10 Things Most People Get Wrong About Greek Mythology

Sons of Zeus.
Zeus and Europa (Courtesy of Shmoop).

Ironically, Greek Mythology is itself the subject of many myths. Some of this misinformation stems from action-packed Hollywood movies, while other such myths about mythology have been passed down from generation to generation through the passage of time. No matter how the stories are told, the end result is the same: the stereotypical personifications of ancient gods and creatures are often very far from the truth. Let’s take a look at some of the most misunderstood ancient Greek gods and mythical creatures.

1. Medusa was not the only woman in ancient Greece with snakes for hair
When you think of Medusa, you immediately picture her horrific hair made of snakes. However, Medusa is wrongly signaled out as being the only woman in ancient times to have this look. Don’t forget that Medusa was merely the only mortal of the three Gorgon sisters; the other two sisters, Stheno and Euryale, also had snake hair.

2. Zeus: The serial womanizer
Zeus was known in his time as much more than being the father of the gods. He was also a womanizer, and as such, he fathered many, many offspring! He would transform into an animal form to fulfill his desires, therefore his ‘children’ are quite interesting. In all, he seduced both Demeter and her daughter Persephone—who later married his brother—while he had transformed into the form of a serpent. He also charmed Asteria and Aiginia while in the form of an eagle, Boetis as a goat, Europa as a bull, and even fooled some women into letting them believe he was their husband!

3. Pandora is the grandmother of mankind
Pandora is often mentioned in reference to the infamous box. However, Pandora is actually the grandmother of the human race! It’s not really discussed often, however, Pandora was the wife of Epimetheus and mother to a mortal daughter, Pyrrha. When Pyrrha married her cousin Deukalion, the gods sent a massive flood to destroy the earth and the mortal. However, Pyrrha and Deukalion managed to survive, and after seeking help from the Oracle at Delphi, they cast the bones of Pandora to the ground so that the world would be repopulated.

4. The story of the first Immortals
In fact, it all begins with Chaos, Gaia’s (mother Earth) father and Eros (love). It sounds simple enough, but then, Gaia gave birth to Uranos (sky), the Sae and the Mountains. It gets complicated as she then later married Uranos and gave birth to Titan Cronus. Cronus married his sister, Rhea, giving birth to the original Olympian immortals: Poseidon, Demeter, Hera, Hestia, Hades, and Zeus. And that’s the complicated, true version of this story!

5. Theseus was a self-serving jerk
Moving beyond the story of Theseus slaying the Minotaur in Crete and managing the difficult exit of the Labyrinth, which cost numerous lives, Theseus also had a tendency to make decisions based on what best served him at the moment. An example is when he took Crete’s princess Ariadne when he left the island, only to late abandon her on the island of Naxos. Also, according to Plutarch, upon founding today’s Greek capital, Athens, he took it upon himself to populate the city by raping women.

6. Artemis held a grudge and would kill over it
The goddess of hunting is known for her shrewd skills and for being the protector of animals. However, while she is known as the goddess of childbirth, she is also the destroyer of young women. In fact, she killed six of Niobe’s daughters for insulting her mother, Leo. Clearly you didn’t want to get on her bad side!

7. Ares wasn’t such a tough cookie
Apparently, the god of war had a soft spot: his sister Athena, the goddess of war. Ares obeyed his sister’s orders as she was also the goddess of defense and righteous battle. This can be seen in the Illiad, when Athens often intervenes to ensure a fair battle and Ares always bows to her command.

8. Hades wasn’t such a monster…really!
The god of death and the underworld wasn’t really such a bad guy. Specifically, it wasn’t his choice to rule the underworld. Call it bad luck, getting the short end of the stick, whatever it was, Hades’ fate made him appear as pure evil. After all, Hades wasn’t the one who was responsible for the redemption of souls; the three demigod brothers, Minos, Aiakos, and Rhadamanthys had that fun job!

9. Mamma mia! There is one main mother to many monsters
There might be many monsters in Greek mythology, however, most of them share the same mother, Echidna. She was the sister of Medusa and the wife of Typhon, who happened to be a hundred-headed dragon! Together, they spawned many of the most terrifying and famous monsters, such as the Nemean lion, Cerberus, Hydra, and Ladon. She was also mother of the Chimera, the Sphinx, Scylla, the Colchian dragon, and the eagle that ate Prometheus’ liver every day for an eternity as was his punishment!

10. The goddess Aphrodite had a hidden side
The goddess of love and beauty had a hidden side due to her romantic relations with Ares, the god of war. She bore three children from Ares, Eros, Phobos, and Deimos. So, surprisingly, there were several statutes and other depictions of her found in many port cities, showing Aphrodite armed and in armor.