Mythology vs Natural World
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Greek myths are all that’s left of the ancient Greek religion, in which beauty, poetry, and creative activities were a vital part of the tradition. Centuries ago, the Greeks created numerous stories and poems, which are still being shared today, that showed their view of the world that existed not only in the mind of the Greek poets, but in the hearts of the humble and long suffering natives of ancient Greece. From the stories of the Olympians, to heroes’ greatest adventures and from romantic stories to savage beasts, the Greeks used stories not only for entertainment but also for answers to nature’s mysteries. Mythology helped to explain aspects of the natural world to the ancient Greeks. Some of the greatest mysteries of nature that are explained in mythology are the origins of mankind, the four seasons, and how flowers got their colors and names.
One of the greatest mysteries for all cultures concerns how men were first created. In ancient Greek mythology, this aspect of the natural world is explained with several different stories. One story tells about how Epimetheus, a scatterbrained Titan, gave all the best gifts to the animals: strength, swiftness, courage, shrewdness cunningness, and fur, feathers, wings, and shells. Since there was nothing good left for men, Epimetheus was truly sorry so he asked his brother, Prometheus, to help him. Prometheus created men in a nobler shape than the animals and he even went to the heaven and stole the fire for men. Another story about mankind claims that the gods themselves created mankind–this story is known as the five ages of man. The first age, Golden Age, which consists of happy mortals who lived like gods, ends when Zeus overcame the Titans. The Silver Age came and the children could play for hundreds of years before growing up. However; since the people did not honor the gods, they were soon destroyed.
The Bronze Age came in third but men, made with ash trees, were all destroyed by the flood in the time of Deucalion and Pyrrha. Next came the Heroic Age, with men like those of Bronze Age but better. Since many of those in the Heroic Age died in the legendary Greek wars, Zeus placed a fifth, and last, race of men on earth during the present, Iron Age. Although both stories–Epimetheus and Prometheus and the five ages–are different, neither included any women. According to the ancient Greek mythology, Zeus created Pandora, the first lady of the women race, as a punishment to the men. There was a myth about Pandora in which the gods put something harmful in a box and, in curiosity, she opened the box and out flew numerous plagues, sorrow, and mischief. The only good thing that came out of the box was hope. Those three myths are three examples of how the ancient Greek used mythology to answer the nature’s most mysterious question–the origins of mankind.
Another aspect of the natural world that the Greeks used mythology to explain is season. Spring, summer, and winter are the three seasons in Greece. Its origins are told in several Greek myths, including the story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, Dionysus and his vines, and the Horae. The abduction of Persephone, Demeter the Goddess of the Harvest’s daughter, is a well known myth in which Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, the Ruler of the Underworld. Demeter can have her daughter with her for only two third of the year and when Persephone is in Hades for the one third of the year, the earth is wracked by the sorrow of Demeter. This myth explains how spring comes as Demeter blesses the earth by welcoming Persephone back into the world and how Demeter’s sorrow casts winter upon the people when Persephone is sent back into the Underworld. Another myth that is connected to the aspect of the seasons is the story of Dionysus and his vines.
As a baby, Dionysus was born of fire and nursed by rain, the hard burning heat that ripens the grapes and the water that keeps the plant alive. He, like Demeter, was afflicted not by the loss of loved ones, but because of his own pain–it was said that the Titans, or by Hera’s orders, tore his body apart. Dionysus always dies, however; he always becomes alive again. When he rose again, he brought back the ever spreading vines onto earth. According to the Greek mythology, the Horae was the goddesses of the seasons. The Horae consists of four Horai–Eiar was the goddess of spring, Theros of summer, Phtninoporon of autumn, and Kheimon of winter. They were daughters of the sun-god Helios. They guided their father’s path across the heavens and presided over the flowering and fruiting of the earth. The ancient Greeks used the myths of Demeter and Persephone, Dionysus and his vines, and the Horae to describe the aspects of the seasons.
Other than the creation of mankind and the division of four seasons, Greek mythology also explains the origins, colors, and names of the flowers. One of the ancient stories starts with a very handsome man, Narcissus, who was loved by many women, especially by a nymph named Echo. Narcissus never returned Echo’s love and she disappeared from woods and mountains, and faded away. Many other nymphs and youths had been mocked by Narcissus until one of them prayed to heaven. Nemesis, the Goddess of Retribution, heard the prayer and decided to punish Narcissus. Narcissus saw his reflection on the surface of a pond, fell in love with it, and stayed at the spot until he eventually died. From where he lies dead, a new and lovely flower bloomed and his name was given to it. There is another myth that explains the origin of the deep purple hyacinth. A young lad, Hyacinthus, was accidentally killed by a fatal hit in the head by a discus thrown by Apollo. From the pool of his blood, a deep purple flower blooms and was named after the poor lad.
Another story that is connected to flowers is the story of two lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe. The two lovers reside in Babylon, but their parents hate each other and forbid their marriage. Talking through a crack in the wall of the building their families share, they eventually decide to elope, agreeing to meet outside the city walls at a well-known mulberry tree. Thisbe gets there first but flees when she sees a lioness, intending to come back later. But she drops her cloak, and Pyramus, finding it bloody and torn by the lion, thinks she has been killed by the lion. Pyramus kills himself, covering the white berries of the mulberry tree with blood. Returning to find him dead, Thisbe then kills herself with his sword. The berries of the mulberry tree have forever stayed red to commemorate the tragic end of their love story. The ancient myths of Narcissus, Hyacinthus, and Pyramus and Thisbe describe the aspect of flowers.
Mythology helps to explain aspects of the natural world, such as the creation of humankind, the division of seasons, and the origins of flowers, to the ancient Greeks. The myths of Epimetheus and Prometheus, the Five Ages of Man, and Pandora tell the people how mankind first was created, the stories of Demeter and Persephone, Dionysus and his vines, and the Horae explain the division of seasons, and the fables of Narcissus, Hyacinthus, and Pyramus and Thisbe tell the origins of some of the flowers. Those myths do not just show what the ancient world was like and how the Greeks’ minds work, but also help explain the answers to the nature’s mysteries.