Our Myths

MYTH TWO

Oedipus

Oedipus was born in Thebes. Thebes is an ancient city, approximately 100km northwest of Athens, that played an important role in Greek myths and was a major rival of ancient Athens.

 

Many literary tragedies were set in Thebes, including works from Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. The most popular of the Theban plays are Antigone and Oedipus the King, written by Sophocles. These plays are among the most enduring and timeless dramas ever written. They touch upon many complex issues.

Sophocles, through the powerful dialogue and agonies and triumphs of his characters in Oedipus the King, demonstrates, that no matter how hard you try, you cannot outrun destiny.

The story begins with the childless King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes yearning for a child. According to the Delphic Oracle however, the unborn child of the royal couple of Thebes, would one day manage to kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus was doomed before birth.

When in due course Jocasta delivered a healthy boy, the king snatched him from the nurse’s arms, pierced his feet with a nail, bound his feet together, and ordered a servant to kill the infant. The servant, unable to kill the newborn, left it on Mount Kithairon, where the infant was picked up by a shepherd and taken to the childless King and Queen of Corinth. This couple named the infant Oedipus, which means “swollen foot.” Oedipus grew up happily with the king and queen in Corinth, unaware that he had been adopted.

When Oedipus was a young man, in search of the truth of his origins, he too visited the Oracle of Delphi. There he heard the dreadful prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. To protect the people he believed to be his parents, Oedipus went into exile, desperately trying to avoid his fate.

Leaving Corinth forever, Oedipus headed to Thebes. But at the crossroad, he encountered an old nobleman in a chariot who ordered him out of the way. Oedipus, who was on foot and alone, snapped at the old man and informed him that he only acknowledged orders from the gods and his own parents, meaning the Corinthian royal couple. When the old man struck him on the head, the infuriated Oedipus killed him and his entourage. Little did Oedipus know, that he had killed his own true father.

 

Oedipus then proceeded to Thebes where the Sphinx awaited him at the city gate. Half-woman, half-lion and with wings of a bird, she had been devouring any traveler who could not give the correct answer to her riddle:

“What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening?” Oedipus correctly answered: “Man.”

The Sphinx, insulted and beaten in her own game, resorted to suicide. The grateful city offered Oedipus the hand of the widowed Queen Jocasta and the throne. Unaware that he had just married his mother, the couple had four children, Antigone, Ismene, Polyneices, and Eteocles. They lived happily for many years ... until a plague struck the city.

Once again, the oracle of Delphi reminded the people of Thebes of Oedipus’ prophecy and the reason for the plague. At the same time, Teresias, the shepherd who had found Oedipus, who was now a blind old man, came forward and revealed Oedipus’ true identify.

 

In horror, Jocasta hangs herself, while Oedipus pierces his eyes blind with one of Jocasta’s dress pins.

 

Odysseus

Odysseus was a legendary hero in Greek mythology, king of the island of Ithaca and the main protagonist of Homer's epic, the “Odyssey". As the 10-year Trojan War had ended, our hero was finally ready to return home, to his kingdom and beloved family.

 

‘The Odyssey’, Homer’s second epic poem, is the ten years long and adventurous journey home for Odysseus and his crew.

 

Today, the word Odyssey has come to mean a journey of epic proportions. Let’s review our hero’s adventures in sequential summarised order.


Odysseus sets sail in tranquil waters with twelve ships, as he did a decade earlier. Soon, after strong winds drives the ships off course, they…

 

1. Stopped for an unwelcomed feed at the Ciconians' island. In response, whilst asleep, the Ciconians attacked Odysseus’s men, killing many.


2. Blown-off course again, end up at the lethargic Lotus-Eaters. The taste of the narcotic lotus was so delicious it put Odysseus’ men in a blissful state. Odysseus had to drag his men back, so their journey home could continue.


3. Entered a cave belonging to Polyphemus the Cyclops. Blinding the Cyclops with a wooden stake, they escape but not before confessing who blinded him. The Cyclops told his father, Poseidon.


4. Aeolus, the master of the winds; gave Odysseus a leather bag containing all the winds except for the West Wind, ensuring a safe and quick return home. The sailors foolishly opened the bag expecting to find gold.


5. With angry storms from Poseidon and no winds for support, the ships found themselves completely off-course again.


6. Reaching the island of bloodthirsty man-eating giants, Odysseus loses eleven of his ships and crew to the Laestrygonians.


7. With only one ship remaining, he landed on the island Aeaea, home to the powerful Circe who turned half of his men into swine. After falling in love with Odysseus, the men are transformed back.


8. Visited Hades, where Odysseus sacrificed to the dead and met his mother’s spirit. He learned news of his wife’s suitors.


9. Escaped the Sirens’ alluring sounds, by blocking the sailor’s ears with beeswax and tying himself to the mast. This enabled Odysseus to hear the Sirens' beautiful song but unable to reach them.


10. Entered a narrow strait with Scylla, the six-headed monster on one side and the whirlpool Charybdis on the other. Odysseus forced to sacrifice 6 men for the survival of others.

 

11. Landed on the island Thrinacia, sacred to sun god Helios. Ignoring all prophecies, slaughtered sacred cattle. This sacrilege was punished by a shipwreck in which all but Odysseus drowned.


12. Washed ashore on Calypso’s island Ogygia, Odysseus remained captive for seven years as her lover before being released by the gods.


13. Shipwrecked and alone, ends up on Phaeacia (Corfu). The Phaeacians provide Odysseus with a boat so he can finally sail back home to Ithaca.


14. As he lands on the shores of Ithaca exhausted and confused, goddess Athena appears and disguises Odysseus as a beggar so he could enter his palace with safety and ease.

 

15. Penelope, his wife, requests the suitors to participate in an archery competition using Odysseus’ bow. The man who was able to string her husband's bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe shafts, would win her hand in marriage. Odysseus is the only one strong enough to string the bow and perform the task. The beggar succeeds the challenge.


16. Now, at last, Odysseus identifies himself to Penelope.

 

Psyche & Eros

The myth of Psyche and Eros is a beautiful love story of the ‘heart’ in search of its ‘soul’.


Eros, son of Aphrodite, was considered the most handsome of the immortal gods. To add to his great looks, he was the personification of intense love and desire. In comparison, Psyche was an extremely beautiful maiden who personified the human soul.


Psyche, the youngest of three sisters, was so beautiful that no man considered himself worthy enough to approach her. Even Aphrodite, goddess of beauty became jealous of her. Subsequently, she requested her son Eros to use his arrows and make Psyche fall in love with a dreadful winged creature.

 

But when Eros took one look at Psyche, he was pierced with his own arrow falling deeply in love with her.


Meanwhile, Psyche’s father sought guidance from Apollo to understand what he needed to do to find love and a husband for his daughter. He was advised of the terrible prophecy that she was to marry a dreadful winged creature.


In total despair and with tears in her eyes, she set out for the mountains waiting for this creature to appear. Instead, Zephyr, the wind god, had picked her up and took her to a glorious palace.


Everything was beautifully laid out for her to enjoy, until nightfall where her husband would visit. As night drew, a soft, calming voice approached her welcoming her to their new home. Without seeing his face, she was certain it was the caring husband she so longed for and not the dreadful
the creature she feared.


But after a visit from her sisters, doubts set in that her husband was not a beautiful man but the dreadful monster as Apollo had advised. Why else would he only appear at night when she couldn’t see him?


And so, this is an intense story of the soul’s search for love. “Love cannot live without trust,” Eros said to Psyche when the trust was breached. 


And so, after Psyche’s experiences of heartbreak and rejection, she decided to make every effort to win back her love. With sheer determination and the assistance of the gods, love returned! Psyche and Eros were once again reunited eternally. ​

 

Ariadne & Dionysus 

It all began when Androgens, the son of King Minos of Crete,

was killed in error when participating in the Panathenaic Games in Athens. 


King Minos was infuriated and as retaliation, attacked Athens. Winning the battle, he demanded Athens to send fourteen young people, seven boys and seven girls, to Crete to feed the Minotaur. The Minotaur was kept in the Labyrinth.


The following year, Theseus, son of the king of Athens Aegeus, volunteered to go and kill the monster. When he arrived in Crete, Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, fell in love with him and offered him a sword and a ball of thread in his quest to slay the Minotaur and escape the labyrinth.


Theseus managed to kill Minotaur and free himself and the other people that Athens was obliged to send to Crete due to the death of King Minos son.


Finally, both Crete and Athens were freed.


Now victorious Theseus was ready to return home. Joining him, Ariadne ran away from home and jumped on his ship. On the way to Athens, Theseus stopped at Naxos. As he was sleeping, Dionysus god of wine and pleasure, visited Theseus demanding that he leave the island immediately without Ariadne. It appeared that Dionysus had fallen in love with Ariadne and wanted to make her his wife.

 

They fell in love and married. Dionysus gifted Ariadne with a crown to honour their wedding. On a clear night, the constellation Corona Borealis, Ariadne’s crown, can be seen and admired for eternity.

 

Hades & Persephone

This is a tale of a beautiful young maiden torn between the love for her mother and her husband.


Persephone, daughter of Zeus and goddess Demeter, was playing in the fields when Hades, God of the underworld fell in love with her and kidnapped her.


Her mother Demeter, goddess of the harvest and fertility, searched for her everywhere. Distraught and heartbroken, went into mourning for her loss. As a result of her sorrow, the earth was neglected and there was no harvest or new growth.  Zeus, the ruler of all gods, would not allow the earth to die and so ordered Hades, to return Persephone to her mother. 


Hades loved Persephone so much couldn’t bear to lose her and so he offered her a pomegranate to eat. The pomegranate was considered the food of the dead and eating it would mean you longed to live in the underworld. Persephone ate six seeds and from that time on, she spent six months of the year in the underworld and six months on earth. 


During the six months, in the underworld, while Persephone is with her husband Hades, her mother Demeter mourns and no longer gives fertility to the earth. This was an ancient Greek explanation for the seasons.

 

Others

The Greek Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses includes over 300 different deities, with the 12 main ones who resided on Mount Olympus known as the Olympian Gods. Temples and cities were built in their honour all over ancient Greece, many of which survive today.
 
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