Every civilization has a reason why we are here. This is called religion. All cultures have a belief on why we exist on earth. When a culture no longer worships a religion, it is called mythology. At one time the worship of Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon was as real as the belief in Jesus, God, Allah, Brahman, etc.
Many origins of words and social customs come from Greek mythology. Besides that, these stories are very entertaining. There is not definitive story, Greek religion developed in every city-state and those people used what they heard and added or adjusted the stories and abilities of the gods to their personal need. One story begins like this:
In the beginning...
According to the Greeks, in the beginning there was nothing but CHAOS. By this gas, material, spirits, matter, water, etc. were just bouncing off each other with no rhyme or reason. By some miracle the spirit of LOVE was created. Then, LOVE created LIGHT, and then they both befriended DAY. Now let me stop you here. The Greek reasoning was very abstract. By abstract, they were intelligent enough to work in ideas like love, hate, good, bad. This is considered advancement because at the same time the majority of the known world was working in concrete concepts. By concrete I mean things that can be identified with the five senses. Well, back to the story… According to the Greeks, the earth was just a rock that was always there. The use of earth was just a big coincidence. Greeks did not understand that oxygen and water and all the other variables that go into us existing on earth were necessary for every planet in the solar system. The earth had to primordial gods. Primordial gods are gods that were created before the popular gods. This definition can be found in all cultures. Mother Earth was the god Gaia, and Father Sky was Uranus. Gaia and Uranus had three sets of offspring:
1st set: Monsters with 100 hands and 50 heads each
2nd set: Cyclops'
3rd set: The Titans
All the gods and living creatures lived in the Great Sea, Oceanus and derived from there
And another version...
Chaos created the ocean and danced upon it. From the dancing a giant snake was created. The snake changed forms and became a dove, laid an egg and the world was created.
And yet another version...
Chaos created the primordial gods Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (Underworld), Eros (Love), Erebus (Gloom of Underworld), and Nyx (Night and the power of Darkness).
In turn, Nyx and Erebus mated and created: Day, Aether, Doom, Death, Misery, Resentment, Deceit, and Strife. Strife created Murder, Carnage, and Lawlessness (I bet this family is just wonderful on the holidays)
The goddess Gaia mated with another god Uranus and created the Titans: Oceanus, Tethys, Hyperion, Theia, Themus, Rhea, Mnemosyne, Iapetus, Corus, Crius, Phoebe, and Cronus
Through history, some of these Titans we know many things about, but others have been lost to the ages.
Apparently, the Titans were the most intelligent and most gifted out of the lot. It was the Titans that played an instrumental part in the creation of mankind and the world. Uranus had a very bad temper and was very cruel. Uranus would abuse Gaia and the children. Eventually Gaia had enough and convinced her son Cronus (Kronus) to kill Uranus. Cronus was a Titan, and agreed to kill Uranus. Since he was the man that killed Uranus, this made him the king of all things.
Cronus and his wife, Rheia had children. They had 12 in total. The reason why they had so many was that Cronus believed that his fate and his father's fate were intertwined. Therefore, Cronus believed that one or all of his children would rise up one day and kill him. To eliminate fate once his wife would have a child he would eat the child. Now, after 9 childbirths and labors his Rheia was getting a little tired of his, so on the 10th child, she played a trick on her husband. Knowing that he did not look, nor chew the children when they were presented to him, she wrapped up a stone the size of a baby in cloth and fed it to him. She did this a total of three times. Cronus ultimately learned of the trick his wife was playing on him through the observation of one of his brothers and sisters. By this time however, the three children were big enough and strong enough to stand up to their father. To make a long story short, the three children killed their father and were strong enough to banish the other 8 Titans to prisons around the world. The names of these three children were Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.
Now, to be the man you have to beat the man. Since all three beat the man, who was in charge?? Rheia came up with a solution. They would draw straws for kingdoms to rule.
Zeus picked the largest straw and decided to be the king of the heavens and the sky.
Poseidon was next and took the next largest area, the seas.
Bitter and last, Hades took the final area, the underworld.
Now please understand some things. Before they destroyed Cronus' body they opened his stomach and their undigested brothers and sisters emerged. These 12 children are called the Olympians. They are the major gods of Greece. There are many smaller gods, but these 12 are the best.
Zeus: The personality of Zeus is complex and interesting. He ruled justly, but did have a cruel sense of humor. He did not believe in being overly cruel, but he did demand worship. He was a huge womanizer because he saw humans as play things. This means they were treated a little better than animals. Zeus would love to play tricks on gods and humans alike. The brother Prometheus was given the job of creating all the animals in the world. He had a huge bag of gifts and names for all the animals. By gifts I mean speed, strength, swimming, flying, etc. Prometheus gave all the animals gifts and names except the last animal. He had nothing left for the animal called man. He went to Zeus to tell him of this dilemma. Zeus made man the most special of all animals. He instructed Prometheus to give man three gifts no other animal had. The three gifts are:
Man looks like the gods
Man can walk totally upright
Man has the ability to make fire
Now you might be saying to yourself, where is the humor in this?? Zeus himself decided to make one more animal, the animal was a female companion for Prometheus' man. Zeus called her Pandora. She had some specific character traits. She was typically not very bright, curious to the point of obsession, and she was very clumsy.
As a gift for her first day on earth, Zeus gave her a gift in the form of a box. She was told she could have this box, but she cannot open it. Oh, the cruel irony of the situation. Well, the sure bet in on Pandora opening the box, and she did. Zeus placed evil in the box, so when Pandora opened the box, she released evil into the world.
The god that had the most undeserved reputation is Hades. Most people believe he is the devil. He is not. Greeks did not believe in a heaven, or a hell. The best a man could become is a hero, but the qualification for this is pretty stringent. Hades was the god of the underworld. This is not hell; it is just under the world. Granted, it is not the best place, but it is not hell. All Greek souls go into the river Styxx that goes through the underworld. As for Hades' personality, he was not bubbly or a fantastic person. Being the King of the Dead will do this, but he was not pure evil. Hades saw the world as either black or white. In his reasoning, there was never a gray area of a story.
Thanks to Disney everybody thinks that Hera who is Zeus' wife was happy and nice. Wrong!! She was bitter and cruel. Zeus had a hobby that she was not too pleased with. Zeus used to go to earth in disguise seduce and impregnate beautiful young women. This is one of the qualifications for being a hero. You must have half human and half god's blood. Hera sought out these women and these offspring and made their lives as miserable as she could.
The most popular hero is Hercules. There are other heroes like Jason or Persious, but Hercules is the most popular. Hercules was strong at birth. Hera sent two snakes to kill him on day one, but Hercules killed them. At 18, Hercules spent 50 days trying to kill the Lion of Cithaeron in battle. The lion was not sent by Hera. Hercules eventually married a woman named Megara. Hera was more than willing to give them a wedding gift. Hercules had the same weakness his father did, beautiful women. Hera had a beautiful woman seduce and sleep with Hercules. Megara found out, argued with Hercules, and in a fit of rage Hercules killed Megara. Hercules felt terrible for this and placed himself into slavery to make up for his wrongs.
A woman named Deianeria bought him, freed him, and married him. Again Hera gave him another "gift," but this time Hera went to Deianeria for revenge. Hera gave her a poisonous cloak for Hercules to wear. Once Hercules wore the cloak, it caused him great pain. The magical cloak would tighten on him the more he tried to take it off. Eventually he had his friends free him. Hercules instructed them to burn him so he could go to Olympus. Before the fire tortured him, Zeus brought Hercules to Olympia on a bolt of Heaven.
Worship, Sacrifice, and Daily Ritual
Greeks as you can see had a realistic view of the world and what is unique to their religion is how much they focus on the flaws of mankind. Very few religions place personality flaws in their gods and goddesses'. Regardless, the Greeks were deeply devoted to their religion.
Many temples could be found in the various city-states, and smaller towns and villages would dedicated themselves to one specific god. Greeks did not have a holy book like Christians, Jews, or Muslims have. Their prayers, songs, and rituals were found in the oral tradition.
Sacrifice was an important part of worship to the major gods of Greece. Specific animals were to be sacrificed to certain gods. For example, it was proper to only sacrifice a bull to the god Zeus. Poseidon was given horse sacrifices, and Hera would be given a cow.
Animals were killed and then burned to their gods. Most of the time the head of the animal was cut off, or they would just slit the throat of the sacrifice.
Homes did have areas of the house dedicated to a specific god that the family may relate to and they would make small plant or food sacrifices. Flowers were originally offered to gods in ancient Greece. Today we offer flowers as a sign of love or appreciation.
Greeks did have priests and other people that worked the temple. The Greeks believed their gods could and would be angered by improper behavior or lash out at humans on a whim. They did hold the same idea of Christians, Jews, and Muslims of a loving forgiving god.
Burial for the Greeks would consist of two parts, the grieving and the burial. Once a person would die, their body would be washed and laid out at the home. People would come to the house to pay their final respects and say nice words about the newly departed. It was customary to openly grieve the passing of a loved one. Women would cut their hair as form of grief.
The second part would be the funeral procession and then mostly like the burning of the body. Coins were placed on the dead person's eyes as fare for the river boatman to travel over the River Styxx.