Cheat Sheet

Mythology For Dummies

From Mythology For Dummies by Christopher W. Blackwell, Amy Hackney Blackwell

Many cultures create a mythology to help explain the workings of the world. Western civilization is most familiar with the gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology, who have comparable powers, but different names. And, mythology is created often in response to human history, so a historical timeline can be a good reference to have.

Gods and Goddesses of Greek and Roman Mythology

The predominant mythologies handed down through the ages are those of the Greeks and Romans. The mythology of each culture includes gods and goddesses who interacted with humans, with good, bad, and indifferent motives. Each culture ascribed to deities with comparable powers and spheres of influence, and the following table shows those areas and the names of the important deities in each mythology:

Greek Name Roman Name Description
Zeus Jupiter King of Gods
Hera Juno Goddess of Marriage
Poseidon Neptune God of the Sea
Cronos Saturn Youngest son of Uranus, Father of Zeus
Aphrodite Venus Goddess of Love
Hades Pluto God of the Underworld
Hephaistos Vulcan God of the Forge
Demeter Ceres Goddess of the Harvest
Apollo Apollo God of Music and Medicine
Athena Minerva Goddess of Wisdom
Artemis Diana Goddess of the Hunt
Ares Mars God of War
Hermes Mercury Messenger of the Gods
Dionysus Bacchus God of Wine
Persephone Proserpine Goddess of Underworld
Eros Cupid God of Love
Gaia Gaea Goddess of Earth

A Timeline of World Civilizations for Mythology

Mythology seeks to explain the world and thus reflects the culture, events, and history of the societies that create the stories handed down as myths. Egypt’s Nile River and its cycle of overflowing its banks leaving fertile ground as it receded became the basis for Egyptian religion that demanded that the people help the gods prevent anything from interfering with the cycle.

Myths form around the founding of cities, including Athens and Rome — about 10,000 to 2,500 years ago, respectively — and the founding of civilizations, including the creation myths passed down in virtually every culture.

Chinese and Native American myths account for astrological occurrences as well as for more earth-bound events such as the Toltec invasion of the Mexican city of Teotihuacan in 900 CE. The myth of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, grew from this victory.

Famous poems, such as Beowulf and the Saga of the Volsungs are combinations of history and legend. The stories of the mythical Br’er Rabbit, who won every encounter despite his subservient position, inspired hope in African-American slaves in the Civil War era.

And don’t assume that all the myths are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. The mythical city of Brigadoon, a Scottish village that appears once every hundred years was essentially the invention of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe who wrote a play in 1947.

The following table offers historical highlights from 3,000 years before the common era to the eve of the 20th century.

BCE CE
3300-1900 Beginning of Sumerian Civilization 31 BCE-476 CE Roman Empire
2550-2150 Old Kingdom, Egypt 150 -750 Teotihuacan: Central America
1980-1640 Middle Kingdom, Egypt 27-30 Jesus of Nazareth preaches reforms in Palestine and is executed by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
1792-1750 Hammurabi’s reign, height of Babylonian Empire 35-62 Paul, a Diaspora Jew, founds a series of churches in Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece. Christianity separates from Judaism.
1600-1100 Greek Bronze Age 400-499 Historical King Arthur might have lived
1540-1070 New Kingdom, Egypt 250-900 Maya: Central America
1500-400 Olmec; Central America 570–632 The Prophet Mohammed writes the Qur’an and founds the religion of Islam.
1500 Aryans invade India; start of Vedic Age 632–750 Islam spreads to the Near East, North Africa, Spain, and France.
1250 Moses leads Israelite slaves from Egypt, establishes worship of Yahweh at Mt. Sinai (formerly sacred to the moon god Sin) 700-1000 Age of Vikings
1200-1000 Earliest Hindu Literature, the Rigveda 900-1180 Toltec: Central America
1100 Trojan War 1000-1300 Apache and Navajo Indians move to Southwestern United States
800-700 Age of Homer 1250 End of Anasazi culture, North America
776 First Olympic Games in Greece, in honor of Zeus 1325-1521 Aztec empire: Central America
753 Founding of Rome 1438-1532 Inca empire: South America
600-400 Age of Athenian Democracy 1492 Christopher Columbus lands in North America
599-500 Lao-Tzu, founder of Taoism, active in China 1600-1700 North American Plains Indians incorporate horses
551-479 Confucius 1800-1899 North American Indians in United States mostly displaced by Europeans
563 Birth of Gautama (founder of Buddhism)
540 Birth of Vardhamana (founder of Jainism)
509-31 Roman Republic
365-323 Alexander the Great
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