Throughout history, no group of stories has become more influential than the richly detailed stories that we call Greek mythology. When we think of myths we usually believe that what we are hearing is fiction. However, in ancient Greece a myth was not fiction. The word myth was derived from the Greek word Mythos which means word, story, or speech. It does not imply fiction. In this context, Greek mythology is defined as a socially powerful traditional story. In classical Greece, the word myth implied that you are hearing a truth about the nature of the world, the gods and their activities, heroes and heroines, ritual practices, or possibly some element of Greek society. The Greeks used myths to explain all of the events that had occurred from the creation of the universe to the Trojan War.
The first evidence of written myths is found in the writing of the poets Homer and Hesiod in the 7th century B.C. The probable origin of most Greek myths was the Mycenaean civilization. In Homer's classic poems Iliad and Odyssey, Homer describes amazing palaces where heroic kings such as Agamemnon of Mycenae, lived. This heroic adventure of the Greeks against the Trojans is probably the most famous of all of the ancient Greek myths. According to the story, the Mycenaean defeated the Trojans by hiding inside a wooden horse.
Today most myths reach us through literature. However, in classical Greece it was common for myths to be passed down orally. At this time, the stories changed as they were passed from house to house from generation to generation. We can also assume that many details were probably lost, while at the same time other details were added. There was probably never an official version of a myth. However, some versions became very popular. Sometimes, the different city-states had there own version of a myth, and myths that featured local heroes and gods were given prominence. Another common use of myths was to explain the origins of the universe. At the same time, both families and villages used mythology in an attempt to explain where they came from and the origins of their gods.
Greeks were first exposed to myths as children, through the oral recitations of their parents. However, the philosopher Plato didn't like children being exposed to all of the violence. He was said to have strenuously objected to letting children hear about the violent dissension between the Gods and Giants, not to mention the disputes between the Olympians. Aristotle, who was the scientist of the famous Greek philosophers, believed that history was cyclical and that myths could enlighten us about a past. The great Greek historian
Thucydides in the second half of the 5th century believed Homer's poems of the Trojan War as being factual.
Over the centuries Greek myths have remained a constant source of entertainment and enjoyment. Today, Greek mythological creatures and the stories associated with them have found their way into everything from video games to major motion picture screens. Centuries latter these rich and powerful images are more popular than ever.