Greek Mythology (Ancient World Literature)
Greek Mythology (Ancient World Literature)
The study of ancient world literature
When we use the term ancient Greece we refer to the periods of Greek history lasting from 750
BC (the archaic period) to 146 BC (the Roman conquest). It is generally considered to be the
culture which provided the foundation of Western Civilization.
The civilization of the ancient Greeks influenced the language, politics, educational
systems, philosophy, science and arts, in Western Europe.
Is a set of diverse traditional tales told by
the ancient Greeks about the exploits of
Gods and heroes and their relationship
Formation of Greek Mythology
• 3 civilizations that are known for the formation of Greek
• Two things that shaped Greek civilization and the
remarkable mythology that arose from it:
Landscape and Language
The mountains and broken coastline of Greece
divided up the mainland into areas which became
small kingdoms, each enclosed by natural barriers,
therefore creating mini city-states all throughout
The aristocratic families of these city-states
constructed genealogies that linked them with
legendary heroes associated with their respected
Landscape, then, had the effect of creating a
number of separate myths linked to earlier
settlements. As a results, some of the oldest citystates such as Sparta, Athens, Thebes, Corinth, and
Argos appear in story after story.
Parthenon - temple of Athena
Parthenos ("Virgin"), Greek
goddess of wisdom, on the
Acropolis in Athens.
Ruins of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth. Photo ©
Greek language was highly advanced.
The Ancient Greeks were the first Europeans to read and write with an Alphabet,
which eventually led to all modern European languages.
three major dialects in ancient Greece
*Homer's poetry of the Iliad and Odyssey was written in Ionic
*Ionic became the first literary language of ancient Greece
*Greek lyrical poetry and Ancient Greek Tragedy was written in
Landscape + Language =
What’s a myth
and why the
Traditional tale concerning
some being or hero (event)
with or without
The Greeks believe in multiple God’s overseeing their world.
They believe that the God’s resemble human beings in their
form and in their emotions and that they lived in a society like
ours; full of social structure,
authority, and power.
In Greek and Roman mythology the
twelve gods of Olympus ruled the world
after the defeat of the Titans. They were
to believed to have lived on Mount
Olympus, the highest mountain in
Greece, whose peaks were high in the
clouds and therefore hidden from mortal
sight. Zeus was believed to be their
ZEUS—King of the
of the Sky/Weather
Principal Greek Gods (Gods of Olympus)
The God Chaos existed before all creation, at a time when the elements of the
Earth were still without order. Out of Chaos were born Nyx (Night), Erebus
(Underground Darkness), and Gaea (Earth). From Gaea’s union with her son
Uranus (Sky) came the mighty Titan Gods. The last remaining Titan God,
Cronus, was eventually over-taken by his son Zeus, and the next generation of
gods—the Olympians—ruled the skies.
Greek Gods and Religion
• The Greeks believed in hundreds of deities
• The most familiar are the Titan gods and Olympian gods.
• The gods, while immortal and powerful, were subject to
fate and to each other’s will.
They were also subject to—and bound to enforce—a body
of laws and traditions so ancient that their origins lay
beyond even the oldest myths.
– Among those laws and traditions were laws governing the
treatment of blood relations, acceptance of free will and its cosmic
consequences and the power of Destiny.
Origins of Greek Drama
• Fifth Century BCE—Athens will make
tremendous advances in philosophy, rhetoric,
literature and the visual arts.
Tragedies were performed in an annual
competition as a part of the Great Dionysia.
– Each playwright produced three tragedies and a
satyr-play; all four plays were performed and judged
– Sophocles (the author we will be studying) won 20 of
• Greek Tragedy: drama that gives the
audience (reader) an experience of catharsis.
– Tragedies focus on the reversal of fortune (peripeteia) and downfall of
the tragic hero and the events leading to that downfall. The audience
experiences a heightening of emotions, as they watch the hero suffer
and they identify with his/her problems…in the end, they feel purged or
drained of their emotions and better able to understand life. (catharsis)
• Greek Play: Consists of 3 parts: Prologue,
Parados and Exodus.
– Prologue: opening scene that introduces the conflict
of the play
– Parados: entrance of the chorus; supply exposition,
comment on actions and contributes to thematic
– Exodus: final scene where the action accumulates
• Highly dependent upon DRAMATIC IRONY
• Action was limited to a single setting w/no
violence shown on stage. A messenger would
be used to address any deaths or killings
Performed in the daytime, minimal sets and
props, action of the play took place within a
Plays had a single main plot that focused on the
main character. No sub-plots.
Chorus provided background info
Actors all male
Greek Mythology revolves around the
idea of fate—
Fate is an uncontrollable force that one
cannot alter. The Greeks believed that
the God’s were in control and what
was meant to be, will be.
Mt. Delphi: site of the great
oracle of Apollo. (Controller of
prophecy and healing) The oracle
was a place where one could go to
seek the truth and hear your fate.
Greeks believed that the oracle was
also the center of the universe.
Symbol used throughout
G.M. It was thought to
be a winged monster
w/the head and breasts
of a woman and the body
of a lion.
In Oedipus Rex the
sphinx is used as a
destructive agent sent by
the goddess Hera to
plague the city of Thebes.
Those who failed to
answer the riddle
correctly were devoured.
• What walks on 4 legs,
2 legs and 3legs
during its lifetime?
Principal settings throughout Greek Mythology (Lit.)
• Thebes: One of the oldest known cities in Ancient Greece. Where
Oedipus Rex takes place. Oedipus’ birth home.
• Corinth: city in Ancient Greece full of wealth, commerce and
shipbuilding. Adopted home of Oedipus. $$
• Olympus: mountain home of the Greek Gods. Controlled by Zeus.
• Mt. Delphi: site of the great oracle of Apollo.
Greek Writer—author of Oedipus Rex
Born 496 B.C.
in Athens, Greece-- died in 406 B.C.
He saw the rise an fall of
Athens…important b/c he was able to
reflect his experiences through his
(Rise of the Athenian empire, as well as
its collapse as a result of the
Peloponnesian War (431-404) with Sparta.
• Completed over 100 plays but only 7 survive.
– Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Maidens of Trachis,
Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus.
• Mastered the skillful art of interweaving past
events w/scenes of intense present conflict.
• Formulated the choral ode “chorus”. Consisted
of 12-15 members that represented a whole.
(society…townspeople in Oedipus)
Function of the Chorus
• Always on stage, “all-knowning”
• Set the tone
• Gave background info to the audience
• Recalled past events
• Interpret and summarized events
• Asked questions, offered advice
• Stayed objective
• Acted like a jury of elders or wise men
• Sophocles’ is known for asking philosophical questions
throughout his writing about the limits of man’s power and
• He uses a cast of vivid, dynamic characters.
• His plots focus on the fortunes of individual heroes and
• Constructed the Tragic Hero --YOU NEED TO KNOW
• Noble status —hero occupies a position of
wealth, status, power in his/her society, royalty
• Inner nobility —hero exemplifies the traits of
nobility and virtue as part of his innate
character. The audience understands that
he/she is not perfect, but greatness and virtue
out weigh imperfections. They see a hero who
is much like themselves.
• Free Will--the hero’s downfall is not a result of an
accident or another’s villainy, but rather, an error in
judgment or character flaw that is integral to the hero’s
imperfection. HAMARTIA—an error in judgment or
perception, the hero’s inability to see his flaw or to
accurately foresee the consequences of his/her decisions
• Tragic Flaw– the hero’s imperfection. Although he is
great, he is not perfect. The audience is able to
sympathize with the tragic hero as a person like them.
• The character’s fall is not looked at as a
loss. There is some increase in
awareness, a gain in self-knowledge, and
a discovery on the part of the tragic hero
that becomes a lesson to the audience.
Thus, the character is defined as a HERO.
Sophocles is known for his use of Ambiguity: two or
more meaning to a passage, word etc…making things
unclear, uncertain and indefinite to the reader. (Vague)
• Also known for his use of the 3 ironies:
– Verbal—say one thing mean another
– Situational—opposite of what is expected to happen
– Dramatic—audience knows something important that
the characters in the play, usual main, does not know.