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Ancient Greece was a time and place that saw many advancements, including aspects of politics and government that still find their way into modern society, even though it occurred thousands of years ago. It was also a rich time for art, literature, and culture, and one of the most long-lasting and enduringly popular aspects of Ancient Greece is the concept of Greek Mythology.
Greek myths were stories that attempted to explain the natural way of the world. Without modern science to explain many of Earth’s mysteries, the Ancient Greeks sought to come up with reasons and explanations for why things were the way they were. Greek Mythology is full of powerful gods and goddesses, valiant heroes, and fearsome monsters, which is likely why these tales remain so popular even today.
Let’s take a dive into the world of these myths by looking at some of Safari Ltd’s Greek Mythology toys and figures, to help give you a better picture of these fantastic stories and some of the iconic creatures featured in them.
The Lernaean Hydra is one of the most fearsome and feared monsters in all of Greek Mythology. It was a giant snake-like creature that lived near the entrance to the Underworld. It was said to have poisonous breath and venomous blood, but its most prominent feature were its numerous serpentine heads.
How many heads the Hydra had exactly isn’t always consistent, mainly because it was said that if one head was cut off, two more would grow in its place. The Greek hero known as Hercules found this out the hard way, when he was tasked with defeating the mighty monster.
Main Myth: The Twelve Labors of Hercules
Hercules, in the service of King Eurystheus, agreed to perform twelve labors, or tasks, for the king. The second of these tasks was to bring down the horrifying Hydra. Hercules covered his mouth and nose to protect him from the poisonous fumes of the creature’s breath, and after cutting off each of the creature’s heads, he used fire to burn the stumps and prevent new heads from growing. He would use the monster’s poisonous blood to slay other monsters on future quests.
Safari Ltd’s Hydra Figurine
Safari Ltd’s Hydra toy is quite sizeable at nearly eight inches long and over 4 inches high, with five fearsome heads showcasing the monster’s unique feature. The figure is a striking metallic purple and silver in color, with frightening claws, spines and teeth: a truly masterful recreation of this mythical monster in toy form.
Another multi-headed beast from Greek Mythology is the hound known as Cerberus. Cerberus was the guardian of the gates of the Underworld, which was ruled over by the god known as Hades.
This monstrous creature is often depicted as a large dog or wolf, sometimes with two heads, but more often with three. The earliest depictions of this many-headed mutt show him with fifty heads, or even a hundred. However, later stories brought the number down to three. It occasionally is shown with the tail of a dragon.
Main Myth: The Twelve Labors of Hercules
Like the Hydra, Cerberus is mostly remembered for his role in the tale of Hercules’s twelve tasks. The final labor the hero was given was to capture Hades’s pet, which Hades would only allow Hercules to do if it could be accomplished without any weapons.
Hercules was able to subdue the monster with his bare hands, and brought him before King Eurystheus. The king was so frightened by Cerberus that he begged Hercules to return him to the Underworld, and released the hero from any future labors.
Safari Ltd’s Cerberus Figurine
The Cerberus toy figure made by Safari Ltd depicts the beast as a ferocious black dog, complete with spiked collars around each of its three necks. The beast is nearly five inches long and features black fur, yellow eyes and claws, and white teeth in its snarling mouths.
This Greek Mythology figure includes incredible detail on each of Cerberus’s three heads: one is prowling with its head low to the ground, another is sniffing the air with its head held high, and a third is panting with its tongue lolling in anticipation of its next meal.
Not all of the mythical animals featured in the stories of Ancient Greece were fearsome like the Hydra or Cerberus. Some were beautiful and heroic – like the Pegasus! Pegasus appeared to be a normal white horse, except for one major detail: it sported a pair of giant feathered wings that gave it the ability to fly!
Pegasus was the offspring of the Greek god Poseidon, god of the sea, and the beastly Gorgon known as Medusa. It was said that Pegasus had the mystical power to cause a spring of fresh water to burst forth from any spot on the ground that it touched its hooves to.
Main Myths: Perseus and Bellerophon
Two different heroes of Ancient Greece had the privilege of riding Pegasus in their quests. Perseus is said to have ridden Pegasus after he slew the great Gorgon Medusa. Upon her death, Pegasus was said to have risen from the monster’s blood and the seafoam of Poseidon, which is why they are often both referred to as the winged horse’s parents. Perseus rode Pegasus to rescue Andromeda, who was in danger of being eaten by the great sea monster Cetus.
In a different tale, Pegasus was found by the hero Bellorophon. After being given a golden bridle by the goddess Athena, Bellorophon was able to tame Pegasus, and rode the steed to do battle with the fearsome monster known as the Chimera.
After aiding the two heroes, Pegasus went to Mount Olympus, home of the gods, where he lived in the stables of Zeus, king of the gods. Eventually, Zeus would transform Pegasus into a constellation – a grouping of stars in the sky that resembles a person, animal or mythical creature. If you look, you can still see the constellation of Pegasus in the night sky.
Safari Ltd’s Pegasus Figurine
Our graceful Pegasus toy is over five inches long and has an impressive eight inch winspan. With its regal flowing mane and tale, its detailed feathered wings, and its galloping hooves, this is a dynamic figurine that fits right into any Greek Mythology toy display. Safari also has a Twilight Pegasus figure, contrasting Pegasus’s white with a striking black color scheme, available as well.
We mentioned the Chimera when we discussed Pegasus, as the beast that fought the winged stallion and the hero Bellorophon. This mythical monster is part goat, part lion, and part serpent. The Chimera is first mentioned by Homer in his epic poem the Iliad, where he referenced its hybrid nature and mentioned its ability to breath fire.
It was said to be born of the monsters Typhon and Echidna, who were also the parents of Cerberus and the Lernaean Hydra, meaning the Chimera can count these other creatures as its siblings. The nature of this beast, being made from parts of other animals, has led to the term “chimera” being used in modern times to describe anything made by combining two separate and different things into one creation.
Main Myth: Bellorophon
With the help of Pegasus, the Greek hero Bellorophon was able to slay the fire-breathing Chimera. The Chimera had been terrorizing the lands of Lycia, causing its ruler King Iobates to task Bellorophon with defeating the monster. Riding on Pegasus, Bellorophon attacked the creature from above with arrows, while keeping out of range of its fiery breath and snapping jaws. He then used a spear to force a lump of lead into its throat, which the Chimera’s fire breath melted, and this finally caused the creature’s death.
Safari Ltd’s Chimera Figurine
The Safari Ltd Chimera offers a unique take on this beast of Greek Mythology. At seven inches long, it plays up the monstrous elements of the beast, with three different heads – a goat’s, a lion’s, and a dragon-like serpent’s. It also has large wings and a serpentine tail complete with a snake’s fearsome fanged head on the tip! This hybrid horror Greek Mythology figure is packed with fascinated details.
Thus far, all the mythological creatures we discussed have been based on animals, but that’s not always the case. Some monsters from Greek Mythology also incorporate human features, like the Harpy. Harpies appear to be combinations of birds and human women, often shown with the head of a female woman, and a winged, vulture-like body.
“Harpy” means “snatcher”, and they are often said to steal food from hungry victims. Like Cerberus, Hydra, and Chimera, they are often shown as guardians of the Underworld. Harpies also were known for transporting evil-doers to the Furies, goddesses of vengeance, for punishment.
Main Myth: Jason and the Golden Fleece
A Greek ruler named King Phineas was given the gift of prophecy by Zeus. However, Zeus grew angry when Phineas revealed the gods’ secret plans, and banished him to an island where Phineas would forever be presented with a buffet of delicious foods that he would never be able to eat, as Harpies would snatch the food away just before Phineas could consume it.
The Greek hero Jason and his crew, the Argonauts, were on a quest to retrieve the fabled Golden Fleece. Jason was tasked with finding this golden wool to secure his rightful place as king of Iolcus. Jason and the Argonauts came upon Phineas, and in exchange for defeating the Harpies, Phineas showed them the location of the Golden Fleece.
Safari Ltd’s Harpy Figurine
Safari Ltd’s Harpy figure is posed for battle with outstretched wings and arms, a sinister expression, and fearsome talons. Standing four inches tall with a wingspan of five inches wide, this Greek Mythology figurine incorporates both bird and human features into a menacing creature ready to snatch away your food!
Another creature from Greek Mythology that combines human and animal elements is the Satyr. Satyrs are nature spirits that originally featured traits of male humans and horses. Later depictions began to group Satyrs together with the Greek god Pan, who was often shown as half man, half goat. Because of this association, Satyrs were often shown as more human than beastly, but still with the cloven hooves and horns of a goat.
Satyrs are often shown playing musical instruments such as flutes. One common type of flute they are shown with is called the “pan flute”, due to its association with the Greek god. While Satyrs are often shown in Ancient Greek artwork, there are few surviving stories that feature Satyrs. The Greek god Pan, however, is featured in many stories as the god of shepherds and the forest.
Main Myth: The Origin of the Pan Flute
Pan’s signature instrument was constructed of many various lengths of hollow reeds. In a sad tale, the wood nymph Syrinx was being pursued romantically by Pan. In order to escape him, Syrinx was transformed into a reed by her sisters. Pan, not knowing which reed was Syrinx, gathered several reeds and made a flute from them, which he was often seen carrying ever after.
Safari Ltd’s Satyr Figurine
The Safari Ltd Satyr figurine leans heavily into the Pan connection, with curling ram horns and furry legs ending in cloven goat hooves. He’s holding his signature flute, and his smirking expression reveals his mischievous nature. This Greek Mythology toy figurine is just over four inches tall.
While the Satyr myth began as a horse/human spirit and slowly transitioned to be more goat/human, one creature from Greek mythology stayed true to its half-human, half-horse roots: the Centaur. Centaurs featured the upper body of a human, with the full four-legged body of a horse from the waist down.
Centaur were known for being wild and untamed. It is thought that the myth of the Centaur may have originated from people who had never ridden on horses seeing men on horseback for the first time.
Main Myths: Chiron and Nessus
Centaurs, being half human and half horse, are often depicted as being torn between their two worlds – that of the untamed and wild horse, and that of the civilized and modern human. Two notable Centaurs from Greek Mythology illustrate this point: the heroic Chiron and the villainous Nessus.
Chiron was a great teacher of heroes. Raised by the Greek god Apollo, Chiron was wise and just and knew all about medicine and science. Unlike many of his wilder Centaur brothers, Chiron was kind and intelligent. Many Ancient Greek heroes were said to have been tutored by Chiron, including Hercules, Perseus, Achilles and Theseus.
By contrast, the Centaur Nessus embodied the more wild and feral nature of Centaurs. Nessus tried to steal away Hercules’s wife Deianeira, and in turn Hercules shot him with an arrow tipped with poisoned Hydra blood. Before he died, Nessus told Deianeira that his blood would make Hercule’s forever loyal to her. She put the blood of Nessus on a robe before giving it to Hercules, and the hero became poisoned by the Centaur’s blood, which was still fouled by the blood of the Hydra. Thus was the end of Hercules, one of the greatest Ancient Greek heroes of all time.
Safari Ltd’s Centaur Figurine
The Safari Ltd Centaur toy figure is ready for battle, with a fierce club and a protective shield. Six inches long and five inches tall, this Greek Mythology figurine embodies both the wild and civilized natures that make up the Centaur personality.
Like the Satyr and the Centaur, the Minotaur combines human and animal traits, in this case that of a man and a bull. It is usually shown with the head and horns of a bull, and a mostly human body, though often the legs and feet are more bull-like in appearance.
The Minotaur was a ferocious beast and lived at the center of the Labyrinth, a frightening maze that belonged to King Minos.
Main Myth: Theseus and the Minotaur
Minos’s kingdom of Crete had been at war with the kingdom of Athens, and at the end of the war King Minos demanded that yearly sacrifices be made in the form of Athens sending young men and seven young women to Crete to enter the Labyrinth and be eaten by the Minotaur.
The hero Theseus, son of the king of Athens, offered to slay the Minotaur. He ventured to Crete as part of the Athenians to be sacrificed, and met King Minos’s daughter Ariadne. She fell in love with Theseus, and gave him a ball of thread to use in the Labyrinth, so that he could retrace his steps and would not become lost. Using his father’s sword, he slew the Minotaur at the center of the deadly maze.
Safari Ltd’s Minotaur Figurine
The Safari Ltd Minotaur toy is four inches tall and is packed with detail from his horns to his hooves. It features a removable club to help him defeat his enemies. His appearance is made all the more fearsome by his striking red eyes, the ring in his nose, and his metal-studded tunic.
Not every monster and creature of Greek Mythology is a mish-mash of animal and people parts. Take the Cyclops for example. It looks like your basic human, with one glaring exception: instead of two eyes, it only has one. Cyclopes were ferocious giants who were sometimes described as man-eaters.
It is believed that the myth of the Cyclops may have its origin in the skulls of elephants. The most prominent features of elephants – their large ears and long trunks – are not found on the skulls of these animals. Instead, there is a large nasal cavity in the middle of the skull, which may have been mininterpreted as a large singular eye socket.
Main Myth: The Odyssey
The most famous Cyclops story is found in The Odyssey, an epic poem by Homer. The Odyssey is the tale of the hero Odysseus as he makes his long and dangerous journey home from the Trojan War. As Odysseus and his crew sail toward home, they encounter many monsters and fantastical beings that delay them and pull them from their path.
One of the monsters they encounter is Polyphemus the Cyclops. When Odysseus and his men land on the island of the Cyclopes, they take refuge in a cave that belongs to Polyphemus. The Cyclops desires to eat the humans, but Odysseus is able to trick the Cyclops and blind his one eye. Odysseus and his men then escape by tying themselves to the underside of Polyphemus’s sheep. When the blind Cyclops feels the sheep’s backs to ensure the humans aren’t escaping, he touches only wool. Odysseus is then free from the Cyclops, but he still encounters many dangerous obstacles as he makes his way back to his home of Ithaca.
Safari Ltd’s Cyclops Figurine
The Safari Ltd Cyclops toy is four and a half inches in height, and appropriately muscled to show the intimidating physique of the one-eyed monster. He’s carrying a menacing mallet, with his singular eye fixed on his next victim as his mouth curls into a sneer.
The monsters discussed in this blog are just a small sample of the vast variety of fantasy creatures found in the myths of Ancient Greece. You can find even more Greek Mythology toys from Safari Ltd to learn more about the folklore of this influential culture.