What do you do when you have no factual history, or the means to record it?

You can either invent it, which is the creation of storytelling; or you take what you do know and spin it; striving to keep a balance with credibility, whilst giving free rein to your imagination.

This was especially relevant with the Ancient Greeks, where one of the functions of myths was to justify an existing social system and account for traditional rites and customs. Stories about gods and goddesses and heroes and monsters were an important part of everyday life. They explained everything from religious rituals to the weather, and they gave meaning to the world people saw around them.

In Greek mythology, there is no single original text like the Christian Bible that introduces all of the mythsí characters and stories. Instead, the earliest Greek myths were part of an oral tradition that began in the Bronze Age, and their plots and themes unfolded gradually in the written literature of the archaic and classical periods. The poet Homerís 8th-century BC epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, for example, tell the story of the Trojan War; a (mythical?) Bronze Age conflict between the kingdoms of Troy and Mycenaean Greece which straddles the history and mythology of ancient Greece, and inspired the greatest writers of antiquity, from Homer, Herodotus and Sophocles to Virgil.

Its beauty from a storyteller's perspective is that it can combine the freedom to portray a divine conflict as well as a human one.

Around 700 BC, the poet Hesiodís Theogony offered the first written cosmogony, or origin story, of Greek mythology. The Theogony tells the story of the universeís journey from nothingness (Chaos, a primeval void) to being, and details an elaborate family tree of elements, gods and goddesses who evolved from Chaos and descended from Gaia (Earth), Ouranos (Sky), Pontos (Sea) and Tartaros (the Underworld).

Later Greek writers and artists used and elaborated upon these sources in their own work. For instance, mythological figures and events appear in the 5th-century plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

At the center of this Greek mythology is the pantheon of deities who were said to live on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece and who ruled every aspect of human life. Olympian gods and goddesses looked like men and women (though they could change themselves into animals and other things) and, interestingly enough, were vulnerable to human foibles and passions.

There were of course older civilizations, but I cannot help but be impressed by the influence the early Greeks had upon so many aspects of Western culture; a combination of two great qualities, intellectualism and humanity.