How to Study Greek Mythology

Three Methods:Knowing the BasicsFinding Study ToolsHitting the Books

The stories of Gods and mortals created by the Greeks thousands of years ago are all around us still today, from terms like “Oedipal complex” and “Pandora’s box” to Hollywood movies like Clash of the Titans, Hercules, and Troy. Knowing Greek mythology will make you more culturally literate. And it’s fun! There is a reason Hollywood keeps looking back to Greek myths for inspiration; they are great stories. To study Greek mythology, you’ll need to first know what you need to know. Then, you can enroll in an in-person or online class, or explore mythology yourself by reading.

Method 1
Knowing the Basics

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    Learn the gods. Greek mythology has a dizzying cast of characters. You don’t need to know them all, but learning the major Olympian gods is an important first step in understanding Greek mythology.[1]
    • Zeus – King of the Gods and of the heavens. Controls lightning.
    • Hera – Goddess of the family and Zeus’s wife. Also his sister. The Greek gods were an incestuous bunch.
    • Poseidon – Zeus’s brother and god of the seas.
    • Hades – Zeus’s brother and god of the underworld.
    • Demeter – Zeus’s sister and goddess of the harvest.
    • Athena – Daughter of Zeus and the Titan Metis. The goddess of wisdom.
    • Apollo – Son of Zeus by the Titan Leto. The god of music and prophesy.
    • Artemis – Daughter of Zeus by the Titan Leto. The goddess of the hunt.
    • Ares – Son of Zeus by Hera. The god of war.
    • Hephaestus – Son of Zeus by Hera. He is lame. The smith of the gods, he crafted their weapons.
    • Hermes – Son of Zeus by the minor god Maia. He is the messenger of the gods and the god of trade and travelers.
    • Aphrodite – Depending on which myth you read, either the daughter of Zeus and the Titan Dione, or she emerged from sea foam after the Titan Ouranos was castrated and his testicles thrown into the sea. The goddess of love.
    • Dionysus – Son of Zeus and the mortal princess Semele. The god of wine.
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    Get to know the great heroes of Greek mythology. While the same gods appear in myth after myth, they are rarely the protagonists the leading characters of Greek myths, who are typically human or half-human (quite a few have one divine parent). These heroes are famous for a variety of reasons, from fighting monsters to winning glory on the battlefield to suffering family tragedies. The most famous include:[2][3]
    • Heracles (Hercules) – Stronger than even the gods, he also had a horrible temper. Completed 12 labors to absolve the guilt of killing his own family in a fit of madness.
    • Perseus – If you have seen Clash of the Titans, then you know the basic outline of his story: cast into the sea in a chest as a child; defeated the gorgon Medusa; and married Andromeda.
    • Theseus – A cousin of Hercules, he was as wise as Hercules was strong. He defeated the minotaur and escaped the labyrinth on Crete and became the king of Athens.
    • Achilles – The hero of Homer’s Iliad, which tells the tale of the Trojan War. His mother, the nymph Thetis, dipped him in the river Styx as a child to make him immortal, but since she held him by the heel, this part of him remained vulnerable. After killing Hector, the greatest warrior of the Trojans, he is struck in the heel by a poisoned arrow and dies.
    • Odysseus – The hero of Homer’s Odyssey. He had the idea for the Trojan horse – a giant hollow horse with Greek warriors hidden inside – which as used to defeat Troy. After the war, he spent 10 years returning home, battling monsters, gods, and witches along the way.
    • Jason – Set sail with the Argonauts and, after fighting off monsters and sirens, found the golden fleece with the help of the which Medea, who fell in love with him.
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    Study the major myths. While the heroes each have their own stories, there are a number of other myths featuring less prominent protagonists that have become famous, such as the story of Narcissus, who was so vain that he became transfixed upon seeing his reflection in a pond, and stayed staring at it until he died. Other important myths include:[4]
    • Sisyphus – A trickster who cheated the gods more than once, he is famous for his punishment after death: in the underworld of Hades, he is condemned to forever roll a boulder to the top of a steep hill; and as soon as the boulder reaches the top, it rolls down the far side and he must start again.
    • Tantalus – Tantalus was a favorite of the gods, and invited them to a feast at his home, where he had his own son cooked up and served to them. This was not a good idea. He, too, became famous for his punishment: forever standing in a pool of clean water, with delicious fruits hanging from trees overhead. Yet when he reached for the fruit, the wind tossed the branches out of reach, and when he bent down to drink, the water drained away.
    • Pygmalion and Galatea – Pygmalion was a sculptor who created a statue so beautiful and lifelike that he fell in love with it. Aphrodite took pity on him and brought the statue to life as the woman Galatea.
    • Persephone – The beautiful daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, she was abducted by Hades, who took her to the underworld to be his wife. She was forced to dwell there four months a year, while she could spend the rest of the time on earth. This myth explains the seasons: the winter months are the ones in which she is in Hades.
    • Midas and the Golden Touch – King of Phrygia, Midas found favor with the god Dionysus who offered to grant him whatever he wished. He asked for the power to turn whatever he touched to gold, and then quickly realized his mistake, when everything he tried to eat or drink turned to gold.
    • Prometheus the Fire Thief – He stole the fire of the Zeus and taught mankind how to use it. As a punishment, he was chained to a rock and each day an eagle came and ate out his liver, which was magically restored overnight.
    • Europa – A woman so beautiful that Zeus fell in love with her. He came to her in the guise of a beautiful white bull, and bowed before her. When she climbed on his back, he carried her to a cave where he revealed his true nature. Europe is named after her.
    • Daedalus and Icarus – Daedalus designed the labyrinth on Crete, where king Minos later had him and his son Icarus imprisoned. Daedalus built wings of wax and feathers for himself and his son so they could fly to freedom, but Icarus flew too high and his wax wings melted. He fell and drowned in the Icarian Seas, which was named after him.
    • Orpheus and Eurydice – Orpheus was a great musician. When his love Eurydice died, he went down to the underworld and played his lyre so beautifully that Hades agreed to let Eurydice go, so long as Orpheus agreed not to look on her until they reached the surface. But Orpheus worried that he had been tricked. He looked back only a few feet from the surface, only to see Eurydice be whisked away back to the underworld because he had looked too soon.

Method 2
Finding Study Tools

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    Take a class at a local college. If you are not already in a class studying mythology, you can try taking one at the nearest university or community college. Greek mythology is a popular course, and many colleges offer it in both the spring and fall semesters, as well as over the summer. Courses typically cost from $100 at community colleges to over $1000 at universities. In the U.S., senior citizens can often take classes for free at community colleges.
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    Take a course online. If you cannot make it to a university to class, you can take a course online instead. Many universities offer online courses, while you can also find them offered by for profit companies or even for free.
    • University courses – Universities such as Oxford, Duke, Brown, Harvard, and Yale offer online courses on Greek myths and heroes. Some of these, such as Harvard Professor Nagy’s course “Concepts of the Hero in Greek Civilization” are offered for free. Nagy’s course is available at
    • Paid Online Courses – The most well-known series of for-profit courses online are offered by The Great Courses at
    • Free Online Courses – There are a variety of sites that bring together free mythology courses from across the web, including (for courses from the Massive Open Online Course project) and (Open Education Database).
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    Use an app. It seems there is an app for just about everything, and Greek mythology is no exception. Download one and learn the basics of mythology from your phone. Some helpful apps include:
    • Learn Mythology Basics – iPhone / iPad
    • - Android
    • Greek Mythology by Anduin – Google / Android
    • Greek Mythology by Socratica – Google / Android
    • Greek Mythological – iPhone / iPad – Offers more detailed information on mythology and the ancient Greek world.
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    Explore websites dedicated to Greek mythology. There are several very good websites that present free information on the gods, heroes, myths, and locations of Greek mythology. They are useful as a reference or as an introduction to mythology. Some good websites include:

Method 3
Hitting the Books

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    Start with an introductory text. There are several authors who have synthesized multiple ancient Greek authors in order to create compendiums of mythology. Some books to consider include:
    • Jenny March's The Penguin Book of Classical Myths (2009) – Professor March's work provides a clear, easy to read retelling of the major myths, alongside the latest scholarship on their origins, development, and meanings.
    • Richard Buxton's The Complete World of Greek Mythology (2004) – Buxton offers an overview of mythology, placing the myths in their social and cultural context. His book is also packed with extras such as genealogical tables and beautiful illustrations.
    • Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (1942) – Hamilton draws on all the great Greek writers, and some Roman ones, too, in compiling her introductory text that covers all the key gods and myths.
    • Timothy Gantz’s Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources (1993) – Gant’s book is the most scholarly, and also the densest introduction to Greek mythology. He draws on both early Greek writers and art in order to recreate the myths as they were in the days of Homer and Aeschylus.[5]
    • Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths (1956) – Graves is a sort of anti-Gantz. He is a wonderful writer, and his myths make for an easy and enjoyable introduction to Greek mythology. His scholarship, on the other hand, is decidedly sub-par, and his theories of the origins of Greek mythology and the relations between its cast of characters have been more or less all disproven.
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    Read The Library of Apollodorus. If you are truly interested in Greek mythology, you should go beyond modern re-tellings to the original sources. Though still called Apollodorus’s library, it has more recently been concluded that this 2nd century AD compilation of myths was not in fact written by Apollodorus of Athens. Regardless of its authorship, this compendium brings together most of the major Greek myths and orders them in a way that is still used by the writers of compendiums today.[6] You can find an indexed translation online at
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    Consult the work of the poet Hesiod for more on the origins of the gods. A Greek poet from the 8th century BC, his Theogony details the origins and genealogy of the gods, while his poem Works and Days give insight into daily life in ancient Greece. For an award-winning recent translation, check out poet Daryl Hine's Works of Hesiod and the Homeric Myths. Hesiod's works can also be found online at
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    Check out the epic poems of Homer. The two greatest epics of Greek mythology – The Iliad and The Odyssey – were written in the 8th or 7th century BC and are both ascribed to the poet Homer. While they focus on the Trojan War and the journeys of Odysseus, respectively, they also include asides that touch on many other classical myths.
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    Learn more about Jason and the Argonauts by reading Apollonius Rhodius. An Alexandrian born in 295BC, Apollonius’s Argonautica is the best-known version of Jason’s adventures.[7] It is available online at
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    Read the three great tragic playwrights. Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles were contemporaries who produced tragic plays of profound psychological insight that have influenced writers to this day and which continue to be performed.[8]
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    Lighten up with the comic playwright Aristophanes. The Greek theater was not exclusively about grim topics like men marrying their mothers or serving their children to the gods. Aristophanes, born about 450BC, is the sole surviving comic playwright of the age.[10] Eleven of his plays survive intact, including The Clouds, The Birds, and The Wasps. You can find his work online at

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