In western history, the ancient Greek culture and Hebrew culture are referred to as two breasts feeding the western civilization. Therefore, the two cultures are the key to the study of western civilization. Greek mythology, the flower blooming from the soil of splendid ancient Greek culture, has profound influence on the whole western civilization, particularly its literature and art.
1. Ancient Greece, one of the ancient civilizations in the world
Ancient Greece was located in the eastern Mediterranean, its geographical range basically included Greek peninsula, Aegean islands, Ionian Islands and the west coast zones of Asia Minor peninsula. Aegean civilization is the earliest civilization in Greece, and also a general term for the Bronze Age civilization of Greece around the Aegean Sea. Its center was Crete and later Mycenae. Around 2000 BC, the earliest state emerged in Crete.
2. Legends of heroes and stories of deities, a reflection of splendid Greek culture
Ancient Greek created splendid and colorful culture, also left rich heritages, one of which is the Greek mythology. Greek mythology is the spiritual outcome of primitive clan society, a collective creation of ancient Greek people, and the earliest literary form in western world.
Greek mythology is a large and wide system with complex branches and numerous stories which are not exactly consistent. But Greek mythology has a clear familial context based on ties of blood, as well as a basic vein. Therefore, it generally falls into two categories: stories of deities and legends of heroes.
The stories of deities more clearly reflect the rich imagination with which ancient Greek visualized powerful natural phenomena; the legends of heroes are mainly worship and idealization of legendary figures with certain historicity and their related events, which reflect ancient people’s activities for survival and their tenacious fight against nature.
3. Greek culture is the source and soil of western culture
Ancient Greco-Roman literature is the rich treasure which helps us to learn the Greco-Roman Mythology. Greek mythology has concentrated and complete content as well as high systematization, it is the largest and most complete mythology existing in the world.
Philosophers (such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) and historians (e.g., Herodotus) of later generations often quoted from Greek mythology; artists, especially those sculpture maestros, created world-renowned masterpieces based on figures and plot of Greek mythology; in the field of fine art, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Rubens left great works related to Greek mythology.
Studies on Greek mythology promoted the development of humanities. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a slightly-modified narration of Greek mythology. Besides, imprint of Greek mythology can also be found in works of Cicero, Quintus Ennius and Virgil. Thus, modernistic humanist thinkers surprisingly discovered a free, lively and vibrant world in Greek mythology.
The history of literature started a new chapter with reference to the ancient Greek mythology and drama. Since the Roman times, scholars have taken ancient Greek literature as an unapproachable peak which they are always trying to reach. Deities in ancient myths as well as heroes in epics and tragedies soothe their heart while inspiring people to endless source of creation.
Ancient Greek mythology also has a significant influence upon the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment in early modern Europe. The spirit of people-orientation in ancient Greek mythology freed people from the bonds of tradition.
Meanwhile, deities are anthropomorphic in the Greek mythology. They have both body beauty and sentiments as well as the feelings of pain and joy, and even participate in human activities. The only difference between deities and human is, the former are immortal while the latter have limited life. The deities in the Greek mythology have distinct individualities, but few of them are stoic or mystical. The beauty of Greek mythology is that the deities have their destinies, they will also be trapped in love and do bad things for their own benefit. Greek mythology is not only the soil of Greek literature, it also has profound influence on European literature.