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

The Odyssey ends with the slaughter of the suitors. Here is what happens in books 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 in Homer’s Odyssey.

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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The 12 Olympian Gods | Greek Gods Family Tree: From The Titans to The Olympians | #GreekMyths

There are many Greek gods and goddesses – it is called polytheism after all. We have talked about Persephone, Hecate, and Pluto. But there are twelve names that everyone who has studied Greek mythology knows.  Today we will be talking about the 12 gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus and how they are related to each other.

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The 12 Olympian Gods and Goddesses | The Major Olympian Deities

2.918mMount Olympus is a real mountain located in Thessaly, Greece. In fact, it is Greece’s highest mountain (2.918 m) and a national park since 1938. As you can imagine, ancient Greeks must had been very impressed when looking at this breathtaking view. They believed that this was the home and observatory of their gods and goddesses. The latter are known ever since as the twelve Olympian gods. The Greek Dodekatheon in the beginning consisted of six male and six female deities. When Hestia offered her throne to Dionysus, Mount Olympus was dominated by men.

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The Greek Dodekatheon consisted of:

  1. Zeus
  2. Hera
  3. Poseidon
  4. Demeter
  5. Athena
  6. Apollon
  7. Artemis
  8. Ares
  9. Aphrodite
  10. Hephaestus
  11. Hermes
  12. Hestia (her place was later given to Dionysus)

As you can see, Pluto, Persephone, and Hecate are not among the 12 Olympian gods and goddesses. In fact, there are several ancient Greek deities who consist the Greek pantheon.  However, these twelve gods are the ones that were the most popular. And we know this because there was an altar for twelve gods and goddesses in the ancient agora of Athens. The altar was set up in 522 BC by the grandson of the tyrant Pisistratus who bore the same name. The altar was not only used for worshipping these twelve gods and goddesses; it was also a place where people would seek supplication and refuge.

The Genealogy of the Olympians | Greek Gods Family Tree

What are the origins of the Olympian gods and goddesses? How are they related to each other?

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Cronus: The Vicious Patriarch

The first generation of the Olympian gods and goddesses are descendants of the Titans. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, the Titans were children of the Sky (Uranus) and the Earth (Gaia) and the deities that ruled the world before the Olympians. Their leader was Cronus, a cold-hearted, blood-thirsty tyrant who ate his own children. His wife was Rhea, another Titan and also one of his sisters.

The reason Cronus consumed his offspring was because of a prophecy that wanted him dethroned by one of them. He had done the exact same thing to his own father Uranus with the help of his mother, Gaia, so the scenario did not sound unfamiliar.

Cronus had six children with Rhea: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Pluto, Poseidon, and Zeus – the youngest one. After hearing the prophecy that one of these children would dethrone him, Cronus did the unthinkable: he consumed his five older children alive; he did not chew them, he swallowed them whole. Zeus was a little baby at that time and he was breastfeeding when his siblings were eaten alive.

Once Rhea realized what her husband had done to the rest of their children, she was appalled. She wanted revenge but also to protect her youngest son; but she knew that Cronus was the most powerful Titan. He was blood-thirsty and willing to kill anyone who would try to take over his power. And that is when she orchestrated her plan to take Cronus down. It would take years but she was determined to do everything in her power to succeed in this.

The first thing she did was to hide Zeus in a place that was unreachable by Cronus. She went to the sacred Minoan cave of Psychro – also known as Dictaeon Antron- and hid the baby in there. A goat* named Amalthea became the baby’s foster mother, providing him with milk. Zeus was also protected by the Kouretes, a group of mighty Cretan soldiers who danced and shouted louder than the infant’s cries. Nowadays, Kouretes are a traditional dancing group for men in Creta.

Once Rhea returned to her husband, he demanded to bring him Zeus for dinner. The female Titan was already prepared for this: she had wrapped a piece of rock in a blanket and offered it to Cronus instead of the baby. Cronus consumed the rock and continued on with his life, thinking that none of his children could succeed him.

The Titanomachy and The New Generation of Gods and Goddesses

Years past by and Zeus grew up and became the powerful and cunning god we all know. He knew he wouldn’t be able to take his father down by himself, so he organized a plan to free his siblings from his father’s stomach.

Pretending he is someone else, he offered Cronus a herbal-based potion that caused him to get sick to his stomach. Since Cronus hadn’t chewed his children, Hestia, Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, and Pluto managed to escape**.

What followed was a ten-year war between the Olympians and the Titans, known as the “Titanomachy”. The battles took place in Thessaly and resulted in the victory of the Olympians who not only overthrew Cronus but managed to castrate him. According to Hesiod, this action resulted to the birth of Aphrodite. However, according to Homer, the goddess of love and beauty was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.

The Rise of The Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus

After the war, the Titans were locked in Tartarus, the darkest part of the underworld and the Olympians took over Mount Olympus. Zeus and Hera got married and became the king and queen of the gods. Zeus in particular became the ruler of the sky and the earth and was given the lightning as a weapon. Pluto*** became the ruler of Hades, the underworld, and Poseidon took over the seas. Pluto was considered a chthonic deity after taking over Hades; therefore, he was not considered as part of the twelve Olympian gods and goddesses.

Since we are going to be talking about the different gods and goddesses on separate occasions, let’s see how all of the twelve gods and goddesses were related to each other.

Siblings: Zeus, Demeter, Hera, Hestia, Poseidon, (Pluto), Aphrodite

Spouses: Zeus and Hera

Children: Dionysus, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Hephaestus, Athena, (Persephone) etc.

Note1: The gods and goddesses in brackets are chthonic deities and not part of the twelve gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus.

Note2: Only Hephaestus and Dionysus were children of Zeus and Hera; Zeus had many extramarital affairs that resulted in pregnancies (Apollo, Artemis, Dionysus etc.), while some of the children

*other sources mention a nymph.  

**there are other variations of the myth that want Zeus conducting a C-section to his father and rescuing his siblings.  

***Also known as Hades; Hades is the name of the underworld.

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Hecate: Goddess of Witchcraft, Ghosts, and Necromancy | #GreekMyths

Like Persephone, who was the queen of the underworld, Hecate, a daughter of two Titans, was considered a chthonic divinity; meaning that she spent most of her time under the surface of the Earth. She is often depicted holding a torch and a key. That is because she was able to unlock the gates between different realms – allowing people to communicate with the souls of the dead and supernatural beings from different realities.

Hecate as a Goddess of Necromancy

Due to her ability to create portals and points of connections between different realms, Hecate was considered to be the goddess of Necromancy. Necromancy is the practice of communicating with the dead to reveal secrets about the past, the present, and the future. This was a common practice in ancient Greece; visiting oracles for guidance was generally accepted and Hecate was a well-perceived and respected goddess. The ancient “mediums” would communicate not only with the spirits of the dead but also with the gods to receive information that would be taken into consideration for important strategic decisions.

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Ghosts in Ancient Greece

Since necromancy is associated with ghosts, the souls of the dead, Hecate was also the goddess of ghosts. Ghosts in ancient Greek were neither bad nor good. Sometimes they helped people make important decisions with prophecies, other times they would cause panic. And the most popular evil ghost of ancient times was Taraxippus – the ghost often caused panic to horses during horse races and battles. The ghosts were also blood-thirsty, similar to vampires, and if someone needed to consult them, sacrificing an animal was usually required.

Hecate as a Goddess of Witchcraft and Witches

Hecate was also the goddess of witches, witchcraft, and magic. She had a familiar which was a dog and not a cat! The goddess was nocturnal and knew a lot about herbs. She was therefore able to craft potions and medicines.  Dandelion, garlic, and lavender are some of the herbs that are associated with her. She is believed to give blessings to witches by offering her knowledge and rumor has it that she lurks in crossroads. Even today, crossroads in Greece are believed to be places that are favored by witches.

Hecate’s Cult

Hecate had many followers in ancient Greece and her shrines were often placed at a home’s doorway or at public crossroads. In ancient Athens, a pillar dedicated to the goddess was located in a crossroad that led to the Acropolis, the sacred rock of Athens. Sanctuaries of the goddess were found in the town of Lagina, in Argolis, on the island of Aigina and many other places. In the island of Samothrace, people would often use a ritual that involved Hecate that was believed to protect them from storms and other terrors. The rituals unfortunately involved the sacrifice of dogs.

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Hekate’s Deipnon

Deipnon in Greek means dinner. Every new moon, Ancient Athenians would honor Hecate and the souls of the dead by serving an additional meal for her. Hecate’s deipnon was also used as a method of purification of the house – a way to appease any angry ghosts that were roaming the house.

Ancient Greek Witchcraft, Curses, and Spells

Archaeological findings have shown that ancient Greeks often practiced witchcraft and cast spells/curses to win a battle, attract a love interest, make money, and generally succeed in life. The process involved writing spells or curses on tablets and/or use figurines that could be compared to voodoo dolls. These objects would be thrown into the graves of those who had recently passed-away.

The ancient Greeks believed that the souls of the dead were messengers between different realms – the ones who recently died would carry these messages with them to the underworld and then Pluto, Persephone, Hecate or any other chthonic divinity would use their powers in favor of the spell caster. It is not clear whether the latter would have to pay a “price” for the “service”.

 A great example would be the discovery of 30 curse tablets in a well in the ancient Greek cemetery of Kerameikos. The people who cast the curses were asking for the help of various chthonic gods and goddesses. You can find images here (the text is in Greek). Although witchcraft was generally accepted, “black” magic and casting curses were not only considered unethical, but also illegal. However, in ancient Athens, there was one exception:  before a battle, all Athenians would be invited for a public curse session against the enemy (source also in Greek).

*Often spelled Hekate.

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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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