Some of the oldest stories in the world come from ancient Greek myths and legends. Greek mythology contains multiple themes that explore human origin stories, fabulous creatures, trickster gods, and epic wars.
Since 700 BCE, when the Greek poet Hesiod wrote the first cosmogony, these stories emerged from the primeval void of Chaos to grow into a complex family tree that included gods, goddesses, and elemental beings.
In these fascinating stories, gods evolved out of Chaos and descended from Mount Olympus to earth (Gaia), the sea (Pontos), and Tartaros in the underworld.
Later Greek writers Sophocles, Euripides, and Pinder created more stories where gods make pacts with men, punish or reward, change shape, battle fantastic monsters, and perform heroic quests.
You have probably heard some of these stories. Others you might encounter for the first time.
Now you can discover these top 10 myths about the Greek gods that have come down to us through the ages.
Myth #1: Clash of the Titans
In the beginning, according to Hesiod’s tale, only Chaos existed. Thick darkness covered the entire universe. Then Earth emerged from the Chaos, followed by looming mountains, the deep blue seas, and the sky (called Uranus).
Now the moon, and stars hung like lights in the heavens.
Together, Earth and Uranus gave birth to a race of elder gods called the Titans.
Afraid that his children would usurp his throne, Uranus buried the Titans in the center of the Earth. One day, his son, Cronus (Time), grew strong enough to defeat his father and ruled the world.
Like his father, Cronus feared that his children, named Hades, Hera, Poseidon, Hestia, and Demeter, would rise against him.
As a result, he swallowed them at birth. Meanwhile, his wife Rhea secretly gave birth to her sixth child, Zeus, on a wild mountain in Crete.
She tricked her husband by offering him a stone wrapped up in a swaddle instead of her baby. Nursed by nymphs, Zeus grew up and made his father disgorge his brothers and sisters.
When they emerged as adults, the massive Titanomachy war between.
The battle between the Gods and the Titans raged for ten years. When the gods defeated the Titans, they cast them into Tartarus’ black depths. Next, the gods battled the giants for world dominion.
At the end of the Gigantomachy, the victorious gods, led by Zeus, ruled the world from the heights of Mount Olympus.
Myth #2: The Twelve Labors of Hercules
Known as Heracles to the Greeks and by his Roman name Hercules, this great Greek god became famous for his heroic feats. Trouble started before his birth when his father Zeus took Alcmene, a mortal woman, as his mistress.
This enraged Zeus’ wife Hera. She not only tried to stop Hercules’ birth, but she also drove him mad. During an insane fit, Hercules slaughtered his own children.
Later, Eurystheus, Hercules’ arch-enemy, forced him to complete a series of 12 labors to atone for murdering his children.
Hercules had to kill the Nemean lion with his bare hands, slay the fire-breathing Hydra monster by cutting off its head.
He had to catch the Golden Hind, the Erymanthian Boar, and the Cretan Bull, clean out the huge Augean Stables in just a day, slay the Stymphalian Birds, steal the Mares of Diomedes, take a Belt from Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, take cattle from the giant Geryon, steal the Hesperides nymphs’ apples, and bring back Cerberus, the three-headed dog, from the underworld.
Myth #3: Prometheus and the Theft of Fire
Prometheus, an original Titan defeated by Zeus and the Olympians, also survived banishment to Tartarus.
Despite his defeat, Prometheus fought back when Zeus took the gift of fire away from humans. When he stole fire from the gods to give back to mortals, Zeus punished him by chaining him to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains until the end of time.
Each day, an eagle, symbolizing his enemy Zeus, landed on the rock and Prometheus’ liver. This eternal punishment continued since Prometheus’ immortal liver regenerated every day. Finally, Hercules arrived to free Prometheus from his fate.
Myth #4: Persephone’s Abduction
Persephone, the beautiful daughter of Zeus and Demeter, caught the eye of Hades, God of the Underworld. When he saw her, he decided to take what he wanted.
One day, as Persephone gathered flowers in a sunny field, surrounded by her friends the Ocean Nymphs, she wandered farther and farther away from her companions, lured by a beautiful flower.
Just as Persephone tried to pick a narcissus, the Earth gaped open.
Hades, driving a golden chariot, galloped up and snatched her away. Meanwhile, her mother Demeter searched day and night for her lost daughter.
Due to her despair, the earth shriveled up. Gazing down from the sky, the sun told the grieving goddess that Hades stole her daughter.
As a result, Demeter appealed to Zeus and called for Persephone’s release. If Persephone did not return, the land would turn dark, wintry, and no flowers would bloom again.
Each year, on the anniversary of Persephone’s abduction, the earth withers with the cold blast of her mother’s grief.
Myth #5: How Athens Got Its Name
When Cecrops, the king of Attica, gave his city his own name, the Olympian gods lusted after the beautiful land and wanted to name it after them.
While the gods Poseidon and Athena quarreled over the issue, Zeus decided that each god had to give a gift to the city. He would let the people choose the best gift and pick a god as a patron.
Poseidon lost when he hit a rock with his trident and flooded a spring with salt water. Athena won when she pounded her spear on the ground and a new olive tree sprang up. This spot later became known as Acropolis Hill.
Today there is still an ancient olive tree that looks down on Athens named after the female goddess who brought olives to the land.
Myth #6: Perseus and Medusa
Another popular Greek myth involves Perseus, one of Zeus’ demigod sons, who killed the Gorgon Medusa.
Perseus set out on his quest to slay one of the three monstrous sisters. Medusa, the only mortal sister, had a terrifying power. Venomous snakes twisted around her head like hair. Her chilling eyes anyone who gazed into them into stone.
Helped by Athena, Perseus crept up on Medusa by watching her in his shield’s reflection and chopped off her head.
Myth #7: The Myth of Apollo and Daphne
In Greek mythology, Daphne, a beautiful Naiad Nymph, and river god’s daughter, caught the god Apollo’s eye. Earlier, Apollo mocked Eros, the god of love.
In anger, Eros fired a golden arrow into Apollo to make him fall in love with Daphne. Then she shot Daphne with a lead arrow to make her hate Apollo.
When Apollo pursued her, he discovered that Daphne did not intend for any man to catch her. Cast in a spell, Apollo chased Daphne who fled from him.
Terrified, she begged Peneus, a river god, for help. He granted her request and metamorphosized Daphne into a laurel tree.
In return, Apollo enchanted her with immortal youth to keep her leaves green forever. The myth became a tragic tale about a woman who had to sacrifice her body to escape a man who would not let her go.
Instead, Apollo wore the sacred laurel leaves as clothing, ensuring that he and Daphne would remain together forever.
Myth #8: The Unrequited Love of Pan and Syrinx
Pan, Greek god of fertility, chief Satyr, and patron deity of huntsmen and shepherds, famously had a wild and repulsive appearance. Horns sprouted from his head and a goat’s beard grew on his chin. With pointed ears and hooves, he also had a talent for music and dancing.
One day, Pan fell in love with Syrinx, a wood nymph. When he saw her beauty, he kept chasing her through the forest. Unable to escape him, Syrinx hid near the river by transforming into a reed.
Pan still did not give up. He hunted for her, ripping out every reed until he found her. When he could not get her spirit out, he started blowing on the reed. As he blew, melodious music emerged from the reed pipes.
Distracted, he tied the reeds together to make a wide flute or Pan pipes. Now, Pan forever blows wild, eerie, enticing music from his pain pipes to make the nymphs dance.
Myth #9: Leda and the Swan
This popular take involves the Greek god Zeus who spotted Leda along the banks of the Eurotas River. He asked Aphrodite for help to obtain the mortal woman.
In return, Aphrodite changed him into a gorgeous swan while she turned into an eagle. Flying above him, she drove the swan Zeus straight into Leda’s arms.
Leda comforted the frightened swan. But nine months later, she gave birth to twin eggs. Instead of swans, the eggs opened to reveal a body and a girl in each.
These children included Helen of Troy who had a “face that launched a thousand ships” during the Trojan War.
Myth #10: The Apple of Discord
It wouldn’t be a Greek myth without some kind of squabble.
According to ancient writers, a few jealous gods and an apple started the Trojan War. When Thetis and Peleus married, Eris, the Goddess of Discord, didn’t get an invitation. Offended, she showed up at the wedding like an uninvited guest.
Right in the middle of the feast, she tossed a golden apple, shouting, “to the fairest.” In the scramble, Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena, all claimed the prize.
When they appealed to Zeus to judge which one was the fairest, Zeus fobbed the job off on Paris, a shepherd of Troy. When he couldn’t choose a winner, the goddesses gave him gifts of wisdom, wealth, and love from the most beautiful woman on earth.
Paris chose Aphrodite’s gift of love, gave her the apple, and she launched his journey back to Troy and to a beautiful woman named Helen of Troy. As you can guess, the rest is history.