Ancient Greek Myths: Magic or Mayhem?

Perfectly in tune with our theme, Jean Menzies has written a fantastic guest post for National Share a Story Month!

Hardback cover of Greek Myths
Written by Jean Menzies, Illustrated by Katie Ponder, Published by DK Books

By Jean Menzies

Do you know any ancient Greek myths? Maybe a friend or family member has shared one with you, maybe you have read about some in a book or even watched them come to life in a film or TV show? Maybe you have heard about the Trojan War where the Greek king Menelaus takes an army across the sea to the city of Troy to reclaim his wife Helen from the Trojan Prince Paris? But did you know that there is another version of that myth entirely where Helen is never in Troy? Really! In this version the gods created an illusion that looked exactly like Helen to send to Troy in her place. Meanwhile the real Helen was sent to Egypt to keep her out of harm’s way.

Both of these stories come from Ancient Greece; both were written down by ancient Greek Authors and depicted in ancient Greek art. And this is not the only myth where this same thing happens. There is a good chance that any ancient Greek myth you’ve come across has another version entirely out there. One that is just as old and was just as important to the Ancient Greek people.

Sounds a little bit chaotic, doesn’t it?

It certainly pulled the rug out from under me when I went to university to learn all about Ancient Greece for the first time. I thought I was going to learn all about exactly what it was the ancient Greeks believed when it came to their gods and heroes. But it turned out there were all these myths out there that seemed to contradict the one you might have read about just the day before.

After a while, however, I came to understand why. The Greeks were bonded by a language and shared deities, but they were a medley of different city states from Athens to Sparta, Corinth to Thebes. Each with their own understanding of their mythological figures. Some of them were the same and some varied greatly. Theseus for one was given credit by the Athenian people for lots of the same adventures that other city states attributed to Heracles, probably because Theseus was considered the greatest hero of Athenian history.

Even within the different parts of Ancient Greece myths, would sometimes change depending on who was telling the story or when the story was being told. And when you start learning a little bit more you start to realise this is all part of the magic of myths.

Greek myths are diverse and dynamic. They tell us about the people who shared them with one another, who went to see them at the theatre, and who used them to decorate the plates and bowls they ate from. People who were diverse and dynamic themselves.

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