The ancient Greeks were great storytellers and the magical world of their gods was filled with fights, arguments, love, fear, punishment and many other emotions – in fact, the beauty of the mythology was that the gods, like mortals, were rewarded or punished for their actions.

Greek mythology remains popular today, with the fascinating stories of the gods and rituals of ancient Greece told time and time again. One of the best-remembered Hollywood films of all time, Jason and the Argonauts, released in 1963, is based on mythology. The intrepid hero leads a quest to find the legendary Golden Fleece, protected by the queen of the gods, Hera.

Although the popular Greek piety of the day viewed the myths as true accounts, there were a number of ancient Greeks – such as the famous philosopher Plato – who believed they contained more than an element of fiction.

Thunder and lightning play a large role in Greek mythology, with the god of the sky, Zeus, able to harness the elements’ power to use as a weapon. He was the ruler of all the Olympian gods and the god of lightning, thunder, law, order and justice.

He overthrew his own father, Cronus and then succeeded him to the throne to become the supreme ruler from his lofty seat on Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. His most dangerous weapon was a lightning bolt, hurled at anyone who defied or displeased him, especially liars and those who broke oaths.

When he grew angry, he became very destructive, hurling lightning bolts with such ferocity that they caused violent storms, wreaking havoc across the earth. He was known for punishing anyone who fell in love with his wife Hera – such as the giant, Porphyrion, who was struck by a lightning bolt from the furious Zeus for lusting after the goddess.

Perhaps because thunderstorms were something that the ancient Greeks didn’t understand, they were attributed to the wrath of Zeus. It was said that thunderbolts were invented by the goddess of wisdom, Athena and that since lightning was an invention of the gods, if anywhere was struck by lightning, it became sacred. When a storm erupted, it was because Zeus was angry.

Greek philosopher Socrates is attributed as saying, “That’s not Zeus up there – it’s a vortex of air,” during a thunderstorm. However, on the whole, many holy men insisted it was the wrath of Zeus.

It wasn’t just the ancient Greeks who believed gods created thunder and lightning. Many old religions believed this to be the case, although they each had their own equivalent of Zeus – for instance, the Roman god Jupiter was god of the sky and thunder.

Both the ancient Greeks and Romans believed a spot struck by lightning was sacred and as a result, temples were often erected at the location, in both cultures. People would worship there in an attempt to appease the gods and prevent thunderstorms from occurring.

Scandinavian mythology refers to Thor, the thunderer, who throws lightning bolts at his enemies, while the Bantu tribesmen of Africa have Umpigundulo, the lightning bird-god.

When science was in its infancy, it’s easy to understand how people tried to attribute thunder and lightning to the gods, rather than understanding it was a natural phenomenon. Today, thanks to huge advances in science, we understand much more about lightning and its causes – although Greek mythology still makes for enthralling reading!

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