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Apollo's Oracle at Delphi
The ancient Greeks believed that it was not wise to anger the gods. They built temples
all over ancient Greece. Each temple, no matter how elaborate, honored only one god.
The major gods had more than one temple built in their honor.
Nearly everyone was fond of Apollo. He was the god of music, reason, and light.
Apollo's chariot brought up the sun each day.
Apollo had other powers. One was a very special skill - Apollo could see the future.
He had the gift of prophecy. Many people in ancient Greece brought gifts to Apollo,
and asked for advice in exchange. Apollo liked the attention. And the gifts. It was all
very nice, but it was also exhausting.
As the story goes ....
One day, Apollo decided that what he needed was an oracle, a wise woman to speak
for him. In ancient Greece, an oracle was a person who could predict and interpret the
future. That way, he could keep the gifts, but not be bothered with questions.
Apollo used some of his special magic and established his oracle in a temple at
There were many oracles, or fortune tellers, in ancient Greece. Apollo wanted his to
be the best. He wanted his to be the most famous.
Apollo knew that the predictions made by other oracles were rather vague. A normal
oracle might answer, "Yes, the frost will be gone, and spring will come, if the gods
decree it." Such an answer was not much help if your question was, "Should I plant
my garden tomorrow?"
Apollo made sure his oracle would not be vague, and that all her answers had to be
truthful. It was a good plan. It might have worked, too, only sometimes people
misunderstood what she was telling them. And that caused quite a bit of trouble.
For example, a weary king traveled past many oracles to reach Apollo's oracle in
Delphi. He knew she could only tell the truth. When he finally arrived, he asked
Apollo's oracle, "Who will win the battle tomorrow?"
The oracle smiled at him, and gently answered, "A great king."
The king was very happy to hear this. He left many gifts for the oracle, and went
quickly away to ready his men for battle, quite pleased that he had come.
What he had overlooked in his haste is that more than one king would lead his men to
battle in the morning. An oracle's smile meant nothing. That was the trouble with
oracles, even the best of them.
The Charming Myth of Eros & Psyche
Once upon a time, a long time ago,
there lived three princesses. Psyche,
the youngest, was very kind. She was
also very beautiful. She was so
beautiful, in fact, that the powerful
goddess of love, Aphrodite, became
jealous of Psyche.
In fear of what the great goddess
might do to them if they paid
attention to Psyche, all the young
men in the kingdom avoided Psyche
whenever possible, and none offered
to marry her. Her two sisters married
finally. But Psyche stayed at home
with her father.
Psyche could not remain at home
forever. In those days, girls had to
marry someone. Her father consulted
Apollo's oracle at Delphi for
guidance. You know oracles! Who
knows what the oracle actually said.
What the king heard was that his
beloved daughter should prepare for
her death. Sadly, the king took
Psyche to the edge of a cliff and left
her there.
In despair, Psyche might have leaped
to her death. Before she could, she
felt herself lifted into the air.
Zephyrus, the gentle west wind, had
taken pity on the girl, and gently
carried her to a faraway palace. It was
the home of his good friend, Eros, the
lonely god of Love.
Eros was a handsome young man, but
he had a pair of very big wings. He
did not wish to scare Psyche. He
made himself invisible and warned
Psyche if she valued his love, not to
try to catch a glimpse of him.
Psyche was treated with great
gentleness and good company and
much laughter and soon fell in love
with her invisible host. For some
time, they were blissfully happy. But
Psyche longed to see her family. Eros
finally agreed to allow her to invite
her two sisters to his palace.
Filled with envy at the sight of the
palace and the riches it contained, her
two sisters maliciously convinced
Psyche that she was being fooled, that
her husband was a fearsome monster,
and that she had to escape!
"But he's so kind, so gentle," she
argued. "He cannot be a monster. I
would know!"
"He's fooling you, Psyche. Trust us."
They returned home, dissatisfied with
their own lives, and jealous of
Psyche cried and cried, but one night,
she took a lamp in one hand and a
dagger in the other, and crept into her
host's bedroom. Instead of the
monster she expected to find, she saw
Eros, a handsome young man, with
two white wings. She was not
frightened at all.
A drop of oil from the lamp she held
fell on the sleeping god. He woke
instantly. He saw his Psyche, leaning
over him with a dagger in her hand.
With great sorrow, he spread his
wings and flew away.
Psyche crumbled to the floor. How foolish she had been to
listen to her sisters. She ran outside, to the river. She threw
herself into the water. She expected to drown. But Pan, the
god of shepherds, pulled her safely from the water.
"Aphrodite is the goddess of love. Ask for her help," Pan
advised her.
Psyche prayed to Aphrodite for help. Aphrodite was still
jealous. She pretended to help her, because she was, after
all, the goddess of love, but gave Psyche tasks to prove her
love for Eros that no mortal could possibly accomplish. Yet,
Psyche accomplished task after task. Although she did not
know it, Psyche was helped by invisible beings, sent by
Eros, who loved her still, and watched over her.
At last, Aphrodite told Psyche her final task was to retrieve
a box from the underworld, a very special box filled with
magical beauty supplies. With these, she could make herself
so beautiful that Eros would fall hopelessly in love with her.
You'd think Psyche would be excited - her last task! - but
Psyche knew she had to die to enter the land of shades. It
was hopeless.
Suddenly, she heard a voice speaking softly in her ear. It
warned her of dangers ahead and what she had to do to
retrieve the box without dying.
The voice was very clear. Here is what she had to do:
1. Have a coin ready for the toll to the underworld
2. Bring three pieces of sweetbread to give to Cerberus, the
three headed dog
3. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING, not even a seed
4. Once you find it, bring the box to Aphrodite without
looking inside.
Psyche did everything she was told. She arrived back in the
land of light safely. Waiting for Aphrodite to show up, she
became nervous. What if it was the wrong box? Psyche
opened the box just a crack to peek inside. A foul smelling
cloud poured out. Psyche dropped to the ground as if dead.
To save her life, Eros returned to his visible form, and
prodded her with the point of a golden arrow. She awoke
"Psyche, what am I going to do with you? Will you never
"I have learned," Psyche said softly. "I've learned that I love
Eros gathered her into his arms and flew them back to his
It took a while, but Eros finally convinced his mother,
Aphrodite, to accept Psyche as his wife. With Aphrodite's
help, he convinced the great Zeus to admit Psyche to the
ranks of the immortal gods.
In celebration, Psyche and Eros threw a party at the palace.
Apollo played his lyre. Dionysus brought the wine. And all
the gods rejoiced. As for Eros and Psyche, they lived
happily ever after.
Zeus, the king of all the gods, had three sisters.
Hera was both his wife and his sister. Hera was the goddess of marriage and the queen
of all the gods.
Hestia, another of his sisters, was a much loved goddess by the woman of Greece Hestia was the goddess of home and hearth.
His third sister, Demeter, was in charge of the harvest. All the gods jobs were
important. But Demeter's job was very important. If she was upset, the crops could
die. Everyone, gods and mortals alike, worked hard to keep Demeter happy. What
made her happy was enjoying the company of her daughter, Persephone.
As the story goes ....
Persephone had grown into a beautiful young woman, with a smile for everyone. One
day, while picking flowers in the fields, Hades, her uncle, the god of the underworld,
noticed her.
Hades was normally a gloomy fellow. But Persephone’s beauty had dazzled him. He
fell in love instantly. Quickly, before anyone could interfere, he kidnapped
Persephone and hurled his chariot down into the darkest depths of the underworld,
taking Persephone with him.
Locked in a room in the Hall of Hades, Persephone cried and cried. She refused to
speak to Hades. And she refused to eat. Legend said if you ate anything in Hades, you
could never leave. She did not know if the legend was true, but she did not want to
risk it in case someone came to rescue her.
Nearly a week went by. Finally, unable to bear her hunger, Persephone ate six
pomegranate seeds. It seemed her fate was sealed. She would have to live in the
Underworld forever.
Meanwhile, back on earth, Demeter was miserable. She missed her daughter. She was
not able to care for the crops. She was not able to do anything much except cry.
Zeus, king of all the gods, was worried about the crops. The people would die if the
crops failed. If that happened, who would worship Zeus? He had to do something.
Zeus did what he often did. He sent Hermes, his youngest son, the messenger, to crack
a deal, this time with Hades.
Even as a baby, Hermes was great at making deals. Everyone knew that. But this deal
might be the challenge of his life. His uncle Hades, king of the underworld, was really
in love. This was no passing fancy.
When Hermes heard that Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds, he had to think
quickly. The deal he made with Hades was that if Persephone would marry Hades, she
would live as queen of the underworld for six months out of the year. However, each
spring, Persephone would return and live on earth for the other six months of the year.
Hades agreed. Zeus agreed. Persephone agreed. And finally, Demeter agreed.
Each spring, Demeter makes sure all the flowers bloom in welcome when her
daughter, Queen of the Underworld, returns to her. Each fall, when Persephone
returns to Hades, Demeter cries, and lets all the crops die until spring, when the cycle
starts again.
The River Styx
The ancient Greeks believed that people had a soul. Like the ancient Egyptians, they
did believe in life after death. Unlike the ancient Egyptians, they did not spend very
much time at all preparing for their life in the afterworld.
Here’s why:
The Greeks held elaborate funerals to help the soul of the departed find his or her way
to the afterworld. The underworld was sometimes called Hades in honor of the god of
the underworld – Hades.
But it was not Hades who helped you reach the afterworld. They believed that the god
Hermes - the messenger - acted rather like a host. Hermes led the soul to the shores of
the mythical River Styx.
The River Styx supposedly separated the world of the living from the world of the
dead. The deal was you had to cross the River Styx to reach life after death. The
Greeks, true to form, created many a story about the perils of crossing the River Styx.
(The Greeks did so love a good story!)
The ancient Greeks did not expect souls to swim across. Instead, they believed a
ferryman named Charon would give you a ride on his boat.
The ferry to the Underworld was not free. The ferry ride cost one Greek coin. The
dead person’s family usually placed a coin on the corpse so that he or she would be
able to pay for the trip. Sometimes they hid the coin under his tongue so that no one
would steal it.
Once souls arrived on the other side of the River Styx, they joined other souls, who
were waiting around until they were reborn into a new body.
While waiting for their turn to be reborn, a soul depended on his or her living family
to take care of them by offering food and wine at special times of the year. Families
were glad to do this. They wanted to make sure the deceased was comfortable during
the wait to be reborn, just as they counted on their family someday to make them just
as comfortable.
And that's all there was to it. Unless they were punished by one of the gods to spend
eternity in the afterworld, no one in ancient Greece expected to hang around very
long, only long enough to be reborn. So there was no sense in packing anything
except a coin to pay for the ferry ride across the River Styx.
Theseus and the Minotaur
As the story goes ...
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a king named Minos. King Minos lived
on a lovely island called Crete. King Minos had a powerful navy, a beautiful daughter,
and a really big palace. Still, now and then, King Minos grew bored. Whenever King
Minos was bored, he took his navy and attacked Athens, a town on the other side of
the sea.
In desperation, the king of Athens offered King Minos a deal. If Minos would leave
Athens alone, Athens would send seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls to
Crete every nine years to be eaten by the Minotaur.
The Minotaur was a horrible monster that lived in the center of a huge maze on the
island of Crete. King Minos loved that old monster. He did like to give his monster a
treat now and then. He knew his people would prefer he fed his monster Athenian
children rather than ... well, after thinking it over, King Minos took the deal.
Nine years passed swiftly. It was just about time for Athens to send seven boys and
seven girls to Crete to be eaten by the Minotaur. Everyone in Athens was crying
Prince Theseus of Athens knew the importance of keeping your word. He knew that a
deal was a deal. But, he was also quite sure that it was wrong to send small children to
be eaten by a monster just to avoid a battle with King Minos. Prince Theseus told his
father (the king) that he was going to Crete as the seventh son of Athens. He was
going to kill the Minotaur and end the terror.
"The Minotaur is a terrible monster! What makes you think you can kill it?" cried his
"I'll find a way," Theseus replied gently. "The gods will help me."
His father begged him not to go. But the prince took his place as the seventh Athenian
boy. Along with six other Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls, Prince Theseus
sailed towards Crete.
When the prince and the children arrived on the island of Crete, King Minos and his
daughter, the Princess Ariadne, came out to greet them. The king told the children that
they would not be eaten until the next day and to enjoy themselves in the palace in the
meantime. The Princess Ariadne did not say anything. But her eyes narrowed
thoughtfully. Late that night, she wrote Prince Theseus a note and slipped it under his
bedroom door.
Dear Theseus (Ariadne wrote)
I am a beautiful princess as you probably noticed the minute you saw me. I am also
a very bored princess. Without my help, the Minotaur will surely gobble you up. I
know a trick or two that will save your life. If I help you kill the monster, you must
promise to take me away from this tiny island so that others can admire my beauty.
If interested in this deal, meet me by the gate to the Labyrinth in one hour.
Yours very truly,
Princess Ariadne
Prince Theseus slipped out of the palace and waited patiently by the gate. Princess
Ariadne finally showed up. In her hands, she carried a sword and a ball of string.
Ariadne gave the sword and the ball of string to Prince Theseus. "Hide these inside
the entrance to the maze. Tomorrow, when you and the other children from Athens
enter the Labyrinth, wait until the gate is closed, then tie the string to the door. Unroll
it as you move through the maze. That way, you can find your way back again. The
sword, well, you know what to do with the sword," she laughed.
Theseus thanked the princess for her kindness.
"Don't forget, now," she cautioned Theseus. "You must take me with you so that all
the people can marvel at my beauty."
The next morning, the Athenian children, including Prince Theseus, were shoved into
the maze. The door was locked firmly behind them. Following Ariadne's directions,
Theseus tied one end of the string to the door. He told the children to stay by the door.
Their job was to make sure the string stayed tied so that Theseus could find his way
back. Theseus entered the maze alone.
He found his way to the center of the maze. Using the sword Ariadne had given him,
Theseus killed the monstrous beast. He followed the string back and knocked on the
Princess Ariadne was waiting. She opened the door. Without anyone noticing, Prince
Theseus and the children of Athens ran to their ship and sailed quietly away. Princess
Ariadne sailed away with them.
On the way home, they stopped for supplies on the tiny island of Naxos. Princess
Ariadne insisted on coming ashore. There was nothing much to do on the island.
Soon, she fell asleep. All the people gathered to admire the sleeping princess. She was
a lovely sight indeed. Theseus sailed quietly away with the children of Athens and left
her there, sleeping.
After all, a deal is a deal.
Hercules was half man and half god. His mother was a mortal. But his father was a
king - a very special king, the king of all the gods, the mighty Zeus. But Hercules did
not know he was part god until he had grown into a man.
Right from the beginning, Hera, Zeus' wife, was very jealous of Hercules. She tried all
kinds of ways to kill him, including sending a couple of big snakes into his crib.
Hercules crushed those snakes in a flash! Hercules was incredibly strong, even as a
Zeus loved his little son. He figured that sooner or later Hera might actually find a
way to kill little Hercules. To keep his small son safe from attack, Zeus sent him to
live with a mortal family on earth. Hercules grew up loved and noble. But he didn't fit
in on earth. He was too big and too strong. One day, his earth father told him he was a
god, well, part god anyway.
The rest of the story of Hercules is a bunch of little stories that together tell the tale of
how Hercules earned his way into the heavens, to take his place with the gods.
As the story goes .....
Hercules had a cousin named Eurystheus (Eury for short). Eury was the king of a little
village in the city-state of Argos. Eury was an evil man. He thought everyone wanted
to steal his crown, especially Hercules. One day, when Hera and Eury were chatting
about their mutual hatred for Hercules, Hera came up with a plan - a plan to kill
Hercules! She was sure this one would work.
Hera helped Eury design 12 Labors (missions or tasks) that Hercules had to complete.
Supposedly, when Hercules had completed the 12 Labors, he would earn his
immortality, or so Hera promised.
Hercules was no fool. He asked the Oracle at Delphi who agreed. Actually, the oracle
had said, "If you complete 12 Labors, immorality will be yours." Being an oracle, she
never explained what she meant by "immortality" - would he live forever in legend or
for real? Hercules never asked. (She would not have told him anyway.)
Hercules not only lived, he had great adventures, discovered true friends, and rid the
world of some really nasty critters. And that's the story of Hercules in a nutshell.