How Well Do You Really Know Greek Mythology?

Marie Hullett

While all the Greek gods possessed otherworldly strengths, one was more powerful than the rest. Who served as the king of the ancient Greek gods?

Zeus, the god of lightning, thunder, the sky and justice, ruled over the Greeks from his throne on Mount Olympus. He could famously throw lightning bolts, which his winged horse Pegasus carried on his back and an eagle would retrieve. In an instant, he could shape-shift into any creature or invoke a momentous storm.

Apollo is the Greek god of healing, music, light and enlightenment. Do you know which tree he deemed sacred?

As the story goes, prominent god Apollo chased after the female nymph Daphne, the object of his desire due to a curse placed on him by Cupid. She detested his advances and prayed for help to the river gods, who changed her into a laurel tree. Afterward, Apollo continued to revere laurel trees.

According to historical accounts, the ancient Greeks were the first to play the pan flute, also known as the panpipes. Do you know which deity is most commonly credited with its invention?

While some credit the wind instrument's invention to Hermes or Cybele, most mythologists associate the pastoral god Pan most closely with its creation. In written accounts, Pan fell in love with the nymph Syrinx. Uninterested in him, Syrinx pleaded with Zeus for help, so he disguised her as reeds. Vengeful, Pan tore up the reeds before a surge of remorse caused him to weep and kiss them. As he cried, he realized his breath could create sound in the reeds, thus creating the instrument.

According to Hesiod's accounts, which four primary beings initially came into existence?

According to Greek myth, the Void or Gap characterized the beginning of the world: a dark, looming space. Eventually, three other entities emerged from the abyss: Gaea, Tartaros and Eros. From these four entities, everything else in existence sprung forth.

In Greek mythology, most gods and goddesses possessed a birth mother. One goddess in particular, however, did not—she instead sprang full-grown from Zeus' forehead. Who is she?

According to Greek mythology, someone correctly prophesied that any child born to Metis, Athena's mother, would be more powerful than the father. Sure enough, Athena burst forth from Zeus' head fully grown, already dressed for war.

Hera was the Olympic queen of the gods and the goddess of women, the sky, marriage and the heavenly stars. Which three animals often accompany her in ancient depictions?

Hera is often depicted crowned, holding a lotus-adorned scepter and accompanied by a cuckoo, lion or hawk. The cuckoo is likely a part of her symbolism because Zeus disguised himself as one such bird in an attempt to charm her.

Also sometimes called the Minyans, do you know who the Argonauts were?

The Argonauts serve as heroes in a rich and complex tale. In the years prior to the Trojan War, around 1300 B.C., the Argonauts traveled with their leader, Jason, to Colchis, which is located off the coast of the Black Sea (present-day Western Georgia). They hoped to find the Golden Fleece: the wool of a golden-fleeced, winged ram.

The gods often interacted with mere mortals, which led to some interesting scenarios. For instance, do you know how the old Phyrgian woman Baucis and her husband, Philemon, were saved from a flood?

According to Ovid, Baucis and Philemon welcomed the gods Zeus and Hermes, who were disguised as peasants, into their homes when no one else in town did. For their display of hospitality, Zeus and Hermes rewarded them by transforming their simple cottage into an ornate temple on a hill; he also punished the rest of the village with a devastating flood.

Mount Olympus housed the most powerful council in the land. Do you know how many gods lived on Mount Olympus?

Also called the Twelve Olympians, the most prominently featured gods in the Greek pantheon typically include Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus and Hermes. Hestia was the original 12th Olympian, until she grew tired of the gods' fighting and gave up her seat to Dionysus.

According to the classical tale, which fate did Niobe, the wife of King Amphion of Thebes, daughter of Tantalus, face?

In Homer's "Iliad," Niobe boasts about her 12 children to the wrong person: the Titan Leto, who only birthed two children, the gods Apollo and Artemis. As punishment for bragging, Apollo promptly murdered all her sons, and Artemis killed all her daughters.

Although the bulk of ancient Grecian tales explore the lives of the 12 Olympian gods, there are many more minor ones to remember. For instance, can you name the Greek goddess of the rainbow?

The goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the Olympian gods, the marine god Thaumas and the cloud nymph Elektra birthed her. The Greeks often observed the arc of her magnificent rainbow jutting between the clouds and sea.

Do you know what led Icarus, son of Daedalus, to his untimely doom?

According to Greek myth, Icarus' father, Daedalus, created wings from feathers, wax and a wooden frame. He gave a pair of these wings to his son, but warned him not to fly too close to the sun, otherwise, the wax would melt. In a fit of excitement about his newfound ability to fly, though, Icarus did not heed his father's warnings.

There's a famous painting by Francisco Goya, "Saturn Devouring his Son," which depicts Greek mythological figure Titan Cronus eating one of his kin. As the story goes, he consumes five of his children in total. Why?

Cronus castrated and overthrew his own father, Uranus, in order to rule during the mythological Golden Age. When he learned that he faced a similar fate, he devoured his children Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon as soon as they were born. However, the mother, Rhea, joined forces with Gaia, Cronus' mother, to save the sixth child, Zeus, who ultimately overthrew him.

You might already know that the Laconian hunter Narcissus revered his own beauty. What ever happened to him, though?

According to Ovid, the clairvoyant Tiresias told Narcissus's mother that her son would enjoy a long life—so as long as he never discovered his own image. When he scorned the nymph Echo, though, she invoked godly vengeance upon him. Nemesis compelled him to see his own image, which he adored. Realizing his love could never be reciprocated, he melted from his own burning passion, eventually transforming into a gold and white flower.

Do you know who designed King Minos of Crete's labyrinth?

The skillful craftsman Daedalus created the intricate, confounding Labyrinth. King Minos tasked him to build it to hold the Minotaur, a terrifying monster eventually killed by the hero Theseus. It was apparently so complex that Daedalus could scarcely find his way out.

Also sometimes called the Atlantides, who were the Hesperides?

Also sometimes called the "Daughters of the Evening" or "Nymphs of the West," the Hesperides guarded the golden apples in their garden and sang beautifully. In one account, they transform into trees, possessing "white arms and golden heads."

Which of these refers to the battles that broke out between the Titans and their children, the Olympians?

Also called the Battle of the Titans, the 10-year war took place in Thessaly as a way to determine who would reign on Mount Olympus. The Olympians ultimately won and assumed power.

According to some ancient Grecian tales, the goddess Hera restored her virginity each year. How did she do this?

As the story goes, Hera bathed in Kanathos, a spring nestled in Nauplia, each year to renew her virginity. The Greek traveler Pausanias said that each time she bathed there she became "a maiden" once more.

Which of these names describes both the god of the Underworld and the home of the dead in Greek myth?

Hades refers to the god of the Underworld, but it also eventually became a name to refer to the home of the death in Greek mythology. The eldest male child of Kronos and Rhea, he's the brother of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hestia and Demeter.

Which of these mythical Greek kings killed his father and married his mother, thereby wreaking havoc on his city and family?

After King Laius and Queen Jocasta birthed Oedipus, the oracle of Delphi warned them that he would end up murdering his father and marrying his mother. To prevent the prophecy's fruition, Laius sent him to die, but a shepherd, taking pity, helped connect him to an adoptive family. Eventually, the prophecy came true, in part because Oedipus didn't realize they were his parents.

One of these gods cruelly kidnapped Persephone, the goddess of vegetation. Who was it?

Hades, god of the Underworld, fell deeply in love with Persephone and decided to abduct her. While versions of this tale vary, in one iteration, he enlists Zeus' help and together they cause the earth to split and her to fall to the Underworld, much to her dismay.

According to Homer's "Iliad," which of these men was the greatest of all Greek warriors and a key hero in the Trojan War?

Most notably, Achilles defeated the formidable Trojan prince Hector outside the gates of Troy. The term "Achilles heel" we use today comes from his sole weakness: his heel. As a child, his mother dipped him in a magical strength-inducing river but missed this one small part.

What do you call the water nymphs that reputedly drown those with whom they fell in love?

The naiads rule over bodies of fresh water like fountains, springs, streams and brooks. While they sing sweetly and look lovely, sailors would be wise to look the other way. In one instance, they drowned Heracles' friend Hylas during his journey with the Argo crew.

The Hecatoncheires were a type of loathsome monster in Greek mythology. Do you know what kind?

The Hecatoncheires refer to three huge monsters of enormous strength named Cottus, Aegaeon (or Briareus) and Gyges. The offspring of Uranus and Gaia, Gaia was revolted by them and banished them to the Underworld. Consequently, they eventually helped the Olympians overthrow the Titans.

Zeus posed as several different animals in his time so as to deceive goddesses and women. What form did he take when he captured Leda?

Zeus assumed the form of a beautiful swan in an attempt to seduce the mortal woman Leda. As a result, Leda birthed Helen (yes, Helen of Troy) and Polydeuces. While there are many versions of this tale, in some of them, she laid two eggs from which they hatched.

Zeus wasn't the only god who could assume the form of a creature. What shape did Poseidon take in order to give life to Pegasus?

In many accounts of the birth of Pegasus, Poseidon, god of the sea and horses, assumes the form of a stallion to seduce the winged monster Medusa. When Medusa birthed Pegasus, thunder clapped loudly and lightning filled the sky.

Do you know the name of the Amazonian queen who wore a magical girdle?

According to the Classics, Ares, god of war, gave his daughter Hipployta the supernatural girdle. One of Heracles' epic "Twelve Labors," which Eurystheus imposed upon him, was to steal the girdle. He ended up killing her, thereby spurring a battle between the Amazons and Athens.

In the "Works and Days," Hesiod describes the Four Ages of Man: Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron. Do you know who ruled the Golden Age?

Cronos, the leader of the first generation of the Titans, ruled the Golden Age after overthrowing his father. Hesiod describes this age as one of immense peace, stability and good fortune. One didn't need to work, yet everyone remained nourished and well in this era of abundance. They lived to old age maintaining a beautiful, youthful appearance, and then died peacefully. Sounds ideal, right?

Heracles had to jump through a lot of hoops to please Eurystheus in his "Twelve Labors" mission. Which one of these tasks did Eurystheus NOT order him to complete?

The son of Zeus and Alcmene, Heracles' birth came with a bit of a curse. Zeus swore the next son he bore would become Greece's ruler, but Zeus' wife, Hera, played a trick that caused the ill Eurystheus to come into the world first. As a result, Heracles had to serve King Eurystheus' every whim.

Although Apollo loved this young, beautiful man, he accidentally killed him. Who is he?

According to Greek legend, Hyacinthus' immense beauty attracted Apollo, who attempted to charm him. While teaching him to throw the discus, however, he accidentally knocked him dead. Some versions of the tale state that Zephyrus, the god of the West Wind, became jealous and redirected the discus to strike and kill Hyacinthus.

Maybe you've seen Ridley Scott's movie "Prometheus," in which scientists encounter godlike alien beings. Do you know who Prometheus is in Greek mythology, though?

After the Titan hero Prometheus defied the gods by stealing fire and bestowing it upon humans, Zeus punished him with a sentence of eternal torment. Despite his dark fate, humankind reveres him for his intelligence and assistance in progressing civilization. Prometheus is often classed as a "trickster" god along with Loki, Coyote and Anansi.

Which of these describes the fearsome monster of Crete, which possessed the body of a man and a head of a bull?

A majestic bull and Cretan Queen Pasiphae birthed the loathsome Minotaur. In an attempt to contain the beast, King Minos, the craftsman Daedalus and Icarus built the Labyrinth, where he ate youths as offerings until Theseus killed him.

In Greek mythology, evil persisted in even the most fantastical of realms. How did Hesiod explain the presence of evil in the world?

Derived from the Greek work for "gift," Pandora is also known as the "all-endowed" or "all-giving." As the story goes, Zeus ordered the Greek god of blacksmiths, Hephaestus, to create her: the first human woman. She soon opened a pithos, or a container often translated as "Pandora's box," which unleashed humanity's evils.

Heracles may have been revered as a hero in Greek myth, but he was far from perfect ... to say the least. Which of these not-so-great things did he do?

Heracles married the Theban princess Megara, and together, they bore a number of children. Life seemed pretty good until Hera, who detested Heracles since he was her husband's child with Alcmene, drove to him to madness that ultimately resulted in the senseless murder of his family.

How did Midas, the mythical king of Phyrgia who could change anything he touched to gold, get his donkey ears?

In a rage, Apollo gave the king the ears of an donkey. Afterward, Midas hid away in his palace and always wore a turban so that no one except his barber knew the horrific truth of his disfigurement. In a desperate struggle to contain the secret, the barber one day whispered "Midas has ass' ears" into the earth. Reeds then sprung from the dirt, forever faintly singing, "Midas has ass' ears."

The Giants were a race of immense strength and aggression that battled the Olympian gods. According to Hesiod, how did they come into being?

Gaia (Earth) birthed the Giants as a consequence of this gruesome act. While Classical Greek myth depicts the Giants as fully human, later ones depict them with snakes for legs. Either way, I think we can agree: it's a strange story all around.

The mortal woman Cassandra, also sometimes called Alexandra, was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. What was she known for?

In the most common version of this story, the god Apollo grants Cassandra the gift of clairvoyance in exchange for her heart. When Cassandra changes her mind and refuses him, he is full of rage but cannot simply revoke divine powers. Instead, he curses her, stating that she'll utter truths but no one will ever believe her. Instead, everyone thinks she's crazy. This is where the modern-day usage of "Cassandra complex" comes from.

In Homer's "The Odyssey," Odysseus attempts to travel home to Ithaca after battling in the Trojan War. Do you know how long it takes him?

After the fall of Troy, the King of Ithaca attempts to make his way home, but is met with a range of obstacles including six-headed monsters and raging whirlpools. Meanwhile, believing him dead, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus endure with a variety of unfit suitors who want to win Penelope's hand. They're delighted when he finally returns.

The extremely wealthy, greedy man Erysichthon chopped down a sacred grove of trees, which enraged Demeter. What happened next?

After Demeter cursed Erysichthon with an insatiable appetite, he ate all the food he could buy until he completely ran out of money. In a fit of gluttony, he even attempted to sell his daughter for food. Eventually, he lost his home and everything he had before eating his own flesh. Yikes.

Greek myths offer an abundance of strange creatures: among them, centaurs, which are half-human, half-horse. Do you know their origin story?

Banished to exile for murdering his father-in-law, Zeus took pity on Ixion and invited him to Olympus. His pity didn't last long, though, because Ixion kept trying to seduce Zeus' wife, Hera. Angry, Zeus attempts to disguise her as a cloud, but Ixion impregnates her anyway and they give birth to the beastly Centaurus, who later fathers all the Centaurs. As punishment, Zeus binds him to a flaming wheel.

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About This Quiz

Long before they even made way onto the page, Greek myths traveled through communities in the form of song. Historians think Minoan and Mycenaean singers likely began singing these poetic ballads as early as 18th century B.C., probably slightly changing with every iteration. Eventually, some such works made their way into Homer's epic poems of the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey,"  which we now know today as the earliest written works of Western civilization. 

Then came Hesiod, who wrote "Theogony" and the "Works and Days," which established the likes of the origin of human suffering and sacrificial practices, the Underworld and figures like Sleep and Dreams. Afterward, writers like Plutarch adapted components of the mythology during the Roman Empire, and it seems the Western literary canon hasn't been able to shake these harrowing tales since—and who can blame them? I mean, this world contains people born to cloud mothers, epic battles between gods and mortals and monstrous creatures housed in elaborate labyrinths. Gods turn humans into flaming wheels and stalks of reeds. What's not to love? 

As crazy as some of these stories might seem today, the often flawed figures they present reveal an ancient people genuinely attempting to grapple with the challenges of being a human. As much as there are super-strength and divine power, there's also moral failure, jealousy and vengeance—you know, the same type of stuff we deal with today. 

So, how well do you know the likes of Gaia and Uranus,  Zeus and Hera? You'll have to take the following quiz to find out! Don't fear; it will take a lot less time than Odysseus' journey, and you won't even encounter any three-headed monsters or cataclysmic weather events along the way.  

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