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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
“Karavaki” means “little boat” in Greek. Although many Greek households decorate Christmas trees during the holidays, the original Greek Christmas tradition is to decorate the family’s boat or a tiny miniature vessel. Helinika has created two designs for Christmas cards, featuting a “karavaki”. “Χρόνια πολλά” (Chronia polla), a common Greek greeting during the holidays, is written across the card. It means “may you live many years”. Order the cards and send them to your friends and family this or next year!
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.
One of the most underrated ancient Greek heroes is Jason, the prince of Iolcos and husband of the witch Medea, who you might know from the ancient Greek tragedy with the same name. Jason is the hero of the myth of the Argonauts, the sailors of the legendary ship named Argo, and the main character in the epic poem Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius. The legend of Jason is actually one of the most fascinating ancient Greek myths and there are plenty of conspiracy theories surrounding this topic. Today, we are following the hero to Colchis, where he travels to obtain the mythical golden fleece.
Facts About Jason, Argo, and The Argonauts | How It All Began
Jason was the son of Aeson, king of the city of Iolcos in Thessaly. God Herme’s blood run in his family and he was the student of the Centaur Chiron in nearby Pelion. Prince Jason was actually sent to live with the half-man – half-horse creature when his uncle, Pelias, took over the kingdom of Iolcos. Pelias started killing the descendants of his brother, the rightful king, except for newborn Jason. His mother and her maids had faked his death: as soon as he was born, the women started crying over his cries, saying he was a stillborn. Then, they escorted him out of the palace and hid him in the woods of the nearby mountain range.
Jason was raised by wise Chiron and he was taught hunting, music, and medicine. He was a natural-born leader and he knew that he was the rightful king of Iolcos. As soon as the prince started approaching adulthood, he visited his birthplace to announce to Pelias that he is now ready to sit on his throne.
Pelias immediately remembered a prophecy he had heard many years ago. He had been warned by an oracle that a man with one sandal would try to dethrone him. When the young man approached him, he looked at his feet. This man named Jason was wearing only one sandal; the other was lost while he was trying to help an older woman, who was actually goddess Hera dressed as a peasant. The cunning king knew he must be strategic and not infuriate Jason. Otherwise, he would risk getting killed.
“To take my throne, which you shall, you must go in a quest to find the golden fleece.”, he said, knowing that the task would be impossible to complete.
In Greek, it is called «το χρυσόμαλλο δέρας». The golden fleece was the fleece -as the name suggests- of a mythical golden-wooled flying ram. This ram was called Chrysomallos, meaning “golden hair”, and was sent by Poseidon to save prince Phrixus from being sacrificed to end the drought in his kingdom. The young man was saved similarly to Iphigeneia and similar stories of princes and princesses being saved by animals were quite popular in ancient Greece.
Chrysomallos, the flying ram, brought Phrixus to Colchis, an area on the coast of the Black Sea, where modern-day Georgia is located. According to the legend, Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Poseidon (other sources mention Zeus), as it was intended. Then, he hung the ram’s shiny fleece from a tree, which was guarded by a serpent. The description resembles that of a dragon, an important detail for some conspiracy theorists. The golden fleece was so well guarded that soon became a symbol of authority and leadership. Whoever was able to attain it would be able to lead any group, any community, any city. As for the spirit of Chrysomallos, it is said that the animal became a constellation and it represents the sign of Aries in Greek astrology.
Jason’s Quest | The Journey to Colchis | The Argonautica
Jason was intrigued by the idea of traveling to a foreign land to obtain a status symbol. He didn’t want to be offered the throne so easily. Like other ancient Greek heroes, he wanted to prove his worth. And this is how the quest to Colchis began.
Prince Jason gathered some of the bravest, strongest, most disciplined, and smartest men from all over Greece, including Hercules. He then made sure that he and his 49 men would travel with the safest and fastest ship that was ever created. According to Apollonius Rhodius, the builder Argus constructed the ship Argo with the help of goddess Athena. The latter favored highly intelligent and strategic people, as we have seen throughout this entire video series.
The Argonauts in Lemnos
Argo is still one of the most legendary ships of all times and it is said to have flied over the skies and turned into a constellation. Thanks to its clever design and great weather conditions, the ship took the men safely to the island of Lemnos. There, the Argonauts learned that all the male residents of the island have been killed.
The local women revealed that they were angered by the fact that the men were unfaithful to them and had abducted women from Thrace to keep them as slaves. It was later revealed that goddess Aphrodite was to blame. The goddess of romance and beauty was forgotten by the Lemnian women who paid no tribute to her. And that is why she decided to make the local men look for women elsewhere.
The only man who was spared from the wrath of the Lemnian women was king Thoas, whose daughter could not bear the idea of killing him. His daughter was no other than Hypsipyle. The young woman was immediately attracted to prince Jason, who ended up getting pregnant by him. The entire crew ended up impregnating the women who were left on the island and then departed to continue their quest. If you are aware of the tragedy called Medea, then you should know that Jason had commitment issues when it comes to relationships.
Argo’s next stop was the Arctonisos or Bear Island, which is basically an island in the Sea of Marmara, known as the Propontis. This area connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea and it is rich in marble. The Bear Island was ruled by king Cyzicus, a hospitable and amicable man who made sure that Jason and his crew-members had a comfortable stay at his palace.
King Cyzicus wanted to warn the Argonauts to avoid sailing to the eastern side of the island, since they were constantly getting attacked by the Pelasgians and his army was always guarding the east coast. However, he ended up getting distracted and forgot to mention this important detail to Jason.
After the Argonauts departed, a storm started, and they soon lost their orientation. The men ended up on the east coast of Bear Island, where they were attacked by the army of Cyzicus. The latter thought that they were approached by enemies and the Argonauts were unaware that they had ended up at the same island. Jason and his crew ended up killing the majority of Cyzicus soldiers and Cyzicus himself. When they realized what was going on, it was way too late. The Argonauts were quick to judge the situation and why they were being attacked. They ended up killing the people who had hosted them. The people who fed them and prepared them for the rest of their trip. The Argonauts left the island only after mourning the dead and paying for a costly burial for Cyzicus and his army. Cyzicus’ sons took over the island and the Argonauts sailed to Mysia in Asia Minor.
The Argonauts in Mysia and in the Land of the Berbryces
According to some sources, Hercules was left in Mysia. He was either lured there by nymphs and never returned to Argo or, according to the historian Pherecydes, the ship complaint about his weight and asked him to disembark. The most interesting variation of the story is, however, that Hercules stayed on the island after his lover, Hylas, fell in love with a local nymph. In any case, Jason was extremely sad that one of his bravest men chose a different path.
Argo’s next stop was the land of Berbryces. The people there were not very friendly. Their king, Amycos, challenged one of them to a boxing match and, for the first time in history, the king lost. The Argonauts managed to leave the island before they got slaughtered by the local army.
The Argonauts were able to surpass many challenges during their trip to Colchis. One of their greatest achievements was scaring away the Harpies from the home of king Phineus. The latter was a cursed Prophet who was not only blinded by Zeus, but was hunted down by some terrifying birds called Harpies. These birds would steal Phineus’ food and torment him. The Argonauts felt bad for the man and chased the enormous birds to scare them away. The Harpies left the area and never returned. Phineus thanked the men by revealing the dangers they would encounter in their trip. He warned them of the Symplegades, the terrifying rocks of the Bosporus that were classing together every time a boat would try to pass by.
When the Argo approached the Clashing Rocks of the Bosporus, Jason released a dove. He wanted to see how fast they would have to go to cross the stream successfully. The bird flew between the cliffs and the rocks managed to cut only a small part of its tail. The Argonauts used all of their strength and also managed to go through the rocks by only sacrificing a small part of the stern ornament. From that moment on, the Symplegades stopped moving.
Adventures By The Edge of The World and Arriving to Colchis
The Argonauts continued their journey and encountered many obstacles as they were approaching what was believed to be “the edge of the world”. They lost some of their men from wild boars and mysterious diseases. They encountered the Stymphalian Birds and managed to scare them away with their growling sounds. They also offered a helping hand to four shipwrecked brothers who warned them about the terrifying serpent that protects the Golden Fleece.
With the winds in their favor, the Argonauts arrived in Colchis, where the sacred grove of Ares was located. After wandering around Colchis they soon came across a beautiful palace. Four fountains could be found in the courtyard, surrounded by vines and beautiful flowers. They were gushing water, milk, wine, and aromatic oils respectively. This was the home of king Aeetes, who was standing there next to his beautiful daughter Medea.
Jason had been debating over the past few days which strategy he should follow to obtain the shiny fleece. He believed in his powers and if he started a fight, he could win. However, all these days travelling around the world had taught him a lot. Success can be achieved with the power of persuasion. Violence is not always necessary to get what you want.
Jason came to Colchis in peace. He accompanied the four shipwrecked siblings to the palace and was hosted there by the king Aeetes himself. Meanwhile, goddess Athena and goddess Hera were plotting how to get princess Medea fall in love with Jason, which would eventually help the hero persuade the king of Colchis. They eventually got Eros, the Greek version of Cupid, to shoot the arrow of romantic love to Medea, who instantly developed feelings for the prince of Iolcos.
Jason knew that, in order to persuade someone, you need to gain their trust. He was a stranger in Aeetes eyes and it would take forever to make him like him. However, he ended up using one of his good deeds to his favor. It was revealed that the brothers he had saved were the king’s grandsons. The eldest of the young men started narrating how he and his brothers were going to die until Jason and his crew found them and rescued them. He then proceeded to tell the king that Jason has lost his throne in Iolcos and he needs to obtain the fleece and take his rightful place.
Although these words were coming from his grandson and not Jason himself, Aeetes became enraged. How could someone ask for the most precious item of his kingdom? Jason heard Aeetes and how he would punish him for his audacity to demand something like this. Jason stayed calm. He did not take things personally. Instead, he started complimenting Aeetes and telling him that he would be willing to pay a price for getting the fleece. Not only that, but Iolcos would be forever grateful to him. He would be known for his generosity in his kingdom and beyond.
Aeetes started thinking about his options. He could detect Jason’s efforts to persuade him but he didn’t feel like ordering his execution anymore. Instead, the king of Colchis promised him that he would offer him the fleece only if he completed a series of “impossible” tasks, just like the Hercule’s labors.
To begin with, Jason would have to yoke a pair of fire-breathing oxen and plow the field. Then, he would have to plant dragons’ teeth in the soil and fight off the skeletons that would sprout. The final task would be to destroy the mighty dragon that guarded the fleece. The king believed that Jason would reject the proposal but maintain his positive attitude towards him. It would a win-win situation.
Jason was indeed overwhelmed by all these tasks and, although he was a confident and brave individual, he was also reasonable. He knew that it would be impossible to complete these tasks. But given the circumstances and the fact that, without the fleece, he would be assassinated by Pelias, he accepted the challenge. What he did not know was that two goddesses were on his side and that Medea, the princess of Colchis, possessed magic abilities and was also madly in love with him.
The young woman spent the night with her maidens, gathering herbs and other items to prepare a charm that would protect Jason from harms way. She then approached him and told him that, if he agrees to marry her, she will give him a charm that would protect him from fire and bronze. Jason agreed and received Medea’s magic protection.
The prince of Iolcos and leader of the Argonauts appeared in front of Aeetes, the people of Colchis, and his crew members. They would all watch him try to complete the “impossible tasks”. Since only him and Medea knew about the charms, the audience was left in shock while watching him approach the first ox, which started breathing fire.
Jason was not harmed by the flames, since he was protected by Medea’s charm. He was able to plow the field with the help of these dangerous animals. He then planted the seeds that were given to him. These were not normal seeds; they were dragons’ teeth. All of a sudden, skeletons started digging themselves out of the soil, forming an army. Jason followed Medea’s instructions and threw a rock at the skeletons who got disoriented. The blind skeletons started fighting each other and Jason was standing there watching them destroy themselves.
Jason and The Dragon of Ares’ Sacred Grove
After Aeetes watched Jason completing the “impossible” tasks, he panicked. He could feel that Jason could destroy the dragon and run away with the golden fleece. Before the Argonauts could realize what was going on, Aeetes ordered his army to destroy Argo. Medea then did the unthinkable. This wouldn’t be the first time she would commit such an act, but you have to remember that she was blinded by Eros; her love for Jason was not healthy. She was obsessed with him and would do anything to help him.
Medea killed her brother to destruct her father from destroying Argo and stopping the Argonauts from escaping. At the same time, Jason run towards the sacred grove of Ares, threw Medea’s poisonous potion at the dragon, and stole the golden fleece. Other sources mention that Medea sang a lullaby to the dragon and put him to sleep; a concept that we have seen in the first Harry Potter book. Another variation of the myth wants Jason consumed alive by the dragon but managing to slice open the monster’s belly with the help of the princess of Colchis. Jason then run towards Argo with his crew members and escaped with Medea and his golden trophy.
Returning to Iolcos
Going back to Iolcos was not an easy task. The Argonauts had to avoid the Sirens, Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, just like Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. The Argonauts also faced Talos, a bronze robot-like guard of the island of Crete. Medea played a crucial role in helping the crew survive the trip. Without her magic spells and potions, fetching the fleece and going back to Iolcos would be a deadly task.
Unfortunately, Jason and Medea were not able to rule the city of Iolcos. Pelias refused to offer his throne and Medea did another atrocious act. She promised the daughters of Pelias that their father would get much younger and live much longer if they cooked him in a pot just like a lamb. Medea would use her magic herbs to revive him, which she never did. The couple was chased away from Iolcos and found refuge in Corinth. The tragedies never ended for them. However, the ending of the story is the topic of a tragedy, a theatrical play. Are you interested in a new series dedicated on Greek drama? Comment down below!
Theories & Conspiracy Theories About the Argonautica
There are many themes found in the Argonautica. The most obvious is that of power and how it can blind people and motivate them into doing the impossible possible. At the same time, we can see how humans are unwilling to give their powerful position to someone who is more capable than them. Sometimes, someone promised to give them power if they proved themselves. Have you ever worked for a company and gave your 100% to achieve the goals you were given, only to see yourself remain stagnant and not get compensated the way you were promised to get compensated? Then you know exactly how Jason felt when he returned to Iolcos with the golden fleece.
Another theme that is present in the Argonautica is that of the art of persuasion. Every ancient Greek hero has a set of qualities that make them stand out. They are all brave and strong, but this is not enough to move forward in life. Odysseus was witty and was able to trick others and get himself out of difficult situations. We saw that when he got Cyclops Polyphemus drank and when he came up with the idea of the Trojan horse. Jason appears to be a person who chooses his battles. He knows that violence can be unnecessary sometimes and that you can get yourself out of difficult situations by complimenting others and being diplomatic. Of course, nothing would be possible if Medea hadn’t fallen in love with him, proving that the greatest charm you can cast on someone is make them fall for you. Once Eros shoots his arrows, you have the person under your control.
Apart from the theories regarding the meaning of the Argonautica, there are plenty of conspiracy theories that suggest that Jason was a historical figure and that Argo was not a regular ship but rather a spaceship. Others say that the golden fleece actually represents sea silk and that the Argonauts were the first ones to cross an ancient silk road to modern day Georgia. There is not enough proof to validate these theories, however it is worth taking them into consideration. Have you ever heard of any of these theories? If yes, do you believe in them?
Welcome to Helinika’s first episode of the new series on Greek drama. Drama is enjoyed worldwide in theaters, operas, television sets, and computer devices. But did you know that the roots of (western) drama take us back to ancient Greece?
Did you know that there are 150.000 words of Greek origin in the English vocabulary? Many more languages have also adopted some words – usually anything that starts with “psych” and “phil”. Today’s listening comprehension video exercise will help you understand the roots of some very common words.
Today, cynicism is synonymous to pessimism, lack of enthusiasm, skepticism, and selfishness. But Cynicism -literally translating to “living like a dog” (from the Greek «κύων»= dog)- is also a school of thought. An ancient Greek school of though to be precise. And the ideas of these philosophers have few in common to our current perception of cynicism.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ancient Greek myths are full of weird birthing stories. From Aphrodite/ Venus, who was the result of a Titan’s castration, to Zeus finding out he is pregnant to Athena after having a headache (yes, the goddess of Wisdom was conceived in the brain), here are the ten weirdest births in ancient Greek mythology!
Perseus is the legendary founder of Mycenae and one of the greatest ancient Greek heroes; he is the one who actually killed the snake-haired Gorgon Medusa. Like with most mythical heroes, he was the son of Zeus and a mortal. The mortal was a princess named Danae. Danae’s father, Akrisios, had heard of a prophecy that his future grandchild would kill him. Akrisios locked Danae into a bronze chamber to make sure that she would never get impregnated. Well, that did not stop Zeus from impregnating Danae in the form of golden rain. Princess Danae ended up giving birth alone in the bronze chamber, surprising everyone when they found her with baby Perseus in her arms.
Number 9: Phanes and the Cosmic Egg
Phanes was an ancient Greek deity of procreation in the Orphic cosmogony. He was the generator of life and he might give the answer to the age-old question “what came first, the chicken or the egg?”. Well, according to Phanes’ myth it was the egg that came first. The ancient Greek deity came out of the cosmic egg along with a serpent and became the first king of the universe, long before Zeus took over.
Number 8: The Parthenogenesis of Hephaestus
Hephaestus is the ancient Greek god of crafts, fire, and volcanoes. He was the only Olympian god who had some physical abnormalities. According to Hesiod, this was a result of parthenogenesis – his mother, Hera, conceived him alone. Hera decided to give birth to a son to take revenge on Zeus for being unfaithful.
Zeus was the youngest child of Titan Cronus and Rhea. His eldest brothers and sisters, including Hera, Poseidon, and Hestia, were swallowed whole after their birth from their father. Rhea was able to hide baby Zeus before he was consumed alive and, once he grew up, he was able to free his siblings from Cronus’ belly. Zeus’ siblings were basically born twice and from both parents.
Number 6: The Birth of Artemis and Apollo in Exile
Artemis and Apollo are two twin Olympians who were the result of Zeus’ and Letos’ union. Hera, Zeus’ wife, had banned Leto from giving birth on land – whether that was the mainland or an island. However, Leto managed to find refuge on Delos island, which was surrounded by swans. Artemis was born quite easily, but Apollo’s birth lasted nine days and nights, because Hera has abducted Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. According to some variations of the myth, newborn Artemis assisted with the delivery of her twin brother.
Number 5: The Unwanted Birth of Hercules/Heracles and Iphicles
Heracles (also known as Hercules) is one of the most well-known ancient Greek mythical heroes of all times. Since he was the son of Zeus and a mortal, Hera did everything she could to stop his mother Alcmene from giving birth to him and his twin(?) brother Iphicles. Iphicles was actually a brother from another father and was not related to Zeus. Hera did everything she could to slow down the birth of the two brothers and even tied the legs of Alcmene together. The goddess was finally distracted by a servant and Alcmene delivered the babies successfully.
Number 4: The Spectacular Birth of Helen of Troy
Mythical Helen was once considered to be the most beautiful woman on Earth. Her kidnapping sparked the Trojan war, which was the starting point of Homer’s Odyssey. Helen was conceived and delivered under surprising circumstances. Zeus transformed into a swan and mated with a woman named Leda. She then laid eggs that hatched and yielded Helen and her brothers and sisters.
Dionysus is the god of wine and he was later associated with ancient Greek drama. The god was actually born twice. His mother was Semele, a mortal who (unsurprisingly) got impregnated by Zeus, and was targeted by Hera for this exact reason. This time, Hera pretended to be a friend of Semele and asked her about the father of her unborn baby. Semele revealed the true identity of the father but Hera pretended to not believe her. Semele then asked Zeus to tell the world about his son – something that Hera knew would anger him. Zeus sent lightning bolts to Semele, killing her. However, he did not want his unborn child to die as well. He sewed the fetus on his thigh and few months later, Dionysus was born.
Number 2: Athena’s Birth Was a Literal Headache
Goddess Athena was also a result of Zeus’ lust for a mortal woman. This time, the woman was called Metis. Zeus impregnated her but then heard of a prophesy that Metis would give birth to two children; her firstborn would be a girl and she would later give birth to a boy who would overthrow Zeus. The king of the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus decided that the best way to protect himself would be to consume pregnant Metis alive. Some months later, Zeus started feeling unwell. He had a terrible headache that felt like something wanted to tear his head apart. Hephaestus then followed Hermes instructions and split Zeus’ head apart to see what the problem was. And that was when goddess Athena jumped out of his head. She was fully grown and already wearing her armor!
Number 1: The Not So Graceful Birth of Venus (Aphrodite)
Aphrodite (or Venus in Latin) is the goddess of beauty and romance. Her birth has been featured in multiple art pieces since the Renaissance, but the reality is that is was not as graceful as it’s been depicted. Aphrodite was the result of the castration of Cronus from the Olympians. Her brothers and sisters threw the severed parts of Cronus in the ocean and she rose from the sea foam.
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.
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.
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.