G is for Greeks

Published April 7, 2012 by caitlinnicoll

Ah, the Greeks. Such a long, tumultuous history. From their epic battles, larger than life heroes, and moody gods, they made sure they would be remembered for a long time to come.

The early Mycenaean Greeks of the bronze age were greatly influenced by the Minoans of Crete, and actually thank their rise to the fall of the Minoans. Bronze age Greece were divided up into city-states such as Mycenae, Sparta, Ithaca, Thebes, and Pylos. the Mycenaeans were ruled by a warrior aristocracy, and benefited through conquest.

Sculpture of Poseidon in Copenhagen, Denmark

There were several major gods in the Greek pantheon, and like the Mesopotamians, the gods were often associated with certain cities, even foreign ones, like Poseidon with Troy. However, the Greeks believed that the world was created by Chaos, who eventually gave birth to the primordial gods, who eventually gave birth to the titans, then the Olympian Gods.

Psyche crossing the river Styx

The Greeks believed in an underworld called Hades, named after the god who ruled it. They thought that if a funeral was never performed, a person’s spirit would never reach it, and would remain a ghost forever. the underworld was guarded by a three-headed dog named Cerberus, and souls had to cross the river Styx. Later Greeks believed in Tartarus, where the dammed went, and Elysium, where heroes (like Achilles and Ganymede resided) too.

Nymphs finding the head of Orpheus by John William Waterhouse

One of my favorite tales is that of Orpheus and Eurydice. At their wedding, Eurydice went for a walk and was chased by a satyr. When she tried to escape, she fell into a nest of vipers and was bit. Orpheus discovered her body, and overcome with grief, traveled to the underworld and begged them to return his wife and played such sweet, sad music that it softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone. They agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth only if  he walked in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. However, in his anxiety, as soon as he reached the upper world, he turned to look at her, but she had not crossed over into the upper world yet, and she vanished for the second time.

During the Greco-Persian wars, the Spartans came to the aid of the Athenians, in one of the most famous moments in history, when king Leonidas held off the Persian army with only 300 men (it was more like a couple thousand) at the battle of Thermopylae. However, less than twenty years later, the Spartans and Athenians fought against each other in the Peloponnesian War. the people of the Peloponnese were fearful of Athens growing power.

Alexander the Great managed to conquer much of the East, and accomplished what many great men before him had failed, he overthrew the Persians. Alexander was also responsible for the spread of the Greek language.

Greek, Greek, it rhymes with meek. But meek they were not.

More on Alexander the Great from John Green:

Book recommendations for reading challenges:

Fantasy                                                                                                            Sci-fi


15 comments on “G is for Greeks

  • I teach a Greek segment every year in college lit, along with two Aristophanes’ comedies. Everyone likes the comedies, and the odd rivalry that Athenians and Spartans that extended into trends and fashions (evidence in the plays).

  • Greek mythology is one of my favourite things to read about; non-fiction or fiction. I’m studying Orpheus and Eurydice in my Medieval literature module in uni and its really interesting. I have so many books on greek mythology I need to tuck into.

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