Greek and Roman mythology contains some of the most remarkable characters and stories in history. In telling the tales of their gods and heroes, ancient people understood their own cosmology. Greeks and Romans living in ancient times centered their worldview on the divine rulers of Mount Olympus, attributing everything from artistic talent to aberrant weather patterns to the whims of their deities.
The Origins of Greek and Roman Mythology
Although modern religions such as Judaism and Christianity have their own holy books, Greek mythology is descended from oral tradition passed down by tribes and villages living in Bronze Age Greece. Over time, these stories became compiled by some of the Western world’s earliest writers. Homer, for example, wrote tales of Greek gods and heroes in his Iliad and Odyssey, which centered around the Trojan War and the events that followed the conflict. Hesiod also told stories of Greek mythology through his Theogony. Theogony is one of the most authoritative texts on Greek mythology, providing a history of the world from its creation to the rule of the Olympic pantheon.
Roman mythology derives from much of the same sources as Greek mythology. Rather than being separate mythology, Roman mythology is usually regarded as the Roman interpretation of Greek mythological stories. Some essential texts from Roman mythology include Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Aeneid by Virgil.
The Gods and Heroes of Greek and Roman Mythology
The Olympic gods were by far the most important characters in Greek mythology. According to ancient people, the Olympic gods were responsible for all aspects of nature and shaped the destinies of every mortal. The Olympic gods were ruled by Zeus, whose Roman counterpart was known as Jupiter. Zeus led his divine brothers and sisters in a rebellion against their father Cronos and the Titan gods, defeating their forbears and establishing their kingdom on Mount Olympus, the highest point in Greece.
Although gods and goddesses held the most important place in the hearts and minds of Greek and Roman people, their mortal heroes were also held in high distinction. Heracles, whose Roman equivalent was Hercules, undertook his famed Twelve Labors, tasks deemed impossible for mortal men, after slaying his family while under a spell by the goddess Hera. Pandora, who Greeks regard as the first woman, introduced all the evils into the world by opening the famed Pandora’s box.
While modern audiences look at Greek and Roman mythology as entertainment, people living in ancient Greece and Rome saw these stories as the foundation of their world. Mythological beings, both divine and mortal, showed Greeks and Roman how to live and aspire to as they went about their day-to-day lives.