The mythical king of the serpents. The basilisk, or cockatrice, is a creature that is born from a spherical, yolkless egg, laid during the days of Sirius (the Dog Star) by a seven year old rooster and hatched by a toad.
The basilisk could have originated from the horned adder or hooded cobra from India. Pliny the Elder described it simply as a snake with a golden crown. By the Middle Ages, it had become a snake with the head of a cock, and sometimes with the head of a human. In art the basilisk symbolized the devil and the antichrist. To the Protestants, it was a symbol of the papacy.
According to legend there are two species of the creature. The first kind burns everything it approaches, and the second kind can kill every living thing with a mere glance. Both species are so dreadful that their breath wilts vegetation and shatters stones. It was even believed that if a man on horseback should try to kill it with a spear, the power of the poison conducted through the weapon would not only kill the rider, but the horse as well. The only way to kill a basilisk is by holding a mirror in front of its eyes, while avoiding looking directly at it. The moment the creature sees its own reflection it will die of fright.
However, even the basilisk has natual enemies. The weasel is immune to its glance and if it gets bitten it withdraws from the fight to eat some rue, the only plant that does not wither, and returns with renewed strength. A more dangerous enemy is the cock for should the basilisk hear the crow, it would die instantly.
The carcass of a basilisk was often hung in houses to keep spiders away. It was also used in the temples of Apollo and Diana, where no swallow dared to enter. In heraldry the basilisk is represented as an animal with the head, torso, and legs of a cock, the tongue of a snake and the wings of a bat. The snake-like rump ends in an arrowpoint.
The centaurs of Greek mythology are creatures that are part human and part horse. They are usually portrayed with the torso and head of a human, and the body of a horse. Centaurs are the followers of the god Dionysus and are well known for drunkeness and carrying off helpless young maidens. They inhabited Mount Pelion in Thessaly, northern Greece.
According to one myth they are the offspring of Ixion the king of Lapithae (Thessaly), and a cloud. He had arranged a tryst with Hera, but Zeus got wind of it and fashioned a cloud into Hera's shape. Therefore, the centaurs are sometimes called Ixionidae.
Notorious is their bestial behavior on the wedding of Prithous, king of the Lapiths. They violated the female guests and attempted to abduct the bride. What followed was a bloody battle, after which they were driven from Thessaly. An exception was the kind and wise centaur Chiron, the teacher of the Greek heroes Jason and Achilles. Thomas Bulfinch
In Greek mythology, the three-headed watchdog who guards the entrance to the lower world, the Hades. It is a child of Typhon and Echidna, a monstrous creature herself, being half woman and half snake.
Originally the dog was portrayed as having fifty or a hundred hands but was later pictured with only three heads (and sometimes with the tail of a serpent). Cerebus permitted new spirits to enter the realm of the dead, but allowed none of them to leave. Only a few ever managed to sneak past the creature, among which Orpheus, who lulled it it sleep by playing his lyre, and Heracles who brought it to the land of the living for a while (being the last of his twelve labors).
By Ron Leadbetter
The fourth labor was to capture the Hind of Cerynaea, the hind was known as Cerynitis. Eurystheus bestowed this task upon Heracles knowing full well that the animal was the sacred property of Artemis, that meant he would be committing impiety against the goddess. Artemis found a small herd of five while out hunting, she captured four to harness to her chariot, but the fifth escaped to Mount Cerynaea which borders Arcadia and Achaea. The animal was larger than a bull, brazen-hoofed also with huge golden horns or antlers of a stag.
With the hind being swift of foot it took Heracles a whole year to get close to the creature. He tracked the hind through Greece and into Thrace, (in some versions it says the chase took Heracles as far as Istria and the northern lands of the Hyperboreans). Never daunted by the long chase, Heracles was waiting for the hind to tire, this was not to be, and the hind seemed to have plenty of stamina and agility left.
Heracles knew he must disable the creature in some way, then by chance the hind stopped to drink at a river. Taking an arrow and removing the blood of the hydra from the tip, Heracles took aim and hit the hind in the leg, making it lame, this made catching the creature much easier. Heracles bound the wound and then set off on his long journey home. On the way to the palce of Eurythesus he was met by the goddess Artemis and her twin brother Apollo. On seeing the Ceryneian Hind, the huntress accused Heracles of sacrilege. Heracles pleaded with them, saying it was a necessity to return the sacred hind to the court of King Eurythesus, as he was bound by the labor imposed on him. Artemis granted Heracles forgiveness and he was allowed to carry the hind alive to the palace.
The giants in mythology are primordial creatures of enormous size, the personifications of the forces of nature. They usually are the enemies of humans and often battle the gods (such as the Greek Titans, the Irish Fomorians, and the Norse giants of Jotunheim).
Giants frequently play a significant part in the Creation Myths. They existed long before the gods and humans came. With the appearance of the gods there followed a struggle between the two, in which the giants got the worst of it. When a giant was slain by a mighty god, the god would create heaven and earth from the giants body. Even in the bible there were references to giants. In Genesis it is said that "in those days there were giants in the earth" and of course there is the story of David and Goliath, although the later can hardly be considered a giant being only 9' 8" when compared to the giants in mythology and folklore.
The griffin is a legendary creature with the head, beak and wings of an eagle, and the body of a lion and ocassionally the tail or a serpent or scorpion. Its origin lies somewhere in the Middle East where it is found in the paintings and sculptures of the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians. In Greek mythology, the took gold from the stream Arimaspias, and neighbors of the Hyperboreans, they belonged to Zeus. The later Romans used them for decoration and even in Christian times the griffin motif often appears. Griffins were frequently used as gargoyles on medieval churches and buildings.
In more recent times, the griffin only appears in literature and heraldry. Thomas Bulfinch
By Ron Leadbetter
The hydra which lived in the swamps near to the ancient city of Lerna in Argolis, was a terrifying monster which like the Nemean lion was the offspring of Echidna (half maiden-half serpent), and Typhon (had 100 heads), other versions think that the hydra was the offspring of Styx and the Titan Pallas. The hydra had the body of a serpent and many heads (the number of heads deviates from five up to one hundred there are many versions but generally nine is accepted as a standard), of one which could never be harmed by any weapon, and if any of the heads were severed another would grow in its place (in some versions two would grow). Also the stench from the hydra's breath was enough to kill man or beast (in other versions it was a deadly venom). When it emerged from the swamp it would attack herds of cattle and local villagers, devouring them with its numerous heads. It totally terrorized the vicinity for many years.
Heracles journeyed to Lake Lerna in a speedy chariot, and with him he took his nephew and charioteer Iolaus, in search of the dreaded hydra. When they finally reached the hydra's hiding place, Heracles told Iolaus to stay with the horses while he drew the monster from its hole with flaming arrows. This brought out the hideous beast. Heracles courageously attacked the beast, flaying at each head with his sword (in some versions a scythe) but he soon realized that as one head was severed another grew in its place. Heracles called for help from Iolaus, telling him to bring a flaming torch, and as Heracles cut off the heads one by one from the hydra, Iolaus cauterized the open wounds with the torch preventing them from growing again. As Heracles fought the writhing monster he was almost stifled by its obnoxious breath, but eventually, with the help of Iolaus, Heracles removed all but one of the hydra's heads. The one remaining could not be harmed by any weapon, so picking up his hefty club Heracles crushed it with one mighty blow, he then tore off the head with his bare hands and quickly buried it deep in the ground, placing a huge boulder on top. After he had killed the hydra, Heracles dipped the tips of his arrows into the hydra's blood, which was extremely poisonous, making them deadly.
Other versions say that while Heracles fought the hydra the goddess Hera sent down a giant crab which attacked his feet. This legend comes from a marble relief dating from the 2nd century BCE found at ancient Lerna, showing Heracles attacking the hydra, and near his feet is a huge crab. Also other legends say that a stray arrow set alight the forest, and it was the burning trunks which Heracles ripped up and used to cauterize the open wounds.
Before he ascended the throne of Crete, Minos struggled with his brothers for the right to rule. Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of approval by the gods for his reign. He promised to sacrifice the bull as an offering, and as a symbol of subservience. A beautiful white bull rose from the sea, but when Minos saw it, he coveted it for himself. He assumed that Poseidon would not mind, so he kept it and sacrificed the best specimen from his herd instead. When Poseidon learned about the deceit, he made Pashipa, Minos wife, fall madly in love with the bull. She had Daedalus, the famous architect, make a wooden cow for her. Pashipa climbed into the decoy and fooled the white bull. The offspring of their lovemaking was a monster called the minotaur.
The creature had a head and tail of a bull on the body of a man. It caused such terror and destruction on Crete that Daedalus was summoned again, but this time by Minos himself. He ordered the architect to build a gigantic, intricate labyrinth from which escape would be impossible. The minotaur was captured and locked in the labyrinth. Every year for nine years, seven youths and seven maidens came as tribute from Athens. These young people were also locked in the labyrinth for the minotaur to feast upon.
When the Greek hero Theseus reached Athens, he learned of the minotaur and the sacrifices, and wanted to end this. He volunteered to go to Crete as one of the victims. Upon his arrival in Crete, he met Ariadne, Minos' daughter, who fell in love with him. She promised she would provide the means to escape from the maze if he would agree to marry her. When Theseus did, she gave him a simple ball of thread, which he was to fasten close to the entrance of the maze. He made his way through the maze, while unwinding the thread, and he stumbled upon the minotaur. He beat it to death and led the others back to the entrance by following the thread.
In Greek mythology, Pegaseus is the winged horse that was fathered by Poseidon with Medusa. When her head was cut off the Greek hero Perseus, the horse sprang from her pregnant body. His galloping created the well Hippocrene on the Helicon (a mountain in Boeotia).
When the horse was drinking from the well Pirene on the Acrocotinth, Bellerophon's fortess, the Corinthian hero was able to capture the horse by using a golden bridle, a gift from Athena. The gods then gave him Pegasus for killing the monster chimera but when he attempted to mount the horse it threw him off and rose to the heavens, where it became a constellation (north of the ecliptic).
In another version, Bellerophon killed the chimera while riding on Pegasus, and later when he attempted to ride to the summit of Mount Olympus, Zeus sent a gadfly to sting the horse, and it threw Bellerophon off its back. Thomas Bulfinch
One of the gorgons, and the only who who was mortal. Her gaze could turn whoever she looked upon to turn to stone. There is a particular myth in which Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden. She descecrated Athena's temple by lying there with Poseidon. Outraged Athena turned Medusa's hair into living snakes.
Medusa was killed by the hero Perseus with the help of Athena and Hermes. He killed her by cutting off her head and gave it to Athena, who placed it in the center of her Aegis, which she wore over her breastplate.
From Medusa's dead body the giant Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus, her son by Poseidon sprang forth. Thomas Bulfinch
Source: Encyclopedia Mythica