Greek Mythology: Stories, Characters, Gods, and Culture

By Charlotte Norton


Greek mythology is one of the most influential and long-standing stories in human history. The tales of gods, goddesses, heroes, and monsters have been told for thousands of years, from ancient Greece to modern times. Also, their mythology has influenced many other cultures over the centuries.

The study of Greek mythology

Greek mythology is a subject that anyone interested can study, not just those who study the history of Ancient Greece. It is important to understand why Greek mythology is part of the school curriculum. In fact, many students begin their study of Ancient Greece by learning about its mythology. Secretly, students love the intrigues between the Gods so much that you can find a huge amount of their opinions in essays about antigone, for instance.

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Definition of Greek Mythology

Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. Stories were often related orally, but epic poetry in the Greek tradition was written down in epic poems such as Homer’s Iliad. Greek mythology has provided inspiration for artists from ancient times through today. In particular, Greek mythological imagery has influenced Western art since ancient times.

History of Greek Mythology

Before we get into the stories, it’s important to understand how Greek mythology is defined. The word “myth” has come to mean “a story that is not true”, but this isn’t entirely accurate. Greek myths are not religious beliefs or principles, but rather collections of stories about gods, goddesses, heroes, and monsters. These stories were passed down through oral tradition before they were written down in epic poems. Sometimes these epics would be performed at religious festivals or competitions in ancient Greece. If you’ve ever heard of Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey books from your high school literature class, these are examples of epic poems!

Mythology did not exist only in ancient Greece; mythological traditions can also be found in many other cultures around the world. Mythologies often serve as an explanation for certain natural phenomena: why do volcanoes erupt? Why do comets fly across the sky? The answers provided by mythological tales have been used throughout history as ways to explain things that humans couldn’t understand otherwise. They often describe why something happened (or might happen) based on their belief system regarding supernatural powers and deities’ roles within nature itself.

Major Characters of Greek Mythology

The major characters of Greek mythology are the gods and goddesses. These deities represented human emotions, such as love, wisdom, courage, and happiness. They also had the power to create life on Earth and govern what happened with each individual person’s fate. While there were many gods in ancient Greece who served specific roles or performed specific tasks for humankind, here are some of the most important figures from mythology:

  • Zeus – The king of all gods was known as a protector who ruled over thunderstorms and lightning bolts. He was also believed to be responsible for controlling weather patterns like rain showers. Zeus’ wife Hera was his sister, together they ruled over Olympus Mountain (a place where all other Greek gods lived).
  • Ares – This god was known as “the god of war” because he embodied everything related to warfare—including courage during battle times when defending one’s home country against invaders trying to conquer it.
  • Hera – The goddess of marriage, women, and childbirth was also known as a protector of marriage. She was the wife and sister of Zeus, the king of all gods.
  • Antigone – The daughter of Oedipus, Antigone was known as a heroine in Greek mythology because she defied King Creon’s orders about burying her brother Polyneices. She was sentenced to death by being buried alive. Her actions were considered brave because she stood up for what was right, even if it meant going against the laws at that time.
  • Poseidon – The god of the sea was known as the “earth-shaker” because he caused earthquakes by striking his trident against the ground. He was also known to be a protector of sailors and their ships.
  • Aphrodite – The goddess of love was known as “the fairest of them all.” 
  • Eros – This god was the son of Aphrodite and Ares. He represented sexual desire in Greek mythology and was known as the personification of love.

Stories from Greek Mythology

Here are some of the best-known stories from Greek mythology. Many of them have been retold, adapted, and influenced by classical and contemporary artists.

  • Oedipus Rex is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Sophocles. It tells the story of Oedipus, who accidentally killed his father and married his mother in ignorance.
  • Antigone is a tragedy written by Aeschylus about a young girl who defies her uncle’s edict that she should not bury her dead brother, having refused to accept that he has died as part of a dispute between two families over land ownership. Her defiance leads to tragic consequences for her family and herself but also brings about justice for many others.
  • The Iliad is an epic poem about the war that was written down around 750 B.C., probably in Athens or on its outskirts; it was later revised three or four times before being published around 700 B.C., probably at Sparta where Thucydides had access to some early versions when writing his History (440 B.C.).
  • The Odyssey is an epic poem written by Homer around 700 B.C. about Odysseus’s journey home after the Trojan War.


I think the most important thing to remember about Greek mythology is that it is a story and not an objective truth. In many ways, Greek mythology reflects the values of its time and place: patriarchal, hierarchical systems with very rigid gender roles and little room for female agency. But it also represents something larger than itself: our quest for meaning in life and death, along with our need to reconcile our darker impulses against our better natures.

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