The birth of the world: the reign of Zeus - Greek mythology

The reign of Zeus

Head of Zeus known as of Otricoli
Copy of a Greek original (4th century BC), Vatican Museums, Rome (Italy)

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Zeus, after the defeat of his father Cronus and having precipitated his father's allies, the Titans, in Tartarus, reigned peacefully over the divine lineage and over men.

Homer wrote (Iliad, VIII, 3 et seq.):
«On the high Olympus the dazzling Jupiter
Tenea advice. He speaks and reverent
the Eternals remain to listen: You hear me
Everyone and have my clear will;
And none of you, neither God nor Diva,
My decree is daring to break;
But all together the secondate ...
... I am the gods
The most powerful ... ».

In reality, however, a new threat appeared on the horizon that would lead Zeus to undertake yet another fight against a fearsome enemy: Typhon.

Zeus versus Typhon

Gaea who could not bear the idea that his sons, the Titans, had been imprisoned in Tartarus by Zeus, went to Cilicia, to his son Typhoon (or Tifeo) father of all the deadly winds and the most terrible monsters (1) that he had generated after joining Tartarus, to whom he asked for help in waging war against Zeus.

Typhon, whose stature had no equal on earth as there was no mountain that equaled him in height and with its hundred heads that spit fire and made even more horrible by the anger that animated him, went up to Olympus to fight against the gods. The surprise and fright was such that the gods themselves, after having turned into animals (Apollo in a crow, Artemis in a cat, Aphrodite in a fish, Hermes in a swan, etc.), fled to distant Egypt, leaving Zeus alone to face him.

The fight was long. Zeus first began to hurl his thunderbolts, then, as Typhon approached, hit him repeatedly with the scythe. The monster seemed defeated but when Zeus approached to deliver the killing blow, he was grabbed by Typhon's legs and immobilized. Typhon was quick to snatch the scythe with which he severed the tendons of his hands and feet.

Zeus was defeated.

Typhon then decided to hide Zeus in Cilicia, locking him in a cave called Korykos (the "Korykos antron", which means "bag of skin") while his tendons, placed in a bearskin bag, entrusted them to the custody of the dragoness Delfine, half girl and half snake.

His fate would have been sealed if Hermes, son of Zeus, recovered from the fright decided to react. He stole the Delfine and found the cave where his father had been imprisoned, freed him and healed him making him strong and powerful again.

Zeus then began a new bitter and hard fight against Typhon, who managed to defeat the island of Sicily (according to others the island of Ischia) and imprison him under Mount Etna, where he still lies. Legend has it that the eruptions of the volcano are nothing more than the flames thrown by Typhon out of anger at having been won.

Ovid narrates in the Metamorphosis (V. 346-358): «(...) the vast island of Trinacria accumulates on gigantic limbs, and presses, crushing with its bulk Tifeo, that he dared to hope for a celestial abode. Often, indeed, he struggles and struggles to get up, but his right hand is held firm by Ausonio Peloro, the left by you, or Pachino; the feet are crushed by the (Capo) Lilibeo, the Etna weighs on his head. Lying below, the ferocious Typhon throws sand from his mouth and vomits flames. He often struggles to shake off the weight of the earth, and to overthrow cities and great mountains with his body. Therefore the earth trembles, and the king himself of the world of silence fears that the ground will open and be torn with large chasms ».

After this umpteenth fight waged by Zeus, a new period of tranquility followed. The gods returned to Olympus where Zeus had established their home.

But a new threat loomed on the horizon as Gaea continued to plot against Zeus.

Zeus against the Giants

Gaea, in fact, had gone to Pallas, where the Giants, her sons begotten with Uranus, had their abode. He asked them for help in waging war against Zeus. The Giants, agreeing to their mother's request, also strong in the prophecy according to which no immortal would be able to beat them, led by Porfirione, the strongest among them and by Alcioneo, went to Olympus and began what historians called GIGANTOMACHIA.

The prophecy of their invincibility towards the immortals was also known to Zeus, therefore the same decided to involve, in addition to all the gods, also the mortal Heracles (also known as Hercules), his son, begotten together with Alcmena.

Gigantomachy scene
Attic vase with red figures,
Germanic Archaeological Institute, Rome (Italy)

Gigantomachy scene
Attic vase with red figures,
Germanic Archaeological Institute, Rome (Italy)

Apollodorus recounts (Library, I, 6): «He (Heracles) threw a dart at Alcyoneus, but the giant, unable to die in the land where he was born, was taken out of Pallas by Athena, and only in this way could he be killed. Porphyry moved against Heracles and Hera, but Zeus struck him and Heracles killed him by hitting him with a lightning bolt. Apollo struck Ephialtes with an arrow in the left eye; Dionisio killed with the thyrsus Eurytus; Hecate struck Clitio with his torches, while Hephaestus spilled incandescent metal masses on him; Athena precipitated Sicily on Enceladus who was fleeing; Poseidon threw on Polybotes, who had managed to escape from Kos, the part of the island called Nisiro, after having broken it with the trident; Hermes, with the helmet of Hades, killed Hippolytus; Artemis transfixed Grazione; the Moiras killed Agrio and Toone; Zeus struck the others, and Heracles struck everyone with arrows ».

The Giants, illustration by Gustave Doré (1832 -1883)

Eventually the terrible Giants were defeated and the ancients to explain the cause of the earthquakes, imagined the Giants sunk in the bowels of the earth, crushed by mountains and islands and their attempts to free themselves would be the cause of the earthquakes.

Zeus, lord of the gods and the Universe, thus resumed reigning from Olympus, as the legends handed down by our ancients tell us.

Dr. Maria Giovanna Davoli

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(1) The sons of Typhon were The Sphinx, Garden, Leo, Nemeus, Cerberus, the Hydra of Lerna and Chimera.

Who was Zeus?

In Greek mythology, Zeus (Jupiter for the Romans) was the king of Olympus and the father of the gods as well as the god of the sky and the thunder. Myth has it that Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans Chrono is Rea and brother of Poseidon, Hera, Hades, Demeter and Hestia.

Most of the legends narrates that Zeus took his sister as his wife Was even if, his character, remains famous for the frequent extramarital affairs. Precisely from these, Zeus had numerous sons including: Persephone, Dionysus, Apollo, Perseus and Ares.

It is said that, reached adulthood, Zeus ousted his father from the throne Chrono and the other Titans with the help of the brothers, the Hecatonchirs and gods Cyclops (brothers of Cronus). The ensuing battle, called the Titanomachy, led to the defeat of the Titans who were confined to the subterranean kingdom of Tartarus. Zeus was thus able to divide the world with his brothers and sisters. He was given the lot skies and air, to Hades the world of the dead, to Poseidon the waters.

In theclassical iconography the figure of Zeus is characterized by thick beard, long hair crowned with laurel, shirtless and cloak on the legs. Its distinctive elements are it scepter and lightning.


  • 1 Description
    • 1.1 Mýthos is Lógos: origin of the terms and proceeding of their meaning in Greek culture
    • 1.2 Cantors "inspired" by the Muses: the sacred origin of Greek mythology
    • 1.3 The characters and divinities of Greek mythology
  • 2 The sources of Greek mythology
    • 2.1 Literary sources
    • 2.2 Archaeological sources
  • 3 Historical analysis of myths
    • 3.1 The Age of the Gods
      • 3.1.1 Cosmogony and cosmology
      • 3.1.2 The Olympian gods
    • 3.2 The age of gods and men
    • 3.3 The age of heroes
      • 3.3.1 Heracles and his descendants
      • 3.3.2 The Argonauts
      • 3.3.3 The House of Atreus and the Theban Cycle
      • 3.3.4 The Trojan War and subsequent events
  • 4 Family tree
    • 4.1 Divinity of Olympus
    • 4.2 Other characters from mythology
  • 5 The importance of myths in Greek culture
    • 5.1 Philosophy and myth
    • 5.2 Hellenistic and Roman rationalism
    • 5.3 The syncretistic thrusts
  • 6 Modern Interpretations
    • 6.1 The comparative and psychoanalytic approach
    • 6.2 Theories on the origin of myths
  • 7 Greek mythology in mass culture
  • 8 Greek mythology in Western art and literature
  • 9 Notes
  • 10 Bibliography
    • 10.1 Primary sources (Greek and Roman)
    • 10.2 Secondary sources
  • 11 Related items
  • 12 Other projects
  • 13 External links

Mýthos is Lógos: origin of the terms and proceeding of their meaning in the Greek culture Edit

The term "myth" (μῦθος, mythos) has in Homer and Hesiod the meaning of "story", "speech", "history" [5] [6].

A "true" story [7], pronounced in an authoritative way [8] because "there is nothing truer and more real than a story recited by a wise old king" [9].

In Theogony it is μύθος what the Muses goddesses address to the shepherd Hesiod before transforming him into an "inspired singer" [10].

The origin of the lógos (λόγος) [11] which appears rather as a "calculated, reasoned speech" not necessarily "true":

"The logos of mythology, in accordance with that of sophistry, does not take truth into account at all, rather, it aims at persuasion. "

Only after the "Homeric" period is there a radical change in the meanings of the two terms:

“After the Homeric age, the frequency ratio of the two terms gradually reverses, and so does their value ratio. Lógos gradually takes on importance as a designation of a discourse that does not appeal to a tradition, but asks to be evaluated according to its internal organization, while mythos, as its value is linked to the prestige of whoever utters it, it assumes the meaning of an unverifiable discourse "

That said, with Plato the two terms intersect in mythology (ours also uses mythous légein, mythologein) to mean that kind of poiésis which deals with telling "about gods, divine beings, heroes and descents into the afterlife" [12].

«It can therefore be concluded with a reasonable foundation that the noun mythology and the verb mythologeuo they accepted and preserved a restrictive meaning of the original word mythos: the meaning of "effective word" reduced to "non-compulsory narration, not involving arguments" while the meaning of mythos as "effective word", "project", "machination", "deliberation", it moved almost exclusively into the word logos and survived in the verb mythiazomai. This means that the conjunction of mythos is logos (mythology, mythologeuo) corresponded to the devaluation of mythos as "effective word", for the benefit of logos [. ] And therefore this leads us to suppose that in the history of the Greek language after Homer a devaluation of mythos in favour of logos, so much so that the admixtures of mythos is logos were restrictions on the meaning of mythos, almost that mythos, in direct contact with its competitor (not yet with its "opposite"), logos, was destined to give up part of himself. This is particularly important, as it provides a philological basis for the hypothesis that the word mythos originally also meant the essence of the tales about "gods, divine beings, etc.", and that this very essence, on the one hand, determined, with its crisis, the devaluation and semantic restriction of mythos, on the other hand has survived in the object indicated by the characteristic word of the instant of crisis: mythology

Singers "inspired" by the Muses: the sacred origin of Greek mythology Edit

The most ancient attestations of Greek "mythology" correspond to the "Homeric" poems and to the Theogony of Hesiod, both of these contexts of sacred literature are characterized by a precise incipit which recalls the intervention of some goddesses indicated with the term "Muse" (Μοῦσαι, -ῶν).

"Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληιάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί ’Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε "

«Sing Musa divina, the wrath of Achilles son of Peleus
the ruinous anger that brought infinite pain to the Greeks "

"Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσε "

«Tell me, O Muse, of the man of multiform genius, what a lot
wandered, after he destroyed the sacred fortress of Troy "

"Μουσάων Ἑλικωνιάδων ἀρχώμεθ᾽ ἀείδειν,
αἵ θ᾽ Ἑλικῶνος ἔχουσιν ὄρος μέγα τε ζάθεόν τε "

"From the Eliconie Muses we begin the song,
they who own the great and divine mountain of Elicone "

The Muses are the goddesses who represent the supreme ideal of Art, created by Zeus according to the will of the other gods. Art should be understood as a clear vision of all things, terrestrial and divine [13]. They "own" the poets these are entheos (ἔνθεος "full of God"), as Democritus himself remembers [14]. To be entheos, is a condition that "the poet shares with other inspired ones: the prophets, the bacchantes and the pythonesses" [15] [16] [17].

The Muses, therefore, are the goddesses who give men the opportunity to speak according to the truth [18], and, daughters of Mnemosýne (Μνημοσύνη), Memory, allow the singers to "remember" having this same function a religious value and its own cult [19].

The characters and gods of Greek mythology Edit

Greek mythology, today, can be known essentially through literature. In addition to written sources, artistic representations of a mythological nature can also come to help, the most ancient finds of which date back to the so-called geometric period (between 900 and 800 BC) [20].

Literary Sources Edit

The storytelling of myths plays a very important role in almost all Greek literary genres. Nonetheless, the only surviving complete text of a mythological genre is the Library of Pseudo-Apollodorus, a work that attempts to reconcile the divergent tales of the poets and provides an ample compendium of traditional Greek mythology and heroic legends [21].

Among the literary sources of the most ancient period, the two epic poems of Homer, theIliad and theOdyssey. Other poets later completed the Epic cycle, but these minor poems have been almost entirely lost. Despite their name, the Homeric hymns they have no relationship with Homer and are hymns of a choral character, dating back to the age of the lyricists [22].

Hesiod, perhaps a contemporary poet of Homer, in the "Theogony" ("The origin of the gods"), which deals with the creation of the world, offers the most complete narrative available to us of the most ancient myths, describing the birth of gods, Titans and Giants, detailed genealogies, folk tales and etiological myths. Another text by Hesiod,"The works and the days", which is a didactic poem about rural life, also contains the legends of Prometheus, Pandora and the ages of man. The poet dispenses advice on how to best live in a dangerous world, made even more dangerous by the gods who they govern [23].

Lyric poets sometimes drew inspiration from myths, but as time passed they switched from a more direct and descriptive treatment to the use of simple allusions and veiled references. The Greek lyricists, including Pindar, Bacchilides and Simonides, and the bucolic poets like Theocritus and Bione in their works cite some mythological episodes [24]. Furthermore, the mythical tradition in ancient Athens was often at the center of the plots of classical plays. The tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were inspired by the age of heroes and the events of the Trojan war. Many of the great tragic legends (such as those of Agamemnon and his sons, of Oedipus, of Jason, of Medea etc.) took their final form thanks to the reworking that was made in these works. For his part, the playwright Aristophanes also used traditional myths in works such as "Birds" or "The frogs" [25] .

The historians Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus and the geographers Pausanias and Strabone traveled extensively in various areas of the Greek world and noted the stories they came to know: in this way they were able to insert in their writings numerous local myths, often alternative and little-known versions of legends more known [24]. Herodotus, in particular, examined the various traditions that faced him, reconstructing their mythological roots and comparing the Greek tradition with the Eastern one [26].

Hellenistic and Roman poetry, although now composed only for literary purposes and not as a support for worship, still contain many important mythological details, which would otherwise have been lost. This category includes:

  1. The works of the Hellenistic poets Apollonio Rodio, Callimaco, Lo pseudo-Eratosthenes and Partenio di Nicea.
  2. The works of the Roman poets Ovidio, Stazio, Gaio Valerio Flacco, Seneca and Virgilio with the commentary by Servio Mario Onorato.
  3. The works of the later Greek poets Grandfather of Panopolis, Antonino Liberale and Quintus of Smyrna.
  4. The ancient novels of Apuleius, Petronius, Lolliano and Eliodoro.

The Fabulae he Astronomical, works by Pseudo-Igino who adopted a style similar to the classical Roman one, are two important mythological compendia written in prose. Two other useful sources are the Images of Filostrato the old and Filostrato the young and the Descriptions by Callistrato.

To conclude, a number of Greek-Byzantine writers report important mythological details taken from Greek works that have been lost: among their most important texts are the Lexicon of Hesychius, la Suda, the essays by John Tzetzes and Eustatius of Thessaloniki.

Archaeological sources Edit

The discovery of the ruins of the Mycenaean civilization by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (19th century), and those of the Minoan civilization in Crete, by the hand of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans (20th century), was of great help to understand better the historical-cultural context of the Homeric poems and thanks to the many archaeological finds found in the excavation campaigns it was possible to understand some details of the mythological tales. Unfortunately, the evidence found in Mycenaean and Cretan sites is exclusively monumental, as Linear B script (an ancient form of language found both on the island and in mainland Greece) was mainly used to compile records and inventories, although sometimes , not without some uncertainty, it is possible to trace on these tablets the names of gods and heroes [23].

The geometric designs on ceramic artefacts dating back to the 7th century BC portray scenes from the Trojan cycle and from the adventures of Heracles [23]. These graphic representations of mythological scenes are important for two different reasons: on the one hand, the testimony of many Greek myths has been found on vases from ages prior to those of literary sources (of the twelve labors of Heracles, only the episode with Cerberus was first found on a literary source [27]), on the other hand sources drawn from art objects sometimes portray myths and mythological scenes that are not present at all in written texts. In some cases the representation of a myth on the vases of the geometric period preceded by several centuries the first written testimony known to us [20]. In all ancient civilizations, men worked out the answers to the fundamental questions of life.

The mythology of the Greek peoples was not an immobile and immutable "corpus", but over time it has changed, adapting to the evolution of their culture. The first inhabitants of the Balkan Peninsula were a farming people who tended to attribute the dominion of a spirit to every aspect of nature. These vague spiritual entities ended up taking on a human aspect and became part of local mythology with the role of gods and goddesses [28]. When the area was invaded by tribes from the north of the peninsula, these populations brought with them the cult of new and different deities, which were related to conquest, strength, valor in battle, heroism and violence. Some of the old deities created by the previous rural society merged their own aspects with those brought by these powerful invaders, others ended up being supplanted and forgotten [29].

Towards the middle of the Archaic period, legends concerning the relations between male divinities and heroes became more and more frequent, a fact which indicates the parallel development in this period of the habit of pedagogical pederasty. (Eros paidikos, παιδικός ἔρως), although the practice became widespread around 630 BC. By the end of the 5th century BC the poets had attributed an eromenos to each of the most important gods, except Ares, and to many other legendary characters [30]. Even previously existing myths, such as that of Achilles and Patroclus, were reinterpreted in a homosexual key [31]. In later periods, first the Alexandrian poets and then the mythographers of the early Roman imperial age often adapted, adapting them to their culture, the history of the characters of Greek mythology.

Epic poetry created a series of cycles of legends, with the result of developing some form of mythological chronology: in this way the stories told by Greek mythology practically ended up narrating a phase in the evolution of the world and of man [32] . The many evident contradictions between the various legends make it impossible to reconstruct a complete chronological line, but one can at least sketch an approximate one. The history of the world according to mythology can be divided into 3 broad periods:

  1. "The myths of the origins" or "The age of the gods" (Theogonies, "births of the gods") - These are myths concerning the origins of the world, gods and the human race.
  2. "The time when gods and men lived together freely"- Tales of the earliest interactions between gods, demigods and mortals.
  3. "The age of heroes" or "The heroic age"- In this period the gods were less active and less present. The last and most important of the legends of this period are those related to the Trojan War and subsequent events (some scholars tend to consider them in a separate category) [33 ].

The age of the gods has often been considered the most interesting by contemporary scholars, but the Greek authors of the archaic and classical periods show a marked preference for the age of heroes. For example, the Iliad and the Odyssey, due to the success and the size of the texts, made the Theogony he Homeric hymns, whose narratives centered on the gods, as well as minor works. Under the influence of Homer's works the "hero worship"led to a revision of some religious conceptions, which resulted in the separation between the kingdom of the gods from that of the dead (the heroes), and between the Olympic and chthonic divinities [34]. The works and the days, Hesiod uses the scheme of the four ages of man: The Age of Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron. These ages were created by the gods separately the golden age refers to the reign of Cronus, while the later ones are the work of Zeus. Hesiod places the age of heroes immediately after that of bronze. The last, that of iron, is where the poet himself lived. He considers it the worst, as evil has made its appearance in the world, as explained by the myth of Pandora [35]. In his work, the Metamorphoses, Ovid follows the same pattern of the four ages introduced by Hesiod [36].

The Age of the Gods Edit

Cosmogony and cosmology Edit

"The myths of the origin", or "myths of creation", represent an attempt to translate the universe into terms understandable to man and to explain the origin of the world. [37] The traditionally most widespread and accepted tale of the beginnings of the world is the one narrated in Theogony of Hesiod. It all begins with Chaos, a huge and indistinct nothing. From the void of chaos appeared Gaea (the earth) with some other primordial deities: Eros (the love), the Abyss (Tartarus) and the twins Nyx (the night) and Erebus (the darkness) [38]. Gaea, without the collaboration of any male figure, generated Uranus (the sky), which once born fertilized it. From their union the Titans were born first, six males and six females: Oceano, Ceo, Crio, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Rhea, Themes, Mnemosine, Phoebe, Teti and Cronus. Then came the monocle Ciclopi (Bronte, Sterope and Arge) and the Hecatonchiri (Briareo, Gige and Cotto) with a hundred hands. Uranus throws his children into Tartarus for fear of losing the place of king for their sake, as the husband of Gaea, of creation.

Chrono - "the cunning youngest and most terrible of Gaea's sons"[38] - he was saved by his mother Gaea and was thus able to avenge his brothers. He evaded his father and became the ruler of the Titans by taking his sister Rhea as his wife, while the other Titans went to make up his court. From Rhea he had several children. who, for fear that they would oust him, ate one by one. But not the youngest, Zeus, whom Rhea managed to hide by entrusting him to the care of the goat Amalthea and which he replaced with a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes and cloths. Cronus, unaware of the replacement , swallowed what he believed the last of his children. Once an adult Zeus confronted his father and forced him to drink a drug that made him vomit all the children he had devoured, finally challenged him by waging a war for the throne of the gods. finally, with the help of the Cyclops (whom he had freed from Tartarus) and Campe, Zeus and his brothers and sisters managed to win, while Cronus and the Titans were in turn thrown into Tartarus and imprisoned there [39].

In the opinion of the early ancient Greeks who engaged in poetry, theogony was considered a poetic prototype - the prototype of the "myth"- and it was not far from attributing magical powers. Orpheus, the archetype of the poet, was also considered the first composer of theogonies, which he uses in Apollonius' Argonautics to calm seas and storms and to move the hardened hearts of the gods of the underworld during his descent into Hades. When Hermes in the "Homeric hymn to Hermes"invents the lyre, the first thing he does is to use it to sing the birth of the gods [40].

There Theogony of Hesiod is not only the most complete description of the legends about the gods that has come down to us but also, thanks to the long preliminary invocation to the Muses, a fundamental testimony of what the role of the poet was during the Archaic era. Theogony was the subject of many lost poems - including those attributed to Orpheus, Museum, Epimenides, Abarides and other legendary singers - which were used in secret purification rituals and mystery rites. Some clues suggest that Plato was well acquainted with some versions of the Orphic theogony [41]. Of these works only a few fragments remain within quotations of Neoplatonic philosophers and on some shreds of papyrus found only recently in the course of archaeological excavations. One of these fragments, the Derveni Papyrus, proves that at least in the 5th century BC. a theo-cosmogonic poem attributed to Orpheus really existed. In this poem, which attempted to surpass the value of Hesiod's, the divine genealogy was expanded with the addition of Nyx (the night), which in the timeline was positioned before Uranus, Cronus and Zeus [42].

The first naturalist philosophers opposed, or sometimes used them as the basis for their theories, to popular beliefs based on mythology and widespread in the Greek world. Some of these ideas can be found in the works of Homer and Hesiod. In Homer the earth is conceived as a flat disk floating on the Ocean river, dominated by a hemispherical sky on which the sun, moon and stars move. The sun, Elio, crossed the skies driving his chariot, while at night it was thought to move around the earth resting in a golden cup. The sun, the earth, the sky, the rivers and the winds could be the object of prayers and called to witness oaths. Natural cavities were generally interpreted as entrances to the underworld of Hades, the home of the dead [43].

The Olympian Gods Edit

After the expulsion of the Titans, a new pantheon of immortal beings made up of Gods and Goddesses emerged. The Olympians stand out among the main Greek gods (the determination of their number at twelve would seem to be a relatively modern idea) [44], who resided on the top of Mount Olympus under the guidance of Zeus. In addition to the Olympians, the Greeks revered various rural deities such as the goat-god Pan, the Nymphs, the Naiads (who lived in the springs), the Dryads (who lived in the trees), the Nereids (inhabitants of the seas), the river gods, the Satyrs and others. In addition to these there were the dark forces of the underworld such as the Erinyes (or Furies), which were believed to persecute those who had committed crimes against their kinsmen [45]. In honor of the gods of the Greek pantheon, the poets composed the Homeric Hymns (a collection of 33 songs) [46].

In the many myths and legends of which Greek mythology is composed, the deities are described as immortal beings with an idealized but absolutely real body. According to Walter Burkert, the qualifying feature of Greek anthropomorphism is that "the Greek gods are people, not abstractions, ideas or concepts" [47]. Beyond their appearance, the ancient Greek gods were endowed with fantastic abilities among the most significant was immunity to any kind of disease and being able to be injured only if some extraordinary circumstances occurred. The Greeks thought that immortality was a distinctive feature of their gods and was assured, like eternal youth, by the constant consumption of nectar and ambrosia, which renewed the divine blood that flowed in their veins [48].

Ogni dio ha la propria genealogia, persegue i propri scopi e interessi, è dotato di specifiche capacità e possiede una personalità unica e chiaramente distinguibile da quelle degli altri tuttavia queste descrizioni provengono da diverse varianti locali delle leggende, e queste varianti talvolta sono in contrasto tra di loro. Quando questi dei venivano invocati nei componimenti poetici, nelle preghiere o durante i rituali di culto, ci si rivolgeva loro combinando il loro nome con uno o più epiteti, che distinguevano tra le varie forme in cui gli dei stessi si potevano manifestare (ad esempio Apollo Musagetes indica "Apollo la guida delle Muse").

La maggior parte degli dei era associata ad aspetti specifici della vita. Ad esempio, Afrodite era la dea dell'amore e della bellezza, Artemide dea della caccia, della luna e protettrice di animali, Ares della guerra, Ade dei morti e del sottosuolo e Atena della saggezza e delle arti [49] . Alcune divinità, come Apollo e Dioniso, mostravano personalità complesse e si occupavano di vari aspetti della vita, mentre altre, come Estia o Elio, erano poco più che mere personificazioni. I templi greci più suggestivi e solenni furono dedicati per lo più ad un ristretto numero di dei, quelli il cui culto era centrale nella religiosità panellenica. Era comunque comune che singole regioni o villaggi fossero particolarmente devote anche a divinità minori considerate le loro protettrici. Inoltre, in molte città il culto delle divinità più note era praticato seguendo particolari rituali locali, che li associavano a strane leggende altrove del tutto sconosciute. Durante l'età eroica, il culto degli eroi e dei semidei si affiancò a quello delle divinità principali.

L'età degli dèi e degli uomini Modifica

Tra l'età in cui gli dei vivevano soli e quella in cui gli interventi divini negli affari umani diventarono limitati, ci fu un'epoca di transizione nella quale dei e uomini agivano fianco a fianco. Ciò accadde durante tempi immediatamente successivi alla creazione del mondo, in cui i due gruppi si unirono con molta più libertà di quanto non abbiano fatto in seguito. I racconti di queste vicende, la maggior parte dei quali fu successivamente riportata nelle Metamorfosi di Ovidio, possono essere suddivisi in due categorie tematiche: i racconti d'amore e i racconti delle punizioni [50] .

I racconti d'amore spesso narrano di incesti, oppure della seduzione o dello stupro di una donna mortale da parte di una divinità maschile, unioni dalle quali discendono gli eroi. L'insegnamento di queste storie generalmente è che le relazioni tra dei e mortali sono qualcosa da cui è meglio tenersi alla larga anche le relazioni consensuali raramente terminano con un lieto fine [51] . In alcuni casi è una divinità femminile che si accoppia con un mortale, come accade nell'Inno Omerico ad Afrodite, in cui la dea si giace con Anchise per generare Enea. Le nozze di Peleo e Teti, che portarono alla nascita di Achille, costituiscono un altro mito di questo secondo tipo.

I racconti delle punizioni ruotano perlopiù attorno al furto o all'invenzione di alcune importanti scoperte culturali, come quando Prometeo ruba il fuoco agli dei, quando Tantalo sottrae il nettare e l'ambrosia dalla tavola di Zeus e li dà ai suoi sudditi rivelando loro i segreti degli dei, quando Prometeo o Licaone inventano i sacrifici, quando Demetra insegna i segreti dell'agricoltura e i Misteri eleusini a Trittolemo, o quando Marsia trova il flauto gettato sulla Terra da Atena e sfida Apollo ad una gara di abilità musicale. Un frammento di papiro anonimo, che si fa risalire al III secolo a.C., racconta in modo molto vivido la punizione che Dioniso infligge al re di Tracia Licurgo che aveva riconosciuto il dio con colpevole ritardo, ricevendone pene terribili che si sarebbero protratte anche nell'aldilà [52] . La storia dell'arrivo di Dioniso in Tracia per fondarvi il proprio culto fu anche il soggetto di una trilogia tragica di Eschilo [53] . In un'altra tragedia, Le Baccanti di Euripide, il re di Tebe Penteo viene punito da Dioniso perché gli ha mancato di rispetto ed ha spiato le sue Menadi [54] .

In un'altra leggenda, basata su un antico racconto popolare dal tema simile [55] , Demetra, mentre stava cercando la figlia Persefone, aveva assunto l'aspetto di una vecchia di nome Doso, godendo così dell'ospitalità del re di Eleusi Celeo. Per compensarlo dell'accoglienza offerta, Demetra progettò di trasformarne il figlio Demofoonte in un dio, ma non riuscì a completare il necessario rituale perché la madre Metanira, vedendo il figlio tra le fiamme del focolare, la interruppe gridando spaventata. Demetra se ne ebbe a male e si lamentò dell'incomprensione che gli stupidi mortali riservano ai riti divini [56] .

L'età degli eroi Modifica

La poesia epica e genealogica creò dei cicli di leggende che si raggruppavano attorno alla figura di determinati eroi o che sviluppavano la storia di alcuni eventi. In questo modo si spiegavano inoltre le relazioni familiari e le discendenze di eroi che figuravano in leggende diverse, finendo per riordinare le leggende stesse in una successione abbastanza stabile.

In seguito all'incremento dell'abitudine al culto degli eroi, gli dei e gli eroi finirono per fare parte di un unico immaginario sacro, venendo invocati insieme nei giuramenti e nelle preghiere [57] . Contrariamente a quanto accadde durante l'età degli dei, nel corso dell'età eroica il numero degli eroi non rimase fisso e non vi fu mai un loro elenco definitivo: mentre non si parlò più della nascita di nuovi grandi dei, eroi nuovi continuavano a sorgere nel corpus leggendario. Un'altra importante differenza tra i due culti è che l'eroe locale diventa il centro dei culti locali e le popolazioni delle varie zone e città si identificano in esso [58] .

Le grandiose avventure di Eracle secondo molti rappresentano l'inizio dell'età degli eroi. A quest'epoca può essere senz'altro attribuita anche la creazione dei miti di tre grandi leggendarie imprese militari: la spedizione degli Argonauti, la guerra di Troia e la guerra Tebana [59] .

Eracle e i suoi discendenti Modifica

È possibile che ad ispirare la figura di Eracle e le complesse leggende che lo riguardano sia stato un uomo realmente esistito forse si trattò di un condottiero militare al servizio del regno di Argo. Tuttavia, secondo la tradizione Eracle era figlio di Zeus e di Alcmena, la nipote di Perseo [60] . Le sue incredibili imprese, molte delle quali tratte dal folklore locale, fornirono una gran mole di spunti per le leggende più note. Fu ritratto come molto devoto e dedito alla costruzione di altari, famoso però per il suo eccezionale appetito questo è il ruolo in cui appare nei racconti più leggeri e divertenti, mentre la sua terribile fine è stata fonte di ispirazione per i tragediografi [61] . Nelle opere d'arte e in quelle letterarie Eracle fu rappresentato come un uomo estremamente muscoloso e forte, ma non eccessivamente alto l'arma di cui solitamente si serviva era l'arco, ma usava frequentemente anche una clava. Le decorazioni sugli oggetti ceramici dimostrano l'incomparabile popolarità raggiunta da Eracle: solo la sua lotta contro il Leone di Nemea venne dipinta centinaia di volte [61] .

La figura di Eracle venne recepita anche dalle mitologie romana ed etrusca e l'esclamazione "Mehercule!" divenne abituale tra i Romani come "Herakleis!" lo era tra i Greci [61] . In Italia fu venerato come una divinità protettrice di mercanti e commercianti, anche se alcuni continuavano ad invocarlo, secondo tradizione, perché concedesse loro fortuna e li salvasse dai pericoli [60] .

La figura di Eracle fu accostata alle classi sociali più illustri attribuendogli il ruolo di progenitore della dinastia reale dorica. Questa leggenda probabilmente servì per legittimare a posteriori la migrazione del popolo dorico nel Peloponneso. Illo, l'eroe eponimo della stirpe dorica, fu trasformato nel figlio di Eracle e incluso tra gli Eracleidi (i numerosi discendenti di Eracle, specialmente dalla linea che fa capo ad Illo stesso – altri Eracleidi furono Macaria, Lamo, Manto, Bianore, Tlepolemo e Telefo). I sedicenti Eracleidi nel Peloponneso conquistarono i regni di Micene, Sparta ed Argo rivendicando, secondo quanto sostenuto nelle leggende, il loro diritto a governare derivante dagli illustri progenitori. La loro ascesa al potere è stata spesso denominata come Invasione Dorica. In epoche successive anche gli appartenenti alle case regnanti di Lidia e Macedonia assunsero il titolo di Eracleidi [62] .

Altri esponenti di questa prima generazione di eroi, come Perseo, Deucalione, Teseo e Bellerofonte, condividono con Eracle alcuni tratti comuni: tutti compiono le loro imprese da soli e queste imprese, nelle quali sconfiggono mostri come Medusa o la Chimera, possiedono molti elementi fantastici e simili a quelli delle fiabe. Anche l'intervento degli dei che mandano l'eroe verso la morte è un tema ricorrente di questa prima tradizione eroica, come mostrano le leggende di Perseo e Bellerofonte [63] .

Gli Argonauti Modifica

L'unico poema epico sopravvissuto dell'epoca Ellenistica sono Le Argonautiche di Apollonio Rodio (poeta, studioso e direttore della Biblioteca di Alessandria) che narrano la leggenda del viaggio di Giasone e degli Argonauti intrapreso per riprendere il Vello d'oro nel mitico paese della Colchide. Nelle Argonautiche Giasone è spinto all'impresa dal re Pelia, che aveva saputo da una profezia che un uomo con un solo sandalo sarebbe stato la sua nemesi. Giasone arriva a corte dopo aver appunto perso un sandalo nel fiume e da questo antefatto prende il via l'avventura. Quasi tutti gli eroi di questa seconda generazione accompagnano Giasone sulla nave Argo nella sua ricerca del Vello d'oro: tra gli altri ci sono Eracle, i Dioscuri, Atalanta e Meleagro al quale era stato dedicato un ciclo epico che rivaleggiava con Iliade ed Odissea. Sia Pindaro che Apollonio che lo Pseudo-Apollodoro si sforzarono nelle loro opere di dare un elenco completo degli Argonauti [64]

Apollonio compose il suo poema nel III secolo a.C., ma la leggenda originaria è in realtà precedente all'Odissea, nelle cui pagine si possono trovare rimandi alle imprese di Giasone, tanto che la storia dei vagabondaggi e delle avventure di Odisseo potrebbe esserne stata ispirata. [65] Nell'antichità la spedizione fu considerata un fatto storico effettivamente accaduto, ed interpretata come un episodio della storia dell'apertura al commercio ed alla colonizzazione greca nell'area del Mar Nero. [66] La leggenda godette comunque di una grande popolarità, anche grazie al gran numero di leggende locali che, fondendosi con essa, finirono per creare un ciclo epico. In particolare, il personaggio di Medea catturò l'immaginazione dei poeti tragici divenendo fonte di ispirazione per molti componimenti Ψ. [67]

La Casa di Atreo e il Ciclo Tebano Modifica

Tra quella degli Argonauti e quella che si cimentò nella guerra di Troia, ci fu una generazione di eroi conosciuta principalmente per essersi macchiata di orribili crimini: tra questi spiccano Atreo e Tieste. Dietro al mito della casata di Atreo (che insieme con quella di Labdaco è una delle due dinastie eroiche più importanti) si nasconde l'eterno problema del passaggio di mano del potere e delle modalità di accesso al trono. I due fratelli e i loro discendenti rivestono un ruolo fondamentale nel drammatico passaggio di potere nella città di Micene. [68]

Il Ciclo tebano tratta soprattutto delle vicende legate a Cadmo, il fondatore della città, e successivamente della storia di Laio ed Edipo si tratta di una serie di vicende che portano alla fine al saccheggio della città per mano dei Sette contro Tebe (non è chiaro se le figure di questi sette eroi fossero già presenti nei miti antichi) e degli Epigoni. [69] Per quanto riguarda Edipo, i miti originari sembrerebbero raccontare una storia diversa da quella che è diventata famosa attraverso la tragedia di Sofocle e le leggende più tarde: pare infatti che, dopo aver scoperto che Giocasta era sua madre, continuò ugualmente a governare la città, prendendo però in moglie un'altra donna che gli assicurasse la discendenza Ψ. [70]

La Guerra di Troia e gli eventi successivi Modifica

La mitologia greca raggiunge il suo momento più significativo con la guerra di Troia, combattuta tra Greci e Troiani, e le vicende ad essa successive. Le linee principali di questo ciclo di leggende furono tratteggiate da Omero, mentre in epoche successive altri poeti e drammaturghi elaborarono e svilupparono le storie di vari singoli personaggi. Grazie alla storia del condottiero troiano Enea, raccontata da Virgilio nell'Eneide, la guerra di Troia finì per rivestire una certa importanza anche nella mitologia romana.

Il ciclo della guerra di Troia, una raccolta di poemi epici, narra il racconto degli eventi che fecero da prodromi alla guerra stessa: tra questi le leggende di Eris e la mela d'oro, del giudizio di Paride, del rapimento di Elena, e del sacrificio di Ifigenia in Aulide. Per riprendere Elena i greci organizzarono una grande spedizione militare sotto il comando del fratello di Menelao, il re di Micene Agamennone, ma i Troiani rifiutarono di restituire la donna. L'Iliade, ambientata durante il decimo anno di guerra, racconta della lite tra Agamennone ed Achille, il migliore dei guerrieri greci, e delle conseguenti morti in battaglia dell'amico di Achille Patroclo, e di Ettore, figlio di Priamo e comandante in capo dell'esercito troiano. Dopo la morte di Ettore, alle forze troiane si unirono due esotici alleati: la regina delle Amazzoni Pentesilea ed il re degli Etiopi Memnone, figlio della dea dell'aurora Eos. [71]

Achille uccise entrambi questi nuovi guerrieri, ma Paride riuscì a sua volta ad abbattere l'eroe greco con una freccia. Prima di poter conquistare la città, i Greci furono costretti a rubare dall'acropoli di Troia la statua di lignea di Atena, il Palladium. Alla fine, con l'aiuto della dea, costruirono il celebre cavallo di legno che i Troiani, nonostante gli avvertimenti della profetessa Cassandra e del sacerdote Laocoonte, portarono entro le mura, persuasi da Sinone, un acheo fintosi disertore. Quella stessa notte la flotta greca ritornò in segreto ed i guerrieri nascosti nel cavallo fecero irruzione in città, che venne saccheggiata e poi distrutta. Priamo e i suoi figli rimasti furono uccisi, mentre le donne di Troia furono incluse nel bottino di guerra e portate in Grecia come schiave.

Gli avventurosi viaggi di ritorno dei capi dei greci sono narrati in due poemi epici: i Ritorni (Nostoi andato perduto) e l'Odissea di Omero. Il ciclo delle leggende relative alla guerra di Troia include anche le avventure di alcuni dei figli degli eroi, come Telemaco ed Oreste [71]

La Guerra di Troia fornì una notevole quantità di spunti per gli artisti delle epoche successive e fu fonte di ispirazione per opere come le metope del Partenone che rappresentano appunto scene tratte dal saccheggio della città questa predilezione mostra piuttosto chiaramente l'importanza che questo ciclo di storie ebbe per l'antica civiltà greca.

Zeus e la sua ascesa ad Olimpo e l’ascensione del padre di tutti gli dei e gli uomini

Con l’età, salì ad Olimpo per sfidare suo padre Chronos di fronte a diversi dei olimpici e salvare i suoi fratelli mangiati in precedenza. Ci sono diverse versioni che raccontano come egli fece vomitare tutti i suoi fratelli e sorelle (dalla pietra che credeva fosse Zeus al primo dei suoi fratelli ad essere divorato). Altri raccontano come aprì lo stomaco di suo padre, liberando i fratelli.

Questo dio non solo liberò i suoi fratelli dal loro padre, ma anche i Ciclopi e gli Ecatonicquiros che erano fratelli di crono e furono rinchiusi nel buio Tartaro. Come segno della loro gratitudine, i Ciclopi gli diedero il fulmine che era stato nascosto da Gaia.

Insieme ai suoi fratelli, gli Ecatocireni e i Ciclopi, Zeus sconfisse crono e il resto dei titani nella guerra del Titanomachia e li rinchiudeva in Tartaro, lasciandoli in custodia agli Ecatociristi.

Dopo aver sconfitto crono, Zeus divise il dominio di suo padre tra i tre fratelli maggiori. Egli avrebbe governato i cieli, Poseidone le acque is Ade gli inferi. In questo modo egli è venuto a governare su Olimpo ed è diventato noto come “Padre degli dei e degli uomini“.

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