Explore Greek Mythology

Chiron’s Guide to Greek Mythology
A Map of the Underworld
The Throne Room of Olympus
The Best Greek Mythology Resources
The Best Greek Mythology On-Line Games

Chiron’s Guide to Greek Mythology:
An overview of monsters and other nasty foes you might encounter on your journeys. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Polyphemus (Poly-fee’-mus)
Distinguishing Features: One large eye in the center of his head, sheep breath, fashionable cave man outfit, bad dental hygiene.

Now: The giant Polyphemus hangs out in a cave on a deserted island, where he herds sheep and enjoys simple pastoral pleasures, like eating the occasional Greek hero who happens to sail by.

Then: The giant Polyphemus hung out in a cave on a deserted island, where he herded sheep and enjoyed simple pastoral pleasures, like eating the occasional Greek hero who happened to sail by. (Some monsters never learn.)

Circe (Sear’-see)
Distinguishing Features: Great hairdo, beautiful robes, enchanting singing voice, deadly wand hidden up her sleeve.

Now: Circe runs a fashionable spa and resort on an island in the Sea of Monsters. Stop in if you’d like a makeover, but be warned, you might not leave the same person, or even the same species.

Then: Circe loved to entertain sailors. She would welcome them warmly, feed them well, then turn them into pigs. Odysseus put a stop to this practice by eating a magic herb, then holding the sorceress at knife-point until she released his polymorphed crewmates. Circe promptly fell in love with Odysseus. Go figure.

Sirens (Sī’-rens)
Distinguishing Features: Ugly bodies, faces like vultures, beautiful singing voices. (Hey, that sounds like my elementary school choir teacher . . .)

Now: The Sirens inhabit the Sea of Monsters, where they lure sailors to their deaths by singing sweet songs, something like ’80s Oldies radio, only worse.

Then: Back in the day, the Sirens were a real threat to the Greek shipping industry. Then a smart guy named Odysseus discovered that you could plug your ears with wax and sail right past the Sirens without hearing a thing. Strangely, Odysseus is usually remembered for his other accomplishments, not as the inventor of ear wax.

The Minotaur (min’-o-tar or mīn’-o-tar)
Distinguishing Features: The smell is a giveaway, sort of like a very angry sweaty hamburger. Half-man, half-bull, the minotaur has roughly human limbs and body, but the head of a bull. His bulky body is covered with fur, and he has absolutely no fashion sense. If this sounds like Percy’s stepdad Smelly Gabe, you’re right. The resemblance is uncanny.

Now: The Minotaur is unleashed to make life miserable for demigods. He is usually so anxious to get going he forgets to dress in anything but tidy whities, which makes him even more repulsive. He enjoys throwing cars, charging people with his horns, and ramming his head into trees.

Then: The Minotaur lived in a maze called the Labyrinth outside King Minos’s palace in Crete. Each year, fourteen Athenian captives were sent into the Labyrinth as a sacrifice. Each year, none of them came out alive, until a kid named Theseus came along and invented the sport of bull fighting.

Typhon (Tie-fawn)
Distinguishing Features: The father of monsters is rather hard to miss, since he’s as tall as a skyscraper. He has an ever-changing, ever-horrible face and a body that is a mix of human and reptile, but he is normally shrouded in storm clouds. And believe me, this dark cloud has no silver lining.

Now: Typhon was last seen rampaging across the United States, causing massive storms and tornadoes, knocking down buildings, and smashing gods out of the sky. If not for a Cyclopes army with a battle cry of "Peanut Butter!" (long story) things could’ve gotten very dicey.

Then: The first time the storm giant appeared, he was so horrifying all the gods except Zeus ran away. The sky god finally beat him by throwing a mountain on top of him, but Typhon didn’t go quietly. Volcanoes are usually blamed on him rumbling around beneath the earth.

Kampe: (Kam’-pay)
Distinguishing Features: One of the nastier, stranger monsters you might encounter, Kampe has the lower body of a dragon, snake hair like Medusa, and various animal heads snapping and snarling around her waist. As if that wasn’t enough, she wields poisonous scimitars.

Now: Kampe was last seen in the employ of the Titans during the Battle of the Labyrinth. She has an old score to settle with the gods, and doesn’t mind trampling any demigods, Cyclopes, or other lesser beings that get in her way.

Then: In the Age of the Titans, Kronos used Kampe as his jailor. She kept watch on the Cyclopes and Hundred-Handed Ones to make sure they didn’t escape out of Tartarus. Imagine the world’s most evil babysitter. Add snake hair and lizard breath. That’s pretty much Kampe.

Dracaenae (Drah-kay’-nī)
Distinguishing Features: Female humanoids from the waist up, with a pair of snake trunks for legs, which makes the naturals at cross-country skiing.

Now: The dracaenae show up pretty much anywhere the forces of evil are making mischief. There’s nothing they love more than fighting demigods and opposing Olympus. Of course, if you had snake trunks for legs, you might be a little bitter too.

Then: The dracaenae always lurked in the shadows, ready to pounce on unsuspecting heroes. You never knew when you might run across one in the Underworld, or on some wild island. To be safe, if you hear a sound like two heavy snakes shuffling toward you, it’s best to run.

A Map of the Underworld

Charon’s Ferry: The way most people get into the Underworld, Charon will take you across the river to the Land of the Dead for a price. Most Ancient Greeks were buried with a coin under their tongue to pay the boatman. If you go, take a golden drachma, because Charon doesn’t take American Express.

River Styx: A dark and powerful river of mysteries, clogged with the remnants of broken dreams. A dip in the river will either make you invulnerable (like Achilles) or dead (like everyone else). If you swear on the River Styx, you’d better keep your promise, because the Fates will be watching.

Walls of Erebos: Erebos is the general name for Hades’s realm, and its walls are designed to keep the dead inside and everyone else out. This is the original Iron Curtain.

Main Gate (Cerberus): Not many people would try to sneak passed Cereberus, Hades’s three-headed guard dog, but these days Hades has beefed up security even more with ghouls, metal detectors and processing kiosks. Please take computers out of their bags and remove your shoes and jackets as you go through. For a speedier Afterlife, consider using the EZ Death lane!

Judgment Pavilion: This is where the fun begins. Three judges from among the famous dead will evaluate your life, sort of like American Idol, except if you are found unworthy, you will have to spend your Afterlife in eternal punishment. A lucky few will go to Elysium. Most will end in up in Asphodel, the ultimate lame consolation prize.

Fields of Asphodel: A big field of yellow grass and black poplar trees, where there is nothing to do. This is where most of the dead pass eternity – those who weren’t bad enough to warrant Punishment and not good enough for Elysium. The message: Try harder while you’re still alive!

Fields of Punishment: Picture the worst torture you can imagine. Now imagine it being ten times that bad. Now imagine having to go through that forever. If you’ve been wicked in your life, you’ll win an all-expense paid trip to the Fields of Punishment, with no chance of escape. Enjoy!

Elysium: This is the Underworld’s version of paradise. The lucky few who did good things in their life will end up here, where every day is a party.

Isles of the Blest: If you’re a real overachiever and Elysium just isn’t good enough for you, you can choose to be reborn into the world. If you manage to live three amazing lives in a row, you get into the Isles of the Blest, the ultimate vacation spot for heroes and saints. So are you feeling lucky?

Hades’ Palace: Hades lives in a lovely black obsidian palace decorated with pictures of death and guarded by skeleton warriors. Be sure to visit Persephone’s garden while you’re here, but don’t eat the fruit unless you want to stay for a long, long time.

Tartarus: The deepest, darkest pit of the Underworld, Tartarus is where monsters are born from chaos, and where their spirits return when they are slain in the upper world. It’s also the bottomless prison where enemies of the gods are thrown – a sort of maximum security prison for the immortals.

The Throne Room of Olympus

Zeus (Zoos)
God of the Sky

Distinguishing Features: Pinstriped suit, neatly trimmed grey beard, stormy eyes and a very large, dangerous lightning bolt.

Now: On stormy days, he can be found brooding in his throne room in Mount Olympus, over the Empire State Building in
New York. Sometimes he travels the world in disguise, so be nice to everyone! You never know when the next person you meet might be packing the master bolt.

Then: In the old days, Zeus ruled over his unruly family of Olympians while they bickered and fought and got jealous of each other. Not much different than today, really. Zeus always had an eye for beautiful women, which often got him in trouble with his wife, Hera. A less-than-stellar father figure, Zeus once tossed Hera’s son Hephaestus off the top of Mount Olympus because the baby was too ugly.

Symbol: Eagle

Hera (Hair’-ah)
Goddess of Marriage, Mothers and Families

Distinguishing Features: Usually prefers classic Greek dresses and a simple silver crown, though she can blend in as needed. She usually appears as a beautiful older woman, and enjoys turning into birds when she needs to hide or spy.

Now: She hangs out where family life is strongest: the car pool line at school, weekend soccer games, and birthday parties. That strange woman you saw at Laser Quest, serving pizza and singing Happy Birthday? Yes, that was probably her. As the goddess of family, Hera will be happy to pack your lunch or comb your hair or give you a ride to school, but don’t talk back to her. When Hera is mad, she doesn’t just ground you. She’s likely to smash you into the ground.

Then: It’s tough to be the goddess of marriage in a family where everyone cheats on everybody. Hera has no patience with demigods, the children of godly affairs. She was the enemy of Heracles and many others, though she did have a soft spot for mortal heroes, like Jason. If an old woman asks you to carry her piggyback across a river, do it. You might win the favor of a goddess!

Symbol: pomegranate, cow (the motherly animal – no comments, please!), peacock

Poseidon (Po-sigh’-dun)
God of the Sea

Distinguishing Features: Hawaiian shirt, shorts, flip flops, and a three-pointed trident.

Now: Poseidon walks the beaches of Florida, occasionally stopping to chat with fishermen or take pictures for tourists. If he’s in a bad mood, he stirs up a hurricane.

Then: Poseidon was always a moody guy. On his good days, he did cool stuff like create horses out of sea foam. On his bad days, he caused minor problems like destroying cities with earthquakes or sinking entire fleets of ships. But hey, a god has the right to throw a temper tantrum, doesn’t he?

Symbol: Three-pointed trident

Demeter (Duh-mee’-ter)
Goddess of Agriculture

Distinguishing Features: The goddess prefers simple dresses of green or gold, though you can often find her in gardening clothes.

Now: Demeter divides her time between the upper world, where she oversees the growing season and produces commercials encouraging people to eat more cereal products (part of a balanced breakfast!), and the Underworld, where she visits her daughter Persephone and plays the wicked mother-in-law to Hades, who kidnapped her poor little daughter eons ago. He’s still not good enough for Persephone. She should’ve married the god of doctors!

Then: Demeter was one of the quieter goddess. As long as the crops were growing and the farmers were happy, Demeter was content. But don’t underestimate her importance. If you wanted to eat, you had to make sure you kept on Demeter’s good side. When Hades stole her daughter Persephone, Demeter stopped all plants from growing, and people started starving. Hard to make a cheeseburger with no grain for bread and no grass for the cows.

Symbol: Torch, Corn plant (though popcorn works, too)

Ares (Air’-eez)
God of War

Distinguishing Features: Biker leathers, Harley Davidson, sunglasses and a
stinking attitude.

Now: Can be found riding his Harley around the suburbs of LA. One of those
gods who could pick a fight in an empty room.

Then: Back in the day, this son of Zeus and Hera used to be inseparable from
his shield and helmet. Fought on the side of the Trojans during the war of
 Troy, but, frankly, has been involved in every minor skirmish since
Goldilocks told the three bears that their beds were a little uncomfy.

Symbol: A bloody spear, a wild boar (the animal with the nastiest attitude)

Athena (Ah-thee’-nah)
Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Useful Arts

Distinguishing Features: Dark hair, striking grey eyes, casual yet fashionable clothes (except when she’s going into battle; then it’s full body armor). Athena is always accompanied by at least one owl, her sacred (and fortunately housebroken) animal.

Now: You’re likely to spot Athena at an American university, sitting in on lectures about military history or technology. She favors people who invent useful things, and will sometimes appear to reward them with magical gifts or bits of useful advice (like next week’s lottery numbers). So start working on that revolutionary new bread slicer!

Then: Athena was one of the most active goddesses in human affairs. She helped out Odysseus, sponsored the entire city of Athens and made sure the Greeks won the Trojan War. On the downside, she’s proud and has a big temper. Just ask Arachne, who got turned into a spider for daring to compare her weaving skills to Athena’s. So whatever you do, DO NOT claim that you fix toilets better than Athena. There’s no telling what she’ll turn you into.

Symbol: The owl

Apollo: (Ah-paul’-oh)
God of archery, music, poetry, prophecy, medicine, and later on the god of the sun.

Distinguishing Features: You’ve got to dig the shades. Apollo likes to look hot, and I don’t mean temperature. He typically looks like a movie star with the fashionably shabby clothes, the laid back attitude, the brilliant smile, and the Ray Ban sunglasses. His sun chariot morphs into a fine Maserati.

Now: Do NOT ask him to recite his poetry. Seriously. You can find Apollo cruising down Sunset Avenue looking cool, or hanging out at parties chatting with writers or rock stars. He likes to be the center of attention wherever he goes. He’s a nice enough guy, as long as you agree that he’s the coolest person on earth. Just don’t get him angry, or he can get a little hot under the collar.

Then: Apollo was into everything, from music to medicine, probably because he thought he was better at everything than anyone else. When the old sun god Helios retired, Apollo took over that job too, though he was mostly thought of as the god of poetry and music. Apollo didn’t take criticism well. One time he asked King Midas to judge a contest between him and Pan, and when Midas decided Pan’s music was better, Apollo gave the king donkey ears. The lesson: if someone asks your opinion, think carefully before you answer.

Symbol: the lyre, laurel wreath

Artemis (Ar’-tem-iss)
Goddess of the moon, the hunt, and young maidens

Distinguishing features: Artemis likes to appear as a regular mortal maiden of about twelve or thirteen, but don’t let that fool you. Artemis is deadly with her bow, and doesn’t suffer fools, especially male fools. Her eyes are silver like the moon, and she tends to dress in white and silver.

Now: Artemis can be found roaming the countryside with her handmaidens, the Hunters of Artemis. Imagine an immortal, very deadly Girl Scout troop, on a permanent camp out, hunting monsters. Don’t get in their way, and don’t try to flirt with them. These Girl Scouts do NOT sell cookies.

Then: Artemis enjoyed hunting with her handmaidens and basically kept to herself unless she was bothered. Once a male hunter tried to spy on Artemis while she was bathing. The goddess turned him into a deer and her hunters tracked him down and killed him. Basically, she doesn’t have much of a sense of humor when it comes to peeping toms.

Symbol: The moon, the deer

Hephaestus (Huh-fess’-tus)
God of blacksmiths and fire

Distinguishing Features: Ugly face, scraggly beard, massive powerful hands. Usually wears a mechanic’s uniform with his name embroidered on the pocket so he doesn’t forget who he is.

Now: The god likes to hang out in his workshop fixing cars and building inventions. He’s not very good with people, but he can do anything with machines. You want a robot to do your homework, or a life-sized metal giant to stomp on your enemies. Hephaestus can have one ready in a matter of hours.

Then: Poor Hephaestus was ugly from birth, but he didn’t get any prettier when his parents chucked him down the side of Mount Olympus, making him a cripple forever after. He’s not much to look at, but he’s clever with his hands. The Olympians made Aphrodite marry him, thinking that it would settle her down, but that didn’t work out too well. Hephaestus is a jealous husband, always on the lookout for that scoundrel Ares and anyone else who might want to flirt with his wife (which is basically every man with a pulse).

Symbol: The anvil and hammer

Aphrodite (Ă-fro-dī’-tee)
Goddess of the Love and Beauty

Distinguishing Features: She’s really, really pretty. It’s hard to be more specific, because Aphrodite can change her appearance to become whatever you find most beautiful.

Now: She’s more beautiful than Angelina Jolie. She can often be found shopping on Fifth Avenue or trying on new clothes during Fashion Week in New York. She loves parties, and can’t get enough of gossip. If that sounds like a lot of people you know, you’re probably right. Any of them might be Aphrodite in disguise.

Then: She’s more beautiful than Helen of Troy. Aphrodite wasn’t afraid to use her beauty to get what she wanted, either. She promised Prince Paris the most beautiful mortal woman in the world if he judged Aphrodite the fairest goddess in a contest, and Paris readily agreed. When he got Helen for his wife, it started the Trojan War and thousands died, but hey, at least Aphrodite got what she wanted!

Symbol: the dove, which is odd, since it’s a symbol of peace and Aphrodite started a war, but oh well. Looks are everything.

Hermes (Her’-meez)
God of the Roadways, Travelers, Merchants and Thieves

Distinguishing Features: Jogger’s clothes and winged athletic shoes, a cell phone that turns into the caduceus, his symbol of power – a winged staff with two snakes, George and Martha, entwined around it.

Now: Hermes is a hard person to find, because he’s always on the run. When he’s not delivering messages for the gods, he’s running a telecommunications company, an express delivery service, and every other type of business you can imagine that involves travel. Did you have a question about his activities as god of thieves? Leave a message. He’ll get back to you in a few millennia.

Then: Hermes got started young as a troublemaker. When he was one day old, he sneaked out of his crib and stole some cattle from his brother Apollo. Apollo probably would’ve blasted the young tyke to bits, but fortunately Hermes appeased him with a new musical instrument he created called the lyre. Apollo liked it so much he forgot all about the cows. The lyre made Apollo very popular with the ladies, which was more than he could say about the cattle.

Symbol: the caduceus

Dionysus (Dī-oh-nī’-sus)
God of Wine

Distinguishing Features: Leopard-skin shirt, walking shorts, purple socks and sandals, the general pasty demeanor of someone who has been up partying much too late.

Now: Dionysus has been sentenced to one hundred years of "rehab" as director of Camp Half-Blood. The only thing the god of wine can drink these days is Diet Coke, which doesn’t make him happy. He can usually be found playing pinochle with a group of terrified satyrs on the front porch of the Big House. If you want to join the game, be prepared to bet large.

Then: Dionysus invented wine, which so impressed his father Zeus that he promoted Dionysus to god. The guy who invented prune juice, by contrast, got sentenced to the Fields of Punishment. Dionysus mostly spent his time partying it up in Ancient Greece, but once a crew of sailors tried to kill him, thinking the god was too incapacitated to fight back. Dionysus turned them into dolphins and sent them over the side. The moral of this story: Do not mess with a god, even a drunk one.

Symbol: the leopard, the grape vine

Hades (Hay’-deez)
God of the Underworld

Distinguishing Features: Evil smile, helm of darkness (which makes him invisible, so you can’t see the evil smile), black robes sewn from the souls of the damned. He sits on a throne of bones.

Now: Hades rarely leaves his obsidian palace in the Underworld, probably because of traffic congestion on the Fields of Asphodel freeway. He oversees a booming population among the dead and has all sorts of employment trouble with his ghouls and specters. This keeps him in a foul mood most of the time.

Then: Hades is best known for the romantic way he won his wife, Persephone. He kidnapped her. Really, though, how would you like to marry someone who lives in a dark cave filled with zombies all year round?

Symbol: the helm of darkness

The Best Greek Mythology Resources:

Greek Mythology and the Theater
Mythweb
Encyclopedia Mythica
Theoi Project
Winged Sandals

The Best Greek Mythology On-Line Games:

Myth Brainstorming Machine
 – Create your own myth!
Ancient Greece Jeopardy 
- For one or two players.
Greek Gods – 
Play in several formats: concentration, matching or flash cards.
Winged Sandals – Try to fly Daedalus to the sun, put Cerberus to sleep, or fight "girls vs. boys" in Amazonians vs. Athenians.