and Shape Wall Art Designs by Helinika

Helinika’s shop on Redbubble is introducing a new collection named “Minimal Shape and Line Art”. Inspired by the simplicity of the Greek aesthetic, these wall art designs will add character to your living space.

Ancient Greek Vampires | #GreekMyths

ancient greek vampires

Most of us know vampires from Hollywood and, of course, the 19th Century Gothic horror novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. They are blood-thirsty people (or creatures) of the night. They are called “the undead” and they are still very feared in the Balkans and in Eastern Europe. Vampires are often depicted as being pale, aristocratic, and charming. Sometimes, they resemble frightening monsters. They always seek blood but, in certain occasions, they consume people’s energy and are therefore called energy vampires. All of them fear the sunlight, garlic, and certain metals. +What if I told you that ancient Greeks believed in vampires as well?

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The Modern Greek “Vrykolakas”

The modern Greek vampire is called “vrykolakas”. A vrykolakas is an undead creature that resembles a zombie (at least in the way they are portrayed in Hollywood movies). They drink blood but they have cravings for flesh as well. According to legend, these supernatural beings were once humans. These people either got excommunicated by the Orthodox Church or followed a sinful lifestyle. After their death, they turn into horrific creatures that leave their tombs at night and scare or even hunt the living.

The fear of the vrykolakas spread among Greeks when the latter encountered some Slavic groups in the Balkan region. In fact, as many of you might already know, vampires are very popular among the Slavs. In Greece, the fear of the vrykolakas soon faded away and most Greeks are aware of vampires thanks to Stoker’s “Dracula”. What most people do not know is that stories of vampire-like creatures are way older than the Irish writer’s book and the 17th-century folklore.

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Vampires in Ancient Greece | Ancient Greek Vampires

Ancient Greeks are known for being imaginative and creative when it comes to storytelling. If you have watched Helinika’s video series narrating Homer’s “Odyssey”, then you should remember that Odysseus had to perform a ritual to be able to talk to the souls of the dead in Hades. This ritual involved sacrificing an animal and offering its blood to the souls. It is clear that Ancient Greeks believed that the dead were thirsty for blood; thirsty for anything that keeps the human body alive.

This belief seemed to have led some ancient Greek cities to take protective measures when burying their dead. Neolithic graves discovered in Choirokoitia in Cyprus indicate that people were trying to stop the dead from exiting their graves.  They would place rocks on the dead bodies’ chests, making sure that they would not escape during the night. Similar burial sites were found in other places across Greece.

Apart from these findings, ancient Greek mythology includes many stories of undead creatures that targeted people – especially at night. Empusa and Lamia were two vampiric monsters in ancient Greek folklore. Their origins are not clear; some believed they were the angry ghosts of two dead women, while other said that they were demons.

Embusa and Lamia would take the forms of beautiful women to attract young, energetic men who wandered alone at night. With their charming beauty, they would lure them into dark alleys and fields. There, they would attack these men, drinking their blood and sometimes eating their flesh.

A similar legend is the one of Mormolyceia or Mormo. A female ghost who targeted babies and young children instead. During the Byzantine times, Mormo and Lamia were considered to be the same supernatural being. In fact, it is believed that the original story of Lamia described her as a ghost that targeted infants.

According to the legend, Lamia was a Libyan queen who (unsurprisingly) became Zeus’ lover. Hera, Zeus’ sister and wife, started to harass the woman by abducting and killing her children as soon as they were born. Lamia became so enraged that started targeting other people’s babies. Ancient Greek women would often mention Lamia when their children were misbehaving to make sure that they don’t sneak out of their beds at night. Similar stories were told in other ancient communities around the globe.

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Five Facts About Plato | #Philosophy

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.

The Odyssey Part 5 (Final) | Books 17 – 24 | #GreekMyths

Last time we followed Odysseus back to his kingdom, Ithaca. There he met with his son Telemachus and his loyal friend Eumaeus. Today we will cover books 17 to 24 of the Odyssey, finishing this series.  

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“The Odyssey” Books 17 – 20: The Suitors Meet Beggar-Odysseus

Telemachus visits the palace of Ithaca and meets his mother. She embraces him and asks whether he was able to collect any news regarding his father. The young prince follows the plan and does not reveal that his father has reached the island. Instead, he says that he is captured in Calypso’s island and that they should make a sacrifice to appease the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus. That is when Theoclymenus enters the scene. He is a prophet from Argos who was wanted for committing murder. The fugitive had sought refuge in Telemachus’ boat and ended up in Ithaca. He revealed that he had seen Odysseus on the island, but Penelope did not believe him.

It was almost nighttime when the suitors visited the palace to dine and drink wine. They used to eat and drink at the palace every night, along with Penelope’s maids. The queen of Ithaca was feeling helpless and unable to bring order to the kingdom of Ithaca. The island was ruled by complete chaos.

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What the suitors did not know was that Odysseus, dressed up as a beggar, was walking towards his kingdom, along with his loyal friend, Eumaeus. A man named Melanthios sees the men and taunts Odysseus for his appearance. And what follows is one of the most iconic parts of Homer’s Odyssey: Odysseus’ dog, Argos, was spotted laying nearby. Argos was only a puppy when the king of Ithaca travelled to Troy. But the dog, which was very old and neglected at that time, was able to recognize his master immediately and started wagging its tail. Argos was unable to run to Odysseus and due to his excitement and old age, died at the scene. The friendship between a dog and a man was considered sacred since ancient times.

Odysseus finally enters the palace and, pretending he is a beggar, starts asking for money from the thousands of suitors. Some of them throw bread at him. The king then starts narrating a story; how he also used to be rich. Antinous, one of the suitors, hits him on the shoulder and Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, asks the gods to punish him. He doesn’t attack yet; his journey has taught him a lot and he has paid for his hybris.

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Meanwhile, another beggar appears on the scene and asks Odysseus to fight – he didn’t want another beggar taking away some of his potential earnings. The beggar gets intimidated by Odysseus’ strong physique and the suitors offer some meat to the winner. The suitors have one more drink for the night and leave.

The king and prince of Ithaca then start hiding their weapons in the palace; they will use them tomorrow to scare away and kill the suitors. Once they are done, Odysseus visits Penelope in her chamber. The faithful queen of Ithaca does not recognize her husband. She sees a beggar who was mistreated by her maids and the angry suitors and feels bad for him. She asks him to narrate his story, but the man explains his past is too painful to be brought up. Penelope, feeling very familiar towards this stranger, starts discussing her own problems. How powerless she feels and how she might have to end up marrying one the suitors, although she detests them.

Odysseus then starts narrating a story to Penelope. That he is originally from Crete and that he once hosted Odysseus during his homecoming trip. He manages to describe him accurately; he was the same person after all. The queen cries and promises to host the man in her palace. The man promises that Odysseus is alive and on his way back, but Penelope cannot believe this scenario. So many years have passed by.

Following the rules of philoxenia, Penelope instructs Eyrykleia, her most loyal maid, to clean the host’s feet. The maid recognizes Odysseus from a hunting wound on his thigh and Odysseus warns her to not reveal his identity. Penelope then asks for Odysseus advice. She dreamt of an eagle that preys on geese in her kingdom; the eagle talks to her and says he is Odysseus and the geese are no other than the suitors. Odysseus says he believes that the dream will come true but Penelope is skeptical. She also reveals that she plans to choose her new husband tomorrow. She will marry whoever is able to shoot an arrow through twelve axe heads with Odysseus bow. Her real, disguised husband reminds her that Odysseus will come back and Penelope runs towards her chamber in tears.

Odysseus spends the night trying to convince himself to not attack the suitors while they sleep. Goddess Athena visits him and reassures him he will be able to fight against the suitors on his own. She promised to protect him with her divine powers. Meanwhile, Penelope prays to goddess Artemis to end her life.

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“The Odyssey” Books 21 – 24: The End

The next morning, Penelope gathers the suitors in the main hall and announces them that she will marry one of them. She explains that the new king of Ithaca will be the man who will be able to shoot an arrow through twelve axe heads with Odysseus’ bow.

The suitors fail one by one and then beggar Odysseus asks to give it a try. The suitors laugh but Penelope allows him to use the bow, promising that she will give him food and clothes if he succeeds. Telemachus, knowing what is about to follow, leads his mother inside the house, while Eumaeus makes sure that the doors are locked. Odysseus shoots the arrow, which manages to go through all twelve axe heads. At the same time, a lightning strikes, a sign that Zeus is with Odysseus’ side again.

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Once Odysseus shows his skills, he throws an arrow at Antinous, the vilest of the suitors. The rest of the men try to find their weapons but Odysseus and Telemachus had made sure to hid them carefully. With Athena’s help, Odysseus defeats the suitors one by one, and makes sure that the maids that were disloyal to him get punished as well.

Eyrykleia, the old maid, informs Penelope about Odysseus’ return and the death of the suitors. Penelope cannot believe this scenario; she thinks that the gods punished the suitors for their hybris and that Odysseus is dead. But then Odysseus enters her room and reveals his true identity. Penelope is hesitant to believe him; but Odysseus talks about their bed, which he had carved himself from an olive tree that has its roots in the foundation of the house. This bed cannot be moved, just like the couple’s faith and loyalty to each other. This secret that only he and she knew was enough to make Penelope believe that her husband was alive and standing in front of her. She hugs him and apologizes to him for her skepticism.

There are now two things left to do, a sacrifice to god Poseidon and a visit to the vineyards of Laertes, Odysseus’ old father.  Odysseus meets his father, they embrace, and makes sure that Poseidon will favor him again by visiting the mainland holding the Winnowing Oar and making a sacrifice when he meets the first person who is unaware of the sea and seamen. As for the suitors, they end up in Hades, and their loss divides the people of Ithaca. With Athena’s intervention, peace is declared, and the Ithacans follow Odysseus, their true king; the one who is favored by the gods.

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Homer’s Odyssey Part 4 | Books 13-16 | #GreekMyths

odyssey part 4

Last time we followed Odysseus in the kingdom of the dead and we learned how he was able to save himself from the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis. What will happen next? Today we will cover the fourth part of Homer’s Odyssey. Make sure to stay till the end and comment down below your thoughts after watching this video. And subscribe for more videos on Greek mythology!

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“The Odyssey” Book 13: Odysseus Reaches Ithaca

The 13th book of Odysseus’ journey starts in present time, with the Ithacan king finishing narrating his adventures in front of the people of Phaeacia. The hospitable islanders sympathized with Odysseus and they offered him a boat ride home, along with various gifts and resources. Odysseus thanks king Alcinous and the rest of the Phaeacians and gets on board. The boat finally arrives at Ithaca the next day, while Odysseus is asleep. The Phaeacians leave Odysseus on the shore and return to their peaceful island. Soon enough, Poseidon notices that they helped Odysseus reach Ithaca and he gets filled with anger. After asking permission from Zeus, god Poseidon turns the Phaeacian ship into stone few moments before it arrives in the harbor. As a result, the ship sinks and the Phaeacians who helped Odysseus reach Ithaca were never seen again. King Alcinous realized that helping Odysseus enraged the gods and swore to never help strangers ever again.

At the same time, king Odysseus wakes up and finds himself on a land he could not recognize. Goddess Athena appears in front of him as a shepherd and explains to him that he is indeed in Ithaca and that his people need him. Odysseus at first tries to conceal his identity, the goddess reveals her identity and advices him to use his tricks to eradicate the suitors who conspire against him and his son. To protect him, she transforms him into an old man and leaves Ithaca to go find Telemachus in the Peloponnese region.

“The Odyssey” Book 14: Eumaeus, The Loyal Friend

The transformed king of Ithaca follows Athena’s advice and hides into a hut that belongs to Eumaeus, a local farmer and loyal friend of Odysseus. There he meets Eumaeus, who not only feeds the transformed Odysseus but confesses to him how much he misses the king of Ithaca and how much he detests the men who have taken over his palace, trying to convince Penelope to marry one of them. Odysseus promises Eumaeus that his beloved king will return – his own identity is not revealed yet. He narrates a different story regarding his background and finally learns that his son is in danger, since the suitors are conspiring to kill him. Once the night arrives, Odysseus sleeps in the hut and Eumaeus tends to his herd.

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“The Odyssey” Book 15: Telemachus Returns

While Odysseus sleeps, goddess Athena find Telemachus in the Peloponnese region and urges him to travel back to Ithaca to prevent his mother from marrying a suitor. She warns him of the dangers he might face and suggests that he visits Eumaeus first and let him visit Penelope to announce his return. As he leaves, an eagle flies off holding its pray. Is this a sign?

Back in the hut, Odysseus learns about the death of his mother and how lonely his father, Laertis, is. Eumaeus then narrates his own story. He was abducted by pirates when he was a child. King Laertis purchased him to save him and Odysseus’ mother raised him. While the farmer narrates his story to the transformed Odysseus, Telemachus arrives on the island.

“The Odyssey” Book 16: Father and Son Reunite

The young prince of Ithaca reaches Eumaeus’ hut, where he is greeted by the friendly farmer and is introduced to his father who had the appearance of an unrecognizable old man.  Odysseus soon understands that his son does not feel confident enough to stand against the suitors. With Athena’s intervention, Odysseus regains his appearance and reveals his true identity to his son. The men embrace and cry together. United they can eradicate the hundreds of suitors that roam the palace. Father and son spend the whole night talking and coming up with the right plan that can help them regain power over their palace.

Will they succeed? Can father and son win against hundreds of suitors? If you are interested in hearing the rest of the story, don’t forget to subscribe (free). Also, if you enjoyed watching this video, feel free to like, comment and share.

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Pandora’s Jar and The Lost Paradise | #GreekMyths

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Most cultures and religions have a story that explains all the suffering and negative things that exist on this planet; from diseases and natural disasters to jealousy, crime, and any sin committed by humans.  The ancient Greeks had coined the myth of Pandora and her box/jar*.

Key Parts in The Myth of Pandora’s Box/Jar

As with most Greek myths, we know the story of Pandora from the ancient Greek poet Hesiod. Let’s see the most important parts of the myth:

  1. Pandora was a woman created by a god (Hephaestus) on the instructions of another god (Zeus);
  2. She was given various traits that were neither good nor evil;
  3. She had free will;
  4. She was given a jar, but she was warned to never open it;
  5. The woman opened the jar out of curiosity and the entire human race was damned.

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Different Variations of Pandora’s Myth

Hesiod narrates the myth of Pandora in two different works: “Theogony” and “Works and Days”. In “Theogony”, Pandora did not obtain any box or jar. She was created by the gods to collect all their blessings, after Prometheus stole the fire from Olympus and offered it to humans. She was the perfect human and the rest of humanity was jealous of her. In Greek, her name (Πανδώρα) means exactly that – she who bears all gifts/blessings**.

In “Works and Days”, the most popular variation of the myth, Pandora was created by the gods of Olympus to punish humans for using the element of fire to their advantage, without taking the blame themselves. The woman was given a jar (pithos) that contained all evils. Pandora opened the jar and accidentally released these evils. Humanity lost its Paradise and nothing was ever the same. Thankfully, one thing remained into the jar and was never released. That was hope – the belief that things will get better. And this is why humanity continues working hard and trying to make innovations that will better people’s lives; because they hope that better things can happen.

Over the years, many different variations of the myth have surfaced. The main similarity among all of them is that Pandora, a female, was a punishment for mankind.

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What Does Pandora’s Box/Jar Symbolize?

Pandora’s myth is one of the most difficult myths to interpret. Till today, classical scholars fail to agree on a specific interpretation. British scholar Martin Litchfield West has concluded that Hesiod’s myth is a combination of various different myths that did not survive through the years. It is indeed a very difficult myth to understand, but here are the most common interpretations of Pandora’s story:

  1. Pandora represents the misogynistic belief that women are the “root of all evils”.
  2. Curiosity can lead to tragedy (for both males and females).
  3. Technological advancements can have a negative effect on people’s lives (this is depicted by a) Pandora being a crafted, un-naturally born human and b) humans being punished for using fire to their advantage).

Of course, there are countless more interpretations of the myth. Do you know any? Leave a comment down below!

What Is The Connection Between Pandora and Eve?

If you haven’t noticed already, Pandora’s myth bears many similarities with the Judeo-Christian story of Adam and Eve. Both stories, whether they refer to true events or not, belong to the “theodicy” category, meaning that they explain why there is evil in the world and why (a) good god(s) permit(s) bad things to happen to good people.

Similarities between Pandora and Eve:

  1. Pandora and Eve are both divine creations living in paradise;
  2. Both women have free will but use it to do harm not good;
  3. Both myths bear a contradiction: the women had free will, however they did not mean to do harm;
  4. Misogynistic ideas can be derived from both stories (e.g. women are inferior to men, women cannot be trusted, women were created to tempt/punish men etc.).***

Differences between Pandora and Eve:

  1. Unlike Eve, Pandora was not tricked by an evil entity.
  2. Eve was punished for being curious and for disobeying God, while Pandora is the actual punishment. In Pandora’s story, people are being punished for their over-ambition and for having an advantage over the rest of the creatures living on Earth.

What are your ideas on Pandora’s myth? Do you see any connection with Adam and Eve? Comment your ideas down below.

*The original myth mentions a jar (pithos); the translated version by Erasmus of Rotterdam (16th century AD) mentioned a box.

**Certain scholars believe that the proper translation is “all-giving”.

***Hesiod himself has expressed misogynistic ideas when describing Pandora in Theogony: “(…) From her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.”

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How Did Athens Get Its Name? Athens and Athena | #GreekMyths

poseidon and athena

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Athens is the capital of Greece, a city with a history spanning over 3.400 years. In ancient times, and specifically in classical times, Athens was a powerful Greek city-state. Democracy was born in Athens and the city was the center of arts, sciences, and, of course, philosophy.

Not only was it the birthplace of notable philosophers such as Socrates and Plato, but also of politicians, such as Pericles, and playwriters and tragedians, such as Aristophanes and Sophocles. Nowadays, many people dream of visiting Athens and specifically the hill of Acropolis, where many polytheistic temples are still intact.

The epicenter of Acropolis is the Parthenon; the temple that was dedicated to goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom and strategy, among other things. The question that arises is why did the Athenians choose Athena to be their protector and why does the name of Athens and the goddess are so similar?

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Cecrops: The Founder of Athens

There is a myth that has survived thousands of years that explains why Athens was named after the goddess Athena. Many historians believe that Athena was actually named after the city of Athens. But today we are going to explore the myth surrounding the naming of the city.

Before Athens met its glory, it was called Cecropia. It was named after its mythical founder, Cecrops. The latter was born by the Earth itself and was half-man and half-serpent. Despite his appearance, he was not feared by the people. He is in fact considered the father of native Athenians and the one who taught them how to read and write.

Cecropia was considered a beautiful land with plenty of sunlight. It lacked a lot of vegetation, but it was located by the sea. At the center of the city, there was a hill that could be used for strategic purposes but also to connect with the divine. The people of Cecropia were educated, cultured, and among the first who started worshipping the Olympian gods. Soon enough, the Olympians noticed this beautiful land and wanted to protect it. The two gods who wanted Cecropia the most were Athena, the goddess of wisdom and strategy, and Poseidon, the god of the sea.

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Athena vs. Poseidon

Athena and Poseidon were willing to compete against each other to win the sympathy of the natives. They did not try to force their power over the city; they knew that people would be more motivated to follow a god or goddess if he or she gained their respect rather than cause them to fear. This detail is important and often overlooked when describing the myth. The gods’ decision signifies the transition from oligarchy to democracy.

The two powerful gods stood in front of Cecrops and the citizens and presented their offers. Poseidon stood on the rocky terrain of Cecropia, which he then struck with his trident. A well full of salt water appeared, which was later called the “Sea of Erechtheus”.  This was indeed very spectacular, however, the locals couldn’t drink the water and there was no practical use for it.

The wise goddess Athena did something less spectacular but she took into consideration the needs and wishes of the people. With her divine powers, an olive tree grew from the rocky terrain. The olive tree can survive the strong Attican sun and live for thousands of years. Today, visitors can see one of the oldest olive trees of Athens standing tall on the Acropolis hill. Rumor has it that this is the exact same tree that emerged from the ground with Athena’s powers.

Cecrops chose Athena to be the protector of the city, which was named after the goddess. This decision was proven very profitable, since the olive tree enabled the Athenians to produce olive oil – the “liquid gold” of the Mediterranean region. Not only did they become self-sufficient, but they exported the product in other regions as well. With their economy blooming, Athenians were able to spend more time thinking about how to improve society. What would the ideal governing style look like? What is moral and what is immoral? How can the arts and sciences improve people’s lives?

Other variations of the myth:

-Poseidon offered the people of Cecropia a goat; livestock farming would not bring a lot of profit, since the land lacked vegetation. Another, unpopular variation says that Poseidon actually offered the people a horse. Poseidon is indeed considered the creator of the horses.

-It wasn’t Cecrops who decided on the fate of the land, but the citizens. Women voted for Athena and men for Poseidon. The women were more than the men. This variation explains also the “birth” of Democracy, since the citizens voted for who would represent them. However, Democracy was developed around 600 BC, whereas Athens was founded 2,5 thousand years before that.

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The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Secret Agrarian Rituals | #GreekMyths

The previous time we talked about Persephone, the goddess of vegetation and queen of the underworld, who was the daughter of goddess Demeter and the wife of Demeter’s brother, Plouton. In today’s video, we will be exploring the Eleusinian Mysteries – the secret rituals of an agrarian* cult in ancient Greece.

It is important to clarify that the mysteries themselves were actually happening in real-life, they were not mythical; however, they did revolve around ancient Greek mythology, and because of the secrecy that surrounded them, a lot of the things that we know about them, might not be true.

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When were the Eleusinian Mysteries taking place?

Many scholars believe that the Eleusinian Mysteries were inspired by some older Egyptian rituals that involved Isis and Osiris or that they were directly connected to some other Greek rituals, known as “Cabeirian Mysteries”, which were dedicated to chthonic deities living under the surface of the Earth.

The information we have regarding these rituals come from the ancient Greek geographer, Pausanias, who said that, when the Athenians took over the city of Eleusina, they were able to control every aspect of the lives of the people living in Eleusina. But there was an exception. They had no control over the Eleusinian Mysteries, the secret rituals of an agrarian cult.

According to estimates by archaeologists, the mysteries were taking place for at least 2.000 years, between 1450 BCE to 392 CE. They were always held in the ancient Greek month Boedromion (August – September).

Persephone’s Myth and the Eleusinian Mysteries

The myth itself is related to Persephone’s myth, the one we covered in our previous video. Persephone was both the goddess of vegetation and the queen of the underworld. She was depicted as a joyful, young girl, but also as a chthonic, fearful divinity. Persephone would spend half of the year by the side of her mother, on the surface of the earth, gathering flowers in fields and protecting the nature. The other half, she would go back to her husband in the underworld, the same way that the seeds are buried under the ground till they grow and sprout.

The Mysteries are connected to this myth. The cycle of life and death, the change of seasons, and possibly, reincarnation. And during the rituals, it is said that the descent, search, and ascent of Persephone where depicted.

The Agrarian Cult of Eleusina

Eleusina is a town with one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece. It is located nearby Athens and it is visited by many schools and tourists every year. The entire area was of great spiritual significance in ancient times, since that was the place where Demeter spent most of her time searching for her daughter after she was abducted and held in Hades.

This town was a connection point for the devotees of Demeter and Persephone who would gather every year, at the end of the summer, to participate in some very secretive rituals. The rituals were said to be organized by an agrarian cult, meaning that this cult was highly interested in Mother Earth and the cultivation of land. The cult had members outside of Eleusina, spreading to Athens and other parts of Greece.

The rules of this cult were very austere; members were warned to never reveal what the rituals consisted of. Anyone who disobeyed would receive the death penalty. The same would happen to anyone who would make fun of the mysteries as well.

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What do we know about the Eleusinian Mysteries?

Since the Eleusinian rituals were so secretive, little is known as to what they consisted of. We know that they were open to all: males, females, children, the old, slaves, and free people. We also know that they incorporated some dramatical/theatrical elements, meaning that the experience was similar to watching or even participating in a theatrical play. The main goal was catharsis, the physical, emotional, and spiritual cleansing.

Another thing we know is that the people leading the rituals were a group of priests, priestesses, and hierophants, who were followed by the initiates, the new members of the cult, and then the older members; the ones that had already passed the “epopteia”, the process of learning the mysteries.

What we know about the Eleusinian Mysteries:

  1. The ritual involved baskets with poppy flowers and pomegranates.
  2. A chest with unknown offerings was also used.
  3. The Eleusinian rituals revolved around Persephone and the connection between life and death (when corps die, they are reborn through their seeds).
  4. When the rituals became popular in Athens, Athenians would walk to Eleusina through the “Iera Odos” (Sacred Road). In the same area there is now a motorway with the same name.
  5. Accusations of breaking the rules of the cult was popular among rivals. The penalty was death.
  6. The rituals were separated into the “Lesser Mysteries” and the “Greater Mysteries”. The latter would last ten days.
  7. The rituals involved animal sacrifices, feasts, and dances.

Speculations about the Eleusinian Mysteries:

  1. The participants would descent and ascent a cave; the journey from darkness to light was considered spiritually therapeutic. (Perhaps the Plutonian Cave of Eleusina?)
  2. Narcotics were given to the members of the cult for a more intense experience.
  3. The rituals involved human sacrifice (unpopular opinion – no proof).

The mysteries ended when Christianity took over the Hellenistic religion and was established as the main religion in Greece.

*agrarian= related to the cultivation of land.

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Persephone: Queen of Hades | #GreekMyths

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Persephone and Demeter

Thousands of years ago, when refrigerators did not exist and growing and collecting corps required a lot of time and effort, people around the globe had a better understanding of the connection between climate and our own survival. Therefore, many civilizations had a deity dedicated to Mother Earth and her offerings.

The ancient Greeks believed in Gaia, the personification of the Earth, and Demeter, the Olympian goddess of the harvest, fertility, and agriculture. The latter was one of the most important goddesses since she was responsible for covering one of the most basic human needs: hunger.

What ancient Greeks couldn’t understand was why their beloved deity, the one that they adored and worshipped, would bring them so many hardships for months and months during fall and winter. And that is when the story of Persephone and the four seasons started to be told.

Persephone was the beloved daughter of Demeter. Her father was Zeus, Demeter’s brother, but incest among the Olympian gods is not exactly our topic for today.

The maiden loved spending time in nature, which comes as no surprise, thinking that her mother was the goddess who was associated the most with the Earth. She was known to be as very beautiful and she incorporated elements of purity and innocence. Soon enough though, her name became taboo and she herself became the dreadful queen of the dead, a chthonic divinity living in the darkness.

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Persephone and Plouton

It all started when one of her uncles became attracted to her and wanted her as his wife. The god was no other than Plouton, the ruler of Hades. Plouton had already talked to Zeus about his desire to marry Persephone. The maiden’s father had no objections to this but he warned Plouton that Demeter, her mother, would never allow this. She wouldn’t bear seeing her beautiful daughter being trapped in a dark place under the earth, living among the dead. Persephone’s wants were never taken into consideration, but everyone knew that the young woman wouldn’t like to spend her life in Hades. With that in mind, Plouton orchestrated Persephone’s abduction.

The Abduction of Persephone

It was a beautiful, sunny day and Persephone was gathering flowers along with Artemis, the virgin goddess of Hunting, and some other maidens. All of a sudden, the ground started to shake and a man emerged from the depths of the Earth. He was Plouton. Persephone had no time to scream; Plouton had grabbed her and was forcing her into the Earth. Persephone was led to the underworld, married against her will, and was given six pomegranate seeds. Eating these seeds would force her to stay in Hades.

Persephone’s friends did not realize what was going on until Persephone was long gone. The only witness was Helios, the sun. As any mother would do in this situation, Demeter searched everywhere for her daughter. Through fields and forests, by the lakes and rivers, in cities and villages. Persephone was nowhere to be found.

Demeter, Persephone, and the Four Seasons

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. The only thing that was in Demeter’s mind was the strange disappearance of Persephone. It was if she was swallowed by the Earth. The goddess had completely neglected her duties and the Earth was becoming infertile. There were less and less corps available and people were becoming hungry.

Helios, the personification of sun, could not bear seeing the people dying of hunger and finally revealed to Demeter that her brother, Plouton, had abducted her precious daughter.

It comes as no surprise that Demeter was angered by the news. She visited Zeus and demanded to have her daughter brought back to her. Until then, she refused to let the Earth bear corps. Humanity was destined to die.

Zeus was pressured to take immediate action. On one hand, he had given his blessings to his brother Plouton and taking it back would not look good on him. On the other hand, one of the most respected goddesses was hysterical and people were dying. And he finally did the right thing, not for the shake of his daughter’s happiness, but to be seen as the savior of humanity in a difficult situation like this.

Negotiating with Plouton was not easy but the god of the underworld knew that Zeus was the most respected and powerful of the Olympian gods. He agreed to let Persephone return to her mother but there was one condition; Persephone would have to come back to him after six months and the same cycle would repeat itself again and again. Zeus was obliged to accept this condition, and so did Demeter.

With the help of the messenger god Hermes, Persephone would return on the surface of the Earth every spring and she would spend time with her mother and her friends till the beginning of autumn. Then, Hermes would lead her back to Hades, where she would spend the rest of year. According to the myth, this is the reason why the Earth is less fertile during winter. Demeter refuses to keep the soil fertile while her daughter is away.

Persephone as a Chthonic Deity

It is important to note that Persephone never agreed to go to Hades. However, she felt like she had no power over her fate and she soon accepted her role as the queen of the underworld. Persephone grew from an innocent girl into a mature woman and was respected by the dead souls of Hades. She was the one welcoming the souls upon their arrival. The queen of the underworld, as they called her, was believed to be worshipped by secret cults who wanted to achieve immortality or a desirable afterlife.

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Origins of the Myth

The myth of Persephone is known from Homer’s epics and it is also mentioned in the poem “Theogony” by Hesiod. There are also numerous variations of the story, however, the main storyline stays the same. It is believed to be based on the myth of the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Inanna. It is worth mentioning that Persephone and Demeter are both associated with the “Eleusinian Mysteries”, the secret rituals that were taking place in the city of Eleusina from 1.600 BCE to 392 CE. These rituals were believed to offer an alternative and more desirable afterlife for the participants.

Thoughts about Persephone

Do you think that Persephone’s myth represents the connection between life and death? The way that dead matter fertilizes the Earth and new life is brought on the planet? Persephone was the goddess of vegetation and she became the goddess of the underworld later in life. The myth explains the change of the seasons, however, it could also explain the circle of life. How life is being recycled through the Earth. What do you think? Leave your thoughts down below 🙂

*Also referred as Hades.

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Hades: The Ancient Greek Underworld | #GreekMyths

Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, there was a place on Earth, or to be precise, under the surface of the Earth, that was feared by many people residing in Ancient Greece. This place was called Hades. It was the place were the souls of the dead resided, along with Pluto, the feared god of the underworld.

Like in many monotheistic religions nowadays, the ancient Greek polytheistic religion believed in souls and in the afterlife. Ancient Greeks believed that, after death, the soul separates from its physical body and, by taking the shape of this body, it was transported to Hades, the kingdom of the dead.

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The entrances to Hades

The main entrance of Hades was found somewhere in the river Acheron, a river that still exists in the western part of Greece. The souls would be transported there by boat and the ferryman was no other but the ancient Greek version of the Grim Reaper, Charon, known also as the psychopomp, the transporter of the souls. Each soul would actually have to pay for this journey and that is why ancient Greeks were buried with a coin under their tongues. Another entrance of Hades was found in the Peloponnese region, in Cape Tainaron or Cape Matapan. In this area there is a cave that many believed it could actually lead to Hades.

Cerberus: the terrifying guard of Hades

The gates of Hades were protected by a terrifying supernatural being that you might already know from popular culture. I am referring to Cerberus, a monstrous multi-headed dog that would scare away the living from entering the kingdom of the dead and the dead from exiting this realm. Dogs were already domesticated and were pets and guards of many ancient Greek households, including the palace of Odysseus or Ulysses. Therefore, it is not a surprise to see a dog guarding the entrances of the most feared place on Earth.

Where was Hades located?

Hades was believed to be under the surface of the Earth. It was a dark and cold place, however, it was not similar to hell, in the way that hell is described in today’s monotheistic religions. It was both heaven and hell and it was separated in different areas, where different types of souls would reside. The water element was strong, in fact, apart from the river Acheron, which would connect the worlds of the living and the dead, the souls would find four more water sources, including Lethe, the river of forgetfulness and oblivion, from which the dead would drink to forget their past life.   

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The areas of Hades

As I mentioned, Hades was separated in different areas, in which, different souls would reside. Most of us, would probably reside in the Asphodel Meadows. The Asphodel Meadows was dark and gloomy, but also quite beautiful. That was the place were the ordinary people would reside, people who lived normal lives, without doing anything too bad or too extraordinary either.

Now there were two places that were not so pleasant to spend the afterlife. These were the Mourning Fields, the place for those who waisted their life waiting to be loved by someone who did not love them back, and Tartara, which can be compared to the Judeo-Christian hell.  Originally, Tartara was the prison of the Titans, however, it became the place were the wicked souls received divine punishment. It was located deep inside the Earth, and the souls residing there were often referred to as “prisoners”. Tartarus was covered by Erebus, a darkness darker than someone could imagine, and the souls were tortured mentally, filled with guilt and shame for their heinous acts, such as killing their own parents or betraying their own city-state. It is not clear whether the prisoners were tortured physically, however, since they did not reside in their physical bodies, physical pain would not be possible.

Now, when it comes to the most desirable place of Hades, this would be the Elysium Fields, a place were the heroic souls would reside. The place could be compared to the Judeo-Christian heaven, with the difference that it was located under the surface of the Earth and it was not the home of the kindest people, but of the bravest and most heroic ones. Ethics have changed since ancient times and, although humility and compassion might be what would be considered a pass to heaven nowadays, bravery and a strong will were the traits that were the most admirable in ancient Greece.

Plouton: The ruler of the underworld

Plouton or Pluto (Πλούτωνας in Greek) is the ancient Greek god that was sent to rule Hades. Although he was the least popular god amongst the mortals, since meeting him meant that their lives had ended, he was not evil. He had indeed committed a heinous crime by today’s standard – he kidnapped and married his own niece, however, that was a common practice among the ancient Greek deities and if someone was guilty the most for kidnappings with sexual motives, that would be Zeus, the most popular and respected of the Olympian gods.

Plouton was the only god, along with Poseidon, who did not reside in Mount Olympus. He was in charge of all the different places of Hades, from Tartarus to the Elysium Fields, and he was neither a saint nor diabolical.