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Heracles attained the highest social prestige through his appointment as official ancestor of the Dorian kings. This probably served as a legitimation for the Dorian migrations into the Peloponnese. Hyllus , the eponymous hero of one Dorian phyle , became the son of Heracles and one of the Heracleidae or Heraclids the numerous descendants of Heracles, especially the descendants of Hyllus —other Heracleidae included Macaria , Lamos, Manto , Bianor , Tlepolemus , and Telephus.

These Heraclids conquered the Peloponnesian kingdoms of Mycenae , Sparta and Argos , claiming, according to legend, a right to rule them through their ancestor. Their rise to dominance is frequently called the " Dorian invasion ". The Lydian and later the Macedonian kings, as rulers of the same rank, also became Heracleidae. Other members of this earliest generation of heroes such as Perseus, Deucalion , Theseus and Bellerophon , have many traits in common with Heracles. Like him, their exploits are solitary, fantastic and border on fairy tale , as they slay monsters such as the Chimera and Medusa.

Bellerophon's adventures are commonplace types, similar to the adventures of Heracles and Theseus. Sending a hero to his presumed death is also a recurrent theme of this early heroic tradition, used in the cases of Perseus and Bellerophon. The only surviving Hellenistic epic, the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes epic poet, scholar, and director of the Library of Alexandria tells the myth of the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the mythical land of Colchis.

In the Argonautica , Jason is impelled on his quest by king Pelias , who receives a prophecy that a man with one sandal would be his nemesis. Jason loses a sandal in a river, arrives at the court of Pelias, and the epic is set in motion.

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Nearly every member of the next generation of heroes, as well as Heracles, went with Jason in the ship Argo to fetch the Golden Fleece. This generation also included Theseus , who went to Crete to slay the Minotaur ; Atalanta , the female heroine, and Meleager , who once had an epic cycle of his own to rival the Iliad and Odyssey. Pindar , Apollonius and the Bibliotheca endeavor to give full lists of the Argonauts.


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The story of Medea , in particular, caught the imagination of the tragic poets. In between the Argo and the Trojan War, there was a generation known chiefly for its horrific crimes. This includes the doings of Atreus and Thyestes at Argos. Behind the myth of the house of Atreus one of the two principal heroic dynasties with the house of Labdacus lies the problem of the devolution of power and of the mode of accession to sovereignty.

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The twins Atreus and Thyestes with their descendants played the leading role in the tragedy of the devolution of power in Mycenae. The Theban Cycle deals with events associated especially with Cadmus , the city's founder, and later with the doings of Laius and Oedipus at Thebes; a series of stories that lead to the eventual pillage of that city at the hands of the Seven Against Thebes and Epigoni. As far as Oedipus is concerned, early epic accounts seem to have him continuing to rule at Thebes after the revelation that Iokaste was his mother, and subsequently marrying a second wife who becomes the mother of his children—markedly different from the tale known to us through tragedy e.

Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and later mythological accounts. Greek mythology culminates in the Trojan War, fought between Greece and Troy , and its aftermath.

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In Homer's works, such as the Iliad , the chief stories have already taken shape and substance, and individual themes were elaborated later, especially in Greek drama. The Trojan War also elicited great interest in the Roman culture because of the story of Aeneas , a Trojan hero whose journey from Troy led to the founding of the city that would one day become Rome, as recounted in Virgil's Aeneid Book II of Virgil's Aeneid contains the best-known account of the sack of Troy.

The Trojan War cycle , a collection of epic poems , starts with the events leading up to the war: Eris and the golden apple of Kallisti , the Judgement of Paris , the abduction of Helen , the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis. To recover Helen, the Greeks launched a great expedition under the overall command of Menelaus 's brother, Agamemnon, king of Argos or Mycenae , but the Trojans refused to return Helen.

The Iliad , which is set in the tenth year of the war, tells of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, who was the finest Greek warrior, and the consequent deaths in battle of Achilles' beloved comrade Patroclus and Priam 's eldest son, Hector. After Hector's death the Trojans were joined by two exotic allies, Penthesilea , queen of the Amazons , and Memnon , king of the Ethiopians and son of the dawn-goddess Eos.

Achilles' heel was the only part of his body which was not invulnerable to damage by human weaponry. Before they could take Troy, the Greeks had to steal from the citadel the wooden image of Pallas Athena the Palladium. Finally, with Athena's help, they built the Trojan Horse. Despite the warnings of Priam's daughter Cassandra , the Trojans were persuaded by Sinon , a Greek who feigned desertion, to take the horse inside the walls of Troy as an offering to Athena; the priest Laocoon, who tried to have the horse destroyed, was killed by sea-serpents.

At night the Greek fleet returned, and the Greeks from the horse opened the gates of Troy. In the total sack that followed, Priam and his remaining sons were slaughtered; the Trojan women passed into slavery in various cities of Greece. The adventurous homeward voyages of the Greek leaders including the wanderings of Odysseus and Aeneas the Aeneid , and the murder of Agamemnon were told in two epics, the Returns the lost Nostoi and Homer's Odyssey.

The Trojan War provided a variety of themes and became a main source of inspiration for Ancient Greek artists e. For instance, Trojan Medieval European writers, unacquainted with Homer at first hand, found in the Troy legend a rich source of heroic and romantic storytelling and a convenient framework into which to fit their own courtly and chivalric ideals. They thus follow Horace 's advice and Virgil's example: they rewrite a poem of Troy instead of telling something completely new. Mythology was at the heart of everyday life in Ancient Greece.

They used myth to explain natural phenomena, cultural variations, traditional enmities and friendships. It was a source of pride to be able to trace the descent of one's leaders from a mythological hero or a god. Few ever doubted that there was truth behind the account of the Trojan War in the Iliad and Odyssey. According to Victor Davis Hanson , a military historian, columnist, political essayist and former classics professor, and John Heath, a classics professor, the profound knowledge of the Homeric epos was deemed by the Greeks the basis of their acculturation.

The early Archaic period

Plato created his own allegorical myths such as the vision of Er in the Republic , attacked the traditional tales of the gods' tricks, thefts and adulteries as immoral, and objected to their central role in literature. But it is not worth taking seriously writers who show off in the mythical style; as for those who do proceed by proving their assertions, we must cross-examine them".

Nevertheless, even Plato did not manage to wean himself and his society from the influence of myth; his own characterization for Socrates is based on the traditional Homeric and tragic patterns, used by the philosopher to praise the righteous life of his teacher: [76].

But perhaps someone might say: "Are you then not ashamed, Socrates, of having followed such a pursuit, that you are now in danger of being put to death as a result? For according to your argument all the demigods would be bad who died at Troy, including the son of Thetis , who so despised danger, in comparison with enduring any disgrace, that when his mother and she was a goddess said to him, as he was eager to slay Hector , something like this, I believe,.

Hanson and Heath estimate that Plato's rejection of the Homeric tradition was not favorably received by the grassroots Greek civilization. Yet the subjects of his plays were taken, without exception, from myth. Many of these plays were written in answer to a predecessor's version of the same or similar myth. Euripides mainly impugns the myths about the gods and begins his critique with an objection similar to the one previously expressed by Xenocrates : the gods, as traditionally represented, are far too crassly anthropomorphic.


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During the Hellenistic period , mythology took on the prestige of elite knowledge that marks its possessors as belonging to a certain class. At the same time, the skeptical turn of the Classical age became even more pronounced. Rationalizing hermeneutics of myth became even more popular under the Roman Empire , thanks to the physicalist theories of Stoic and Epicurean philosophy.

Stoics presented explanations of the gods and heroes as physical phenomena, while the Euhemerists rationalized them as historical figures.

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At the same time, the Stoics and the Neoplatonists promoted the moral significations of the mythological tradition, often based on Greek etymologies. The antiquarian Varro , who regarded religion as a human institution with great importance for the preservation of good in society, devoted rigorous study to the origins of religious cults. In his Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum which has not survived, but Augustine 's City of God indicates its general approach Varro argues that whereas the superstitious man fears the gods, the truly religious person venerates them as parents.

Roman Academic Cotta ridicules both literal and allegorical acceptance of myth, declaring roundly that myths have no place in philosophy. It is difficult to know how far down the social scale this rationalism extended. In Ancient Roman times, a new Roman mythology was born through syncretization of numerous Greek and other foreign gods. This occurred because the Romans had little mythology of their own, and inheritance of the Greek mythological tradition caused the major Roman gods to adopt characteristics of their Greek equivalents.

In addition to the combination of the two mythological traditions, the association of the Romans with eastern religions led to further syncretizations. The Asiatic divinities Mithras that is to say, the Sun and Ba'al were combined with Apollo and Helios into one Sol Invictus , with conglomerated rites and compound attributes. The traditional literary mythology was increasingly dissociated from actual religious practice.

The worship of Sol as special protector of the emperors and of the empire remained the chief imperial religion until it was replaced by Christianity. The surviving 2nd-century collection of Orphic Hymns second century AD and the Saturnalia of Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius fifth century are influenced by the theories of rationalism and the syncretizing trends as well. The Orphic Hymns are a set of pre-classical poetic compositions, attributed to Orpheus, himself the subject of a renowned myth.

In reality, these poems were probably composed by several different poets, and contain a rich set of clues about prehistoric European mythology. In Saturnalia reappear mythographical comments influenced by the Euhemerists, the Stoics and the Neoplatonists.

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The genesis of modern understanding of Greek mythology is regarded by some scholars as a double reaction at the end of the eighteenth century against "the traditional attitude of Christian animosity", in which the Christian reinterpretation of myth as a "lie" or fable had been retained. The development of comparative philology in the 19th century, together with ethnological discoveries in the 20th century, established the science of myth. Since the Romantics, all study of myth has been comparative.

Wilhelm Mannhardt , James Frazer , and Stith Thompson employed the comparative approach to collect and classify the themes of folklore and mythology. Sigmund Freud introduced a transhistorical and biological conception of man and a view of myth as an expression of repressed ideas. Dream interpretation is the basis of Freudian myth interpretation and Freud's concept of dreamwork recognizes the importance of contextual relationships for the interpretation of any individual element in a dream. This suggestion would find an important point of rapprochement between the structuralist and psychoanalytic approaches to myth in Freud's thought.

Segal concludes that "to interpret a myth Campbell simply identifies the archetypes in it. An interpretation of the Odyssey , for example, would show how Odysseus's life conforms to a heroic pattern. Jung, by contrast, considers the identification of archetypes merely the first step in the interpretation of a myth". In , he claimed that "the most important discovery which has been made during the nineteenth century with respect to the ancient history of mankind It appears that the Mycenaean religion was the mother of the Greek religion [] and its pantheon already included many divinities that can be found in classical Greece.

Archaeology and mythography have revealed influence from Asia Minor and the Near East. Adonis seems to be the Greek counterpart—more clearly in cult than in myth—of a Near Eastern "dying god". Cybele is rooted in Anatolian culture while much of Aphrodite's iconography may spring from Semitic goddesses. There are also possible parallels between the earliest divine generations Chaos and its children and Tiamat in the Enuma Elish. In addition to Indo-European and Near Eastern origins, some scholars have speculated on the debts of Greek mythology to the indigenous pre-Greek societies: Crete , Mycenae, Pylos , Thebes and Orchomenus.

Martin P. Nilsson asserts, based on the representations and general function of the gods, that a lot of Minoan gods and religious conceptions were fused in the Mycenaean religion. The widespread adoption of Christianity did not curb the popularity of the myths. With the rediscovery of classical antiquity in the Renaissance , the poetry of Ovid became a major influence on the imagination of poets, dramatists, musicians and artists.

In Northern Europe, Greek mythology never took the same hold of the visual arts, but its effect was very obvious on literature. Racine in France and Goethe in Germany revived Greek drama, reworking the ancient myths.