Greek mythology helped to explain the shape of the universe and its relationship to mankind for classical Greeks. Gods, heroes, monsters and men are portrayed in these myths representing honor, sacrifice, deception, tragedy and triumph. The complex nature of Greek figures to the universe seemed to mirror the tumult of Greek life itself.

Major Themes in Greek Literature

The broadness of Greek mythology still has an impact on modern Western Culture. Unlike Judeo-Christian lore that features a definite good toward God and evil in the other direction, Classical Greek literature featured clashing personalities, strength, frailty, mistakes, pride and triumph. The major themes of these tales are the uncommon strength and sacrifice of heroism, the nobleness of generosity, the trials of faith, the power of love -- both common and uncommon -- the hand of fate and the definitiveness of sacrifice.

Morality of The Gods

The Greek pantheon of gods, including the Titans that deposed their father Ouranos, and the children of the Titans, the Olympians that overthrew the Titans, are beings of passion and conflict. Quite often members of the same family quarrel, take from each other and reward mortals with blessings or curses. Ares, god of war and son of Zeus, took Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, as a lover despite her being married to Hephaestus, god of the forge. Hades, god of the underworld and brother to Zeus, tried to thwart his brothers in attempts to gain leadership of the Olympians. Zeus secretly sired Heracles, the strongest of all heroes, causing the contention between Zeus's wife Hera and Heracles to become the stuff of Greek legend.

Heroes and Mortals

The Classical Greek mythological world also included fantastic creatures, demons, demigods and monsters. Among these were mortals whose stories helped teach the ancient Greeks how to live a moral life. A hero is a mortal with the gifts of increased physical and mental strength and a sense of honor and virtue. Perhaps the greatest of the heroes is Heracles. Commonly referred to as Hercules, his Roman name, Heracles performed 12 feats to make himself worthy of the gods. The virtue taught to the Greeks through his story is the accomplishment of a good life through worthy deeds. As an example of how not to behave, the tale of Narcissus observed the curse of vanity. A handsome man, Narcissus was so vain, he fell in love with his own reflection in a stream only to drown in it.

Lies and Deception

The Greek gods in all their power used any means necessary to obtain what they wanted, even if it meant rivaling another god or destroying a mortal. For many gods, lies were necessary means to the end of protecting their power and realizing their desires. Many times in Greek myth Zeus transformed himself into an animal or took on the visage of another person to fool a woman into a carnal situation. His son Hermes was a god of messengers but was also a god of thieves, often using lies to get what he wanted.

Mortals and Truth

Mortals, on the other hand, were usually held to the truth that giving honor to the gods with obedience brought blessing, while defying the will of a god, even in the service of another god, brought peril. Athena showed patronage to Odysseus, appealing to Zeus to help the traveler back to his home in Ithaca. In another tale, however, Athena transforms Arachnae into a spider for boasting that her skills as a weaver were better than the goddess of wisdom’s skill.