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Greek Mythology Trivia Quiz: Monsters!
How Many Monsters of Greek Mythology Do You Know?
It's time for a monster edition of my Greek mythology trivia quizzes!
This quiz was originally written with students of Greek mythology in mind, as a fun self-test. So don't feel bad if you don't get every question right. Just give it a try, then look below, where I've got "mini-myths" about each monster!
Note: I use variant spellings for many monsters, because some monsters are better known by their Latin names, others by the Greek. It's easy to recognize the Greek names if they have a K in them (Latin uses a C).
Other Greek Mythology Quizzes in this series:
Monster Greek Myths Quizview quiz statistics
Homer's version of "A Rock and a Hard Place"
Scylla and Charybdis
Scylla was a ravening monster who lived in a cave facing the sea. She had multiple dog-heads emerging from her waist, below which was a serpent's tail. She would pluck sailors off ships and devour them. Facing her was the whirlpool Charybdis. Unfortunately for Odysseus, he was blown far off-course, and had to return to the Aegean through this deadly passage. Circe the witch advised him to pass close to her cave and lose a few men to Scylla, rather than drowning.
Sailors claimed they could hear her hounds barking and roaring. In fact, we know what may have inspired Scylla's myth: Mount Etna (Aetna), one of the world's most active volcanoes, on the coast of the island of Sicily (although Etna also has another famous monster associated with it; see below). Just north of Etna, the point of Sicily nearly joins the toe of Italy. To this day, whirlpools in the Straits of Messenia give sailors trouble.
The Goddess of the Rainbow
Iris, Messenger of the Gods
Hermes was not the only messenger of the gods. Iris, goddess of the rainbow, also carries the will of heaven down to earth. She serves as Hera's personal assistant.
Iris carries a pitcher of water from the Styx, the river of the underworld, on which the gods swear their oaths. Wishful thinkers say she pours its waters upon perjurers to put them to sleep.
Her husband is Zephyros, the West Wind, with whom she has a son, Pothos, "Passion."
The Lernaean Hydra
One of Herakles' Twelve Labors
The Lernaean Hydra was one of several monsters assigned to Herakles for pest extermination. This unusual dragon had nine heads -- to start with, anyway. Each time he chopped off a head, two more grew in its place.
Herakles had to beat this beastie with brains rather than brawn. A sidekick also helped. His good friend Iolaus would cauterize each neck with a torch as soon as the hero chopped it off.
Herakles dipped his arrows with the hydra's blood, which was poisonous like its breath.
12 Labors of Herakles
See Theoi.com's great write-up of the Twelve Labors of Herakles for all the monsters this hero fought, or check out the Perseus Project's Hercules Site for unique images of Herakles/Hercules from Greek art that you won't find anywhere else.
Titan of Destructive Storms
And the monster beneath Mount Etna
Typhon was one of the more terrifying Titans, an early race of giants defeated by the Olympian gods. Zeus the thunderer was the lord of the sky; Typhon was blamed for destructive, violent storms. Naturally, they had an ultimate showdown (right).
Poets enjoyed spinning colorful descriptions of Typhon: his head scraped the stars, and he had a hundred monster heads and one human head. Painters don't try to depict his extra heads.
Typhon was chained beneath Mount Aetna, from which he belches forth fire.
The Minotaur's Messed-Up Family
What a load of bull
Minotaur means "bull of Minos," and by some accounts it became the constellation Taurus.
I can't explain where the Minotaur came from on a G-rated site, but let's just say that one should never tick off the gods. Minos had promised to sacrifice a special bull to the god Poseidon who helped him become king. After ascending the throne, Minos changed his mind and kept the bull in his own herds. Bad move.
Fast forward. After the Minotaur was born to the queen, it was caged in the center of a labyrinth, a maze, built by the architect Daidalos. King Minos kept the Minotaur fed with human sacrifices sent from Athens in punishment for their killing the king's son Androgeos.
Ariadne, one of the king's daughters and half-sister to the Minotaur, fell in love with Theseus of Athens. She aided him by tying a spool of thread to the door so that he could find his way out of the maze. She was therefore partly responsible for her own brother's death.
The Riddle of the Sphinx
Solved by Oedipus, before he went on to become a complex
The Sphinx acquired a myth very late. Sphinxes appear all over Greek and pre-Greek art, and even in the Near East, not to mention down in Egypt. In Greece, she takes the form of a winged lion with a woman's head.
In classical myth, she became a man-eating monster haunting the crags of Thebes. She would devour anyone who could not solve her riddle:
What creature walks on four legs at sunrise, two legs on mid-day, and three at sunset?
Finally Oedipus solved the riddle: Man. The Sphinx leapt off a cliff (or the acropolis) and died. Apparently the wings were just for show.
Oedipus himself was also the answer to the riddle. Not realizing he was adopted, he killed his father (who tried to run him over with a chariot on the road to Thebes) and married the queen, who turned out to be his own mother. Once he learned the dreadful truth, he blinded hmself and left Thebes with a cane -- three-legged, as the Sphinx had foreseen.
Polyphemos the Kyklops (Cyclops)
One of a race of one-eyed giants
The Kyklopes, a race of one-eyed giants, appear in minor cameos in many Greek myths.
Odysseus ran afoul of the most famous one: Polyphemos the shepherd. A brutish, uncivilized giant, he ate several of Odysseus' sailors who holed up in his cave. Odysseus and his men escaped the trap by getting Polyphemos drunk and putting out his eye (right, my photo of a vase from Eleusis). Odysseus had wisely used an alias when conversing with the Kyklops, calling himself "Noman," but foolishly called out his real name to taunt the giant after their escape.
Polyphemos called on his father Poseidon, lord of the sea, to punish the man who had blinded him. Odysseus wandered the ocean for ten years before finding his way home.
Other Kyklopes work in the forge of Hephaistos, the blacksmith of the gods, and hammer out the lightning bolts of Zeus.
The Khimaira (Chimera)
Slain by Bellerophon, rider of Pegasus
The Chimera -- Khimaira in Greek -- was a monster that terrorized Lykia in the Near East. This monster was part lion, part goat, and part dragon (or serpent). While painters and sculptors tend to focus on the goat and lion heads, rendering the dragon as a snaky tail, Bellerophon had more trouble with the fire-breathing dragon. The flying horse Pegasus allowed him to attack it from above with a lance.
Chimera is probably the snake-tailed constellation Capricorn, which disappears for a while from the night sky after Pegasus reappears.
Medusa, mortal monster
One of the Three Gorgones (Gorgons)
Medusa and her two sisters were snake-headed women with wings living on a remote shore. There are hints in Hesiod that they may originally have been sea-demons, who wrecked ships and created the stony reefs with their gaze.
Perseus slew Medusa with the help of Hermes and Athena, who provided him with a cap of invisibility, a polished shield he could use as a mirror to avoid meeting the Gorgones' eyes, and winged shoes for a fast getaway. Medusa's snaky head eventually wound up on the aegis, Athena's magical goat-skin, which she used to stun her foes.
Archaic depictions of Medusa look less like a woman and more like a Jack o' Lantern, for the same reason. Her grinning eyes, leering tongue and face are a worldwide symbol of a demon which (ironically) is supposed to scare off all other monsters. She appears on the pediments of many temples. In late classical art, she acquired a more human face.
The Kalydonian Boar Hunt
Herakles missed the party
Boars could grow to a huge size, and with their tusks, they were one of the most dangerous animals in ancient Greece. Small wonder that there was a myth about a giant boar that ravaged a kingdom.
The Kalydonian Boar Hunt brought together most of the heroes of Greek myth in the generation before the Trojan War -- except Herakles, who must have been taking the week off. Castor and Pollux, Peleus father of Achilles, Iolaus the lover of Herakles, Laertes the father of Odysseus, and many others took part. There was also one woman, Atalanta. Learn more about her in the "Heroines" quiz below.
© 2009 Ellen Brundige