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A entries
Achaia (a-KEE-a). Region of Greece. The name goes back to the Heroic Age, as do the local legends. It was in Achaia's "Cave of the Lakes" that the daughters of the king of Tiryns took refuge when driven mad by the goddess Hera. They had been roaming the countryside thinking they were cows when the seer Melampus cured them of their mania. It was only in 1964 that the people of Kastria discovered the inner recess of the cave, which is unique for its string of cascading pools.
Acheron (ACK-uh-ron). One of the rivers of the Underworld. It was at the confluence of the Acheron and the river Styx that the hero Odysseus dug a pit and poured sacrificial blood into it to summon the ghosts of the dead. Odysseus needed to question the shade of the blind prophet Teiresias in order to find his way home again after the Trojan War. Acheron is also the name of a river in modern Greece, still reputed to give access to Hades.
Achilles (a-KILL-eez). The best fighter of the Greeks besieging Troy in the Trojan War. When the hero Odysseus journeyed to the Underworld to seek the advice of the dead prophet Teiresias, he encountered the shade of Achilles. This hero had slain the Trojan hero Hector in single combat and had himself been brought down only by the connivance of Apollo. The god guided the arrow of Hector's brother Paris to the only vulnerable spot on Achilles' body - his heel.
Achilles would not have been vulnerable even in this part of his body had his mother, the sea-goddess Thetis, been allowed to protect him as she intended. When he was an infant, she rubbed him each day with godly ambrosia, and each night she laid him upon the hearth fire. Unfortunately, Achilles' father was unaware that this procedure would make his son immortal. And when he unexpectedly came home one night to find his wife holding their baby in the flames, he cried out in alarm. Thetis was offended and went home to her father, the Old Man of the Sea, leaving Achilles to his mortal fate.
Another version of the myth has Thetis attempting to protect her infant by dipping him in the river Styx. The infernal waters indeed rendered Achilles' skin impervious to the likes of any mere Trojan arrow. But Thetis forgot that she was holding him by the heel during the dipping process, so that part was unprotected.
Acrisius (a-KRISS-ee-us). King of Argos and brother of King Proetus of Tiryns. Acrisius was warned by an oracle that he would be killed in time by a son born to his daughter Danae. So he promptly locked her up in a tower and threw away the key. But the god Zeus got in, disguised as a shower of gold, and became the father of Perseus.

The Acropolis towers over Athens and the tall columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Acropolis (a-KROP-a-lis). The citadel of Athens. According to one version of the myth, it was from the Acropolis that King Aegeus hurled himself to his death believing that his son Theseus had been killed by the Minotaur. The Acropolis was still serving as a defensive stronghold in 1687, when the Venetians, bombarding the Turks, inadvertently exploded a store of gunpowder inside the Parthenon.
Aeetes (ee-EE-teez). Brother of Circe, father of Medea, and taskmaster of Jason. Aeetes was king of Colchis, a barbarian kingdom on the far edge of the heroic world. Here, in the sacred grove of the war god Ares, hung the golden fleece of a magical flying ram, object of a quest by the hero Jason and the Argonauts. Aeetes did not take kindly to Jason's request for the fleece and set the hero a daunting series of tasks before he would hand it over. He secretly had no intention of doing so, and it was only because his daughter Medea fell in love with Jason and came to his aid that the hero's quest was achieved.
Aegean Sea (i-JEE-an). The sea between the Greek mainland and Asia Minor (the Asian portion of modern Turkey). Some derive the name from King Aegeus, who in one version of the myth flung himself from a promontory into its depths. The king had arranged that his son Theseus should hoist a white sail on his return from Crete if he survived the terrors of the Labyrinth. Theseus survived but forgot to hoist the sail.

Aegeus was legendarily king of Athens, although he lived well before the time when its citadel was crowned by impressive monuments like the Parthenon in this picture.
Aegeus (EE-joos). King of Athens, father of the hero Theseus. When young Theseus arrived in Athens after proving himself a hero by clearing the coast road of bandits, Aegeus did not recognize him. The king's wife, Medea, persuaded him to serve Theseus poison wine at a banquet. The hero might have died had his father not noticed the distinctive pattern on his sword. It was the very sword that Aegeus had hidden beneath a boulder years previously for his son to find.
Aethra (EE-thra). Princess of Troezen and mother of the hero Theseus. When Theseus came of age, Aethra took him to a forest clearing and challenged him to prove himself by lifting a boulder. Aethra knew that beneath it he would find the sword and sandals of his father, King Aegeus of Athens. Aegeus had left Troezen for Athens before Theseus was born, but he left these tokens for his son to find if he was worthy.
Alcmene (alk-MEE-nee). Mother of Heracles and Iphicles. Although Heracles and Iphicles were twins, only Heracles was an immortal hero. It was understood that Iphicles was the son of Alcmene's mortal husband, Amphitryon, while Heracles was the son of Zeus, who had tricked Alcmene by impersonating her husband. The goddess Hera, jealous of her husband Zeus's infidelity, delayed Alcmene's delivery of Heracles so that his cousin Eurystheus became king of Mycenae and Tiryns in his stead.
Alcyonian Lake (al-cee-OH-nee-an). Bottomless lake. In the vicinity, or perhaps even part of the swamps of Lerna in which Heracles fought the Hydra. The wine-god Dionysus used the Alcyonian Lake as a portal to Hades when he rescued his mother Semele from the Underworld. The heroine had died in a bolt of lightning when she asked Zeus to reveal to her his true nature as storm god. To retrieve her from the Underworld, Dionysus went to Lerna and dove into the fathomless lake.
Amazons (AM-uh-zonz). Mythological warrior women, renowned as hunters and fighters. They only met with men on occasion to produce offspring for their tribe. Heracles was once challenged to bring back the belt of the Amazon queen. Despite the Amazons' reputation for man-hating, the queen willingly gave it to him. But the goddess Hera, who despised Heracles, stirred up trouble. A great battle ensued in which many Amazons were killed. The hero Theseus also visited the Amazons, kidnapping one who came aboard his ship with a gift.
ambrosia (am-BROH-zhuh). A delicacy of the gods, said to have been made of honey, water, fruit, cheese, olive oil and barley. Tantalus, a son of Zeus, was given the great honor of dining on Mount Olympus. He proved himself unworthy of the invitation. The exact nature of his transgression is variously reported, but according to one version of the myth, he stole the gods' ambrosia. Tantalus was condemned to an eternity of punishment for this crime.
Amphitrite (am-fi-TRY-tee). A daughter of Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea. King Minos once challenged Theseus to prove that he was a son of the god Poseidon, supreme ruler of the watery depths. Minos took a ring from his finger and threw into the sea, daring Theseus to dive down and retrieve it. Not only did the hero succeed in this task, but while he was underwater he came upon a palace where Amphitrite (or her sister Thetis) presented him with a jeweled crown.
Aornum (a-OR-num). A location in western Greece in or near the valley of the river Acheron. When Orpheus descended into Hades to restore his dead wife to the land of the living, he entered the Underworld by means of a cavern or fissure in the earth. Some say that the entrance he chose was Taenarum in Laconia, but others claim it was Aornum.

Venus and Mars. (Aphrodite's Roman name was Venus, while Mars was the Roman name of Ares, god of war.) Hand-colored lithograph.
Aphrodite (a-fro-DYE-tee) was the goddess of love. The Romans called her Venus (hence the famous armless statue known as the Venus de Milo). Aphrodite lived on Mount Olympus with the other supreme deities and was married to the homely craftsman-god, Hephaestus. She was said to have been born from the foam of the sea (hence Botticelli's much-reproduced painting of the goddess floating on a seashell).
Aphrodite involved herself on several noteworthy occasions with the affairs of mortal heroes. When Jason asked permission of the king of Colchis to remove the Golden Fleece from the grove in which it hung, the king was clearly unwilling. So the goddess Hera, who sponsored Jason's quest, asked Aphrodite to intervene. The love goddess made the king's daughter Medea fall in love with Jason, and Medea proved instrumental in Jason's success.
Aphrodite can also be said to have caused the Trojan War. This came about in the following fashion. When the hero Peleus was married to the sea-nymph Thetis, all the gods were invited to the ceremony – all but one that is. The slighted goddess happened to a specialist in sowing discord, so she maliciously deposited a golden apple on the banquet table. The fruit was inscribed with the legend, "For the fairest." Immediately all the goddesses began to argue about whose beauty entitled her to be the rightful possesor of this prize.
Finally it was decided to put the dispute to arbitration. Reasonably enough, the designated judge was to be the most handsome mortal in the world. This turned out to be a noble Trojan youth named Paris, who was serving as a shepherd at the time. So the three finalists – Aphrodite, Hera and Athena – sought him out in the meadow where he was tending his flocks.
Not content to leave the outcome to the judge's discernment, the three goddesses proceeded to offer bribes. Hera, Queen of Olympus, took Paris aside and told him she would help him rule the world. Athena, goddess of war, said she would make him victorious in battle. Aphrodite sized Paris up and decided he would be more impressed with the guaranteed love of the most beautiful woman in the world. This was Helen, who happened to be married to the king of Sparta.
Paris promptly awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite, who in turn enabled him to elope with Helen, who thenceforth became notorious as Helen of Troy. Helen's husband and his brother raised a Greek army to retrieve his wife, and this was the inception of the Trojan War.
Another occasion in which the goddess of love came to the aid of a mortal hero also happened to involve golden apples. When the mighty heroine Atalanta agreed to wed whatever suitor managed to best her in a foot race, Aphrodite favored one of the contestants with a peck of golden fruit. By strewing these enchanted apples on the race course, the young lad caused Atalanta to become distracted and she lost the race.
Apollo (uh-POL-oh) was the god of prophesy, music and healing. Like most of his fellow Olympians, Apollo did not hesitate to intervene in human affairs. It was he who brought about the demise of the mighty Achilles. Of all the heroes besieging the city of Troy in the Trojan War, Achilles was the best fighter by far. He had easily defeated the Trojan captain Hector in single combat. But Apollo helped Hector's brother Paris slay Achilles with an arrow.
Arcadia (ar-KAY-dee-uh). A mountainous region in central Greece; in romantic poetry, a pastoral idyll of shepherds and nymphs. Arcadia was appropriately the birthplace of the shepherd god Pan, whose mother was a nymph. It was also the location of the Stymphalian marsh, which was infested with man-eating birds that killed their prey with metallic feathers. Heracles dealt with these in the course of one of his Labors. The hero used noisemakers given him by Athena to make them take flight and his bow and arrows to bring them down.
Ares (AIR-eez). Roman name Mars. Ares was the god of war. Though an immortal deity, he was bested by Heracles in battle and was almost killed when stuffed into a jar by two giants. When another hero wounded him during the Trojan War, he received scant sympathy from his father Zeus. The throne of Ares on Mount Olympus was covered in human skin.
Argo (AR-goh). The ship that bore Jason to Colchis in quest of the Golden Fleece. His shipmates were called the Argonauts in consequence. The vessel was named after its builder, the shipwright Argus. It had a magical talking prow provided by the goddess Athena, carved from a timber from Zeus's sacred grove at Dodona. The Argo barely escaped being smashed by the Clashing Rocks.
Argonauts (AR-guh-nawts). The group of heroes who sailed with Jason after the Golden Fleece. Their name derived from their vessel, the Argo. Among them were Heracles, Orpheus and the heroine Atalanta. The Argonauts navigated between both the Clashing Rocks and the Wandering Rocks and managed to avoid the fatal allure of the Sirens.
Argos (AR-gaws). A kingdom of the Heroic Age. A modern Greek town still bears the name. Argos was the mythological home of King Acrisius, who was warned by an oracle that he would die by the hand of his own grandson. And in due course, Perseus accidentally struck his grandfather with a discus during an athletic contest and fulfilled the prophesy.
Argus (1) (AR-gus). The shipwright who built the vessel in which Jason quested after the Golden Fleece. The ship was named the Argo after its builder, and Jason's companions were called the Argonauts after the ship. So the heroic crew that shared Jason's great adventure ultimately derived their name from Argus. The shipwright is not to be confused with the many-eyed Arcadian hero of the same name.
Argus (2) (AR-gus). A hero from Arcadia with more than the usual number of eyes; also called Argus All-Seeing to differentiate him from others named Argus. Argus All-Seeing got his nickname from his unorthodox number of eyes. In a classical case of mythological inconsistency, some say he had four eyes - two in the standard placement and two in the back of his head - while others claim he had up to a hundred eyes all over his body.
This excess ocular equipment made Argus an excellent watchman, a talent which the goddess Hera used to good effect in the case of Io. Io was a young priestess with whom Hera's husband Zeus had fallen in love. Needless to say, Hera was jealous and angry, so she changed Io into a cow.
Or maybe Zeus himself brought about the transformation to hide the object of his passion from Hera. In any case, once Io had become a heifer, Hera asked Argus to so-to-speak keep an eye on her and let Hera know if Zeus came near. Argus was able to perform this watch around the clock since he could always keep a lid or two peeled while the rest caught a little shut-eye.
But Zeus told Hermes, god of thieves, to snatch Io away, and Hermes resorted to a clever ruse. Disguising himself as a shepherd, he bored Argus with long-winded stories, beguiled him with song and eventually lulled him to sleep by playing tunes on a shepherd's pipe, recently invented by Pan.
Or so, at least, goes one version of the tale. In another, Hermes killed Argus with the cast of a stone.
Ariadne (air-ee-AD-nee). The daughter of King Minos whose help made it possible for Theseus to slay the Minotaur and survive the Labyrinth. Ariadne fell in love with Theseus at first sight, as he disembarked from the ship bearing him to his intended sacrifice. She gave him the clew, or ball of thread, that kept him from getting lost in the Minotaur's maze. But Theseus abandoned Ariadne on an island after his escape from Crete.
Aristaeus (air-is-TEE-us). A minor god, the son of Apollo. Aristaeus conceived a fancy for Eurydice, the wife of the minstrel Orpheus, and being used to indulging his every whim he chased after her. In her headlong effort to elude his pursuit, Eurydice stepped on a poisonous snake and died. Orpheus was so disconsolate that he journeyed to the Underworld to bring her back from the dead.
Artemis (AR-ti-mis). Roman name Diana. Artemis was the virgin goddess of the hunt and one of the Olympians. Her brother Apollo, noticing that she was spending a great deal of time hunting with the giant Orion, decided to put an end to the relationship. So he challenged Artemis to prove her skill at archery by shooting at an object floating far out at sea. Her shot was perfect. The target turned out to be the head of Orion.
Atalanta (at-uh-LAN-tuh). Abandoned at birth by a father who wanted a son, Atalanta became a great heroine and one the Argonauts. Unwilling to marry, she finally consented to wed any man who could beat her at a foot race. Such was her fleetness that she would have remained happily single, but that the Goddess of Love gave one of her suitors golden apples to scatter on the race course. These were magical, and Atalanta could not resist them. Stooping to gather them in, she lost the contest to her destined husband.
Athena (a-THEE-nuh). Roman name Minerva. Athena was the Olympian goddess of crafts and the domestic arts and also those of war; patron goddess of Athens. Athena was born from Zeus's head and was originally the Great Goddess in the form of a bird. She aided the heroes Perseus, Jason, Cadmus and Heracles in their quests.
Athens (ATH-inz). In history, the principal city of Greece, vying at times with Sparta for political supremacy. In mythology, ruled by Aegeus and his son Theseus. Theseus first proved himself a hero by clearing various bandits and ruffians from the road between his birthplace of Troezen and his father's kingdom. It was from Athens that the inventor Daedalus fled to the court of King Minos, where he designed the Labyrinth.
Atlantis (at-LAN-tis). According to the philosopher Plato, an advanced civilization that sank beneath the waves, a legend based perhaps on Minoan Crete. The fabled island-continent derives its name from the Titan Atlas. It was said to be out beyond the western headland where the immortal giant holds up the heavens by means of a pillar on his back. Plato maintained that Atlantis was a real place, not a myth. He in turn had heard of it from certain wise men of Egypt, whose civilization spanned the era when Atlantis was said to have flourished, whereas earlier civilizations in Greece had been wiped out by natural catastrophes - or so the Egyptians said.
Plato's description of Atlantis bears pronounced similarities to the Greek island of Crete as it must have been during the heyday of the Minoan culture. And whereas Atlantis was supposed to have sunk beneath the waves, Minoan Crete succumbed to the monumental volcanic eruption of the neighboring island of Thera - which may well have been accompanied by a huge tsunami, or tidal wave.
Atlas (AT-las). A Titan who supported the heavens by means of a pillar on his shoulders. He was temporarily relieved of this burden by Heracles, who needed the Titan's aid in procuring the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Heracles then tricked Atlas into taking his burden up again. In connection with another heroic quest, Atlas divulged the whereabouts of the Graeae to Perseus.
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A entries
Achaia (a-KEE-a). Region of Greece. The name goes back to the Heroic Age, as do the local legends. It was in Achaia's "Cave of the Lakes" that the daughters of the king of Tiryns took refuge when driven mad by the goddess Hera. They had been roaming the countryside thinking they were cows when the seer Melampus cured them of their mania. It was only in 1964 that the people of Kastria discovered the inner recess of the cave, which is unique for its string of cascading pools.
Acheron (ACK-uh-ron). One of the rivers of the Underworld. It was at the confluence of the Acheron and the river Styx that the hero Odysseus dug a pit and poured sacrificial blood into it to summon the ghosts of the dead. Odysseus needed to question the shade of the blind prophet Teiresias in order to find his way home again after the Trojan War. Acheron is also the name of a river in modern Greece, still reputed to give access to Hades.
Achilles (a-KILL-eez). The best fighter of the Greeks besieging Troy in the Trojan War. When the hero Odysseus journeyed to the Underworld to seek the advice of the dead prophet Teiresias, he encountered the shade of Achilles. This hero had slain the Trojan hero Hector in single combat and had himself been brought down only by the connivance of Apollo. The god guided the arrow of Hector's brother Paris to the only vulnerable spot on Achilles' body - his heel.
Achilles would not have been vulnerable even in this part of his body had his mother, the sea-goddess Thetis, been allowed to protect him as she intended. When he was an infant, she rubbed him each day with godly ambrosia, and each night she laid him upon the hearth fire. Unfortunately, Achilles' father was unaware that this procedure would make his son immortal. And when he unexpectedly came home one night to find his wife holding their baby in the flames, he cried out in alarm. Thetis was offended and went home to her father, the Old Man of the Sea, leaving Achilles to his mortal fate.
Another version of the myth has Thetis attempting to protect her infant by dipping him in the river Styx. The infernal waters indeed rendered Achilles' skin impervious to the likes of any mere Trojan arrow. But Thetis forgot that she was holding him by the heel during the dipping process, so that part was unprotected.
Acrisius (a-KRISS-ee-us). King of Argos and brother of King Proetus of Tiryns. Acrisius was warned by an oracle that he would be killed in time by a son born to his daughter Danae. So he promptly locked her up in a tower and threw away the key. But the god Zeus got in, disguised as a shower of gold, and became the father of Perseus.
The Acropolis towers over Athens and the tall columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Acropolis (a-KROP-a-lis). The citadel of Athens. According to one version of the myth, it was from the Acropolis that King Aegeus hurled himself to his death believing that his son Theseus had been killed by the Minotaur. The Acropolis was still serving as a defensive stronghold in 1687, when the Venetians, bombarding the Turks, inadvertently exploded a store of gunpowder inside the Parthenon.
Aeetes (ee-EE-teez). Brother of Circe, father of Medea, and taskmaster of Jason. Aeetes was king of Colchis, a barbarian kingdom on the far edge of the heroic world. Here, in the sacred grove of the war god Ares, hung the golden fleece of a magical flying ram, object of a quest by the hero Jason and the Argonauts. Aeetes did not take kindly to Jason's request for the fleece and set the hero a daunting series of tasks before he would hand it over. He secretly had no intention of doing so, and it was only because his daughter Medea fell in love with Jason and came to his aid that the hero's quest was achieved.
Aegean Sea (i-JEE-an). The sea between the Greek mainland and Asia Minor (the Asian portion of modern Turkey). Some derive the name from King Aegeus, who in one version of the myth flung himself from a promontory into its depths. The king had arranged that his son Theseus should hoist a white sail on his return from Crete if he survived the terrors of the Labyrinth. Theseus survived but forgot to hoist the sail.
Aegeus was legendarily king of Athens, although he lived well before the time when its citadel was crowned by impressive monuments like the Parthenon in this picture.
Aegeus (EE-joos). King of Athens, father of the hero Theseus. When young Theseus arrived in Athens after proving himself a hero by clearing the coast road of bandits, Aegeus did not recognize him. The king's wife, Medea, persuaded him to serve Theseus poison wine at a banquet. The hero might have died had his father not noticed the distinctive pattern on his sword. It was the very sword that Aegeus had hidden beneath a boulder years previously for his son to find.
Aethra (EE-thra). Princess of Troezen and mother of the hero Theseus. When Theseus came of age, Aethra took him to a forest clearing and challenged him to prove himself by lifting a boulder. Aethra knew that beneath it he would find the sword and sandals of his father, King Aegeus of Athens. Aegeus had left Troezen for Athens before Theseus was born, but he left these tokens for his son to find if he was worthy.
Alcmene (alk-MEE-nee). Mother of Heracles and Iphicles. Although Heracles and Iphicles were twins, only Heracles was an immortal hero. It was understood that Iphicles was the son of Alcmene's mortal husband, Amphitryon, while Heracles was the son of Zeus, who had tricked Alcmene by impersonating her husband. The goddess Hera, jealous of her husband Zeus's infidelity, delayed Alcmene's delivery of Heracles so that his cousin Eurystheus became king of Mycenae and Tiryns in his stead.
Alcyonian Lake (al-cee-OH-nee-an). Bottomless lake. In the vicinity, or perhaps even part of the swamps of Lerna in which Heracles fought the Hydra. The wine-god Dionysus used the Alcyonian Lake as a portal to Hades when he rescued his mother Semele from the Underworld. The heroine had died in a bolt of lightning when she asked Zeus to reveal to her his true nature as storm god. To retrieve her from the Underworld, Dionysus went to Lerna and dove into the fathomless lake.
Amazons (AM-uh-zonz). Mythological warrior women, renowned as hunters and fighters. They only met with men on occasion to produce offspring for their tribe. Heracles was once challenged to bring back the belt of the Amazon queen. Despite the Amazons' reputation for man-hating, the queen willingly gave it to him. But the goddess Hera, who despised Heracles, stirred up trouble. A great battle ensued in which many Amazons were killed. The hero Theseus also visited the Amazons, kidnapping one who came aboard his ship with a gift.
ambrosia (am-BROH-zhuh). A delicacy of the gods, said to have been made of honey, water, fruit, cheese, olive oil and barley. Tantalus, a son of Zeus, was given the great honor of dining on Mount Olympus. He proved himself unworthy of the invitation. The exact nature of his transgression is variously reported, but according to one version of the myth, he stole the gods' ambrosia. Tantalus was condemned to an eternity of punishment for this crime.
Amphitrite (am-fi-TRY-tee). A daughter of Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea. King Minos once challenged Theseus to prove that he was a son of the god Poseidon, supreme ruler of the watery depths. Minos took a ring from his finger and threw into the sea, daring Theseus to dive down and retrieve it. Not only did the hero succeed in this task, but while he was underwater he came upon a palace where Amphitrite (or her sister Thetis) presented him with a jeweled crown.
Aornum (a-OR-num). A location in western Greece in or near the valley of the river Acheron. When Orpheus descended into Hades to restore his dead wife to the land of the living, he entered the Underworld by means of a cavern or fissure in the earth. Some say that the entrance he chose was Taenarum in Laconia, but others claim it was Aornum.

Venus and Mars. (Aphrodite's Roman name was Venus, while Mars was the Roman name of Ares, god of war.) Hand-colored lithograph.
Aphrodite (a-fro-DYE-tee) was the goddess of love. The Romans called her Venus (hence the famous armless statue known as the Venus de Milo). Aphrodite lived on Mount Olympus with the other supreme deities and was married to the homely craftsman-god, Hephaestus. She was said to have been born from the foam of the sea (hence Botticelli's much-reproduced painting of the goddess floating on a seashell).
Aphrodite involved herself on several noteworthy occasions with the affairs of mortal heroes. When Jason asked permission of the king of Colchis to remove the Golden Fleece from the grove in which it hung, the king was clearly unwilling. So the goddess Hera, who sponsored Jason's quest, asked Aphrodite to intervene. The love goddess made the king's daughter Medea fall in love with Jason, and Medea proved instrumental in Jason's success.
Aphrodite can also be said to have caused the Trojan War. This came about in the following fashion. When the hero Peleus was married to the sea-nymph Thetis, all the gods were invited to the ceremony – all but one that is. The slighted goddess happened to a specialist in sowing discord, so she maliciously deposited a golden apple on the banquet table. The fruit was inscribed with the legend, "For the fairest." Immediately all the goddesses began to argue about whose beauty entitled her to be the rightful possesor of this prize.
Finally it was decided to put the dispute to arbitration. Reasonably enough, the designated judge was to be the most handsome mortal in the world. This turned out to be a noble Trojan youth named Paris, who was serving as a shepherd at the time. So the three finalists – Aphrodite, Hera and Athena – sought him out in the meadow where he was tending his flocks.
Not content to leave the outcome to the judge's discernment, the three goddesses proceeded to offer bribes. Hera, Queen of Olympus, took Paris aside and told him she would help him rule the world. Athena, goddess of war, said she would make him victorious in battle. Aphrodite sized Paris up and decided he would be more impressed with the guaranteed love of the most beautiful woman in the world. This was Helen, who happened to be married to the king of Sparta.
Paris promptly awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite, who in turn enabled him to elope with Helen, who thenceforth became notorious as Helen of Troy. Helen's husband and his brother raised a Greek army to retrieve his wife, and this was the inception of the Trojan War.
Another occasion in which the goddess of love came to the aid of a mortal hero also happened to involve golden apples. When the mighty heroine Atalanta agreed to wed whatever suitor managed to best her in a foot race, Aphrodite favored one of the contestants with a peck of golden fruit. By strewing these enchanted apples on the race course, the young lad caused Atalanta to become distracted and she lost the race.
Apollo (uh-POL-oh) was the god of prophesy, music and healing. Like most of his fellow Olympians, Apollo did not hesitate to intervene in human affairs. It was he who brought about the demise of the mighty Achilles. Of all the heroes besieging the city of Troy in the Trojan War, Achilles was the best fighter by far. He had easily defeated the Trojan captain Hector in single combat. But Apollo helped Hector's brother Paris slay Achilles with an arrow.
Arcadia (ar-KAY-dee-uh). A mountainous region in central Greece; in romantic poetry, a pastoral idyll of shepherds and nymphs. Arcadia was appropriately the birthplace of the shepherd god Pan, whose mother was a nymph. It was also the location of the Stymphalian marsh, which was infested with man-eating birds that killed their prey with metallic feathers. Heracles dealt with these in the course of one of his Labors. The hero used noisemakers given him by Athena to make them take flight and his bow and arrows to bring them down.
Ares (AIR-eez). Roman name Mars. Ares was the god of war. Though an immortal deity, he was bested by Heracles in battle and was almost killed when stuffed into a jar by two giants. When another hero wounded him during the Trojan War, he received scant sympathy from his father Zeus. The throne of Ares on Mount Olympus was covered in human skin.
Argo (AR-goh). The ship that bore Jason to Colchis in quest of the Golden Fleece. His shipmates were called the Argonauts in consequence. The vessel was named after its builder, the shipwright Argus. It had a magical talking prow provided by the goddess Athena, carved from a timber from Zeus's sacred grove at Dodona. The Argo barely escaped being smashed by the Clashing Rocks.
Argonauts (AR-guh-nawts). The group of heroes who sailed with Jason after the Golden Fleece. Their name derived from their vessel, the Argo. Among them were Heracles, Orpheus and the heroine Atalanta. The Argonauts navigated between both the Clashing Rocks and the Wandering Rocks and managed to avoid the fatal allure of the Sirens.
Argos (AR-gaws). A kingdom of the Heroic Age. A modern Greek town still bears the name. Argos was the mythological home of King Acrisius, who was warned by an oracle that he would die by the hand of his own grandson. And in due course, Perseus accidentally struck his grandfather with a discus during an athletic contest and fulfilled the prophesy.
Argus (1) (AR-gus). The shipwright who built the vessel in which Jason quested after the Golden Fleece. The ship was named the Argo after its builder, and Jason's companions were called the Argonauts after the ship. So the heroic crew that shared Jason's great adventure ultimately derived their name from Argus. The shipwright is not to be confused with the many-eyed Arcadian hero of the same name.
Argus (2) (AR-gus). A hero from Arcadia with more than the usual number of eyes; also called Argus All-Seeing to differentiate him from others named Argus. Argus All-Seeing got his nickname from his unorthodox number of eyes. In a classical case of mythological inconsistency, some say he had four eyes - two in the standard placement and two in the back of his head - while others claim he had up to a hundred eyes all over his body.
This excess ocular equipment made Argus an excellent watchman, a talent which the goddess Hera used to good effect in the case of Io. Io was a young priestess with whom Hera's husband Zeus had fallen in love. Needless to say, Hera was jealous and angry, so she changed Io into a cow.
Or maybe Zeus himself brought about the transformation to hide the object of his passion from Hera. In any case, once Io had become a heifer, Hera asked Argus to so-to-speak keep an eye on her and let Hera know if Zeus came near. Argus was able to perform this watch around the clock since he could always keep a lid or two peeled while the rest caught a little shut-eye.
But Zeus told Hermes, god of thieves, to snatch Io away, and Hermes resorted to a clever ruse. Disguising himself as a shepherd, he bored Argus with long-winded stories, beguiled him with song and eventually lulled him to sleep by playing tunes on a shepherd's pipe, recently invented by Pan.
Or so, at least, goes one version of the tale. In another, Hermes killed Argus with the cast of a stone.
Ariadne (air-ee-AD-nee). The daughter of King Minos whose help made it possible for Theseus to slay the Minotaur and survive the Labyrinth. Ariadne fell in love with Theseus at first sight, as he disembarked from the ship bearing him to his intended sacrifice. She gave him the clew, or ball of thread, that kept him from getting lost in the Minotaur's maze. But Theseus abandoned Ariadne on an island after his escape from Crete.
Aristaeus (air-is-TEE-us). A minor god, the son of Apollo. Aristaeus conceived a fancy for Eurydice, the wife of the minstrel Orpheus, and being used to indulging his every whim he chased after her. In her headlong effort to elude his pursuit, Eurydice stepped on a poisonous snake and died. Orpheus was so disconsolate that he journeyed to the Underworld to bring her back from the dead.
Artemis (AR-ti-mis). Roman name Diana. Artemis was the virgin goddess of the hunt and one of the Olympians. Her brother Apollo, noticing that she was spending a great deal of time hunting with the giant Orion, decided to put an end to the relationship. So he challenged Artemis to prove her skill at archery by shooting at an object floating far out at sea. Her shot was perfect. The target turned out to be the head of Orion.
Atalanta (at-uh-LAN-tuh). Abandoned at birth by a father who wanted a son, Atalanta became a great heroine and one the Argonauts. Unwilling to marry, she finally consented to wed any man who could beat her at a foot race. Such was her fleetness that she would have remained happily single, but that the Goddess of Love gave one of her suitors golden apples to scatter on the race course. These were magical, and Atalanta could not resist them. Stooping to gather them in, she lost the contest to her destined husband.
Athena (a-THEE-nuh). Roman name Minerva. Athena was the Olympian goddess of crafts and the domestic arts and also those of war; patron goddess of Athens. Athena was born from Zeus's head and was originally the Great Goddess in the form of a bird. She aided the heroes Perseus, Jason, Cadmus and Heracles in their quests.
Athens (ATH-inz). In history, the principal city of Greece, vying at times with Sparta for political supremacy. In mythology, ruled by Aegeus and his son Theseus. Theseus first proved himself a hero by clearing various bandits and ruffians from the road between his birthplace of Troezen and his father's kingdom. It was from Athens that the inventor Daedalus fled to the court of King Minos, where he designed the Labyrinth.
Atlantis (at-LAN-tis). According to the philosopher Plato, an advanced civilization that sank beneath the waves, a legend based perhaps on Minoan Crete. The fabled island-continent derives its name from the Titan Atlas. It was said to be out beyond the western headland where the immortal giant holds up the heavens by means of a pillar on his back. Plato maintained that Atlantis was a real place, not a myth. He in turn had heard of it from certain wise men of Egypt, whose civilization spanned the era when Atlantis was said to have flourished, whereas earlier civilizations in Greece had been wiped out by natural catastrophes - or so the Egyptians said.
Plato's description of Atlantis bears pronounced similarities to the Greek island of Crete as it must have been during the heyday of the Minoan culture. And whereas Atlantis was supposed to have sunk beneath the waves, Minoan Crete succumbed to the monumental volcanic eruption of the neighboring island of Thera - which may well have been accompanied by a huge tsunami, or tidal wave.
Atlas (AT-las). A Titan who supported the heavens by means of a pillar on his shoulders. He was temporarily relieved of this burden by Heracles, who needed the Titan's aid in procuring the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Heracles then tricked Atlas into taking his burden up again. In connection with another heroic quest, Atlas divulged the whereabouts of the Graeae to Perseus.
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