Asclepios, the god of healing, in the epics is a mortal, but apparently he was originally a chthonic divinity possessing general oracular powers. The centre of his worship seems to have been Thessaly, whence his cult spread over Greek lands. into conflict with Apollo at Delphi he became in myth the son of that god. In course of time his functions be came specialized, and his shrines at Epidaurus and on the island of Cos became for centuries miracle centres to which great numbers of peo ple resorted that they might sleep within the sacred precincts and in a vision learn the means by which their diseases could be cured, or that they might receive the benefit of a miracle di reedy.
Besides these greater gods there was a mul titude of lesser divinities of sky, air, earth and water, not to speak of abstract gods, of whom mythology has much to tell; but it is impossible here to enter into this field.
There are also two great groups of historic myths which furnished many elements for epic and dramatic poetry — the Trojan and the The ban Cycles; the former concerns the fortunes of Troy from the time when King Dardanus established himself in the land where his de scendant Ilos founded Ilium, through the causes and the course of the Trojan War to the return of the Greek heroes to their homes. The tale of Thebes deals with the fortunes of the house of Labdacus, with the stories of King (Edipus, the Seven against Thebes, and the Epigonoi. Other famous cycles deal with the labors of Heracles, the adventures of Theseus, the voyage of the Argo after the Golden Fleece and with the histories of Minos, king of Crete, and his sons, and of lesser heroes.
Greek mythology had far less to say of the lower world than of the upper. The realm of the dead was generally placed beneath the earth where Hades reigned with Queen Persephone. In Homer this other world is represented as a cheerless, unsubstantial place for all, where there is no system of rewards or punishments, save for three offenders who had sinned ex cessively against the gods; but in later litera ture we find the joys of Elysium and the tor tures of Tartarus fully developed and used for moral purposes. Hesiod and Pindar give us the earliest references to the Islands of the Blest where those who have divine blood in their veins, or those who have remained true to the highest ideals throughout their lives, are to find eternal happiness.
There were tales also of descents to Hades by the living: The most famous were the de scent of Orpheus to recover his lost Eurydice, and that of Heracles who carried off the watch dog, Cerberus. Both these were celebrated in literature and art. See GREEK GODS ; GREEK RELIGION.
Fox, W. S., The Mythol ogy of all Races) (I, Greek and Roman, 1916) ; Gruppe, O., Mythologie und Re (2 vols., 1897, 19); Preller, 'Griechische Mythologie) (I, 4th ed., by Robert, 1894; II, 3d ed., by Plew, 1872); Roscher, W., 'Ausfiihrliches Lexikon der griechischen und romischen Mythylogie) (A-Tan, 1884-).