Countless stories from classical and other mythologies describe gods, goddesses, and other immortals who interact among themselves but also participate in the lives of mortals, directing or interfering with events, engaging in battles, plots, love affairs, and countless quarrels. In their original contexts, stories of this order often carried the impact of religious truth and seemed to explain or comment upon such phenomena as the Creation, the origins of ritual and law, or the functioning of natural processes. Thus, the legend of Demeter (goddess of grain and fertility) and her daughter Persephone, the latter abducted by Hades to the underworld, became for the Greeks a means of reflecting on changes in the seasonal cycle.* Other stories, such as that of Prometheus who brought fire and light to humans in defiance of the god Zeus, touched upon other aspects of reality. The interesting thing is that the legends are so vivid, compelling, and imaginatively suggestive that they have survived and remain significant for us as legends long after they have lost their religious impact. Traces of the gods can even be found embedded in certain of our common words: cereal derives from the goddess Ceres (the Roman name for Demeter); mercury from the Roman god of that name known for his fleetness; martial from Mars, the Roman god of war; and venereal from Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
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