Greek mythology is the body of myths that belong to the ancient Greeks and deal with the numerous Greek gods and heroes of ancient times. It was a part of the religion in ancient Greece. Greek mythology is known today primarily from Greek literature and representations on visual media dating from the Geometric period from c. 900-800 BC onward. In fact, literary and archaeological sources integrate, sometimes mutually supportive and sometimes in conflict; however, in many cases, the existence of this corpus of data is a strong indication that many elements of Greek mythology have strong factual and historical roots.
Greek mythology has changed over time to accommodate the evolution of their culture, of which mythology, both overtly and in its unspoken assumptions, is an index of the changes. The earlier inhabitants of the Balkan Peninsula were an agricultural people who, using Animism, assigned a spirit to every aspect of nature. Eventually, these vague spirits assumed human forms and entered the local mythology as gods. When tribes from the north of the Balkan Peninsula invaded, they brought with them a new pantheon of gods, based on conquest, force, prowess in battle, and violent heroism. Other older gods of the agricultural world fused with those of the more powerful invaders or else faded into insignificance.
The achievement of epic poetry was to create story-cycles and, as a result, to develop a new sense of mythological chronology. Thus Greek mythology unfolds as a phase in the development of the world and of humans. While self-contradictions in these stories make an absolute timeline impossible, an approximate chronology may be discerned. The resulting mythological "history of the world" may be divided into three or four broader periods:
- 1. The age of gods (myths of origin)
- 2. The age when gods and mortals mingled freely
- 3. The age of heroes (heroic age)
Although the Greeks had no official church organization, they universally honored certain holy places. Delphi, for example, was a holy site dedicated to Apollo. A temple built at Delphi contained an oracle, or prophet, whom brave travelers questioned about the future. A group of priests represented each of the holy sites. These priests, who also might be community officials, interpreted the words of the gods but did not possess any special knowledge or power. In addition to prayers, the Greeks often offered sacrifices to the gods, usually of a domestic animal such as a goat.
The Greek religion is quite different from today's dominant religions because in it there is no orthodoxy, and no one deity to depend upon. So more responsibility is left to the individual. It is a religion for adults, which offers responsibilities rather than rewards. It is a religion that encourages questioning of the divinities, and the oracles, because such questioning helps lead to a better understanding of human limitations.
Overall, Greek mythological stories of gods and heroes are still important and relevant today. Greek mythology has profoundly influenced Western culture. So universally familiar are its stories that words and sayings refer to them. The myth of Narcissus, for example, produced narcissism, or excessive vanity, and something that causes an argument may be called an "apple of discord," after an apple that Eris, the goddess of discord, used to start a dispute among Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera. We also refer to Greek myths when we talk about "opening Pandora's box" or about someone's "Achilles heel". Any modern person who reads or hears of Greek myths will be hard-pressed to stay unaffected. They are simply that good and this proves just how relevant they still are to this day.