Greek Myth Research


The classic version is by Ovid, found in book 3 of his Metamorphoses (completed 8 AD). This is the story of Narcissus and Echo. There was a day when Narcissus was walking in the woods. Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him and fell deeply in love with him. She commenced to follow him. Narcissus sensed that someone was following him and shouted “Who’s there?”. Echo repeated “Who’s there?”. She eventually revealed her identity. She made an attempt to embrace the boy. He stepped away from her and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He was amazed at the beauty of his reflection. He didn’t realize his reflection was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually figured out that his love could not be addressed and died.

Theseus and the Minotaur 

Pasiphae, wife of King Minos of Crete, had several children before the Minotaur. The eldest of these, Androgeus, set sail for Athens to take part in the Pan-Athenian games, which were held there every five years. Being strong and skillful, he did very well, winning some events outright. He soon became a crowd favorite, much to the resentment of the Pallantides, and they assassinated him, incurring the wrath of Minos.When King Minos had heard of what befell his son, and waged war with the Athenians and was successful. He then demanded that, at nine-year intervals, seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls were to be sent to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster that lived in the Labyrinth created by Daedalus.

On the third occasion, Theseus volunteered to slay the monster. He took the place of one of the youths and set off with a black sail, promising to his father, Aegeus, that if successful he would return with a white sail. Like the others, Theseus was stripped of his weapons when they sailed. On his arrival in Crete, Ariadne, King Minos’ daughter, fell in love with Theseus and, on the advice of Daedalus, gave him a ball of thread, so he could find his way out of the Labyrinth. That night, Ariadne escorted Theseus to the Labyrinth, and Theseus promised that if he returned from the Labyrinth he would take Ariadne with him. As soon as Theseus entered the Labyrinth, he tied one end of the ball of string to the door post and brandished his sword which he had kept hidden from the guards inside his tunic. Theseus followed Daedalus’ instructions given to Ariadne; go forwards, always down and never left or right. Theseus came to the heart of the Labyrinth and also upon the sleeping Minotaur. The beast awoke and a tremendous fight then occurred. Theseus overpowered the Minotaur with his strength and stabbed the beast in the throat with his sword. 

After decapitating the beast, Theseus used the string to escape the Labyrinth and managed to escape with all of the young Athenians and Ariadne as well as her younger sister Phaedra. Then he and the rest of the crew fell asleep on the beach. Athena woke Theseus and told him to leave early that morning. Athena told Theseus to leave Ariadne and Phaedra on the beach. Stricken with distress, Theseus forgot to put up the white sails instead of the black ones, so the king committed suicide, in some versions throwing himself off a cliff and into the sea. Dionysus later saw Ariadne crying out for Theseus and took pity on her and married her.

12 Labours of Heracles 

Driven mad by Hera, Heracles slew his own children. To expiate the crime, Heracles was required to carry out ten labors set by his archenemy, Eurystheus, who had become king in Heracles’ place. If he succeeded, he would be purified of his sin and, as myth says, he would be granted immortality. Heracles accomplished these tasks, but Eurystheus did not accept the cleansing of the Augean stables because Heracles was going to accept pay for the labor. Neither did he accept the killing of the Lernaean Hydra as Heracles’ nephew,Iolaus, had helped him burn the stumps of the heads. Eurysteus set two more tasks (fetching the Golden Apples of Hesperides and capturing Cerberus), which Heracles performed successfully, bringing the total number of tasks up to twelve.

  1. Slay the Nemean Lion.
  2. Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
  3. Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis.
  4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
  5. Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
  6. Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
  7. Capture the Cretan Bull.
  8. Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
  9. Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
  10. Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
  11. Steal the apples of the Hesperides (He had the help of Atlas to pick them after Hercules had slain Ladon).
  12. Capture and bring back Cerberus.

Perseus and Medusa

When Perseus was grown, Polydectes came to fall in love with the beautiful Danaë. Perseus believed Polydectes was less than honourable, and protected his mother from him; thus Polydectes plotted to send Perseus away in disgrace. He held a large banquet where each guest was expected to bring a gift. Polydectes requested that the guests bring horses, under the pretense that he was collecting contributions for the hand of Hippodamia, “tamer of horses”. The fisherman’s protégé had no horse to give, so he asked Polydectes to name the gift; he would not refuse it. Polydectes held Perseus to his rash promise and demanded the head of the only mortal Gorgon,  Medusa, whose eyes turned people to stone. Ovid’s account of Medusa’s mortality tells that she had once been a woman, vain of her beautiful hair, who had lain with Poseidon in the Temple ofAthena. In punishment for the desecration of her temple, Athena had changed Medusa’s hair into hideous snakes “that she may alarm her surprised foes with terror”.

Athena instructed Perseus to find the Hesperides, who were entrusted with weapons needed to defeat the Gorgon. Following Athena’s guidance, Perseus sought out the Graeae, sisters of the Gorgons, to demand the whereabouts of the Hesperides, the nymphs tending Hera’s orchard. The Graeae were three perpetually old women, who had to share a single eye. As the women passed the eye from one to another, Perseus snatched it from them, holding it for ransom in return for the location of the nymphs. When the sisters led him to the Hesperides, he returned what he had taken.

From the Hesperides he received a knapsack (kibisis) to safely contain Medusa’s head. Zeus gave him an adamantine sword and Hades’ helm of darkness to hide. Hermes lent Perseus winged sandals to fly, while Athena gave him a polished shield. Perseus then proceeded to the Gorgons’ cave. In the cave he came upon the sleeping Medusa. By viewing Medusa’s reflection in his polished shield, he safely approached and cut off her head. From her neck sprang Pegasus (“he who sprang”) and Chrysaor (“bow of gold”), the result of Poseidon and Medusa’s meeting. The other two Gorgons pursued Perseus, but, wearing his helm of darkness, he escaped.

Jason and the Golden fleece

Jason was the son of King Aeson, whose throne was usurped by his brother. To saveJason, he sent him for fostering to another King. He was to return when he was old enough to be able to retrieve a special sword and sandals from under a heavy rock. When he did return to claim his inheritance from his uncle,, the uncle agreed to hand over the kingdom, but only if he could successfully retrieve a Golden Fleece that was guarded by a fire-breathing dragon in Colchis (modern Georgia, at the eastern end of the Black Sea). Jason accepted the challenge. He built a large boat called the Argo, and collected a crew of about 50, among whom Theseus is sometimes mentioned, as are some of the Greek heroes of the Trojan War including Nestor. After many adventures, the Argonauts arrived at Colchis.

One of the en route adventures is particularly interesting, as we shall discuss later. In the Dardanelles, there were two floating islands called the Blue Rocks, which clashed together when a ship tried to pass between them. Jason was advised to send a dove between them. When they clashed together, catching the dove’s tail feathers, Jason steered the Argo through on the rebound, just making it between the two islands before they crashed together again.

When they reached Colchis, Jason asked the King for the Golden Fleece. The King did not refuse, but imposed some conditions. Jason had to yoke a pair of fire-breathing bulls with brass feet, and use them to plough a field which he would then sow with dragon’s teeth. Everyone knew that these teeth would immediately grow into warriors that would turn on whoever seeded them. So there was a dual challenge, a triple one if one includes the guardian dragon.

Jason had attracted the attention of Medea, the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis. She helped him by magic, having made him promise to marry her and take her to Greece. With the help of her magic, he was able to tame the bulls and plough the field. When the dragon’s teeth grew into hostile warriors, he threw a magic stone among them, so that they turned against each other and fought until they were all dead. Then Medea fed the dragon a sleeping potion so that Jason could retrieve the fleece.

When the Argonauts fled from Colchis, Medea took along her young brother, but murdered him to slow the pursuit by throwing his body parts into the sea for her father to find. This evil deed caused the gods to send the Argonauts on a geographically confusing trip around Italy and various other places. One of the adventures happened off Crete, where they were prevented from landing by Talos, a robot created by Hephaestus–the god of fire and the forge. Talos went around the island and threw enormous rocks at approaching ships, but Medea was able magically to kill him, allowing the Argonauts to disembark for the night. But after setting sail the next day, they were enveloped by a thick cloud. Appollo heard Jason’s prayer and sent a flash of lightning, which revealed a small island on which they could beach the ship, after which the Argonauts were allowed to sail home to Iolkos.


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