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10 Greek Myths to Know for Your Greek Vacation

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Ced earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.

Top 10 Greek myths to know for a wonderful vacation in Greece.

Top 10 Greek myths to know for a wonderful vacation in Greece.

Greece is the land of classic mythology. A place where every relic, statue, and mountain is intertwined with the deeds of heroes and the legacies of gods.

Familiarity with famous Greek myths thus imbues any vacation in Greece with greater meaning and joy. The following are 10 of the most famous legends from Greek mythology to prepare you for your dream holiday in this ancient land of the Olympian gods.

Even if you aren’t heading to Greece any time soon, the life lessons in these classic tales will surely still do you much good.

10 Greek Myths to Know for a Great Holiday in Greece

  1. Theseus and the Minotaur
  2. Perseus and the Slaying of Medusa
  3. The 12 Labors of Heracles (Hercules)
  4. Apollo and Artemis, the Divine Twins
  5. Saving Baby Zeus, Future King of the Greek Gods
  6. The Tragedy of Oedipus
  7. How Athena Became the Patron of Athens
  8. The Oracle of Delphi
  9. Asclepius, the Greek God of Medicine
  10. Jason and the Argonauts

1. Theseus and the Minotaur

In classic Greek myths, Theseus was the son of Athenian King Aegeus, though his father could also be said to be Poseidon, God of the Sea. His mother was supposedly possessed by Poseidon when she slept with Aegeus.

Separated from Aegeus at birth, the adult Theseus eventually learned about his royal parentage and successfully claimed his place beside his father. The young warrior did so after surviving six labors on his way to Athens. Each labor ended with him slaying a notorious villain.

The joy of Theseus’ reunion with his father was short-lived, however. At that time, Athens was subjugated by the powerful King Minos of Crete, and as tribute, the city had to send seven of her best youths and maidens to Crete every seven years.

Unable to stomach this atrocity, Theseus volunteered to be one of the youths and promised his father that should he survive, he would return on a ship with white sails. On reaching Crete, Theseus was immediately stripped of his weapons and sent into the Labyrinth, i.e., a massive maze. Here, the hot-blooded young prince finally discovered the grim truth behind what happened to previous tributes. All were eaten alive by the monster residing within the giant maze. This monster, a bull and human hybrid, was known as the Minotaur.

Even with his divine lineage and prowess, Theseus then wouldn’t have survived the Minotaur, especially with the battle taking place in the confusing and confining corridors of the Labyrinth. Fortunately for the young hero, though, his handsome appearance caught the eye of Minos’ daughter Ariadne. Not only did Ariadne give Theseus a ball of thread to mark his path within the Labyrinth, she also helped smuggle in a sword. Theseus would ultimately use these tools to navigate the Labyrinth and slay the monstrous Minotaur.

After escaping the Labyrinth, Theseus repaid Ariadne by fleeing back to Athens with her. For reasons unclear, however, Ariadne never made it to Athens. Midway through the journey, Theseus abandoned her on the island of Naxos. Subsequently, the young prince was either so stricken with distress, or guilt, he forgot to change the sails on his ship.

On seeing a ship with black sails returning from afar, the devastated King Aegeus assumed Theseus had perished. In grief, the aged king committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea.

The Palace of Knossos in Crete. Many believe the ruins once housed the Labyrinth of the Minotaur, one of the most famous locations in Greek mythology.

The Palace of Knossos in Crete. Many believe the ruins once housed the Labyrinth of the Minotaur, one of the most famous locations in Greek mythology.

Interesting to Know

  • Different versions of this famous Greek myth disagree on the reason behind Athen’s subjugation by Crete. Some claim Minos attacked Athens after his son Androgeos was murdered while competing in Athenian games. Rather than surrender the murderers to Minos, Aegeus then handed Minos the city instead. In other accounts, Minos had earlier conquered Athens with military might.
  • The Minotaur was in truth, Minos’ punishment by the Greek gods. While competing with his brothers for the throne, Minos prayed for endorsement by Poseidon in the form of a bull, promising he would sacrifice the bull in the sea god’s honor should he become king. After winning the throne, though, Minos decided to keep the beautiful bull for himself; instead, sacrificing a lesser beast of his own. Offended by the deceit, Poseidon charmed Minos’ wife Pasiphaë into sleeping with the divine bull. The resulting offspring was the Minotaur.
  • In all versions of the myth, the Labyrinth was the brainchild of master artificer Daedalus. Its original purpose was to imprison the Minotaur.
  • Again, versions disagree on why Theseus abandoned Ariadne. Some say he was instructed to do so by Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. Others state the young prince merely grew tired of the princess, or have never truly loved her.
  • King Aegeus is said to have committed suicide at the Cape of Sounion. Athenians believe this to be the story behind the naming of the Aegean Sea.
  • Other lesser-known Greek myths claim Ariadne was eventually rescued by Dionysus, the God of Wine. She later became his bride.
  • Both Aegeus and Minos were ultimately made into judges of the underworld. They became part of the trio that determines whether a soul would enjoy paradise in the Elysian Fields or be tormented for eternity in Tartarus. The third member of the trio was Rhadamanthus, another Cretan king.
  • For your Greek vacation, the ruins of Minos’ palace and the Labyrinth could be “viewed” at Knossos. Note, though, that there is no archeological evidence suggesting that these ruins are indeed the palace of Minos, or that the king even existed. The labyrinthine impression largely stems from the numerous narrow corridors crisscrossing the ruins.
The interior of the Palace of Knossos. Complicated, narrow corridors give the impression that a labyrinth indeed existed here.

The interior of the Palace of Knossos. Complicated, narrow corridors give the impression that a labyrinth indeed existed here.

The legend of Theseus and the Minotaur lives on in art, fiction, video games, etc.

The legend of Theseus and the Minotaur lives on in art, fiction, video games, etc.

2. Perseus and the Slaying of Medusa

One of the most famous illegitimate sons of Zeus, King of the Greek Gods, Perseus was conceived after Zeus rained himself onto the lap of Perseus’ mother, Danaë, in the form of shower of golden coins.

Despite Perseus’ divine parentage, though, his maternal grandfather, Acrisius, despised him; the man was told in a prophecy that a son of his daughter would slay him. Not daring to directly murder Zeus’ offspring, Acrisius then got rid of mother and child by imprisoning them in a wooden crate and casting that out to sea.

But Perseus and Danaë did not die. They were rescued by a kind fisherman named Dictys. Perseus was also raised to adulthood by Dictys on the island of Seriphos.

Unfortunately for Perseus, Polydectes, the brother of Dictys and ruler of Seriphos, then fell in love with Danaë. To rid himself of Perseus, who disapproved of the relationship, the wily ruler tricked the hot-blooded young man into agreeing to bring the head of the Gorgon Medusa.

This was considered to be an impossible task for the very gaze of Medusa was enough to turn any mortal being into stone. So that his son would survive, Zeus quickly instructed the Greek gods to aid Perseus with divine gifts, the most famous of which was a polished/mirror shield from Athena.

Perseus ultimately succeeded in beheading Medusa by viewing her reflection in his mirror shield. While returning to Seriphos, he also rescued Princess Andromeda of Ethiopia from the sea monster Cetus, thus earning her hand in marriage.

Perseus and Medusa immortalized in marble by Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. The story is one of the most famous Greek myths and a must-know for any Greek vacation.

Perseus and Medusa immortalized in marble by Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. The story is one of the most famous Greek myths and a must-know for any Greek vacation.

Interesting to Know

  • Medusa was not the only Gorgon, though she was the only mortal one. In Greek mythology, she was previously a beautiful woman with lovely hair, who was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple. (Some versions claim she willingly gave herself to the sea god) As punishment for the desecration of her temple, Athena turned Medusa into a Gorgon, a horrific humanoid with a serpentine body and slithering snakes for hair.
  • Prior to her rescue, Andromeda was intended as a sacrifice to appease Poseidon. Andromeda’s mother, Queen Cassiopeia, foolishly bragged that Andromeda was equal in beauty to the Nereids (sea nymphs). Irked, Poseidon dispatched the sea monster Cetus to devastate Cassiopeia’s kingdom.
  • Perseus ultimately used Medusa’s severed head to turn the evil Polydectes into stone.
  • After his adventures, Perseus gave Medusa’s head to Athena, who then magically incorporated the grisly trophy into the middle of her shield. Today, many depictions of Athena include Medusa’s horrific visage in the middle of her shield.
  • Perseus had other lesser-known adventures. He is also believed to have founded the Peloponnesian city of Mycenae.
  • • The legend of Perseus is probably the best-known Greek myth, thanks to the 1981 movie, Clash of the Titans. However, it should be noted that while the movie presented an atmospheric vision of Ancient Greece, full of magic and monsters, the story was significantly changed.
  • Perseus, Cassiopeia, and Andromeda are all immortalized as constellations. The mythical winged horse Pegasus, which was birthed from the blood of Medusa, is also a constellation.
  • As one of the most famous Greek heroes, Perseus wielding the severed head of Medusa is a very popular motif in art and sculpturing. The severed head of Medusa by itself has also appeared in several European art masterpieces. Most famously, the Testa di Medusa by Caravaggio.
  • Today, Seriphos, Mycenae, and Perseus’ birthplace of Argos could easily be visited during any Greek vacation. However, there are no specific relics or ruins directly related to the legend of Perseus and the slaying of Medusa.
Zeus' highly creative union with Danae.

Zeus' highly creative union with Danae.

Carravaggio's Testa di Medusa. Without a doubt, Medusa is one of the most horrific and unique Greek mythological monsters.

Carravaggio's Testa di Medusa. Without a doubt, Medusa is one of the most horrific and unique Greek mythological monsters.

3. The Twelve Labours of Heracles (Hercules)

More famously known worldwide by his Roman name of Hercules, the adventures and tribulations of Heracles need little introduction.

Yet another illegitimate son of Zeus, this time with the beauty Alcmene, Heracles was originally named Alcides. Foreseeing the infant’s destiny to be a great hero, Athena tricked Hera, Zeus’ long-suffering and jealous queen, into nursing the baby with her milk, thus further enhancing the newborn’s supernatural strength.

Famously, when Hera later sent serpents to kill the infant, Alcides effortlessly strangled the two reptiles without suffering any injury. He even chuckled while at it.

Alcides then continued to be tormented by Hera throughout his life. That he was renamed as Heracles, i.e., the Glory of Hera did little to soothe the hatred of the Queen of Gods, it just mortified the goddess even more.

In adulthood, Heracles suffered his worst tragedy when he was temporarily driven mad by Hera; he killed his wife and children while frenzied. As atonement for this heinous crime, the Oracle of Delphi sent Heracles to King Eurystheus, where the hero was to perform 12 “labors” over ten years. These labors either involved the killing of a mythological menace or accomplishing what was commonly deemed an impossible task. In sequence, the 12 labors of Heracles were:

  1. Killing the Nemean Lion, which had an impregnable hide.
  2. Slaying the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra. A new head grows back every time one is cut off.
  3. Capturing the Golden Hind of Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt.
  4. Capturing the Erymanthian Boar, a huge and terrifying beast.
  5. Cleaning the Augean stables. Not only were these stables huge, they had not been washed in decades.
  6. Slaying the Stymphalian Birds. These were man-eating birds with metallic beaks and feathers.
  7. Capturing the Cretan Bull. Like the Erymanthian Boar, the bull was huge and fearsome. It was also the bull the Queen of Crete slept with. Therefore, the father of the Minotaur.
  8. Stealing the Mares of Diomedes. These beautiful horses were a sight to behold. And man-eating.
  9. Obtaining the Girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the warlike Amazons.
  10. Obtaining the cattle of the monster Geryon. Geryon had three heads and a two-headed watchdog named Orthrus.
  11. Stealing the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the nymphs of evening and sunset.
  12. Bringing Cerberus, Hound of the Underworld, for a visit.

Heracles, as is well-known, succeeded in all labors, thus liberating himself from Eurystheus’ service. He would go on to have more adventures, including with other famous Greek mythological heroes, before attaining godhood after his mortal passing.

Heracles. The classic embodiment of masculine strength and determination.

Heracles. The classic embodiment of masculine strength and determination.

Interesting to Know

  • Heracles is one of the most popular subjects in Classic and Western Art. He is almost always portrayed as a bearded muscular man with a club. He is arguably also the most recognizable heroic character on Greek travel souvenirs.
  • Like Perseus, Heracles, as Hercules, eventually became a constellation.
  • As a symbol of masculine perfection, Heracles had both female and male lovers. According to Roman biographer Plutarch, Heracles’ male lovers were numerous.
  • Despite his many adventures, there isn’t any site particularly associated with Heracles within Greece. However, the Italian (ruined) city of Herculaneum is supposedly named after him.
  • Heracles is the last mortal son of Zeus, and the only one of his many illegitimate sons to be transfigured into a god after death.
  • There have been many movies and television series about Heracles (Hercules) over the years. Interestingly, few are recognized for artistic merit. Some, such as Disney’s animated version, were even condemned for their liberties with the original myth.
For many, Heracles represents the perfect virile male. Statues of him, for some, could thus be the perfect Greek vacation souvenir.

For many, Heracles represents the perfect virile male. Statues of him, for some, could thus be the perfect Greek vacation souvenir.

4. The Birth of the Divine Twins

In yet another example of his legendary infidelity, Zeus fell in love and impregnated Leto, the daughter of two Titans.

Enraged, Hera cursed Leto to never find any place on Earth to give birth. This failed to “punish” Leto, though, for Zeus simply raised an island from the sea to be his lover’s sanctuary.

On that island, Leto safely gave birth to divine twins. The boy, Apollo, became the Greek God of the Sun, Arts, Medicine, among other things. The girl, Artemis, became the Greek Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt. Eventually, of childbirth and virginity too.

Delos is the birthplace of two Greek Gods in classic Greek myths. It is also a very popular day-trip destination for Greek island vacationers.

Delos is the birthplace of two Greek Gods in classic Greek myths. It is also a very popular day-trip destination for Greek island vacationers.

Interesting to Know

  • As the birthplace of two Olympians in Greek myths, Delos was an important and popular religious site in Ancient Greece.
  • Geographically, Delos is a tiny island in the Cyclades. The name Cyclades literally means a cycle/circle, with Delos at the heart of this sacred gathering.
  • Today, Delos is one of the foremost archeological sites of Greece. The island is easily reached from nearby Mykonos by ferry. It is also considered one of the top archeological attractions to visit during any Greek island vacation.
  • The excavations on Delos are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean.

5. Saving the Future King of the Greek Gods

Appalling as it sounds, bloody family feuds are commonplace in Greek myths.

The primordial sky god Ouranos was incapacitated by his son, Cronus, the latter thereafter ruled the world together with his siblings the Titans. In turn, it was foretold that Cronus himself would one day be violently disposed of by his own sons.

To prevent this downfall, Cronus devoured all of his children, swallowing them whole upon their births. Unbeknownst to him, though, his wife Rhea managed to save their sixth child, Zeus, by fooling Cronus with a stone swaddled in cloths. Subsequently, Rhea also hid Zeus on Mount Ida in Crete. There, the infant god was fed the milk of a goat named Amalthea and safely brought up.

Once of age, the young Zeus used an emetic given to him by Gaia to force Cronus to disgorge all his siblings. Together with his revived siblings, Zeus then overthrew Cronus and took over the rulership of the world as the Olympians. In some accounts, the defeated Cronus was also imprisoned for eternity in the depths of Tartarus.

The Dikteon Cave in Mount Ida, Crete, where Zeus was raised by a divine goat.

The Dikteon Cave in Mount Ida, Crete, where Zeus was raised by a divine goat.

Interesting to Know

  • In all accounts, Cronus disposed Ouranos by castrating his father with a sickle. The Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, was formed from the resulting sea foam after Cronus threw his father’s testicles into the sea.
  • As ruler, Cronus imprisoned many primordial monsters and beings, such as the Cyclopes and the hundred-arm Hecatoncheires. Many of these would later be released by Zeus to assist his uprising.
  • The stone that fooled Cronus is alternatively called the Omphalos. This means the “navel” stone and was an important religious symbol in Ancient Greece.
  • Mount Ida is the highest mountain in Crete. In ancient times, it was also the sacred mountain of Rhea. Modern excavations have revealed a large number of votive offerings at the mountain.
  • The war with the Titans is a cornerstone of Greek myths. There are also various stories involving the Titans' subsequent fracases with the Greek Gods.
  • The conflicts between the Greek Gods and the Titans form the premise for Rick Riordan's bestselling book series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

6. The Tragedy of Oedipus

Oedipus was the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. Somewhat similar to the fate of Perseus, the infant Oedipus was left to die in the hills because Laius was told that his son would kill him.

The act, expectedly, did not kill Oedipus, who was soon rescued and adopted by King Polybus of Corinth. Once of age, Oedipus himself was told that he was destined to kill his father, and in the first of a series of tragedies, assumed this prophecy to refer to his foster father Polybus.

Leaving Corinth, Oedipus then headed for Thebes to resettle. During the journey, he had no notable adventures, except the killing of an older man after a trivial quarrel.

At Thebes, Oedipus learned that the ruler, Laius, was deceased, with the city also besieged by a riddle-spouting monstrosity named the Sphinx. The intelligent Oedipus easily solved the riddle of the Sphinx and destroyed it, and as reward, was given the city and the hand of the recently widowed Jocasta.

Later, while investigating who killed King Laius, Oedipus discovered to his horror that the murderer was none other than himself; Laius was the old man Oedipus slew while traveling to Thebes. Worse, he ended up marrying his mother as the ultimate consequence of his actions.

In extreme grief, shock, and shame, Jocasta committed suicide. As for Oedipus, he blinded himself with pins from his mother/wife’s dress.

Oedipus' sorrowful tale is one of the most disturbing Greek myths.

Oedipus' sorrowful tale is one of the most disturbing Greek myths.

Interesting to Know

  • Oedipus was the subject of Greek playwright Sophocles' tragedy, Oedipus Rex. Sophocles used his work to explore the flaws of humanity and the role of the individual in a predestined universe.
  • In modern times, the “Oedipus Complex” is used to describe the neurosis of male children harboring exclusive love for their mothers.
  • The riddle of the Sphinx is the famous, "What crawls with four legs as a baby, walks with two legs as an adult, and hobbles with three legs when old?" The Sphinx devoured all who failed to solve the riddle.
  • The Sphinx was also a popular subject in ancient Greek art, much more so than Oedipus. It is usually represented as a four-legged beast with wings and the face of a beautiful woman.
  • While it was a major site in several Greek mythology, modern Thebes is seldom on the itineraries of Greek holidays. Its museum and archaeological sites are largely bypassed by tourists and tour operators.
Sculpture of the Sphinx in Corinth Archaeological Museum.

Sculpture of the Sphinx in Corinth Archaeological Museum.

7. The Contest for King Cecrops's City by the Greek Gods

In Greek mythology, Cecrops was the half-man, half-serpent founder of Athens. Wise and humane, he taught his subjects reading and writing, as well as instituted the concept of marriage.

Impressed by his accomplishments, many Greek gods competed to become the patron of Athens, the foremost contenders being Poseidon and Athena. To decide which god would enjoy the honor, a competition was then held, the challenge being which god could offer Athens a better gift.

In the case of Poseidon, the sea god struck the ground with his trident and brought forth a saltwater spring, thus promising Athenian domination over the seas.

Athena, on the other hand, planted the world’s first olive tree, offering the versatile fruit of the plant as her gift.

After consideration, the Athenians chose Athena’s gift of peace and prosperity over Poseidon’s offer of seafaring supremacy, i.e., warfare. The Goddess of Wisdom thus became the permanent patron of Greece’s most famous city.

The Acropolis and the Parthenon. The one must-see attraction when visiting Greece.

The Acropolis and the Parthenon. The one must-see attraction when visiting Greece.

Interesting to Know

  • The saltwater spring created by Poseidon was named Erekhtheis.
  • As is obvious, the Athenians chose Athena’s fruit because of its many uses.
  • An alternative version of this founding myth describes Poseidon’s gift as the world’s first horse. In this version, the Athenians still preferred Athena’s olive.
  • This Greek myth partly explains why the famous Temple of Poseidon at Sounion is located outside of the population center of Athens.
  • It certainly explains why the Parthenon, Athen's crowning jewel, was dedicated to Athena.
  • While it seems the case, modern etymologists generally agree that Athens did not take its name from the goddess. Rather, it was the other way around.
  • Ironically, some experts believe the over-cultivation of olives led to severe soil erosion in Greece. This resulted in Greece's distinctly rugged landscape.
Nearly every part of Athena's olive has a practical benefit for mankind.

Nearly every part of Athena's olive has a practical benefit for mankind.

8. The Oracle of Delphi

So it was said, Zeus wanted to determine where the center of the world was. To do so, he released his two sacred eagles in opposite directions. When the two eagles eventually met at Delphi, Zeus declared the site to be the heart of the ancient world.

Delphi was indeed a visually splendid location. It was high on the slopes of Mount Parnassus and overlooked the valley of Phocis. On the other hand, it was also the nesting site of the huge serpent Python, and would have remained so, had Sun God Apollo not slain the giant snake with his golden arrows.

Because of this deed, Delphi became permanently associated with the Greek God of the Sun. Later, it was also famous for the Delphic Oracle, which began many Greek myths and epics.

Jump forth to modern times, Delphi is recognized as a UNESCO site for its influence on the ancient world, and its monuments and archeological relics. For many tourists, it is a must-visit attraction during a Greek vacation.

Delphi was the spiritual center of Ancient Greece. Many myths and epics began because of the prophecies spoken here.

Delphi was the spiritual center of Ancient Greece. Many myths and epics began because of the prophecies spoken here.

Interesting to Know

  • Hyginus’ version of this important Greek myth states that Apollo bore a deadly grudge against Python. While pregnant, Apollo’s mother Leto was relentlessly pursued by the monster, the huge serpent was dispatched by a furious and jealous Hera. (See above) Once of age, Apollo sought out Python and slew it with his magical arrows.
  • The same version by Hyginus also states that Delphi was previously the site of the Oracle of Gaia, the primordial earth goddess. Apollo thus “inherited” prophetic powers after killing Python before Gaia’s oracle.
  • So it was said, Zeus ordered Apollo to purify himself after committing the sacrilege of killing Python in the presence of the Oracle of Gaia. To do so, Apollo was forced to preside over the Pythian Games that Zeus started. The ruins of a stadium can still be seen today at Delphi.
  • The Pan-Hellenic Pythian Games were the precursors of the modern Olympics.
  • The practice of bestowing laurel wreath, a practice associated with the Olympic Games, began at Delphi. Winners of the Pythian Games were awarded such wreaths.
  • Historically, the Delphic Oracle was an Apollonian high priestess who would inhale the volcanic fumes at Delphi and deliver prophetic mutterings. These were then interpreted by a priest.
  • The high priestess was also known as the Pythia.
  • Delphi was a major religious, social, and political site in the ancient world. Powerful cities maintained treasuries along the Sacred Way to house their tributes. Some of these structures still exist.
  • Delphi is mentioned in many Greek myths. Typically, a hero's journey, or tragedy, begins with a prophecy at Delphi.
Ruins of a treasury house at Delphi.

Ruins of a treasury house at Delphi.

Delphic Prophecies: Divine Predictions or Human Machinations?

Today, many consider the Delphi Oracle as nothing but political machinations. It was entirely up to the head priest to decipher the nonsensical mutterings. He could say whatever benefited him.

9. Asclepius, the God of Medicine

A minor god in Greek myths, Asclepius was the son of Apollo and a mortal woman named Coronis.

Compassionate and intelligent, he was taught the secrets of medicine by a serpent whom Asclepius had shown kindness to. In adulthood, he also became so proficient in the art of healing, his skills surpassed even those of his divine father.

Sadly, Asclepius crossed the line when he raised the dead and accepted gold as reward. Acting on the complaint of Hades, Lord of the Dead, Zeus killed Asclepius with his thunderbolt. The King of the Greek Gods thereafter placed Asclepius’s body among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus.

The Amphitheatre of Epidaurus. Famous for its perfect acoustics.

The Amphitheatre of Epidaurus. Famous for its perfect acoustics.

Interesting to Know

  • Asclepius was raised by the famous Centaur Chiron, who taught the prodigy medicine.
  • The constellation Ophiuchus is alternatively known as the snake holder.
  • Asclepius was a very popular subject for sculptors, during and after the Ancient Age.
  • Asclepius' most famous symbol is that of his staff. Often mistaken for the staff of Hermes, the Divine Messenger, Asclepius' staff differs by having one instead of two snakes around it. Many paramedic services erroneously use the staff of Hermes (with two snakes) to represent themselves.
  • The Asclepeion at Epidaurus, famous for its acoustically splendid theatre, was a healing center of Asclepius.
The Staff of Asclepius has only one snake. The version with two snakes and wings is Hermes' staff.

The Staff of Asclepius has only one snake. The version with two snakes and wings is Hermes' staff.

10. Jason and the Argonauts

One of the longest and most elaborate Greek myths, the story of Jason and the Argonauts featured an ensemble cast of heroes from many other Greek legends.

The son of King Aeson of Iolcus, who was overthrown by his treacherous brother Pelias, the infant Jason escaped death after his mother lied about him being still-born. Years later, when a grown-up Jason confronted Pelias, the usurper demanded the legendary Golden Fleece in exchange for his abdication. Though the task was considered impossible, Jason agreed.

To locate and retrieve the fleece, Jason then assembled a large crew of legendary heroes, members of which included Heracles, Orpheus, Peleus, Castor and Pollux (Gemini), etc.

He also commissioned the shipwright Argus to construct a magnificent ship for their journey. On completion, the vessel was named the Argo and blessed by none other than Hera, Queen of the Greek Gods. Hera, at that point, proudly considered Jason her champion.

Jason and his Argonauts subsequently encountered many tribulations and disasters while on their way to Colchis, where the Golden Fleece was. Surviving reasonably, their final task was to complete three challenges issued by Aeetes, the ruler of Colchis.

To assist Jason, Hera made Aphrodite enchant Aeetes' daughter, Medea, into falling in love with Jason. Through the assistance of Medea's magical abilities, Jason succeeded in all three tasks and claimed the fleece. His Argonauts and him, and Medea, then hurriedly fled Colchis when an enraged Aeetes reneged on his promise.

In a subsequent twist reminiscent of the story of Theseus, Jason and Medea would not settle down happily ever after as the king and queen of Iolcus. So as to strengthen political ties, Jason agreed to marry a princess of Corinth, despite already having children with Medea.

Embittered, Medea killed the Corinthian princess with a cursed, flaming dress, in the process incinerating the king of Corinth too. Before fleeing in a magical chariot, she also killed her two sons. She did so as she feared they would be abused or enslaved as a consequence of her vengeance.

As for Jason, he survived Medea’s revenge unscathed. Years later, he would have another son too.

However, by breaking his vow of love to Medea, he permanently lost the favor of Hera, who was the Greek Goddess of Matrimony. Jason ultimately died lonely and unhappy. While sleeping under the rotting remains of the Argo, the stern fell on him, crushing the aged hero to death.

 The long tale of the Argonauts is probably the world's first heroic road-trip. Undertaken by a band of bros onboard a legendary ship.

The long tale of the Argonauts is probably the world's first heroic road-trip. Undertaken by a band of bros onboard a legendary ship.

Interesting to Know

  • The Argonauts encountered many mythical obstacles during their journey to and from Colchis. These include murderous wives, sirens, a giant automaton, harpies, and clashing rocks.
  • The Golden Fleece has an extensive backstory to it. In short, it was the fleece of a winged ram fathered by Poseidon in his ram form, one that famously saved royal siblings Phrixus and Helle from their murderous stepmother. After Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Poseidon, the ram became the Zodiac constellation of Aries.
  • Medea is regarded as one of the most powerful sorceresses in Greek myths. She was the niece of Circe, another powerful sorceress. She was also the granddaughter of Helios, the personification of the sun.
  • Iolcus was a city on the eastern coast of Greece, while Colchis was on the eastern end of the Black Sea.
  • The most famous cinematic adaptation of Jason’s quest was the 1963 production, Jason and the Argonauts starring Todd Armstrong and Nancy Kovack. The movie remains beloved for its stop-motion effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Particularly, the climactic scene of the Argonauts fighting risen skeleton soldiers while fleeing from Colchis.

Further Reading

11 Greek Influences and Contributions to Today's Society
The legacy of Ancient Greece lives on in our modern world.

Gods, Goddesses and Mythology in Art
The immortals of Ancient Greece were inspiration for artists for hundreds of years.

The Oedipus Plays - An Overview
One of the most distressing stories in Greek mythology, the awful tale of Oedipus is, in truth, a discussion of fate versus free will.


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  • Chancellor. (1994). Dictionary of mythology. ISBN: 185152613.
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  • Cartwright, M. (2021, June 18). Theseus. World History Encyclopedia.
  • Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, June 11). Heracles. Wikipedia.
  • Kolasa-Sikiaridi, K. (2021, February 7). The Island of Delos: Where Greek Myths, Cults and History Come Alive.
  • Editors. (2018, May 9). Delphi.
  • The Story Of Jason And The Argonauts. Jason and the Argonauts. (2021, March 12).

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Ced Yong


Ced Yong (author) from Asia on August 21, 2016:

Hey Catherine, thanks for your comment! I hope you get to visit wonderful Greece again. It's such a beautiful place, and history and magic is everywhere. :)

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on August 21, 2016:

I spent three weeks in Greece many years ago. This would have been a useful guide for me back then. I loved Greece, even tho my knowledge of myth and history was minimal. There was a feeling of antiquity that was so immersive.

Ced Yong (author) from Asia on July 15, 2016:

Hey Tommy, thanks for commenting! As for American myths, hmmmm, Wonder Woman's my goddess since young. Oh, but wait, she's Greek ....

Brad from California on July 15, 2016:

I always found Greek Mythology to be very interesting along with Egyptian Mythology. What Mythology does America have? Um... Superman? :P lol

Ced Yong (author) from Asia on June 27, 2016:

Hey Kyriaki, thanks for your very encouraging comments! I'm truly flattered.

Kyriaki Chatzi on June 27, 2016:

As a Greek myself, I am proud to read an article so thorough and well-researched like this. It truly makes justice to all of our archaelogical treasures. Well done, my friend!!

Ced Yong (author) from Asia on June 25, 2016:

Hey mts1098, thanks for commenting. It wouldn't have been fun, by most counts. That is, unless you're a hero with magical weapons!

mts1098 on June 25, 2016:

a very interesting read on the myths of Greece...I am not sure it would have been fun to live in those times but it certainly could have been entertaining...cheers and OPA!