Greek mythology is filled with legendary figures with superhuman powers, but most of these figures also had human flaws. Here are 12 characters of Greek mythology you may not know about, but should.
Pandora was a woman created from clay by the god Hephaistos and other gods. Why was she created, you ask? Zeus ordered that she be created when Prometheus stole fire. Pandora was created to woo Prometheus’ frivolous brother Epimetheus. The brothers lived together and when Pandora entered their home, she famously opened the jar (referred to as Pandora’s box) that contained the world’s evil spirits, releasing them to do harm.
In Greek Mythology, the Greeks waged war on the Trojans after Paris of Troy took Helen away from King Menelaus of Sparta. Achilles was the strongest warrior in the Greek army, apparently so because his mother dipped him in the River Styx as a child to make him invincible to all harm. His mother of course had to hold him by the heel to dip him in the river, and that was the only place he could be vulnerable. Achilles fought in the Trojan war for 10 years until he was fatally wounded—in the heel--by Paris. To this day, the tendon in the heel is called the Achilles tendon.
And speaking of fighting in the Trojan War, there is another valiant story about Hector, son of the King of Troy. Hector commanded the Trojan army during the war. Hector has been praised throughout history for his valiant efforts and courage. Passages in Homer’s Iliad tell the tale of Hector fighting Achilles; Hector ran away at first, but then overcame fear to return to the battle. Achilles killed Hector, who fought bravely although he knew he would die.
Hercules might be the most popular of Greek heroes because of his great strength. Herecules is the Roman name for Heracles, who was a demi-god because his father was Zeus and his mother was the mortal Alceme. Zeus’ goddess wife Hera was insanely jealous of Hercules and cursed him to go insane; he ended up killing his wife and children. To do penance for his crimes, he had to complete Twelve Labors, which involved rescuing people from the underworld, holding up the sky for Atlas, freeing Prometheus from his chains, and slaying many creatures like the hydra and Cerebus.
And just what was Cerberus? It was the three-headed hellhound, of course—a figure quite popular still today. A Cerberus-like figure was portrayed in one of the Harry Potter movies. This was no pet--Cerberus ate only living flesh, and had three heads and a dog’s body, claws of a lion and a mane made of vipers. The “dognapping” of Cerberus was Hercules’ final labor.
Jason was leader of the Argonauts and in pursuit of the Golden Fleece, which he had to bring home to reclaim the kingdom stolen from him by his uncle Pelias. The journey of the Argonauts is legendary and still studied today by literature students worldwide. The story is a tale of their great adventures along the way, including encountering the deadly singing Sirens that lead ships astray. The sorceress Medea helped Jason find the fleece and eventually became his wife.
Perseus was a son of Zeus and a great warrior. He is legendary for his feats of bravery, including slaying Medusa, a monster who could turn to stone anyone who looked her in the eye. Perseus used his shield to watch her reflection and kill her by cutting off her head. He kept the head in a satchel and later used it to kill the sea monster that was threatening his love the princess Andromeda. You guessed it—the sea monster turned into stone and crumbled into the ocean. Since then, the feats of Perseus have been captured in many movies like Clash of the Titans and others.
We all remember reading the epic poem “The Odyssey” in school. You’ll remember that Odysseus is the Ithican king who helped Greece win the Trojan War. The Odyssey is the tale of Odysseus’ ten year wanderings after that war. Along the way, he encountered many shipwrecks, and challenges from the Cyclops, the Sirens and the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. His journey actually took 20 years, and when he returned wome to Ithica, only his dog Argos recognized him. His wife Penelope had given up on his return, and instead was courting new suitors, but wanted someone worthy so she created a challenge: only the man who could string Odysseus's rigid bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe shafts could marry her.
One of the housekeepers discovers his identity while washing his feet, because she sees an old scar he earned in battle. Odysseus makes her keep his secret, is successful at the bow challenge, reveals himself once again to Penelope as her long lost husband, and once again returns to the throne.
The story of Theseus and the Minotaur is a classic man versus beast tale. The minotaur lived on the island of Crete and to keep it from coming to Athens, the people there sacrificed children for the beast to eat alive. Theseus found the monster’s lair and killed the beast. His famous dad Poiseidon, god of the sea, probably helped a bit too. Theseus was hailed as a hero and later become king of Athens.
Prometheus is famous for stealing fire from his fellow Titan Zeus. This is the Greek way of explaining how mankind had fire. Out of anger, Zeus condemned Prometheus by having him chained to a rock in the Caucausus Mountains, where an eagle visited him daily to eat his liver. Hercules eventually rescued Prometheus from his fate.
Orpheus was the musical genius and prodigal son of Greek gods Calliope and Apollo. His music was so beautiful that it charmed monsters and made rivers stand still. When his wife Eurydice died, Orpheus traveled to the underworld in search of her. He played music for the god of the underworld Hades. It must have turned Hades all gushy because Orpheus was allowed to revive her. Hades had one condition though. When they left the underworld, Orpheus was told to walk in front of his wife and not look back, but he was too tempted, looked at her, and his wife vanished.
Most of us have heard of the fire-breathing Chimera, but its slayer Bellerophon is lesser known. Bellerophon was the son of Poseidon and was known for capturing the winged horse Pegasus when it came to drink at the town fountain. Later he slayed the fire-breathing Chimera which was ravaging the land, and then became a successful soldier. Bellerophon’s victories went to his head, and he attempted to fly to Mount Olympus on the back of Pegasus. This angered Zeus, who sent a fly to bite Pegasus, who subsequently bucked and sent Bellerophon back to earth.