Gods and monsters

David Stuttard recounts the most enthralling Greek myths on a journey around their modern-day locations Thessaloniki-1

Mount Olympus near Thessaloniki, home of the gods and a now a nature reserve, is a perfect example of the sites across Greece where the myths attached to them make them as alluring to visit as their natural and cultural attributes. A good entry point to Greece’s first national park is Dion, a village located at the foot of the mountain that’s also known for its ancient Macedonian sanctuary of Zeus.

Crete’s ruined Anemospilia Temple on Mount Iuktas is easily reached from Heraklion, and offers spectacular views across the island. King Minos’s reconstructed palace of Knossos is one of Crete’s biggest tourist attractions. Legend tells how the Minotaur, half-man, half-bull, was created when the sea-god Poseidon was angered because Minos had failed to offer him a promised sacrifice. Athenian prince Theseus was saved from being devoured in the beast’s labyrinthine lair by Minos’s daughter Ariadne.

The island of Ikaria takes its name from Icarus, the boy who fell to earth when the sun melted the wax holding his makeshift wings together. Today a popular holiday destination, the island has wild, natural beauty, pristine beaches with crystal clear waters and a wide selection of bars and restaurants serving up well-priced, local cuisine.

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From top: Icarus, the boy who fell to earth when the sun melted the wax holding his makeshift wings together; Prince Theseus was saved from the Minotaur's lair by Minos's daughter Ariadne; Orpheus descended to the Underworld to beg the god Hades to return his love Eurydice to life.

The island of Ikaria takes its name from Icarus, the boy who fell to earth when the sun melted the wax holding his makeshift wings together. Today a popular holiday destination, the island has wild, natural beauty, pristine beaches with crystal clear waters and a wide selection of bars and restaurants serving up well-priced, local cuisine. It’s accessible daily by a boat from Athens.

The gods Athene and Poseidon are said to have competed to give their name to the Greek capital. Athene made an olive tree flourish from a rock on the Acropolis, while Poseidon struck the city’s famous ancient citadel with his trident and made a salt-water spring bubble up. Olives were deemed more useful than salt water, and the city became known as Athens.

The marks of the trident and the descendent of the tree are still there today, close to the now nearly 2,500-year-old Parthenon – said to have been built by the Athenians in honour of their new namesake.


Greek Mythology, A Traveller's Guide from Mount Olympus to Troy by David Stuttard, Thames & Hudson for €19.


The full version of this article was originally published in b.inspired.
© Illustrations by Russel Cobb

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