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Greek Myths: The Origins | Centaurs | The 12 Olympians | Achilles
Gods of Greek Mythology | Heroes of Greek Mythology | The Trojan War
Heracles | Sirens | Prometheus | Perseus | Pygmalion and Galatea
Jason and the Argonauts | The Children of Nyx | Death and the Underworld
The princess Myrrha was bewitched by Aphrodite into seducing her father Theias, king of Syria. Myrrha tricked him into committing incest with her, although when he found out, he wished to kill her. She fled and was turned into a myrrh tree by Aphrodite to protect her from her father. Adonis sprang from the bark of the tree.
Adonis was a very handsome man, but still in danger from his father/grandfather. Aphrodite protected him by hiding him in a chest which she gave to Persephone, who agreed to look after him. However, when Aphrodite asked for him to be returned Persephone refused, having fallen in love with him.
When he was killed by a wild boar, both goddesses pleaded with Zeus to revive him. Zeus decreed that he should spend one third of the year with Persephone, one third with Aphrodite, and the other third with whoever he chose - Adonis chose Aphrodite.
Castor and Pollux
The wife of Tyndareus, king of Sparta, became pregnant with quadruplets. Castor and Helen were fathered by the king, while Pollux and Clytemnestra were fathered by Zeus, who had visited her in the form of a swan.
Castor and Pollux were inseparable, with Castor being a great runner and Pollux being a great boxer. They fought together in battles and rescued their sister Helen when Theseus stole her away.
When then twins had a dispute with Idas and Lynceus, either over cattle or two women, Castor was killed. Pollux was horrified and begged his father Zeus to bring him back to life. Zeus said that if Pollux was willing to share some of his own immortality, then Castor could live again.
The two spent one day in the underworld for every day on Mount Olympus and became the constellation Gemini in the sky.
Narcissus was the result of the union between Cephisus the God and the nymph Leiriope. When he was a baby an oracle proclaimed that unless he saw his reflection he would live to be an old man.
His parents kept him away from mirrors, and so he did not realise how beautiful he was. Many fell in love with him and some of them died because of it. The nymph Echo faded to nothing in her misery, while Narcissus' best friend Ameinias committed suicide in his misery. Narcissus made many people miserable because of his beauty and his unwillingness to share himself with a lover, but despite that he was happy.
The goddess Nemesis, who fights against excess, was angry at the misery he caused and so decided it must be stopped. One day, when Narcissus was thirsty, he drank at a lake, where he saw his reflection. He fell in love with the image of himself, and leaned closer, until he fell in the lake, to his death. A flower sprang up on the bank, and the bloom was named the narcissus in his honour.
Oedipus was one of the most unfortunate heroes of the Greek Myths. After his birth Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes, took their son Oedipus to an oracle, which gave them disastrous news. It said that he would marry his mother, kill his father, and ruin his family.
Laius was horrified and decided on a plan of action. He drilled holes into Oedipus' ankles and threaded a strap through, in order to tie them together. He then had the child abandoned on a mountain. Oedipus was found by shepherds who brought him to Polybus, the king of Corinth. The king had no children of his own, so he adopted the boy and gave him his name, meaning 'swollen foot'.
Oedipus grew up happy, believing that he was the son of Polybus. When he was full-grown he visited the Oracle at Delphi, which repeated the disastrous prophecy that had been made when he was born. Oedipus was horrified and left Corinth immediately, to get as far as possible away from the man he believed to be his father. He decided to travel to Thebes, but on the narrow road he met with King Lauis, who demanded that he be let past. The king insulted Oedipus and killed one of his horses, causing a fight, during which Lauis was killed, just as the oracle had predicted.
When Oedipus reached Thebes he found the city troubled by a monster named the Sphinx. She was half lion, half woman, and crouched on a rock which people needed to pass. Whenever someone went by she asked them questions, and if they could not answer correctly she would swallow them. When Oedipus arrived at Thebes no one had so far answered any of her riddles, but he needed to pass. The sphinx asked him a riddle:
What being walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon and three at sunset, and is weakest when it walks on four?
Oedipus answered that it was man, who crawled on four legs as a baby, walked on two as an adult, and used a stick during old age. The sphinx was so horrified that someone had answered her correctly that she threw herself off the rock to her death. Thebes was free of the sphinx, and Oedipus was declared a hero. The Thebans made him their king, and he married the queen - Jocasta, his own mother.
After many happy years of marriage, a message came from Corinth that Polybus was dead. Since Oedipus had not killed him, he believed that half the prophecy had failed to come true. He still worried about the other half, and confided in the messenger, who he had known when he lived in the palace at Corinth. The messenger revealed that he was adopted, meaning to comfort him. Oedipus, however, realised that he had married Jocasta and killed her husband, and that they, therefore, were his mother and father. He despaired, and put his eyes out with needles, while Jocasta killed herself upon being told the truth. Oedipus renounced the throne and was banished, wandering the earth with his daughter from the marriage, Anitgone, until he died at Colonis.
Orpheus was the son of Apollo, or Oeagrus, king of Thrace, and the muse Calliope. He was given a lyre by Apollo and became a poet and musician rivalled by no other man. He could charm anything, from people to animals to trees, and his music often succeeded where strong men failed.
He was one of the men aboard the Argos, and although he was too weak to row, he inspired others with his music. He also became one of only two men to work out how to pass the Sirens successfully1 by overpowering their melodies with his own.
Orpheus was married to the beautiful nymph Eurydice, who was out walking one day when she met Aristaeus, shepherd to the muses. Aristaeus instantly fell in love with her, and gave chase. In her hurry to escape she trod on a poisonous snake, which killed her.
Orpheus despaired at her death and resolved to go to the underworld to ask for her return. He played to the dog Cerberus, who guarded the entrance, until he fell asleep and proceeded through the Underworld, still playing. Hades heard the music and was moved by it, and when Orpheus begged for the return of Eurydice he consented. However, he told Orpheus that he must not turn around to look at his wife until they were back in the sunshine.
Orpheus managed this for most of the distance, although it tormented him not to be able to turn, but he started to doubt whether she was really there. When they were in sight of the sunshine he could bear it no longer, and turned around. As he set eyes on her, she died again - and this time there could be no rescue.
Orpheus was inconsolable, and vowed never to look at another woman again. When Dionysus invaded Thrace, Orpheus paid him no tribute, having devoted his life to teaching and preaching to others and also disagreeing with Dionysus' wild ways. Dionysus was angry, and his followers among the Thracian women - who were already angry that Orpheus didn't want to marry any of them - tore him to pieces.
His head remained singing after his death, and was thrown into the river Hebrus. When it washed up on the island of Lesbos it was found by the Muses, who buried it at the foot of Mount Olympus. At the time of the funeral, the oracle of Dionysus, at Thessaly, predicted that if his remains were ever again exposed to daylight then a pig would rampage through the city. This prediction was seen by the locals as being rather amusing, but when one day a shepherd fell asleep on the tomb, he found himself singing uncontrollably. The people all around rushed to see what was happening and in the rush the tomb was opened and daylight got in. A terrible storm began, leading to the river bursting its' banks and flooding the city. It was then realised that the river was the Sys - meaning 'pig'.
Pelops was the son of Tantalus and his wife Euryanassa. When he was born his father made a test for the gods - he killed the boy, cut him into pieces and cooked him in a stew. He served this stew to the gods, who all noticed the trick apart from Demeter, who was too distracted by the loss of her daughter Persephone, and ate a piece of the child's shoulder.
The gods were furious with Tantalus, and punished him severely, whilst bringing the Pelops back to life, making an ivory shoulder to replace the one that had been eaten. He grew into a fine young man, and Poseidon fell in love with him, making Pelops his cup bearer on Olympus. However, Tantalus made Pelops steal ambrosia from the gods, who were furious when they discovered the theft, driving Pelops from Olympus and condemning Tantalus to permanent torture.
Pelops fell in love with Hippodameia, daughter of King Oenomaus of Pisa. However, the king had heard from an oracle that he would be killed by the man who married his daughter. Since he could not directly refuse ever to let his daughter marry, he instead made all suitors take a gruelling test in the form of a chariot race, with the promise that if they won they could have his daughter's hand, while if they lost they would be killed. Since Oenomaus drove a chariot given to him by Ares, he always won.
Pelops was the 13th man to attempt the chariot race, with the advantage of having the winged horses that Poseidon had lent him. His greatest advantage was that Hippodemeia had fallen in love with him, and desperately wanted him to win, so she bribed Myrtilus, the charioteer to the king, to replace the wooden linchpins of the chariot with wax ones. Although the race started normally, when the King's chariot gained speed it heated up the wheels, making the wax melt. The wheels of the chariot fell off and Oenomaus was killed in the accident.
Pelops married the princess and founded the Olympic games. However, his children all had bad fortune - because he murdered Myrtilus, the charioteer who had helped him win the race. They had an argument and Pelops threw Myrtilus into the sea, where he drowned, cursing Pelops and his family as he died.
Tantalus was the son of Zeus, and king of Lydia. He was a favourite of the gods, and was a very good friend of Zeus'. He was the only man who had the privilege of being allowed to eat in Olympus. However, he twice angered the gods, once by cooking the pieces of his son in a stew and attempting to feed it to them and once by stealing from the gods. For these two crimes Tantalus was eventually condemned to a terrible punishment.
Zeus killed him first, sending him to Tartarus, where he was hung from a tree in a great lake. Whenever he stooped down to drink the level of the lake fell too, so he could never drink. There was also a rock balanced above him, which forever threatened to fall and crush him.