Greek mythology is one of the most recognizable and famous in the world. The twelve gods of Olympus, demigods, the fates, trials of character and virtue, all of that can be found in the myths and legends the Ancient Greeks handed us down.
In fact, myths from Ancient Greece are so prevalent and ingrained in western culture as a whole, that even expressions we use today come from them- have you ever been afraid of opening a pandora’s box? Have you ever been tantalized? These expressions come from ancient Greek myths!
Here are 25 of the most famous Greek myths that resonate with us the most:
25 Famous Greek Myths You Should Know
1. How the world came to be
In the beginning, there was only Chaos, the god of windy nothingness, Nyx, the goddess of the night, Erebus, the god of unending darkness, and Tartarus, the god of the underworld’s darkest place and the abyss. Nyx, the goddess of the night, in the form of a giant black bird laid a golden egg, and in the form of the bird, she sat on it for a great amount of time. Finally, life started within the egg, and when it burst, Eros, the god of love sprung out. One half of the eggshell rose upwards and became the sky, and one fell downwards and became the earth.
Eros and Chaos then mated, and from that union came birds, the first living beings that predate even the gods. Because both Eros and Chaos were winged, so are the birds winged and able to fly.
After that, Eros gathered all the necessary ingredients to create the Immortals, starting with Uranus and Gaia, and all the other gods. Then, eventually, the gods created humans, and the world was fully created.
2. Uranus vs. Cronus
Uranus, the god of the sky, and Gaia, the goddess of the earth, became the first gods to rule the world. Together, they gave birth to the first Titans and are grandparents or great-grandparents of most of the gods.
Every night, Uranus covered Gaia and slept with her. Gaia gave him children: the twelve Titans, the Ekatonheires or Centimanes (beings with 100 arms) and the Cyclopes. However, Uranus hated his children and didn’t want to see them, so he imprisoned them deep inside Gaia, or in Tartarus (depending on the myth).
This pained Gaia greatly, and she forged a giant sickle out of stone. She then implored her children to castrate Uranus. None of her children seemed to want to rise against their father, except the youngest Titan, Cronos. Cronos was ambitious and he accepted Gaia’s offer.
Gaia had him ambush Uranus. Indeed, Cronos did so successfully, and cut off Uranus’ genitals and threw them into the sea. From the blood there came the Giants, the Erinyes (or Furies), and the Meliae, the ash tree nymphs. From the foam that was created when the genitalia fell into the sea, there came Aphrodite.
Cronos took the throne, married his sister the Titan Rhea, and gave rise to the Golden Age, an age where there was no immorality and no need for laws, because everyone, gods and humans, did the right thing on their own.
3. Cronos vs. Zeus
Uranus, in a fit of rage and vowing revenge, warned Cronos and Rhea that they were destined to be overthrown by their own children.
Cronos took this warning to heart, and when he and Rhea started having children, he demanded that she hand them over to him. Once Rhea gave him the baby, Cronos swallowed the baby whole.
Rhea gave birth to the gods Poseidon, Hestia, Hera, and Demeter, and they all got swallowed by Cronos. Rhea was devastated each time. So when she was about to give birth to her sixth child, Zeus, she went to Gaia with pleas of help. Together Gaia and Rhea devised a plan to save Zeus from Cronos: she went to Crete to give birth, and once she did, she left the baby in a cave in mount Ida, where the goat Amaltheia, and a company of young warriors, the Kouretes, took care of Zeus.
Rhea swathed a stone in baby wrappings and presented it to Cronos as her baby. Cronos swallowed the stone whole, like the other babies before. That stone was the Omphalos, which was in Delphi at Apollo’s temple.
Zeus grew up hidden from Cronos by the Kouretes who danced and shook their weapons making noise to mask the baby cries.
When Zeus was old enough to challenge Cronos, he used a herb provided by Gaia to make Cronos vomit out all his siblings that he had swallowed. First came the stone, and then all the gods in the reverse order that Cronos had swallowed them.
4. The Titanomachy (the Titan War)
Now flanked by his siblings, Zeus was ready to wage war on Cronos. He descended into Tartarus, where the Centimanes and the Cyclopes were imprisoned. He freed them in return for their alliance against Cronos, which they freely gave: The Centimanes used their hundred hands to throw giant boulders against Cronos while the Cyclopes where the first ones to forge lightning and thunder for Zeus.
Except Themis, the goddess of justice, and Prometheus, the other Titans were allied with Cronos, and the great war of the gods, the Titanomachy, began.
The war lasted ten years, and there are several spinoff myths related to it. In the end, Zeus’ side won. There are different versions of how Zeus, now the victorious new king of the gods, treated the Titans. One version is that he threw the Titans in Tartarus and had the Centimanes guard them. Another was that he gave them clemency.
Once won, Zeus and his brothers Poseidon and Hades divided the world between them. Poseidon took the sea and water realms, Hades took the underworld, and Zeus the sky and air. The earth was declared common to all the gods.
5. Zeus’ first wife and the birth of Athena
When he first ascended to the throne, Zeus took Metis, the goddess of wisdom, for his wife. Metis was another Titan, and she is said to have helped him, together with Gaia, get his siblings back by making Cronos vomit them out.
It was prophesied that Metis would bear extremely powerful children, powerful enough to overthrow Zeus. Zeus didn’t want to risk suffering the fates of Uranus and Cronos, so he absorbed Metis into himself, gaining her wisdom in the process.
However, Metis was already pregnant with child, and that child kept growing within Zeus’ head. The more the baby grew, the more Zeus’ head was ravaged by great pain. After a long period of time, Zeus couldn’t bear the pain anymore, and he asked Hephaestus, the god of fire, to cleave his head open with his axe.
Hephaestus did so, and from within Zeus’ head sprang up Athena, fully clothed and armed, dressed from head to toe in shiny armor. There was some fear that she would turn against Zeus, but as soon as she came out, she threw her spear at Zeus’ feet, declaring her fealty to him.
Athena became the goddess of wisdom and virtuous war and took her place as part of the 12 Olympian gods.
6. Zeus’ second wife and the completion of the 12 Olympian gods
Zeus’ second and lasting wife was Hera, the goddess of marriage and childbirth. She is Zeus’ sister and the queen of the gods.
Hera is known for blessing and protecting marriage and married women, but she is a lot more infamous for her terrible jealousy and vindictiveness regarding Zeus’ extramarital affairs.
Zeus was notorious for his enthusiastic pursuit of women of all sorts, from nymphs and other goddesses to mortal women and even young men or boys. Through his innumerable unions, with Hera but also with a lot of the other ladies he pursued, he fathered the rest of the gods that completed the twelve Olympian gods: Athena, Ares, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, and Dionysus (and in some myths Hephaestus) were his children who joined him and his siblings Demeter, Hera, Poseidon, and Aphrodite in ruling from Olympus.
Beyond Olympus, Zeus sired several other gods, such as Persephone and the Muses, but also major demigods such as Heracles.
All the gods of Olympus call Zeus “Father”, even if he hasn’t sired him, and he is regarded as the king and father of all creation who has power and authority over all the other gods and elements.
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7. The Fates (the Moirai)
Though Zeus is the king of the gods, the strongest of them all and the one with authority overall, his power doesn’t bind everyone. Indeed, there are some things that even Zeus cannot dominate over.
The Fates fall in that category.
The Fates, or Moirai, are the three goddesses of destiny. They are daughters of Nyx, one of the primordial goddesses of the night.
Their names were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Clotho means “the one who weaves” and she is the one who weaves the thread of life of all beings, immortal and mortal alike. Lachesis means “the one who allots” and she is the one who gives everyone their measured destiny in life, where they are meant to be. Finally, Atropos means “the unavoidable one” and she is the one who determines the way everyone will die, and when that death will occur. Atropos is the one who has “terrible shears” with which she cuts the thread of life.
The gods fear the Moirai, just like mortals do, and they seek to appease them each time they want to ask a favor of them.
All three of the Moirai appear the night a baby is born, and begin to spin his/her thread, allot his/her place in life, and determine when and how he/she will die.
The only one able to trick the Moirai into changing someone’s fate was the god Apollo.
8. Admetus and Alcestis
Admetus was the king of Pherae, a region in Thessaly. He was a very kind king and a renowned one for his hospitality.
When the god Apollo was exiled from Mount Olympus by Zeus for killing one of the Cyclopes in a vengeful act of rage, he was obliged to serve as a servant to a mortal as punishment. Apollo chose to do his servitude under Admetus and he became his herdsman for a year (some versions say nine years instead).
Admetus was a fair and kind master to Apollo, and when the servitude was over Apollo had developed a fond liking for the man. He decided to help him marry the love of his life, the princess Alcestis. That was no easy fit, because Alcestis’ father, king Pelias, had decreed she would only marry the man who could yoke a boar and a lion to the same chariot.
Apollo helped Admetus, and very quickly, the lion and the boar were yoked to the chariot, and Alcestis became his wife. The couple was very much in love and devoted to each other, and Apollo continued to consider Admetus under his protection, even against his sister Artemis.
When finally, Apollo realized that Admetus was fated to die young, he got the Moirai drunk and tricked them into changing their decree on the young king’s fate. They allowed that he would be spared death if one would take his place and die instead.
Though Admetus’ parents were elderly, neither was willing to die in Admetus’ place. That’s when Alcestis volunteered and died instead, to the devastation of Admetus. He had his life, but he had lost his happiness.
To his good fortune, Heracles was passing through his city, and feeling compassion for Admetus’ plight, he offered to wrestle Thanatos, the god of death, for Alcestis’ life. After a fierce battle between Heracles and Thanatos, the god flew away, and Alcestis could return to her husband for a happy remainder of their lives together.
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9. Prometheus, the protector of mortals
Prometheus was a Titan who loved humankind. When Zeus distributed gifts and powers to the gods, he neglected to give any to humans, and Prometheus felt that was a grave injustice.
To give them a power and capacity to live a better life, Prometheus stole into Hephaestus’ workshop and took fire from the furnaces. He descended from Olympus with it on a great torch, and gave it to the humans, teaching them how to use it. Once humans had the knowledge, Zeus couldn’t take back the gift of fire. In a fit of rage, he punished Prometheus by chaining him to a mountain. Every day an eagle swooped down and ate his liver. During the night, the liver regenerated since Prometheus was immortal, and the torture began again.
This continued until Heracles found him and broke the chains, setting him free.
Another time, when Zeus were to decide what part of the sacrificed animal he would demand of humankind, Prometheus told humans what to do in order to get a favorable deal: he instructed them to polish the bones with lard until they became shiny and wrap the good meat parts in hairy skin. When Zeus looked at the two options, he was bedazzled by the shiny bones, and chose them.
When Zeus realized his mistake, it was too late: the king of gods could not take back his official decree. Ever since, the gods must accept and enjoy the smell of cooked meat and the animal bones as offerings, while the meat is distributed to the faithful.
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10. Pandora’s Box
Angry that humans now had the fire, Zeus decided to take vengeance. He created a mortal woman! She was the first one ever, and she was named Pandora, “the one with all the gifts”. And she did have many gifts: each god gave her one. Athena gave her wisdom, Aphrodite beauty, Hera loyalty, and so on. But Hermes also gave her curiosity and cunning.
Once fully created, the gods dressed her up to the nines and Zeus presented her as a gift to Epimitheus, Prometheus’ brother. Though Epimitheus was warned by Prometheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus, Pandora’s beauty and many charms disarmed him. He forgot his brother’s warning and took Pandora for his wife.
As a marriage gift, Zeus gave Epimitheus an ornate sealed box and warned him never to open it. Epimitheus agreed. He put the box under the bed he shared with Pandora and warned her not to open the box either. Pandora faithfully and sincerely obeyed the warning for several years. But her curiosity grew stronger every day, and the temptation to peek into the box became unbearable.
One day when her husband was away, she took the box from under the bed and opened it. Immediately, the lid was flung open, and a dark smoke flew out into the world as all evils were released upon humankind: war, famine, discord, pestilence, death, pain. But together with all the evils one good sprung out as well, like a bird dispersing all the darkness: hope.
11. How the seasons were created
Hades was Zeus’ brother and the king of the underworld. He ruled over his kingdom in the quiet finality that characterizes it, but he was lonely. One day, he saw Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, and he was smitten. He went to Zeus and asked for his permission to marry her.
Zeus knew that Demeter was very protective of her daughter, so he suggested that he abduct her. Indeed, in a beautiful meadow where Persephone was picking violets, she suddenly saw the most beautiful narcissus flower. She hurried over to pick it. As soon as she did, the earth split open and Hades appeared in a golden chariot, whisking her away into the underworld.
Later, Demeter looked everywhere for Persephone but couldn’t find her. Growing more anxious and despondent, she started to neglect her duty of making the earth bloom and bear fruit and crops. The trees started shedding their leaves and cold swept the land, followed by snow, and still Demeter looked for Persephone and wept for her. It was the first autumn and winter of the world.
Finally, Helios, the sun god, told her what had happened. Furious, Demeter went to Zeus and he relented, quickly sending Hermes to the underworld to demand Persephone back. By then Hades and Persephone had hit it off! But when Hermes explained that nature had stopped blooming, Hades agreed to send Persephone back.
Before letting her go with Hermes, he offered her pomegranate seeds. Persephone ate six of them. Hades knew that if she ate food of the underworld, she would be bound to it. When Demeter saw her daughter, she was full of joy and the earth began blooming again. The first spring of the world had arrived.
Demeter spent a lot of joyous time with Persephone, and the earth’s fruit became ripe- the first summer. But then, Persephone told her about the seeds, and how she had to return to her husband. Demeter was furious, but Zeus made a compromise: Persephone would spend six months of the year in the underworld, and six with Demeter.
Ever since, when Persephone is with Demeter, there is spring and summer, and when she leaves to be with Hades, there is autumn and winter.
Find here the full story of Hades and Persephone.
12. Heracles, the demigod
Alcmene was the queen of Argolis in the Peloponnese, wife to king Amphytrion. Alcmene was extremely beautiful and virtuous. She remained loyal to Amphytrion even when Zeus, who was charmed by her beauty, accosted her and made his advances.
To lie with her, Zeus took on the form of Amphytrion when he was away to a war campaign. He pretended that he had arrived home early and spent two whole days and a night with her. He ordered the sun not to rise, to fool Alcmene that it was just one night. On the night of the second day, Amphytrion arrived too, and he made love to Alcmene as well.
Alcmene became pregnant from both Zeus and Amphytrion and gave birth to Heracles, son of Zeus, and Iphicles, son of Amphytrion.
Hera was enraged, and hated Heracles with a vengeance. From the moment of his conception, she sought to kill him. The more Zeus seemed to favor him, the more she became his mortal enemy.
Zeus wanted to protect his son, so he appealed to Athena to help him. Athena took the baby while Hera was sleeping and let him suckle from Hera’s milk. But he was suckling so strongly that the pain woke Hera up and she pushed him away. The milk that spilled created the Milky Way.
Still, Heracles had drunk Hera’s divine mother milk and that gave him supernatural powers, one of which was great strength.
When he and Iphicles were only six months old, Hera tried to kill him by sending two snakes in the baby crib to bite him. Iphicles woke up and started crying, but Heracles grabbed each snake in one hand and crushed them. In the morning, Alcmene found him playing with the snake carcasses.
And that was how Heracles, the greatest of all the demigods, was born.
When Heracles grew up, he fell in love and married Megara. With her, he started a family. Hera hated that he was happy and living a blissful life, so she sent him a bout of blinding madness. During this madness, he killed Megara and his children.
Devastated, he went to the Oracle of Delphi to atone for this sin. Apollo guided him by telling him to go into servitude to the king Eurystheus for ten years, which he immediately did.
Though Eurystheus was his cousin, he loathed Heracles because he was afraid that he was a threat to his throne. He sought to fabricate a situation where Heracles could be killed. As a result, he sent him to do a set of very difficult, nearly impossible tasks called ‘labors’. Initially they were only ten labors, but Eurystheus refused to recognize two of them for technicalities, and assigned Heracles two more, which he also did.
The twelve labors were:
- The Nemean Lion: he was sent to kill a great lion that was terrorizing the region of Nemea. It had golden fur which made the lion immune to attacks. Heracles though managed to kill it with is bare hands. He took its hide, which he wore and is often depicted in.
- The Lernaean Hydra: he was sent to kill a terrible nine-headed monster. The problem with this was that when he chopped off a head, two more grew in its place. In the end, he had his nephew Iolaus burn the stump of a chopped head with fire, so no more would grow, and he managed to kill it. Because he received help, Eurystheus refused to count this labor.
- The Ceryneian Hind: he was sent to capture a huge deer like creature, with antlers made of gold and legs out of bronze, which breathed fire. Heracles didn’t want to hurt it so he chased it around the world before it tired out, and he captured it.
- The Erymantheian Boar: he was sent to capture a giant wild boar that frothed at the mouth. When he did and brought it back to Eurystheus, the king was so terrified he hid in a big bronze human sized jar.
- The Augean Stables: he was sent to clean the horribly filthy stables of Augeus in a single day. He managed to do it by pulling two rivers and having the waters swarm through the stables, clearing all the filth. Eurystheus didn’t count this one because Augeus paid Heracles.
- The Stymphalian Birds: he was sent to kill man-eating birds that lived in the swamp of Stymphalis in Arcadia. They had beaks of bronze and metal feathers. Heracles killed them by scaring them into the air and shooting them with arrows tipped in the blood of the slain Hydra.
- The Cretan Bull: he was sent to capture the Cretan Bull, the one that had sired the Minotaur. He got the Cretan king’s permission to do it.
- The Mares of Diomedes: he was sent to steal the Mares of Diomedes, terrible horses that ate human meat and breathed fire from their nostrils. Because Diomedes was an evil king, Heracles fed him to his own mares to calm them down enough to capture them.
- The Girdle of Hippolyta: Hippolyta was the queen of the Amazons and a fierce warrior. Heracles was sent to get her girdle, presumably in a fight. But Hippolyta liked Heracles enough to give it to him willingly.
- Geryon’s Cattle: Geryon was a giant who had one body and three heads. Heracles was sent to take his cattle. Heracles fought the giant and defeated him.
- The Golden Apples of Hesperides: he was sent to get three golden apples from the tree of the Hesperides nymphs. He managed to do it with the help of the Titan Atlas.
- Cerberus: he was finally sent to capture and bring Cerberus, Hades’ three-headed dog. Heracles went into the underworld and told Hades of his labor. Hades gave him the permission to take the dog if he could capture it, on condition of returning it, which he did.
14. Apollo and Daphne
Daphne was a beautiful nymph, the daughter of a river god. When Apollo saw her, he was smitten with her, and tried hard to win her over. Daphne, however, constantly refused his advances. The more she refused, the more the god tried to have her, becoming more and more effusive, until he tried to capture her. Daphne then pleaded to the gods to free her from Apollo, and she turned into a laurel tree.
Ever since, Apollo has the laurel as his symbol, forever pining for her.
Zeus was always fond of chasing after beautiful nymphs. He would make love to them as often as he could escape the vigilance of his wife Hera. For that purpose, one day he ordered the nymph Echo to distract Hera while he was off playing with the other wood nymphs in the area. Echo obeyed, and when Hera was seen at the slopes of Mount Olympus trying to find out where Zeus was and what he was doing, Echo chatted her up and distracted her for a long time.
When Hera realized the ruse, she cursed Echo to only be able to repeat the last words people told her. Because of her doomed love of Narcissus, she withered away until only her voice remained.
Narcissus was a gorgeous young man. Echo was already cursed to only be able to repeat what was last told her when she saw him and fell in love with him. However, Narcissus did not reciprocate the feelings. Not only that, but he told her he would rather die than make love to a nymph.
Echo was devastated, and from that depression, she stopped eating and drinking and died soon after. The goddess Nemesis punished Narcissus for his harshness and hubris by making him fall in love with his own reflection in a lake. Trying to get nearer to it, he fell in the lake and drowned.
17. Theseus, the demigod of Athens
Theseus was the son of King Aegeus and Poseidon, as they both made love to his mother Aethra on the same night. Aethra raised Theseus in Troezin, in the Peloponnese. She told him to go to Athens to find his father, without telling him who it was, when he was strong enough to lift an enormous boulder. Underneath it, he found a sword and sandals that belonged to Aegeus.
Theseus took them and decided to travel to Athens on foot. The journey was perilous because the road was full of terrible bandits who prayed on the travelers who did not go by boat.
Theseus killed every bandit and other peril he encountered, making the roads to Athens safe. The journey is called The Six Labors of Theseus, where he killed five terrible bandits and a giant pig monster.
When he arrived in Athens, Aegeus didn’t recognize him, but his wife Medea who was a witch, did. She didn’t want Theseus taking the throne instead of her son, and she tried to poison him. At the last moment, Aegeus recognized the sword and sandals Theseus was wearing and he stopped him from drinking from a poisoned cup. He banished Medea for her attempt.
18. Theseus versus the Minotaur
Now the young heir apparent of Athens, Theseus realized that the city had a terrible tax to pay to Crete: as punishment for the death of the Cretan king Minos’ son while in Athens, they had to send seven young men and seven young maidens to Crete to be eaten by the Minotaur every seven years.
The Minotaur was a half bull, half man monster that lived in the Labyrinth, a giant maze underneath the palace of Knossos made by the master architect and inventor, Daedalus. Once the young people entered the Labyrinth, they could never find the way out, and eventually the Minotaur found them and ate them.
Theseus volunteered to be one of the seven young men, to Aegeus’ despair. Once Theseus arrived in Crete, the princess Ariadne fell in love with him and decided to help him. She gave him a spooled thread and told him to tie one end to the entrance of the Labyrinth, and one to always keep on him, so he could find the way out. Theseus followed her advice and after a fierce battle with the Minotaur, he managed to find his way out, and eloped with Ariadne.
19. How the Aegean got its name
Aegeus had made Theseus promise to put white sails on the ship with which he would return, so he would know the moment he saw the ship what his son’s fate was. Should Theseus have died in the Labyrinth, the sails were to remain black, as they were in mourning for the deaths of the youth that were being sent to Crete.
Theseus promised. However, he forgot to change the sails upon his return. When Aegeus saw the ship in the horizon, he saw it still had black sails and believed that his son Theseus was dead.
Overcome with grief and despair, he threw himself into the sea and drowned. The sea then got his name and became the Aegean Sea ever since.
20. Perseus, Zeus and Danae’s son
Acrisius was the king of Argos. He had no sons, only a daughter named Danae. He visited the Oracle at Delphi to ask about having a son. But instead, he was told that Danae would bear a son who would kill him. Frightened, Acrisius imprisoned Danae in a room without windows. But Zeus had already seen her and desired her, so in the form of golden rain, he slipped into her room through the door’s cracks and made love to her.
From that union Perseus, the earliest demigod, was born. When Acrisius realized it, he shut Danae and her baby in a box and tossed her to the sea. He didn’t kill them outright because he feared the wrath of Zeus.
Danae and her baby were found by Dictys, a fisherman who raised Perseus to adulthood. Dictys also had a brother, Polydectes, who wanted Danae and saw her son as an obstacle. He sought to find a way to dispose of him. He tricked him into accepting a dare: to take the head of the terrible Medusa and return with it.
21. Perseus vs. the Medusa
Medusa was one of the three Gorgons: she was a monster with snakes growing on her head instead of hair. Her glance could turn anyone into stone. Out of the three Gorgons, she was the only mortal sister.
Perseus killed her with the help of Athena, who gave him a mirror in order not to meet Medusa’s stare with his own eyes, but rather have his back turned to her. He hid and took her head while Medusa was sleeping, and hid her head in a special bag, because it could still turn people into stone.
When he returned, he used the head to turn Polydectes into stone and allow his mother to live happily with Dictys.
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22. Bellerophon vs. the Chimera
Bellerophon was a great hero and demigod, born of Poseidon. His name means “the killer of Beller”. It’s unclear who Beller is, but for this murder Bellerophon sought to atone as a servant to the king of Tiryns in Mycenae. However, the king’s wife took a fancy to him and made her advances. When Bellerophon turned her down, she rushed to her husband with complaints that Bellerophon tried to rape her. The king didn’t want to risk the wrath of Poseidon, so he sent Bellerophon away with a message to his father-in-law, with the message saying ‘kill the bearer of this letter’. However, the second king also didn’t want to incur Poseidon’s wrath, and so he put a task to Bellerophon: to kill the Chimera.
The Chimera was a terrible beast that breathed fire. It had the body of a goat, the tail of a snake and the head of a lion.
To be able to face the Chimera, Poseidon gave him Pegasus, the winged horse. Riding Pegasus, Bellerophon flew near enough the Chimera to slay it.
23. Sisyphus’ eternal damnation
Sisyphus was the cunning king of Corinth. When his time came to die, the god of death Thanatos came to him with shackles. Sisyphus was not afraid. Instead, he asked Thanatos to show him how the shackles worked. He tricked the god and captured him with his own shackles!
However, with Thanatos captured, people stopped dying. This started becoming a huge problem until Ares freed Thanatos. Sisyphus then knew he was going to be taken, but he asked his wife not to bury his body.
Once in the underworld, he complained that his wife had not given him proper burial rites and he had no coin to pay the ferryman to carry him over the river Styx. Hades felt compassion for him and allowed him to return to life to discipline his wife into giving him rites. Instead, however, Sisyphus refused to return to the underworld and lived out his days.
Upon his second death, the gods punished him by forcing him to push a boulder up a slope. As soon as it reached the top, the boulder would roll down again and Sisyphus had to start all over again, for all eternity.
24. Tantalus’ eternal damnation
Tantalus was the son of Zeus and the nymph Plouto. He was a favorite among the gods and he often was welcomed to Olympus for godly banquets.
But Tantalus abused his privilege by stealing ambrosia, the food of the gods. He also committed an even worse act, which sealed his fate: to appease the gods, he killed and cut up his own son Pelops and offered him as a sacrifice.
The gods realized what terrible offering this was and didn’t touch it. Instead, they pieced Pelops together and brought him back to life.
For punishment, Tantalus was thrown into Tartarus, where he stayed eternally hungry and thirsty. Over his head delicious fruit were hanging, but every time he tried to reach them, the branches they were on pulled back, just out of reach. He had to stay in a lake, but every time he tried to drink, the waters receded, just out of reach.
This torture of unsatiated and frustrated desire is what Tantalus lent his name to, and where the verb ‘tantalize’ comes from!
25. Tantalus’ daughter, Niobe
Niobe was married happily, and she had seven boys and seven girls. She was very proud of her beautiful children.
One day, she bragged that she was superior to Leto, the mother of the gods Apollo and Artemis, because Leto only had two children while Niobe had fourteen. These words greatly insulted Apollo and Artemis, who punished her by shooting down her children with arrows: Apollo killed the boys and Artemis the girls.
Niobe was devastated and fled her city. She went to Mount Sipylus, in modern-day Turkey, where she wept and wept until she turned into a rock. That rock was called the Weeping Rock, and you can still see it today, shaped like a grieving woman.
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