Prince Theseus was the son of King Aegeus of Athens, not too long before the Trojan War (so maybe around 1300 BC). At this time the Minoans, who lived on the island of Crete, had a very strong navy. The Minoan king, King Minos, used to send his navy to attack Greek cities, including Athens. Everyone was afraid of him and his soldiers.
King Aegeus had an agreement with King Minos that if Minos would leave Athens alone, Aegeus would send seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls to Crete every nine years, to be eaten by a monster that lived on Crete, the Minotaur. They had been doing this for a long time, but of course the boys and girls who had to go be eaten and their moms and dads hated it!
One day it was once again time to send the children to Crete. Everyone was crying. Prince Theseus said that he was going to go with them and kill the Minotaur, to save these children and all the ones who might be sent in the future. His dad, King Aegeus, begged him not to go. Aegeus was afraid that the Minotaur would get Theseus too! But Theseus said he was, too, going to go, and he got on the boat. The boat had a black sail, to show how sad everyone was. King Aegeus made Theseus promise to change to a white sail if he lived to come home, to announce that he had won, and Theseus promised.
When they got to Crete, King Minos and his daughter Princess Ariadne (arr-ee-AD-nee) came out of their palace to see Theseus and the other Athenian children. King Minos just said to throw them in to the Minotaur the next day, but Ariadne fell in love with Theseus (yes, just like that!) and she wanted to help him.
So late that night Ariadne gave Theseus a sword and a ball of string. She told him to tie the string to the door of the Labyrinth where the Minotaur lived (a big maze) and unroll it behind him as he went so he could find his way back out, and to use the sword to kill the Minotaur. Theseus thanked Ariadne very much and promised to marry her if he escaped without being eaten by the Minotaur.
The next morning all the Athenians went into the Labyrinth. The others were afraid, but Prince Theseus tied the string to the door and went to find the Minotaur. Finally he did find the Minotaur and there was a big fight, but then Theseus killed the Minotaur with his sword and followed the string back to the door. The other Athenians were very happy to see him and to hear that he had killed the Minotaur!
Princess Ariadne opened the door and let them out, and they all ran away to their ship and sailed away: Theseus, Ariadne, and all the other Athenians.
But when Theseus and Ariadne got to the island of Delos, halfway home from Crete, they stopped to rest. Ariadne fell asleep, and Theseus left her there on the island and sailed away to Athens without her. Different Greek stories give different reasons why he did this: maybe he just didn't like her very much, or maybe he thought the Athenians wouldn't like her because she was Cretan. Or maybe he was afraid King Minos would be angry. Some stories say it was because Dionysos fell in love with her. But all the stories agree that he left her there on the island.
When Theseus got as far as Sounion, he was close enough for the ship to be seen from Athens. But he had forgotten to change the sail from black to white! His father, King Aegeus, was looking out for Theseus' ship. When he saw the black sail he thought Theseus was dead, and he was so sad that he jumped off the cliff and killed himself.
When Theseus reached Athens, he was very sorry to hear that his father was dead, and it was his own fault. But then he became king, and he was a very good king who ruled for a long time.
Oedipus for Kids
4. Oedipus Rex
Sophocles wrote this very famous play in the 500's BC. It is mainly about fate, and how men do not control their own fate, no matter how much they try. It's about accepting that there are things that are beyond your control.
This is the story:
When Laius (LIE-us) and Jocasta, the king and queen of Thebes, had a baby, Laius went to the oracle at Delphi (DELL-fee) to ask about it. But the oracle told Laius that his son would murder him. Horrified, Laius ordered that his baby son should be exposed in the woods with a pin through his feet to keep him from crawling away. And a shepherd did this.
But the baby was rescued and taken to the king and queen of Corinth, who wanted a son and couldn't have one, and he adopted him. The queen of Corinth called the baby Oedipus, which means swollen foot, on account of the pin through his feet. But she didn't tell Oedipus that he was adopted.
When Oedipus grew up, he also listened to an oracle, and the oracle told him that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He was horrified, and ran away from Corinth that night, trying to escape his fate.
As he travelled down the road in his chariot, with his horses, he came to a crossroads. Another chariot came to the crossroads at the same time, but it went through without letting Oedipus go. Oedipus was angry at this and got out and killed the other man.
When Oedipus got to the town of Thebes, a little later, he found the great Sphinx there. The Sphinx sat in front of Thebes and asked everyone who came there a riddle. If you could answer it, the Sphinx let you go, but if you could not answer the riddle, then the Sphinx ate you. Nobody ever knew the answer. This was the Sphinx's riddle:
What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?
The answer is: a man.
A man is a baby in the morning of his life and he crawls on four feet.
He is an adult in the noon of his life and he walks on two feet.
But when he is old, in the evening of his life, he walks with a cane, on three feet.
(This would be true of women, too, but the Greeks told it about men only).
When Oedipus answered the riddle correctly, the Sphinx was so upset that she killed herself. Oedipus went on into Thebes. When he got there, the Thebans were very upset because somebody had killed their king, Laius. But they were happy to hear that Oedipus had figured out the riddle of the Sphinx. So they made Oedipus their new king. As part of becoming the new king, Oedipus married the queen, Jocasta.
Many years went by. Oedipus and Jocasta had four children, two boys and two girls, and they got old. One day a plague came to Thebes. All over Thebes, people were dying of the plague. King Oedipus sent a messenger to the oracle at Delphi to find out why the gods had sent this terrible plague. The oracle told the messenger that Thebes had a bad man in it, and they had to find him and get rid of him or the plague would go on killing people.
This is where Sophocles began his play. In the play, Oedipus tries to find out who this bad man might be, and with the help of the blind seer Tiresias he gradually realizes that he himself, Oedipus, is the bad man, because he has killed his father (the man at the crossroads) and married his mother, just as the oracle said he would. When he finds out that even though he tried hard to escape his fate it has found him anyway, he is very upset. He pokes out his own eyes with a stick. When Jocasta hears the news, she hangs herself until she is dead. Finally, Oedipus leaves Thebes with his children, so that the gods will take the plague away, and wanders off toward Athens.
Pandora for Kids - the Greek myth
When Zeus was so angry at Prometheus for giving people fire, he was also mad at the people who had tricked him into taking the wrong bag of meat. Zeus got back at the people by making a beautiful woman, whom he named Pandora (which means all-gifts).
Zeus sent Pandora down to earth and gave her as a present to Prometheus' brother, Epimetheus. Zeus told Epimetheus that he should marry Pandora. Also, Zeus sent Pandora with a little box, with a big lock on it (Actually in ancient Greek versions of this story it is a sealedpottery vase). He said not to ever open the box, and he gave the key to Epimetheus.
But Pandora was very curious about what was in the box. She begged Epimetheus to let her open it, but he always said no. Finally one day he fell asleep, and she stole the key (or broke the seal) and opened the box (or vase).
Oh! Out of the box flew every kind of trouble that people had never known about before: sicknesses, and worries, and crimes, and hate and envy and all sorts of bad things. The bad things all began to fly away like little bugs, all over the place. Pandora was very sorry now that she had opened the box! She tried to catch the bad things and put them back in the box but it was too late. They all flew away.
But the very last thing to fly out of the box, as Pandora sat there crying, was not as ugly as the others. In fact it was beautiful. It was Hope, which Zeus sent to keep people going when all the nasty things got them down.
Medusa for Kids – The Greek Myth
Medusa was once a lovely young girl who had a boyfriend she loved very much. One afternoon she and her boyfriend were looking for a place where they could be alone, and they went into a temple of the goddess Athena. Seeing that nobody else was there, they sat down to talk, and soon they started to kiss.
Athena, looking down from the sky, saw them, and she was very angry that they would use her temple this way. She made Medusa grow very ugly, and have snakes instead of hair.
Medusa's boyfriend ran away, frightened.
After that Medusa went away from other people and hid herself, and she lived with her sisters (who had also gotten ugly) for many years. They were so ugly that if you looked at them you would turn into a stone statue!
Perseus and Medusa for Kids - the ancient Greek myth
Once there was a good king, but he died. His bad brother killed him so that he could be king. The bad brother needed to get rid of the good king's wife (Danae) and baby (Perseus), but he was afraid to kill them too. So he put them in a wooden chest and he dropped the wooden chest in the ocean.
After a long time they drifted ashore in a new kingdom. Perseus and his mother Danae stayed there while Perseus grew up. But after a while the king of the new place wanted to marry Danae, but she didn't want to marry him. This king wanted to get rid of Perseus for awhile so he could make Danae marry him.
So the king sent Perseus on a quest, to kill the monster Medusa and bring back her head.
At first Perseus didn't know where to find Medusa, so he went and asked the three Fates. The Fates were very old and they only had one eye and one tooth between them and they took turns every day, passing the eye and the tooth between them. When Perseus came to them, at first they didn't want to tell him where Medusa was. But Perseus waited until they were passing the eye from one to another, and so none of them could see. Then he quick grabbed the eye! The Fates had to tell Perseus where Medusa was in order to get their eye back.
Then Perseus met the god Hermes, who gave him winged sandals to wear so he could fly to where Medusa was, and fight from the air. And he met the goddess Athena, who gave him a sword and a shield. Athena told Perseus not to look at Medusa or her ugliness would turn him to stone. Instead he should use the shield as a mirror and look in that to cut off Medusa's head.
So Perseus took the winged sandals and the sword and the shield and he said thank you and he flew to where Medusa's cave was. She lived there with her two sisters who were ugly too like her. When Perseus got there all three sisters were asleep. Perseus remembered not to look at them and he looked in the shiny shield and cut off their heads – all three of them! Then Perseus took Medusa’s head and put it in a bag and flew away.
Hercules for Kids - Herakles in Ancient Greek - the Greek hero
You might think you already know all about Hercules from watching the Disney movie, but if you read this you'll see that the Greeks told this story very differently!
According to the Greeks, Hercules was the son of a woman named Alcmene and the god Zeus. He was a great hero, and very strong. Even when he was only a few days old, Hercules was very strong. The goddess Hera was angry, because Zeus was her husband and she didn't want him to have children with other women. So she sent two huge snakes to strangle the little baby. But Hercules just sat up and grabbed those snakes and strangled them!
When Hercules was still a little boy, he got into trouble with another god, Apollo.
But when Hercules grew up, he was really the strongest man in the world. He married a woman named Megara and they had two children, whom he loved very much. But Hera was still angry at Hercules. One day she sent a madness on him, so that he went crazy. He was so crazy that he killed his own children, and also his wife Megara.
When Hera let Hercules come to his senses, he screamed, "What have I done?!" He needed to find some way for the gods to forgive him for this terrible crime. He went to Delphi and asked Apollo what to do. Apollo said the gods would forgive Hercules if he did twelve hard jobs for Eurystheus (YER-iss-THEY-oos), the king of Argos - we call these the twelve labors of Hercules.
Not all the Greeks agreed on exactly what the twelve labors were, or what order they came in. So if you include them all, there are more than twelve labors. They are:
Nemean Lion (most people agreed that this one came first)
Golden Apples of the Hesperides
(Notice how much trouble Hercules has with snakes? That's because his main enemy is Hera, and she's an Earth goddess so snakes like her).
When Hercules was done with the twelve labors, Apollo said he was free again, he was done being sorry for having killed his wife and children. In addition, for doing all those labors, he was going to be a god after he died!
Hercules married another woman, Deianira (day-ann-EYE-rah), and they were happy for a short time. But then a bad centaur, Nessus, kidnapped Deianira. Hercules got Deianira back, of course, and shot Nessus dead with an arrow. As he was dying, Nessus told Deianira that if she smeared his blood on Hercules it would make Hercules love Deianira forever. Deianira smeared the blood all over Hercules' new cloak, and then she gave it to Hercules as a present. But when Hercules put on the cloak, the centaur's blood began to burn him all over! It turned out to be a poison really. Hercules suffered and suffered, and could not find a way to stop the burning. Finally he decided to kill himself and end the pain. He went up to Mt. Olympos and became a god.
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Antigone for Kids - the Ancient Greek play by Sophocles
5. Greek literature: Antigone
Antigone is a play written by Sophocles. It tells the story of Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus.
When Oedipus was married to his own mother, Jocasta, they had four children – two sons, Polyneices (polly-NICE-ees) and Eteocles, and two daughters, Antigone (ann-TIG-oh-nee) and Ismene (iss-MAIN-eh). The children were cursed by their fathers’ curse and so nothing good could happen to them. After Oedipus died, his two sons were supposed to rule Thebes together, but they began to fight over who would be in charge. They had a big war, and Polyneices and his brother were both killed. The people chose Creon (CREE-on) for their new king.
Creon had been on the side of Eteocles.
Creon ordered that Eteocles should be brought into the city and buried like a hero, with a big funeral. But he ordered the people to leave Polynices outside the city, unburied, like a traitor, and the dogs would eat his body.
Polynices’ sister Antigone was very upset by this order. She wanted her brother to be buried right! So early the next morning, Antigone sneaked out of the city and buried Polynices with her bare hands. When she got back, her sister Ismene tried to convince her to lie about it, but she said no, that would be wrong.
When Creon found out that Antigone had buried Polynices, he was very angry. And he was even more angry when she said she wasn’t sorry at all. Antigone argued that it was more important to obey the law of the gods (to bury your brother) than to obey the law of the king. But Creon said the king decided the law, and everyone had to obey it. He ordered his guards to kill her by shutting her up in a cave with nothing to eat or drink.
Creon’s son, Haemon, was in love with Antigone, and he tried to save her. When he couldn’t, he hanged himself, so he would be dead like her.
What do you think? Was Antigone right, or Creon? Should you obey the law, even if you think it is wrong? Even if God says that law is wrong? Is it ever right to break the law?
Achilles for Kids - who was Achilles? What did he do in the Trojan War? Why was he killed? Achilles in Greek mythology.
Achilles was the son of Peleus and Thetis: Peleus was a king in Greece, and Thetis was a nymph.
When Achilles was still a little baby, his mother tried to protect him from harm by dipping him into a river that had special magic water. And it worked; he could not be harmed, except for one heel that his mother held him by as she dipped him in the water. Now when someone is very strong but has one weak spot, we call that their "Achilles' heel."
When he grew up, Achilles heard a prophecy. It was this: he could make a choice to live quietly and without fame or honor, and live a long time and die in bed, or he could choose to be famous in his lifetime and remembered always, but to die young. What would you choose?
Achilles chose to be famous and die young, and you can read about how that happened in Homer's Iliad.
But later when Odysseusmet Achilles in the underworld, Achilles was maybe not as happy with his decision.
Homer's Iliad for Kids - the story of Achilles and the fall of Troy
6. The Iliad
"Sing, Goddess, of the anger of Achilles..."
The story of Homer's Iliad begins in the middle of the Trojan War, just at the end of the Bronze Age in Greece. (To find out about the beginning of the war, click here). We don't know if there ever really was a Trojan War, but even if there was, this is a story about it, not a real memory of it.
The Greeks believed that the Trojan War lasted for ten years, and this story happens in the tenth year of the war, when both sides were really sick of being at war, and the Greeks were sick of being away from home.
The Iliad begins with a fight between the leader of the Greeks, King Agamemnon of Mycenae, and the Greeks' best fighter, King Achilles (uh-KILL-eez). (The Greeks lived in a lot of little city-states, and in the Bronze Age each one had its own king, but Agamemnon was leading them all during the war). The Greeks had won a battle and were splitting up the booty (the stuff they had captured). Everybody had a pile of stuff. Achilles had gotten a woman among his stuff, to be his slave, whose name was Briseis (brih-SAY-iss). But Agamemnon decided that HE wanted the pretty Briseis, and he just took her from Achilles, saying that he was the head of the army so he would do what he liked.
Well, Achilles was so angry that Agamemnon took Briseis from him that he refused to fight for the Greeks anymore and just sat in his tent and sulked. Without their best fighter, the Greeks started losing battles.
Finally Achilles' best friend Patroclos thought of an idea. He put on Achilles' famous armor and went out to fight. Both the Greeks and the Trojans thought Achilles had come back to the battle and the Greeks won a big victory, but Patroclos was killed in the fighting: he might dress like Achilles but he could not fight like him.
When Achilles heard that Patroclos was dead, he was ashamed of how he had been sulking. He agreed to fight again. Now the Greeks really started to win. So the best Trojan fighter, Prince Hector, came out from Troy to fight Achilles. They fought for a long time, but finally Achilles killed Hector.
Hector's father, King Priam, came to Achilles at night to ask for his son's body back, and Achilles gave it to him.
Trojan Horse for Kids - the ancient Greek story
The Trojan Horse
After the events of the Iliad and the death of Hector, the Trojan War still wasn't over. Neither the Greeks nor the Trojans seemed to be able to win, until one of the Greek kings, Odysseus of Ithaca, had an idea.
"Build a big wooden horse on wheels," he said, "big enough for a bunch of Greek soldiers to hide inside it." So the Greeks did. Then the Greeks all pretended to sail home (except the ones hiding inside the horse!). They acted like they had given up and left. But really they hid just around the corner.
Soon the Trojans found the horse. "What is it?" they asked each other. Nobody knew. (The Greek soldiers hiding inside kept very quiet). Then they found a Greek soldier hiding nearby. He said (though this was part of the trick) that the other Greeks hated him and they had left him behind. So the Trojans asked him what the horse was for. He said it was an offering to Athena.
Well, the Trojans didn't want to upset Athena either, so they rolled the big horse into the city of Troy. It was so big it wouldn't go through the gate, and they had to tear down a piece of the city wall to get it in. They left it at the temple of Athena, and then the Trojans had a big party to celebrate the end of the war. (Still the Greek soldiers inside the horse kept very quiet).
Finally everyone fell asleep, and NOW the Greek soldiers came out of the Trojan Horse and killed the guards on the walls. They signalled to the other Greeks to come attack Troy. They could get in now because the walls were torn down. There was a big battle and the Greeks won. All the Trojan men were killed, and all the women and children were taken back to Greece as slaves.
This story does not actually appear in the Iliad or the Odyssey, but it is told in Virgil's Aeneid and in other ancient sources.