For children, a fascinating aspect of ancient Greece is the mythology. These stories of Greek heroes, gods and goddesses have stood up through the ages and are usually taught in school. The most important elements to remember are the creation myth and the names and deeds of the most powerful gods.
Ancient Greeks believed the world began in chaos and darkness. Out of the darkness, a bird, Nyx, laid an egg that hatched Eros, or love. The top of the shell became the sky, Uranus, and the bottom half became the earth, Gaia. Uranus and Gaia gave birth to many children, including 12 Titans.
The youngest Titan, Kronus, overthrew his father's rule and became leader of the Titans. In an effort to stay in power, Kronus swallowed any children he produced with his sister/wife Rhea. With Rhea's help, a son, Zeus, escaped this fate and tricked his father into regurgitating the swallowed brothers and sisters. Together they fought against Kronus to gain control of the earth. Their victory ended the age of Titans and ushered in the age of Olympian gods.
Prometheus and Pandora
Zeus' sons Prometheus and Epimetheus populated the earth with animals and men. Prometheus gave men fire as a gift, which angered Zeus, as fire was meant only for the gods. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to a mountain where a vulture pecked away at his liver each day for all eternity. To punish men, Zeus presented the first woman, Pandora, with the gift of a box she was never to open. Curiosity got the better of her and she opened the box, releasing evils, such as hate, jealousy and deceit, into the world. Hope was also released, which gave mankind hope to overcome the evils. The term "Pandora's Box" still describes a situation where a person says or does something to unleash a new set of problems.
The 12 Gods
A family of 12 Greek gods lived on Mount Olympus. Zeus was the supreme ruler, as well as the god of the sky and rain. Zeus' wife Hera was the goddess of marriage. Zeus' brothers Hades and Poseidon were the gods of the Underworld and sea, respectively. Zeus' sister Hestia was the goddess of home and hearth. Zeus' son Ares was the god of war and his daughter, Athena, was the goddess of cities and agriculture. Zeus' other children each had a role on earth. Apollo was the god of music. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty. Artemis was the goddess of hunting, Hermes, the messenger god and Hephaestus was the god of forge and fire.
Greek myth says that after death, humans go to the Underworld, the kingdom of the dead ruled by Hades. Souls were ferried there across the River Styx, and each body had coins placed on its lips as payment for the trip. Without money for the fare, souls stayed trapped in the rivers between life and afterlife. Once in the Underworld, each person was judged by his works in his life. The bad remained in various levels of the Underworld while the virtuous and heroic spent eternity in the Elysian Fields.