Greek Mythology is the polytheistic myths and legends beliefs of the ancient Greeks. Ancient Greeks often relied on myths and legends to explain their natural world, such as the change of seasons. Largely inspiring Etruscan and Roman mythology, Greek legends and symbolism remain well known throughout the world today.
Primary Gods and Legends
In Greek mythology, there are many other demi-gods and heros, but the most well known gods are the immortals who sit upon the thrones of Mt. Olympus. The Olympian gods represent a specific natural element or energy force. They are the following:
- Zeus: The god of the heavens, or as later mythology would determine, the God of the Gods (Roman Name is Jupiter)
- Posiedon: The god of the seas, who would challenge Athena for the title of patron of Athens (Roman Name is Neptune)
- Hades: The god of the underworld, whom oversaw the sould of the mortally deceased (Roman Name is Pluto)
- Hera: The goddess of marriage, who served as Zeus' primary and exceedingly jelous wife (Roman Name is Juno)
- Demeter: The goddess of the harvest, whose daughter was the delicate Persephone (Roman Name is Ceres)
- Hestia: The goddess of the hearth, who tends Mt. Olympus' sacred fire (Roman Name is Vesta)
- Hephaestus: The god of blacksmiths and craftsmen, who forged lightning bolts for Zeus (Roman Name is Vulcan)
- Artemis: The goddess of hunting and wilderness, who was the twin sister of Apollo (Roman Name is Diana)
- Apollo: The god of music and light, who was the twin brother of Artemis (Roman Name is Apollo)
- Ares: The god of war, who was quite reckless in his sides and choices in battle (Roman Name is Mars)
- Aphrodite: The goddess of love, who rose from the botton of the sea (Roman Name is Venus)
- Hermes: The god of theives and trickery, who also served as a messenger of the Gods (Roman Name is Mercury)
- Dionysus: The god of winemaking and festival, who also has been metaphorically compared to Jesus Christ (Roman Name is Bacchus)
- Persephone: The goddess-daughter of Demeter, who also served as the queen of the underworld (Roman Name is Proserpina)
There are various other deities, which include the Titans (Cronus, Prometheus, and Epimetheus) and demi-gods (Pan, Orion, and Minos). The heros of Greek myth and legend are also quite known, as Heracles, Odysseus, Perseus, Theseus, and Achilles have remained highly popular myths.
Blavatsky and Greek Myths
H. P. Blavatsky references Greek myths and legends often throughout Theosophical Glossary and Isis Unveiled. She remarks that the original truth of Greek myths hold significant understanding of the Phenomena of the universe. H. P. Blavatsky elaborated in The Secret Doctrine:
For a myth, in Greek mythos, means oral tradition, passed from mouth to mouth from one generation to the other; and even in the modern etymology the term stands for a fabulous statement conveying some important truth; a tale of some extraordinary personage whose biography has become overgrown, owing to the veneration of successive generations, with rich popular fancy, but which is no wholesale fable. Like our ancestors, the primitive Aryans, we believe firmly in the personality and intelligence of more than one phenomenon-producing Force in nature.
She explained that the Greek gods represent a hierarchy of powers from the highest and formless to the human expressions:
All the gods of Olympus, as well as those of the Hindu Pantheon and the Rishis, were the septiform personations (1) of the noumena of the intelligent Powers of nature; (2) of Cosmic Forces; (3) of celestial bodies; (4) of gods or Dhyan Chohans; (5) of psychic and spiritual powers; (6) of divine kings on earth (or the incarnations of the gods); and (7) of terrestrial heroes or men. The knowledge how to discern among these seven forms the one that is meant, belonged at all times to the Initiates, whose earliest predecessors had created this symbolical and allegorical system.
For example, she said of Apollo:
Apollo, who was the brightest of gods, in heaven—astronomically—as he was the most enlightened of the divine kings who ruled over the early nations, in his human meaning. The latter fact is borne out in the Iliad IV., 239-62, vide “The Greater gods”—wherein Apollo is said to have appeared four times in his own form (as the god of the four races) and six times in human form, i.e., as connected with the divine Dynasties of the earlier unseparated Lemurians.
Blavatsky also comments on Greek mythology's greater archetypal meanings for humanity. In regards to the story of Prometheus, Blavatsky extends the condition of Prometheus to the whole experience of collective humanity. She uses Prometheus as a metaphor for the virtues of man, which include the intellect and ambition. She writes:
The Titan is more than a thief of the celestial fire. He is a representation of humanity-active, industrious, intelligent, but at the same time ambitious, which aims at equalling divine powers.
See also: Divine Kings
In traditional Greek mythology, the gods inhabit bodies that display the vices and virtues that are seen in the lower states of man. Many Theosophists believe the reason for the anthropomorphism of the gods is to give them the full spectrum of the human experience, including the sensual desires. As Alvin Boyd Kuhn remarks:
"The dark night of the soul," no less than the Götterdämmerung, was, in the
ancient mind, just the condition of the soul's embodiment in physical forms. Taylor reasons that Minerva (the rational faculty, as Goddess of Wisdom) was by her attachment to body given wholly "to the dangerous employment and abandons the proper characteristics of her nature for the destructive revels of desire." All this is the dialectic statement of the main theme of ancient theology - the incarnation of the godlike intellect and divine soul in the darksome conditionsof animal bodies.
Though many Theosophists describe the human condition of the gods as degrading, Annie Besant describes the anthropomorphism as an inspiration towards the individual experience of man. She accounts that the fall and triumph of the Greek Olympians serve as a metaphor to man's ability to rise above the errors of his way. She notes:
That one who falls thus may quickly rise again is encouraging. That old Greek allegory in which every time that the hero falls to earth, worsted in the conflict, he gains new strength from it, applies to man.
Importance of Mythology
In ancient Greece, the Greeks created pieces of art to serve as physical embodiment of their attributes the gods represented. They believed the art was sacred, and through the art one could embrace the qualities of the gods. Theosophists recognize this tradition, as Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa comments:
Similarly it is that during those periods of spiritual dryness we can, if we have so trained ourselves, commune with God through various forms of Art, for Art fundamentally is a revelation of the Divine Nature, it reveals what Plato called the Idea or the Archetype. The ancient Greeks were particularly sensitive to this aspect of Art. If they looked at a statue of Apollo, the sun-god, it was not merely to them a statue of some handsome youth, but there radiated from the statue a mysterious influence, so that they came to feel the influence of God. Similarly with the goddess Minerva; they felt, when there was an adequately beautiful image in a temple, that somehow as they offered their adoration to it, the image was like a wonderful window through which they looked into the Divine Nature.
- Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine Vol. I (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1978), 425.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 765.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 774.
- Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine Vol. II (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1979), 525.
- Kuhn, Alvin Boyd. The Lost Light: An Interpretation of Ancient Scriptures (Rahway, NJ: Quinn & Boden Company, 1940), 146.
- Besant, Annie. Talks on the Path of Occultism: Vol. II The Voice of The Silence (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1965), 154.
- Jinarājadāsa, Curuppumullage. Discourses on the Bhagavad Gita (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1953), 99.