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Greek mythology is the body of myths and teachings that belong to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. It was a part of the religion in ancient Greece. Modern scholars refer to and study the myths in an attempt to shed light on the religious and political institutions of ancient Greece and its civilization, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.
Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the culture, arts, and literature of Western civilization and remains part of Western heritage and language. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in the themes.Achilles and Penthesileia by Exekias, c. 540 BC, British Museum, London.
Greek mythology is explicitly embodied in a large collection of narratives, and implicitly in Greek representational arts, such as ancient vase-paintings and votive gifts. Greek myth attempts to explain the origins of the world, and details the lives and adventures of a wide variety of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines and mythological creatures. These accounts initially were disseminated in an oral-poetic tradition; today the Greek myths are known primarily from ancient Greek literature. The oldest known Greek literary sources, Homer's epic poems Iliad and Odyssey, focus on the Trojan War and its aftermath. Two poems by Homer's near contemporary Hesiod, the Theogony and the Works and Days, contain accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of divine rulers, the succession of human ages, the origin of human woes, and the origin of sacrificial practices. Myths are also preserved in the Homeric Hymns, in fragments of epic poems of the Epic Cycle, in lyric poems, in the works of the tragedians and comedians of the fifth century BC, in writings of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic Age, and in texts from the time of the Roman Empire by writers such as Plutarch and Pausanias.
Archaeological findings provide a principal source of detail about Greek mythology, with gods and heroes featured prominently in the decoration of many artifacts. Geometric designs on pottery of the eighth century BC depict scenes from the Trojan cycle as well as the adventures of Heracles. In the succeeding Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods, Homeric and various other mythological scenes appear, supplementing the existing literary evidence.
Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans. "Roman mythology" may also refer to the modern study of these representations, and to the subject matter as represented in the literature and art of other cultures in any period.
The Romans usually treated their traditional narratives as historical, even when these have miraculous or supernatural elements. The stories are often concerned with politics and morality, and how an individual's personal integrity relates to his or her responsibility to the community or Roman state. Heroism is an important theme. When the stories illuminate Roman religious practices, they are more concerned with ritual, augury, and institutions than with theology or cosmogony.
The study of Roman religion and myth is complicated by the early influence of Greek religion on the Italian peninsula during Rome's protohistory, and by the later artistic imitation of Greek literary models by Roman authors. In matters of theology, the Romans were curiously eager to identify their own gods with those of the Greeks (interpretatio graeca), and to reinterpret stories about Greek deities under the names of their Roman counterparts. Rome's early myths and legends also have a dynamic relationship with Etruscan religion, less documented than that of the Greeks.
While Roman mythology may lack a body of divine narratives as extensive as that found in Greek literature, Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf is as famous as any image from Greek mythology except for the Trojan Horse. Because Latin literature was more widely known in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, the interpretations of Greek myths by the Romans often had the greater influence on narrative and pictorial representations of "classical mythology" than Greek sources. In particular, the versions of Greek myths in Ovid's Metamorphoses, written during the reign of Augustus, came to be regarded as canonical.