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Romans Adopted The Greek Mythology And The Greek Gods

The mythical tale of demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington) is told once again in this thrilling remake. Reluctant to see himself as the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), Perseus' desire to exact vengeance against Hades (Ralph Fiennes) for the death of his family finds him leading a band of soldiers on a desperate quest to win the head of Medusa and save the city of Argos from the tentacled sea beast, the Kraken.

Dazzling Ray Harryhausen creatures highlight this spectacular adventure epic based on the Greek myth of the hero Perseus. Harry Hamlin stars as Perseus, the son of Zeus, who must tame the winged horse Pegasus, slay the snake-haired Medusa, and rescue the beautiful Andromeda from the Kraken, a giant four-armed sea monster.

The classical civilization of ancient Greece was the creation of the Dorian people who invaded Greece around 1100 B.C.They replaced an earlier civilization in the Aegean region, which was centered on the island of Cretce. This culture is often called Minoan - after King Minos of Crete. The early Minoans settled in Crete in the late Stone Age - archaeologists believe that they came from western Asia.

Because her Titan husband, Cronus, had swallowed each of his children as soon as they were born, the mother goddess Rhea hid her last son, Zeus, from him. She then tricked Cronus into swallowing a stone instead of his Son. Rhea gave birth in secret on Mount Diktie, and the newborn god was fed with the honey of the sacred bees that lived in the cave. He was then given into the care of two nymphs, the daughters of Melisseus; the "honey man."

The chief god of the ancient Greeks was Zeus, a sky god whose weapon was the thunderbolt. The Greek gods were thought to live in a heavenly kingdom in the sky above the peak of the highest mountain in Greece, Mount Olympus. From the realm of Olympus the gods watched over the world, helping or hindering mortals according to their desires.

Zeus became the supreme god because he rescued his brothers and sisters after they had been swallowed by their father, the Titan Cronus. Zeus then led his siblings in the war against the Titans, who were the children of Gaia, the earth, and Uranus, the sky.

Zeus was the youngest of the six children of Cronus and Rhea, so his position as their ruler was a delicate one. According to one myth, Zeus and his brothers drew straws to divide the world between them. Zeus became ruler of the heavens, Poseidon of the sea, and Hades of the underworld. Although the supremacy of Zeus is rarely challenged in Greek myths, he is never shown to be interfering in the realms of Poseidon and Hades.

The ancient Romans, aware that their own civilization was of fairly recent origin, placed a great deal of importance on foundation myths that connected Rome to the great cultures of the past. The first great ancestor of all things Roman, they believed, was Aeneas, a Trojan prince, who escaped from the attack of Troy. The Romans tended to overlook the elements of their culture that derived from the Etruscans and instead emphasized their links with Troy and Greece.

Based on Rick Riordan's series of young adult novels, this thrilling adventure tale centers on seemingly ordinary teen Percy Jackson, who discovers he's actually the son of the Greek god Poseidon. Falsely accused of stealing Zeus' prized lightning bolt, Percy must embark on a perilous journey to retrieve it and prevent a war between the gods, encountering such mythical creatures as centaurs, minotaurs, and Medusa along the way.

The predominant mythologies handed down through the ages are those of the Greeks and Romans. The mythology of each culture includes gods and goddesses who interacted with humans, with good, bad, and indifferent motives. Each culture ascribed to deities with comparable powers and spheres of influence, and the following table shows those areas and the names of the important deities in each mythology:

Greek Name Roman Name Description
Zeus Jupiter King of Gods
Hera Juno Goddess of Marriage
Poseidon Neptune God of the Sea
Cronos Saturn Youngest son of Uranus, Father of Zeus
Aphrodite Venus Goddess of Love
Hades Pluto God of the Underworld
Hephaistos Vulcan God of the Forge
Demeter Ceres Goddess of the Harvest
Apollo Apollo God of Music and Medicine
Athena Minerva Goddess of Wisdom
Artemis Diana Goddess of the Hunt
Ares Mars God of War
Hermes Mercury Messenger of the Gods
Dionysus Bacchus God of Wine
Persephone Proserpine Goddess of Underworld
Eros Cupid God of Love
Gaia Gaea Goddess of Earth

The Romans adopted the Greek mythology and the Greek gods without discrimination, which is why most of the classical gods have two names - one Greek and one Roman. Zeus became Jupiter, Hera changed to Juno, Poseidon became Neptune, Athena became Minerva, and so on. Not all of these identifications are exact since the Roman gods and goddesses have their own histories and personalities. The chief triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, worshipped on the Capitoline hill, was probably of Etruscan origin. The Romans traced a line of descent from Aeneas through the legendary kings of Alba Longa to the twins Romulus and Remus. The newborn twins were thrown into the Tiber river by their uncle, Amulius, who wanted to be the next ruler.

Vesta was the goddess of the hearth, the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Hestia. Because the Romans revered the household, Vesta was very important in Roman religion, and her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, were regarded with the greatest respect. They were so sacred that if they walked past a condemned man, he was pardoned.

There were six Vestal Virgins, girls from respected families who were chosen by the High Priest to serve the goddess for 30 years. They played an important part in many festivals, but their chief role was to maintain the sacred fire in Vesta's hearth. This fire was thought to symbolize Rome's eternal power. If the fire went out, the Vestals had to rekindle it by rubbing two sticks together. This way of making fire was a link to the past, as was the round shape of Vesta's temple, which was similar to the round huts of Rome's earliest settlement.

The most essential elements of Roman religion focused on the home and the homestead, with the paterfamilias, the "head of the family," in the priestly role. The home was sacred to the Romans, and the heart of the home was the hearth (fireplace). It was the wife's role each evening to clean the hearth and to bury the burning embers under ashes so that the fire would last until morning.

In contrast to that of the Greeks, Roman mythology seems arid and impoverished. As a rule the Romans were, not myth-makers, and the myths they had were usually imported. The Roman gods were utilitarian, like the practical and unimaginative Romans themselves. These gods were expected to serve and protect men, and when they failed to be useful their worship was curtailed. This does not mean the Romans lacked religious sentiment. They had a pantheistic sense of the divinities present in nature. But their deepest religious feelings centered on the family and the state.

When the Romans adopted the Greek gods from the third century B.C. on, these deities were simplified to conform to the Roman religion. They were the spiritual foundation for entire cultures—and they were more screwed up than the cast of The Real World. The all-powerful gods of antiquity that inspired a global population of diner owners (cheap Roman knockoffs in parentheses). This is their story.

Ouranos (Uranus), also known as Heaven, he married Gaea (Mother Earth). They sired the Titans, scary Cyclopes, and 100-armed, 50-headed monsters. (Rumors that Gaea smoked angel dust throughout her pregnancy were never substantiated.) King of the Titans. Gaea helped Cronus (Saturn) hack off Ouranos’ genitals (setting a precedent for wives for millennia to come). Cronus later married his sister and sired the Olympians—whom he ate. You thought the Osbournes were dysfunctional. When Ouranos’ severed nut sack hit the water with an ethereal plop, the blood mixed with sea foam to form the love goddess, Aphrodite (Venus). Or maybe that was Courtney Love.

Mortal Heroes

With men like these, who needs gods?
  • Hercules
    The story: His mom was knocked up by Zeus (the Bill Clinton of the gods), so Hercules was driven nuts by Zeus’ jealous sister/wife, Hera. He then logically slaughtered his own wife and kids. As penance he had to complete the Twelve Labors of Hercules: killing a hydra, capturing a three-headed dog, watching Sex and the City, etc. Then all was forgiven and he got a new wife…who killed herself. Hooray!
  • Oedipus
    The story: An oracle told this dude that he would sleep with his mother and kill his father. Put off by this and wanting to avoid inadvertently making it come true, Oedipus split town. But on his journey he got into a fight with a guy, killed him, and then married a woman who just happened to be a widow. Funnily enough, Oedipus found out the guy he killed was actually his dad, and…OK, you get it. Being a little depressed, Oedipus blinded himself. A nice gesture, maybe, but isn’t this just another classic case of avoidance?
  • Jason and the Argonauts
    The story: Jason was cheated out of the throne by his evil cousin, who demanded a golden fleece in exchange. So Jason got a ship (the Argo) and a crew (the Argonauts—duh) and set off to find the 14-karat bath mat. Along the way he had many adventures and met a princess named Medea, whom he knocked up. Then he split and married another woman.
  • Ulysses
    The story: In Homer’s epic tale The Odyssey, soldier Odysseus (a.k.a. Ulysses) was on his way home from the Trojan War when he got sidetracked—for 10 years. Poseidon blew him off course, his men got really stoned on lotus leaves, a witch turned them into little piggies, etc. Hey, our dad used the same excuse!

Zeus (Jupiter) was saved from being one of his dad’s Dunkin’ Munchkins when Rhea tricked Cronus into swallowing a rock instead. The big guy later puked up the other kids, who banded together with Zeus in a kids vs. grownup gods smackdown. The kids won, and Zeus was king, which gave him the right to plow any goddess, wood nymph, or maiden he wanted. It’s good to be the king!

Zeus’ brother who ruled the seas was Poseidon (Neptune). Modern New Jersey Italians still honor him today with sacrifices dipped in concrete and quietly dropped in the Hudson River.

Another one of Zeus’ eccentric brothers, Hades (Pluto) was in charge of all wealth and the land of the dead. Sort of like hitting the lottery and then having to move into the city morgue.

Sister and wife of Zeus (just one big, fat, horrifically incestuous Greek wedding), Hera (Juno) spent all her time hunting down his many mistresses. And taking boatloads of penicillin.

Since Hermes (Mercury) was Zeus’ son, the little bastard got a job in the mailroom as messenger to the gods. The patron of merchants and thieves, his home was a far-off mystical place called Enron.

After Persephone (Proserpine) was kidnapped by Hades, her pissed-off mom, Demeter, made the crops die. Zeus got her home for two thirds of each year, but Hades held her to a four-month time-share contract in hell. Hence, winter (or Canada).

Apollo (Apollo) was the god of light and truth, he was an expert archer and a master musician, and he gave men the art of healing. Oh, he also took over driving the sun across the sky every day with his chariot. Think of him as the gods’ annoying student council president.

The god of war and storms, Ares (Mars) was caught in a net by Aphrodite’s husband, Hephaestus, after he planted his spear in the goddess. Yes, the Greek god of war got caught in a net. No wonder Greece is the military powerhouse it is today.

Neil Philip. Mythology of the World. Kingfisher, Boston. 2004.
God Guide: The Classic Greek Deities. Maxim [Print + Kindle] . March 2003.

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