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The Most Famous Creatures from Greek Mythology

Pegasus
Bellerophon and the Chimera By Unknown artist. Credit: Marsyas (2005), CC BY-SA 2.5

Greek mythology is famous for its many fantastical creatures, which feature widely at pivotal moments in Greek myths and epic poems. Creatures are supernatural beings with different powers and abilities, and come in various different forms.

These strange and sometimes terrifying creatures were used in Greek mythology by the Greek gods. They could be sent for various reasons, to hurt or to harm, to protect someone, or inspire terror.

Some of the characteristics of these beings exaggerated human bodies or combined them with the bodies of animals.

Below is a list of the most popular and extraordinary creatures in Greek mythology.

Pegasus

Pegasus
Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus By Barclay Painter – Jastrow (2006), Public Domain

One of the most popular Greek mythological creatures is Pegasus, a beautiful white horse with large wings. He was the horse of Zeus and was born from the blood of Medusa when Perseus cut off her head.

Pegasus is a noble and intelligent horse, and he does not allow himself to be ridden by just anyone. Only those who have a good heart can ride Pegasus, as he is able to perceive the evil lurking behind people’s intentions.

Pegasus is one of the creatures from Greek mythology that has appeared widely throughout film and television, becoming a symbol of honor in many stories.

Hydra of Lerna

Hercules slaying the Hydra
Engraving of Hercules slaying Hydra By Hans Sebald Beham – Private collection. Public Domain

In Greek mythology, the Hydra of Lerna was a very ruthless aquatic monster, who had claws like a reptile and several heads. According to myth, every time one of its heads was cut off two more heads emerged.

She was raised by Hera, Zeus’ wife, who kept her in a swamp that protected Lerna’s garden.

Hydra was a very solitary creature until she was killed by Hercules. He then soaked his sword with Hydra’s blood to make it poisonous.

Cerberus

Cerberus
Cerberus By William Blake. Public Domain

Also known as Can Cerberus, was a Greek mythological creature in the form of a dog who had three heads and a snake for a tail.

He was the dog of the god Hades, and his job was to protect the gate of the underworld, ensuring that the dead did not leave and that the living could not enter.

He was captured by Hercules on his last mission.

Griffin

The Griffin
Martin Schongauer: The griffin, 15th century. Public domain

This mythological creature takes the hybrid form of an eagle and a lion, combining their ferocious and brave meanings into a single being.

They usually roamed in packs and were difficult to tame. Demigods were capable of taming them, however, and under them they became loyal. They feed on the flesh of horses.

One myth tells the story of Apollo, who went in search of griffins and returned to Greece riding a hydra. The hydra took care of him and watched over his treasures.

Charybdis

Charybdis
A 19th-century engraving of the Strait of Messina, the site associated with Scylla and Charybdis. Credit: Albert Henry Payne. Public Domain,

Charybdis, a Nymph who was once the beautiful daughter of Poseidon and Gaea. According to myth, she flooded large amounts of the Earth to expand her father’s kingdom and return to him. This enraged her uncle Zeus, who thus turned her into a monster and banished her to the sea.

Charybdis became one of the most fearsome sea monsters. She used to swallow large amounts of water a day, forming whirlpools and devouring sailors. Tornadoes would form when she spit the water back out.

Cyclops

Polyphemus
Odysseus and his crew are blinding Polyphemus. Credit: Napoleon VierCC BY-SA 3.0

According to Greek mythology, the Cyclops were one-eyed giants and some of the first beings to inhabit the universe.

They were a savage race dedicated to herding and hunting. They feared neither gods nor men.

There were two generations of Cyclops: the first generation sons of Uranus and Gaea, who were dedicated to construction and crafts. They were stubborn and had a horrible temperament.

Eventually they became known for their strength and power, as they forged highly manufactured weapons.

The second generation of Cyclops is a small tribe that lived on a remote island. One of these Cyclops’ is one of the most famous creatures in all of Greek mythology. He is Polyphemus, son of Poseidon and the nymph Toosa, who famously lost his eye when Odysseus blinded him in order to escape from his cave, where the Cyclops had kidnapped him and other men.

Gorgon

Gorgon
An archaic Gorgon (around 580 BC), as depicted on a pediment from the temple of Artemis in Corfu, on display at the Archaeological Museum of Corfu. Credit: Dr.K. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The gorgons were ruthless female monsters: Medusa, Steno and Euryale; daughters of the sea gods Forcis and Ceto. Medusa was the only mortal of the three.

They were beautiful but had snakes instead of hair, and anyone who looked at them was instantly petrified. That is why gorgons were carved at the entrances of the temples to ward off visitors.

Athena, jealous of the beauty and attention that Medusa possessed, cursed her. She was later beheaded by Perseus, who used her head as a weapon and gave it to Athena for her shield.

Centaur

Centaur
Brooklyn Museum – Centauress. Credit: John La FargeOnline CollectionBrooklyn Museum. Public Domain,

A centaur is a creature that is half man and half horse. Centaurs have the head, arms and torso of a man and the body and legs of a horse.

The Centaurs lived in the mountains of Thessaly alongside the Lapiths, with whom they maintained a constant war because the Centaurs wanted to abduct Hippodamia, the beautiful wife of King Piritoo.

King Piritoo celebrated his wedding with a great banquet and invited all the inhabitants of the region, including the centaurs.

But centaurs had never tasted wine, so when they got drunk they wanted to kidnap Hippodamia, as well as other attendees of the banquet. This event later resulted in a war which was won by the Lapiths.

Minotaur

Minotaur
The Minotaur, tondo of an Attic bilingual kylix. Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5

The minotaur is one of the most fascinating monsters of Greek mythology. With a man’s body and a bull’s head, his name means “Bull of Minos.” He was the son of Pasiphae and the Bull of Crete.

Minos, son of Zeus, asked Poseidon for help so that his people would make him the King of Crete after Asterion’s death. Poseidon agreed and brought forth from the seas a beautiful white bull, which Minos promised to sacrifice on his behalf.

But Minos was amazed by the beauty of the bull, and he sacrificed a different one in its place, hoping to trick Poseidon. This enraged Poseidon, and in revenge he awakened a desire in Pasiphae, Minos’ wife, instructing her to have a child with the white bull, which resulted in the minotaur.

The minotaur became violent as it grew older, so Minos built a labyrinth and locked the Minotaur in it. The minotaur only ate human flesh, and every nine years Minos offered 7 women and 7 men to be devoured by the Minotaur.

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