Mythology | Edith Hamilton

Summary of: Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes
By: Edith Hamilton


Discover the captivating world of Greek mythology with Edith Hamilton’s ‘Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes’. This book summary leads you through the twisting tales of Greek creation, the dramatic actions of gods and goddesses, and the courageous feats of heroes. Embark on a riveting journey that unveils fascinating stories like the birth of Love, the adventures of Hercules, the romance of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the legendary Trojan War. Delve into the interconnected myths of the Greeks and the Romans, and uncover the human-like qualities of these ancient deities that continue to captivate modern imaginations.

Greek Mythology Creation Story

According to the Ancient Greeks, there was nothing in the beginning, just the void that was Chaos. Then, Night and Erebus emerged, and Love was born from the darkness and death they carried. Love, in turn, created two new entities, Light and Day, bringing order to the chaotic void. The Earth and starry Heaven came to be by themselves, and thereafter, Gaea (Mother Earth) and Ouranos (Father Heaven) emerged as individuals. They birthed monstrous children such as the Titans, who were eventually overthrown by Zeus, assisted by Titan Prometheus.

Understanding the Humanization of Greek Mythology

Greek mythology has transcended time due to the relatability of its humanized gods who were part of the human world. Unlike other ancient civilizations, the Greeks envisioned their gods as human-like figures. The concept of mythology was a way of explaining the unknown in a rational manner. Even their mythological tourism was based on gods’ birthplaces, such as Aphrodite’s birth from the sea’s foaming waves. On the other hand, Romans, who deeply revered their gods, adopted and merged them with the Greek gods, leading to similar broad characteristics.

The Mighty Gods of Ancient Greece

Zeus, along with his siblings, were the most powerful gods in Greco-Roman mythology. While Zeus commanded thunder and lightning, his brothers Hades and Poseidon ruled the Underworld and the oceans, respectively. Zeus’s children also held immense power, including Athena, Apollo, Artemis, and Hermes. However, the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite’s lineage was unclear. Zeus’s wife, Hera, was often depicted as jealous and had a reputation for punishing women. Despite being powerful, the gods were not omnipresent or omniscient. Many of these gods are still widely known today by their Roman names, such as Zeus as Jupiter and Aphrodite as Venus.

The Earthly Gods of Greece and Rome

The gods of Mount Olympus may have been the most well known, but the Greeks and Romans held two other important gods in high regard. Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and seasons, and Dionysus, the god of wine, both had significant impacts on daily life. The myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone explains the rhythm of the seasons and the power of a mother’s love, while Dionysus embodied the duality of wine’s effects. The Greeks knew the power of wine both for good and evil, recognizing its ability to both inspire and corrupt.

The Lionhearted Son of Zeus

The story of Hercules, the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, explores his feats of strength, tragic downfall, and twelve impossible tasks assigned by King Eurystheus.

Hercules, the son of Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene, was blessed with extraordinary strength but cursed with a lack of self-control. He killed his music teacher in a fit of rage and later his wife and children, goaded by his father’s jealous wife, Hera. Seeking atonement, he consulted the oracle of Delphi and was instructed to complete twelve impossible labors for King Eurystheus of Mycenae.

Cleaning Augeas’s stables, catching Artemis’s golden deer barehanded, and presenting Eurystheus with Cerberus, the three-headed hound of the Underworld, were among the daunting tasks. Despite the seemingly impossible odds, Hercules accomplished them all using his cunning and brute strength. Cleaning out stables was particularly challenging since they hadn’t been cleaned for years and Hercules had to finish before sunset. He diverted two rivers to flood the stalls, washing them clean with ease.

After completing his tasks, Hercules married Deianira. But she accidentally poisoned him with a robe given to her by the dying centaur Nessus, whom Hercules had killed. The prophesied death of the feared hero had finally come.

The story of Hercules, the greatest of all Greek heroes, is not only one of strength and power but also of tragedy and redemption. He may have died at the hands of Deianira, but his legend lives on as a symbol of mankind’s resilience and determination to overcome impossible odds.

Greek Mythical Love Stories

Greek mythology is famous for its tales of heroes and wars, but it also has heart-wrenching love stories. The stories of Narcissus and Echo, and Orpheus and Eurydice, are two of the most popular ones. Narcissus was a vain youth who couldn’t love, even when Echo fell deeply for him. Orpheus was a musician in love with Eurydice, who died shortly after they got married. Orpheus traveled to the Underworld to bring her back, but lost her forever when he looked back during their journey back to earth.

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