The word myth comes from the Greek word mythos, meaning story or word. Myths usually depict several general conceptual ideas involving creation, nature and social values, according to professor Mary Magoulick of Georgia College and State University. Mythology allows modern man the chance to examine how our ancestors viewed the world.
The oldest continuous human myth is the one the Aboriginal tribes of Australia believed that summoning the Rainbow Serpent would bring rain, according to anthropologist Virgina Luling in her book "Aborigines." Summoning ceremonies involved playing songs on a didgeridoo while tribesmen danced.
Greek gods inspired three of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Colossus of Rhodes depicted the Greek sun god Helios shielding his eyes as he looked out over the Greek islands. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus both stood to honor the gods, and to provide followers a place to worship.
While historians can only speculate about whether Homer's Trojan War actually occurred, evidence does indicate that a major battle was fought at a city that probably was Troy, according to professor Richard Hooker of Washington State University. Victory in this battle provided ancient Greeks a sense of cultural identity that had not existed before, and subsequent generations used the victory to promote Greek pride.
The "Iliad" and "The Odyssey" tell only part of the story of the Trojan War. Classicist believe that 10 poems originally existed, but that the other eight have been lost to history, according to professor Hooker.
While the Greek gods heavily influenced Roman religious practices, the Romans gods did not share the personality traits of their Greek counterparts. The Romans viewed their gods as serving a specific purpose, and did not view them as mischievous tricksters, according the Encyclopedia Mythica.
The supreme god of the Roman religion, Jupiter, was identical to the Greek god Zeus. Jupiter's temple in the Roman capital was the most sacred Roman sanctuary, and the center of all political events, according to the Encyclopedia Mythica.
Viewed as malevolent creatures in Western myths such as the Garden of Eden and Medusa, other cultures viewed snakes as representing the circle of life, according to an article from Suny College. The coiling snake represented the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and was though to connect the earth to the underworld.
Scholars from the University of Michigan Medieval Literature and Material Culture Center argue that the classic mythological poem "Beowulf" was an allegory warning against the warrior culture of its age. The Michigan scholars point to Beowulf's swords repeatedly failing him when attempting to slay his enemies as an argument against violence solving anything intended by the poem's author.
Because of Zeus' wandering eye, and the offspring of Poseidon, Hades, god of the underworld, is uncle to half of all gods in Greek mythology.
The Norse god Balder, son of the chief god Odin, could not be harmed by most objects, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Stories tell of the other gods amusing themselves by throwing things at Balder knowing they could not harm him, until the evil Loki tricked the blind god Hod into killing Balder by throwing the one thing could harm him, mistletoe.
- "Aborigines"; Virginia Luling; 1979
- Fairfield University: The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
- Suny College: Principle Greek and Roman Gods
- Encyclopedia Mythica: Jupiter
Timothy Lemke has worked as a freelance writer since 2009 and has been published with such websites as Ask The College Guy. Lemke graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and possesses a Bachelor of Arts in European history.