Greek mythology is the body of myths and teachings that belong to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. It was a part of the religion in ancient Greece. Modern scholars refer to and study the myths in an attempt to shed light on the religious and political institutions of Ancient Greece and its civilization, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.
Greek mythology is explicitly embodied in a large collection of narratives, and implicitly in Greek representational arts, such as vase-paintings and votive gifts. Greek myth attempts to explain the origins of the world, and details the lives and adventures of a wide variety of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines and mythological creatures. These accounts initially were disseminated in an oral-poetic tradition; today the Greek myths are known primarily from Greek literature. The oldest known Greek literary sources, Homer's epic poems Iliad and Odyssey, focus on the Trojan War and its aftermath. Two poems by Homer's near contemporary Hesiod, the Theogony and the Works and Days, contain accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of divine rulers, the succession of human ages, the origin of human woes, and the origin of sacrificial practices. Myths are also preserved in the Homeric Hymns, in fragments of epic poems of the Epic Cycle, in lyric poems, in the works of the tragedians and comedians of the fifth century BC, in writings of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic Age, and in texts from the time of the Roman Empire by writers such as Plutarch and Pausanias.
Archaeological findings provide a principal source of detail about Greek mythology, with gods and heroes featured prominently in the decoration of many artefacts. Geometric designs on pottery of the eighth century BC depict scenes from the Trojan cycle as well as the adventures of Heracles. In the succeeding Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods, Homeric and various other mythological scenes appear, supplementing the existing literary evidence. Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the culture, arts, and literature of Western civilization and remains part of Western heritage and language. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in the themes.
Ancient Greek religion
Ancient Greek religion encompasses the collection of beliefs, rituals, and mythology originating in ancient Greece in the form of both popular public religion and cult practices. These different groups varied enough for it to be possible to speak of Greek religions or "cults" in the plural, though most of them shared similarities.
Many of the ancient Greek people recognized the major (Olympian) gods and goddesses (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Athena, Hermes, Demeter, Hestia, and Hera), although philosophies such as Stoicism and some forms of Platonism used language that seems to posit a transcendent single deity. Different cities often worshiped the same deities, sometimes with epithets that distinguished them and specified their local nature.
The religious practices of the Greeks extended beyond mainland Greece, to the islands and coasts of Ionia in Asia Minor, to Magna Graecia (Sicily and southern Italy), and to scattered Greek colonies in the Western Mediterranean, such as Massalia (Marseille). Greek religion was tempered by Etruscan cult and belief to form much of the later ancient Roman religion.
The Twelve Olympians
The Twelve Olympians, also known as the Dodekatheon (Greek: Δωδεκάθεον from δώδεκα, dōdeka, "twelve" and θεοί, theoi, "gods"), were the principal deities of the Greek pantheon, said to reside atop Mount Olympus. The Olympians gained their supremacy in a war of gods in which Zeus led his siblings to victory over the Titans.
The concept of the "Twelve Gods" is older than any extant Greek or Roman sources. The gods meet in council in the Homeric epics, but the first ancient reference to religious ceremonies for the Olympians collectively is found in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. The Greek cult of the Twelve Olympians can be traced to 6th-century BC Athens and probably has no precedent in the Mycenaean period. The Altar of the Twelve Gods at Athens is usually dated to the archonship of the younger Pesistratos, in 522/521 BC.
In ancient Greek religion, the "Olympian Gods" and the "Cults of Twelve Gods" were often relatively distinct concepts.