Myth of Being
It was Plato who first used the word “mythologia”, a Greek word meaning the telling of story using imagines characters. Plato lived around the time 427-347 BCE. To first understand Greek mythology you must consider the land from whence it sprang.
Greece was surrounded by water and, at the same time, divided into regions by the mountains and broken coastline. Forced to adapt and live with the terrain of their homeland, sailing became a necessary part of life for the early Greeks. It also provided communication, both within the country and with others.
Greece was naturally broken into smaller areas by the terrain, mountainous and yet lush. The earliest families of what would become city-states within the country were featured in the works of such poets as Homer proudly proclaimed their connections to the gods and goddesses whose stories were told to explain the natural world and the existence of mankind. The city-states of Sparta, Mycenae, Thebes, Athens, and Corinth were just a few actual city-states mentioned in these myths.
The Greek artists told and illustrated their deities to show how the gods and goddesses often determined the outcome of the efforts of mankind. Universal themes such as love, hatred, jealousy, sorrow, pain, deceit, beauty, and destiny were all motives and influencing factors in these stories. Although some would later attempt to connect these Greek gods and goddesses to actual men and women who had once lived glorious lives that become divine in the telling, most historians agree that Plato was right in defining these stories as being based upon imagined characters rather than real human beings.
The earliest Roman mythology bears little resemblance to the Roman mythology studies today. Rome’s conquest of Greece in the second century BCE led to the final assimilation of the two cultures’ myths, something that had begun earlier with the trading between the two sea-faring empires. The Greeks had a far more expansive collection of mythologies and the Romans eagerly embraced them. The one exception was the myth of the god Aeneas. A Trojan by birth, Aeneas flees the city of Troy during the Greek takeover to found the city of Rome. From this point forward, Roman history begins for many.
The Greeks, as previously discussed, made their mythologies into art. The oral traditions were written down and became the basis for many stories. The descriptions of the gods and goddesses became the basis for many sculptures and frescoes. Honor was given to these deities and characters in the form of temples and architecture has relied on these early edifices ever since.
For many people, living on this planet is taken for granted. In fact, most of us take the very fabric of our lives for granted. We go through daily motions of arising, getting dresses, eating, working, and perhaps the chance for some relaxation and/or recreation. In too many industrialized countries, food is wasted while many go hungry. Basic utilities are easy. We turn on a tap and water streams out a faucet. We flick a switch and electricity brings light into the room, often accompanied by air conditioning or heat. Fossil fuels are turned into fuel that flows from a pump into automobiles that require an expenditure of less than five hundred calories to fill. For most of us, these basic commodities are thought of only when it comes time to pay for them. Otherwise, we awake each morning simply expecting them, relying on them to go about our daily lives.
The early Greeks wanted to know where these utilities and food items came from and why were they given or available to man. Life for them was not a given and their expectations were based on the gift of life, not the acceptance of it as a given. The poet Hesiod created the first Greek family tree of the gods and goddesses of their oral traditions and once created, this tree of folk lore grew in the retelling. The Greeks organized their stories and this is one reason they have remained so popular.
It is a common beginning: Which came first – the chicken or the egg? One might ask the same of the Christian Holy Trinity and the Greek myths. Hesiod divided them into three main categories of section of the family tree of existence for the Greek myths. The primordial gods and goddesses, the most ancient of them, represented the basic elements of the universe: day, night, earth, sea, sky, etc. These ancient deities were embryonic is giving rise to the Titans. The Titans existed so that the Greek storytellers could explain the physical features of the elements such as mountains, oceans, rivers, and so forth. The Titans gave birth to the gods and goddesses of Olympus, the more familiar Greek characters many of us have grown up hearing and pretending to be.
Greek mythology had other groups of three – the Furies and the Fates being two such examples. As we continue to delve into the classical mythologies, we can see the beginnings of the Abrahamic stories of the Abrahamic faiths start to take shape. For some this proves that are simply stories and without basis. For others, it proves that mankind is a continuous family, regardless of locale, and that we are in fact truly all connected.