Greek mythology features some fearsome monsters. It also features other creatures with amazing beauty, power, or wisdom. Here are some of them.
Imagine a winged, snow-white horse that can soar through the skies with ease. That’s Pegasus, one of the best-known creatures in all of Greek mythology. Pegasus sprang from the neck of the monstrous Gorgon, Medusa, after the hero Perseus cut off her head. Pegasus went to live on Mount Olympus. He often carried the thunderbolts that Zeus used in war. In one famous Greek tale, Pegasus helped the hero Bellerophon kill the fire-breathing monster Chimera. Mounted on Pegasus, Bellerophon thrust a lead-tipped spear into the Chimera’s mouth. The lead melted in the monster’s fiery breath, and it choked to death. Bellerophon became a hero—thanks to Pegasus.
Every Harry Potter fan knows Fawkes, the phoenix who rescues Harry in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Phoenixes have remarkable powers. They are immortal. When they die, they are reborn from the ashes. Their tears contain magical healing powers. They are also large, beautiful birds with colorful feathers. The legend of the phoenix dates back to ancient civilizations. Several Greek historians referred to it. Herodotus called the phoenix a “sacred bird” that only appears once every five hundred years. Ancient Persian, Roman, and Chinese texts also refer to the phoenix.
According to Greek legend, this was a female deer with golden antlers and hooves of bronze. Artemis, the god of the hunt, treated it as a sacred animal. No hunter could capture it. It could outrun any arrow. The hero Heracles was challenged to capture the deer as one of the twelve impossible tasks he had to achieve. He had to capture it without hurting it, so as not to offend Artemis. It took Heracles a year, but he finally succeeded in this task.
Laelaps and the Teumessian Fox
The ancient Greeks loved paradoxes—questions that seem to have no answer. Laelaps was a dog that always caught anything he was chasing. The Teumessian Fox was a giant fox that terrorized the city of Thebes. It was said that the fox could never be caught. Laelaps was sent to hunt the fox. What happens when a dog that never fails to catch its prey chases a fox that can’t be caught? Laelaps could never quite catch the fox. The fox could never quite fully escape. It seemed that the chase would last forever. Finally, Zeus decided to end the paradox. He turned both animals into stone. Then he placed them as constellations of stars in the sky. Today we know them as Canis Major (the dog) and Canis Minor (the fox).
These mythical creatures had a horse’s body and legs attached to a man’s upper body and head. According to Greek legend, they roamed the land drinking and living wildly. They hung around with Dionysus, the God of Wine. In short, they were the original party animals. One Centaur named Chiron was different. He was a scholar and teacher. According to some legends, he tutored Greek heroes such as Heracles and Achilles.
Written by John Micklos, Jr.