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Top 10 Romances In Greek Mythology
Love is an infamously risky business. In a world as hazardous and fantastical as Greek mythology, acquiring this ever-elusive sensation often comes with a certain amount of hazard and risk. Happy endings are few and far between, with many tales of romance ending with one or both lovers meeting an undesirable fate. That being said, some stories do end in love and happiness.
Regardless, the power of love and all that comes with it are on full display in this list detailing the top 10 romances in Greek mythology.
10 Atalanta & Hippomenes
Atalanta was a heroine blessed by the goddess Artemis. With a myriad of accolades under her belt, love was the only thing she lacked. Pressured by her father, she agreed to find a suitor under the condition that he could best her in a race. Those who failed would be put to death.
Hippomenes, infatuated with Atalanta, accepted her challenge and all its associated risk. Aware of her impressive skill, he sought the assistance of the goddess Aphrodite who gifted him three golden apples. Hippomenes would throw these apples down periodically to distract Atalanta, who found them irresistible, allowing him to beat her. As he had bested her, Atalanta accepted Hippomenes, and they were wed.
However, in Greek mythology, happy endings are few and far between. Hippomenes failed to pay his dues to Aphrodite, who punished him by forcing him to sleep with Atlanta in a sacred precinct. The angry god of this precinct transformed the pair into lions. Somewhat fitting for Atalanta’s fierce competitiveness and Hippomenes’s lion-like bravery.
9 Apollo & Hyacinthus
Greek mythology is full of symbolism, and these symbols often arise because of strong emotions expressed by its characters. The tale of Hyacinthus is one such story symbolic of the jealousy and agony that can come with love.
Hyacinthus was an extraordinarily handsome boy, so much so that he attracted the attention of the god Apollo. The two would often spend time together, strengthening their bond. However, the boy’s beauty also attracted the affection of the wind god Zephyrus. Jealousy burned in Zephyrus’s heart, and in his anger, he decided that if he could not have Hyacinthus’s affection, then neither could Apollo.
One day Apollo and Hyacinthus were engaged in a game of discus. Apollo threw his disc, and as it spun through the air, Zephyrus—being the god of wind—compelled the discus to fly toward Hyacinthus. The discus struck the boy across the head and ended his life instantly. Burdened with guilt and grief, Apollo grew flowers out of Hyacinthus’s pooling blood, hoping the boy would live on in this form.
It is also said that upon the leaves of these flowers were inscribed a letter representing the boy’s woeful cries as he was separated from his lover. Today we call these flowers hyacinths, and in that way, you could say the boy’s soul and love truly did live on forever.
8 Odysseus & Penelope
Loyalty is arguably one of the most coveted traits one could ask for in a partner, and no story in Greek mythology emphasizes this aspect of love more than that of Odysseus & Penelope.
Odysseus was one of the most prolific adventurers in Greek mythology and thus was a hard man to keep at home. This stood true when he wed the Spartan Penelope, a woman whose beauty attracted the attention of countless suitors, especially when her husband left with the Greeks to fight the Trojan War.
Countering the advances of all these admirers should have proved difficult, but Penelope proved as cunning as she was beautiful and devised a plan. Whenever approached, she would state that she was manufacturing a shroud for her father-in-law and that their proposals could only be addressed once she had completed this task. During the day, she would work on this shroud, only to undo the work she had done at night.
Upon his return, Odysseus slew all of Penelope’s pursuers for daring to advance on his wife and thus brought an end to Penelope’s days of sorrow and tedium. It is truly a tale of loyalty and the lengths people are willing to go to to protect their marriage.
7 Eros & Psyche
It takes an exceptional woman to arrest the heart of the god of love himself, and Psyche was just that kind of woman. Her beauty was so ethereal that the people around her began to worship her as if she were a goddess. This earned her the ire of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty who, in her jealousy, enlisted Eros to curse Psyche to fall in love with only the most hideous of partners.
Eros accepted this task but was enchanted upon witnessing Psyche’s beauty. He would begin to meet her at night in disguise until one day, Psyche grew curious and uncovered his true identity. Eros fled her chambers, and from then on, Psyche searched endlessly for her lost lover. Her search led her to the temple of Aphrodite, where the goddess of love would force upon her countless humiliations and labors.
Still burning with love for Psyche, Eros assisted her in her tasks. Upon completing Aphrodite’s labors, Psyche was granted immortality and welcomed by all the gods, including Aphrodite. She was reunited with her lover Eros, and they were wed in a ceremony attended by all the Olympian gods.
6 Halcyone & Ceyx
“In love and in death.” The sincerity behind these vows often fluctuates depending on the couple reciting them, but King Ceyx and his wife Halcyone (also referred to as Alcyone) truly embodied this vow. They worshiped one another and often would discard their true names in favor of referring to each other as Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of Olympus. Such hubris would not go unpunished, and Zeus set out to ensure they would never utter such disrespect again.
One day Ceyx and Halcyone embarked on a voyage across the sea. Zeus wrought a storm upon their vessel, and Halcyone was swept away by the current only to resurface on a nearby shore. Ceyx was not as fortunate as he would perish on his sinking vessel shouting out for his lost lover. Halcyone would wait several days in the vain hope that Ceyx would wash up on the shore, but he never did.
Battered by grief and sorrow, Halcyone cast herself into the sea and drowned. The gods felt pity for the couple and transformed their souls into birds that today we call kingfishers or halcyons. It is said that during times when these birds congregate to mate, the seas are always calm.
5 Pygmalion & Galatea
One might gather from these tales that the Greek gods are purely evil and cruel. However, on rare but notable occasions, the gods can be found blessing the mortals that worship them and manifesting their dreams into reality. Such was the case with Pygmalion and his statue.
Pygmalion was a talented sculptor, but despite his skill, he found himself lacking in love. As none of the women around him aroused his interest, he set out to sculpt a woman whose form he found truly irresistible. Upon its completion, he became completely enamored with his ivory maiden. Pygmalion would spend his days fixated on the statue and even caress his creation affectionately. Alas, it was ivory and stone, nothing more.
One day, during a festival celebrating the goddess Aphrodite, Pygmalion prayed to the goddess for his statue-maiden to come to life. Aphrodite, acknowledging his devotion, decided to grant him his desires. Pygmalion returned from the festival and embraced his masterpiece, finding that the goddess had breathed life into the ivory and turned it into flesh.
Pygmalion sang praises to Aphrodite and gave the woman the name Galatea. The two were married, and Pygmalion was finally made whole.
4 Aphrodite & Adonis
Adonis was a youth blessed with near incomparable beauty that earned him the attention of even the goddess of beauty herself. Aphrodite was enamored by the youth and sought to make him her lover. Adonis reciprocated these feelings, but his enchanting visage also made him the desire of the goddess of the underworld, Persephone. Beguiled by the youth’s stunning beauty, Persephone would not stand by while Aphrodite had Adonis to herself.
The goddesses brought the matter before Zeus, who distributed the youth’s time equally between them. Adonis would spend a third of the year with Persephone in the underworld and another with Aphrodite in Olympus. For the remainder of the year, he could spend however he wished. However, Adonis truly did love Aphrodite, and he also chose to spend the remaining third of the year with Aphrodite.
Adonis would later die while hunting a boar. Naturally, this meant he would have to live on in the underworld. Still, his love for Aphrodite was so admirable that the gods allowed him to spend six months of the year in Olympus with Aphrodite. When two people share true love, Heaven & Earth might bend to the will of their affections.
3 Iphis & Ianthe
Iphis was born a girl, but her father, desiring a male heir, had ordered that the child be executed should it be born female. Her mother, Telethusa, prayed to the goddess Isis for guidance, and the goddess advised Telethusa to raise the girl as a boy in order to spare her life.
Iphis was raised as a boy and lived in peace until she found a lover in the form of a girl named Ianthe. The two loved each other deeply but Ianthe was unaware of Iphis’s true nature, and soon the time came for the two to be wed. Iphis was thrown into sorrow as the truth of her identity would be revealed, and their union would not be accepted.
Iphis prayed to Isis for salvation from her impossible situation, and Isis granted her wish by transforming her into a man, and thus Iphis and Ianthe were allowed to marry. Despite all the challenges Iphis faced from birth until her marriage, she persevered and found love.
2 Pyramus & Thisbe
Stories of forbidden love are often the most tragic love stories but also find themselves among some of the most romantic.
Thisbe was a beautiful maiden who had found her beloved in the form of a man named Pyramus. The two were madly in love with each other, but alas, their families would not sanction their marriage. Thus the two were forced to meet in secret, often sharing late-night conversations from an opening in the wall that joined their adjacent houses.
One day the pair agreed to rendezvous outside a nearby tomb. Thisbe reached the location first, and upon her arrival, she witnessed a lioness devouring an ox nearby and fled in fear for her life. Pyramus arrived later and found a fragment of her garment covered in the blood of the ox. Convinced his lover had perished, Pyramus was overcome with sorrow and ended his life under a Mulberry tree.
When Thisbe returned and witnessed the fate of Pyramus, she, too, ended her life in grief. When their blood fed the roots of the tree, it was said that the fruit of the mulberry was eternally stained red. In a myth that inspired the story of Romeo and Juliet, they truly loved each other to death.
1 Orpheus & Eurydice
Orpheus was one of the most talented bards in all of Greek mythology. So incredible was his skill it even had the power to compel death itself.
Eurydice was a beautiful nymph, and she and Orpheus fell deeply in love. The two would eventually wed, but their happiness was short-lived. Soon after their wedding, Eurydice was bitten by a serpent and perished, sinking into the depths of the underworld. Empowered by his grief, Orpheus wrote pieces so beautiful that they attracted the attention of even the god of the underworld, Hades.
Hades brought Orpheus to the underworld and had him perform for its denizens. So enchanting was his music that Hades permitted Orpheus to return to the overworld with Eurydice. This was on the condition that Orpheus would not look back at his wife until they reached the overworld. His love had overcome death but also proved to be his undoing. Overcome with desire, he looked back anyway, and Eurydice was torn away from him and dragged back to the underworld. Orpheus spent the rest of his days singing in the sorrow of his lost love; he truly loved her to hell and back.