Geography helped shape Greek mythology. Greece is a peninsula surrounded by sea and islands. Rugged mountains and the jagged coastline break the land into many small, separate areas. Ancient Greece never became a unified empire. Instead, it consisted of small kingdoms that after about 800 B.C. became city-states. Because travel was easier by sea than by land, the Greeks became a nation of seafarers, and they traded and established colonies all over the Mediterranean and the Near East.
Greek mythology is a patchwork of stories, some conflicting with one another. Many have been passed down from ancient times in more than one version. The roots of this mythology reach back to two civilizations that flourished before 1100 B.C.: the Mycenaean, on the Greek mainland, and the Minoan, on the nearby island of Crete. The ancient beliefs merged with legends from Greek kingdoms and city-states and myths borrowed from other peoples to form a body of lore shared by most Greeks.
For hundreds of years, these myths passed from generation to generation in spoken form. Then, around the time the classical Greek culture of the city-states arose, people began writing them down. The works of Hesiod* and Homer*, which date from the 700s B.C., are key sources for the mythology of ancient Greece. Hesiod's Theogony tells of creation and of the gods' origins and relationships. The Iliad] and the Odyssey], epics said to have been written by Homer, show the gods influencing human destiny. In addition, Pindar*, a poet of around 600 B.C., wrote poems called odes that contain much myth and legend.
Non-Greek sources also exist. The Romans dominated the Mediterranean world after the Greeks and adopted elements of Greek mythology. The Roman poet Ovid's poem the Metamorphoses] retells many Greek myths.