The Greek Gods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 

 

 

 

Cloud Callout: The Olympian Family
The twelve deities who resided on Mount Olympus
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and the “Family” of Gods who lived on its summit are listed below. There were twelve of them – six male, six female.  There were some local variations in the personnel list, in some regions: Pluto, Dionysus and Heracles for example.

 

By living in majestic surroundings between earth and sky they could supervise all human affairs.

 

Zeus

Hera

Athena

Poseidon

Apollo

Artemis

Demeter

Hermes

Aphrodite

Ares

Hephaestus

Hestia

 

 

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Origin of Greek mythology

 

The Greek Gods were derived from an amalgam of Middle Eastern myths from a range of cultures which the Greeks encountered through commerce, war of exploration.  These included Sumeria, Babylonian, Egypt, India, Phoenicia, Persia, Crete and Troy.  Another source was the stories of the seafarers and travellers who passed through Greek ports.

First written about by Homer, Hesiod and Pindar, the Olympian Gods characters were taken up and elaborated on by Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristophanes and Aeschylus and many others.

Whereas the Roman Gods tend to be bland and characterless, representing principles rather than personalities, the Greek Gods form a colourful and at times alarmingly dysfunctional family.

 

 

 

 

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The creation myth

 

In the beginning (according to the ancient Greeks) was Chaos, the Void.  Gaia, Earth, was formed from the void in a more-or-less unspecified way.  At the same time Tartaros (the underworld), Eros (desire), Erebos (the darkness of the underworld) and night the darkness of the world) were formed.

Night and Erebos together produced Aither (the ether, or bright air) and Day.  Gaia gave birth to Uranus, who became her husband and with whom she became progenitor of the twelve Titans, giants in human form, three cyclopes (wheel eyed creatures) and three Hekatonchires, monsters with a hundred hands.  To read the story from this point on, click any link to Gaia or Uranus and follow the links for their descendents.

In an alternative version, recounted in Homer’s Iliad, Oceanus is the originator of the world and all things.  He manifested in the form of an enormous river which encircled the world.  From its rushing flood to the sea, it formed the rivers and tributaries, springs and lakes.

The wife of Oceanus and primeval mother was Tethys.  From the consummation of their marriage sprang three thousand rivers and three thousand nymphs, the Oceanids.  With their brothers the Rivers, they were responsible for bringing up children and preserving youth.

Oceanus and Tethys also gave birth to the first generation of the family of the Gods.

 

The Battle of the Titans

Cronus was son of Uranus and Gaia (Ge) who usurped his father’s position. Zeus was a son of Cronus and Rhea.  When Zeus grew up he managed to overthrow his father and became supreme deity.

Zeus laid the stone for the Oracle at Delphi himself as a symbol of his superiority.  He forced Cronus to regurgitate Zeus’s brothers and sisters who Cronus had devoured to prevent them challenging him.

The brothers and sisters wanted to extract revenge against Cronus; Cronus summoned the Titans – the majority of his offspring – to fight on his side; however, the Titans lost the battle against the future Gods of Olympus.  Those Titans who survived the war were imprisoned in the Tartarus in the bowels of the earth and guarded by the Hundred-handed ones, the Hekatonchires.

 

The Battle of the Giants

The Giants sprang from drops of blood which fell to earth when Cronus castrated Uranus.  They were huge, monstrous creatures with snakes for hair and tails which ended in dragons.  Urged on by Gaia the Giants launched an attack on the Gods, hurling rocks and burning tree-trunks.  The Giants moved mountains, caused floods and caused the earth to tremble.  This myth may have its origins in the unstable geography of Greece, which is prone to earthquakes and volcanoes.  The Gods, led by Zeus, counter-attacked but could make no headway until they remembered a prophecy which said that to be victorious, they would have to enlist the help of a mortal.  They summoned Heracles.  Gaia went in search of a herb to save her sons the Titans, but Zeus forbade the sun, the moon and the dawn from appearing until he himself had found it.  The giants fell dead, Athena slew Pallas and made a shield from his skin and Dionysus devoured Erytius by turning himself into a lion.

 

The Five Generations of Man

According to Hesiod, Gaia (Ge) was the mother of the first human children, the golden race.  They lived in peace and with no need to labour to survive and they were eternally young. 

Next came the silver race, who lived in misery in ignorance of the Gods and in an extreme matriarchal society.

Zeus punished this race by destroying them and they were succeeded by the bronze race.  They believed in the Gods but were warlike and pitiless. 

They were rapidly displaced by a second bronze race who were noble and brave.  They took part in the Trojan war and the voyage of the Argos and now live in the Elysian Fields.

The last generation is the iron race who have inhabited the world down to the present day.  The are cruel and unjust creatures who have never known true happiness.

 

Deucalion’s Flood

The story of the flood appears in the bible but also appears in various traditions right back to a tablet found in a well in the ruins of the ancient Babylonian city of Ur, thought to be six thousand years old.  This is the Greek version.

Man became so evil that Zeus decided to wipe out the human race one and for all by causing a flood.  However, Prometheus got wind of the plan and told his son, Deucalion, to build an ark to house himself and his wife Pyrrha, daughter of Pandora and Ephimetheus.  For nine days they rode out the ensuing storm until it subsided and the ark grounded on a mountain peak.

Deucalion and Pyrrha stepped out of the ark, made offerings to Zeus in thanks and implored him to create more people.  In response he told them to walk away from the ark and throw stones over their shoulders without looking back.  The stones turned into people.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Deities

 

 


Ares

Roman Name:      Mars

God of War

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus.  Legitimate child of Zeus and Hera.

Athena, the most warlike Goddess who was born in a suit of armour and ready for battle, differed from  Ares in that he represented disorderly conduct and the violence of war whereas Athena taught mankind the rules of war, pitched battle.

Although he had no wife of his own he had three children by Aphrodite.  The twins Phobos (“panic”) and Demos (“fear”) always accompanied him on the battlefield.  Outraged when he found Aphrodite in bed with Ares after a tip-off from Helios the all-seeing, Athena’s husband  Hephaestus caught them in a mesh of gold and summoned the other Gods to see the spectacle.  However, they only laughed and Poseidon persuaded him to release them.

While he is identified with the Roman God Mars, Ares is depicted as an unscrupulous friend, a tempestuous lover and an instigator of violence.  Mars does not have these qualities.

 

 

 


Aphrodite

Roman Name:      Venus

Goddess of Love, Fertility and Beauty

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus

 

Illegitimate child of Zeus and Diome, according to the rumours.  A more romantic suggestion is that she was born from the foam of the sea, arose from the waves and came ashore on a seashell at Paphos in Cyprus.  She was blown gently ashore by the West Wind, Zephyrus and Flora, the spring, and landed on the beach in a shower of roses, her flower.  In he full version of this story, Cronus cut off the penis of his father with a sharp sickle and cast it into the sea and Aphrodite grew from it.  Aphrodite was the mother of Eros.

Believed to have originally been a West Asian Goddess brought to the Greek islands by traders, once incorporated into Greek mythology she was married to the crippled smith God Hephaistus.

Unlike her roman counterpart Venus, she was Goddess of romantic love and the affection which sustains society as well as sexual love.  However, Aphrodite had children by several Gods including Dionysus and Ares.  Outraged when he found Aphrodite in bed with Ares, Hephaestus caught them in a mesh of gold and summoned the other Gods to see the spectacle.  However, they only laughed and Poseidon persuaded him to release them.

Aphrodite’s greatest love was for Adonis, a handsome youth killed by a wild boar.  However, she had a love rival in Persephone, and the bitter dispute was only settled by Zeus decreeing that Adonis would live for a third of the year by himself, a third with Aphrodite and a third with Persephone.

According to myth, Aphrodite helped to cause the Trojan war.  She promised Paris, son of king Priam of Troy, the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world but this turned out to be Helen, wife of Melenaus, king of Sparta.

 

 

 


Apollo

Roman Name:      Apollo

God of the Sun, Truth and the Arts

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus

The son of Zeus and Leto, Apollo represented more than any other God the values of Greek civilisation.  Hera, Zeus’s wife, decreed that all places in Greece should drive Leto out in an attempt to prevent her children from being born.  Eventually she settled on the barren island of Delos, otherwise known as Ortygia, where Apollo was born shortly after Artemis. 

Apollo immediately ascended to Mount Olympus where he received the ambrosia and nectar which would make him immortal, and then he returned to Greece to found the Delphic Oracle.  Originally an oracle on the site was held by the Goddess Ge and guarded by her dragon called python.  Apollo killed Python Hence his name Pythian Apollo.  The priestess at Delphi was called Pythia.  However, another tradition has it that Ge passed ownership of the oracle to Phoebe who gave it to Apollo.  Apollo, of all the Gods, is most closely associated with oracles, divination and prophecy.  He gave humans the advice they needed on a personal and political level.

Apollo was also the God of light and the sun and was worshipped as Lycius, “of the wolves”, a reference to the Greeks identifying the first light of dawn as the “wolf-light”.

The swan and dolphin were sacred to Apollo; the hyacinth was his favourite plant, hyacinth originally being a youth who was accidentally shot with an arrow by Apollo.  His love of Daphne was thwarted by her lack of interest; eventually to protect her from Apollo’s advances her father, Peneus, turned her into a Bay Tree, hence the crown of laurels often worn by Apollo.

Apollo’s association with health and healing extended to the animal world and even to the healthy growth of crops.  He was also the guardian of flocks.  After upsetting Zeus he was sent as a shepherd to the King of Troy as a punishment and his flock was stolen by Hermes.  Hermes gave the lyre Apollo is often associated with as an atonement.

 

 


Artemis

Roman Name:      Diana

The Huntress.  Goddess of Wild Things

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus

 

Artemis was daughter of Leto the Titaness and Zeus, and twin sister of Apollo.  To the Romans Artemis, aka Diana, was also Goddess of light.  As the huntress she was also fiercely defensive of her favourite animals and extracted fierce reprisals against anyone who harmed them.  She liked to roam the mountains with her companion band of nymphs.

A hunting companion to Artemis was Callisto, one of the lovers of Zeus  Rather unfortunately Callisto was shot by Artemis while out hunting after she had been turned into a boar either by Zeus or Hera.

Artemis tended not to take prisoners.  When Actaeon, a mortal, came upon her while she was bathing, she changed him into a stag and he was chased and torn apart by his own dogs.  Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, killed a stag sacred to the Goddess.  For this she demanded the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia although whether the sacrifice was actually carried out is unclear.

It is considered likely that Artemis was a very ancient deity of the wild who the Greeks adopted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


ASCLEPIUS

Roman Name:      Aesculapius

Son of Apollo and Coronis, Asclepius was the God of healing.  Corionis was adulterous with a mortal while pregnant with Apollo’s child Asclepius.  Apollo sent his sister Artemis to kill Corionis.  However, as the fire of Corionis’ funeral pyre was burning, Apollo regretted his action and snatched his son from his mother’s womb and the flames.

He was nurtured by Chiron, wisest of the Centaurs who taught him healing, medicine and surgery.  He was so gifted he eventually surpassed his master and could bring the dead back to life.  This disturbed Hades, who saw his client list for the underworld dwindling.  Hades complained to Zeus who killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt so that the natural order of the world would not be upset.

Apollo was heartbroken at this and sought revenge by killing the one-eyed Cyclopes who created the thunderbolt.

Asclepius is represented as a kind old man with a snake entwined around his staff.  He had a daughter, Hygeia, Goddess of health, from whom we derive the word Hygiene.   Hippocrates was a follower of Asclepius.

 

 

 


athena

Roman Name:      Minerva

Goddess of Education and Science

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus

Legend has it that Zeus lay with Metia, daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, who bore within herself all the world’s wisdom.  Metia became pregnant and a prophesy was made that the resulting daughter would in turn give birth to a son who would usurp Zeus’s power.  As a result, Zeus swallowed Metia whole (a habit he evidently acquired from his father, Cronus).

Nine months later, Zeus acquired what could perhaps be described as a mother-and-father of a pain in the head.  He begged Hephaestus (or Prometheus, depending on the writer) to split his head open with an axe.  Athena immediately sprang out, not just alive and kicking but fully armed and ready to do battle.

One effect of her slightly unorthodox birth was that Athena never received the care of a mother and so her qualities were more masculine than feminine, particularly the warlike aspect.  One of her more formidable weapons was the aegis, a goatskin shield given to Zeus which only Athena was entitled to use.  To the shield was attached the Gorgonetum, the head of the Gorgon or Medusa.  Merely gazing on the Medusa resulted in being turned to stone.  The Gorgon itself had been beheaded by either Athena or by Perseus with Athena’s help.  Athena was also alone in being allowed to enter her father, Zeus’s, armoury and in being able to use his thunderbolt.

The God of war was Ares.  Athena differed from  Ares in that he represented disorderly conduct and the violence of war whereas Athena taught mankind the rules of war, pitched battle.  Athena’s special temple was the Parthenon in Athens.

During the Persian wars of the 5th century BC the Athenians were convinced that Athena had given them victory and so they worshipped her as Athena Nike, “victory”.  Another epithet was Athena Hippia, queen of the horses, referring to her military prowess and her taming of wild horses.

She was also Goddess of ingenuity and skill, representing the power of the mind over the material world and overseeing all the crafts and techniques of peacetime.  This gave her the cult name Ergane, “the worker” and she became patron of artists, sculptors and architects.

Her greatest invention was the art of weaving and she wove the garments of the Gods.  Pandora was a pupil and passed the skill on to other women.  Another clever weaver, Arachne, compared herself to Athena and challenged her to a competition.  Athena turned her into a spider – hence words in English such as arachnid, arachnophobia etc.

 

 


atlas

 

       

Legend has it that the giants sprang from drops of blood which fell to earth when Cronus castrated Uranus.  Atlas, placed by Cronus at the head of the Titans during the war, received one of the harshest punishments from Zeus after the war of the giants.    This was won by the Gods when they remembered a prophesy which said that they had to enlist the help of a mortal (Heracles).

Atlas was exiled to the garden of Hesperides at the Western end of the Earth and was condemned to hold up the Earth and the sky on his shoulders.  He was only once able to take the world off his shoulders, when he had to help Hericles by fetching him the apples of the Hesperides.  However, this allowed him to learn the secrets of the earth, sky and sea and he was the first to discover that the universe was spherical in shape. 

The Pleiades, now a constellation, were his seven children:  Alcyone, Electra, Celeano, Maea, Merope, Taygete and Stereope.  His other children, the Hesperides, were Hesperus, Hyas, Calypso and Pasiphae.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The cabeiri

The Telchines

Hephaestus had his workshop on the island of Lemnos, his sacred island.  Here the Cabeiri – his three children with Cabeiro – were protectors of metal workers and the vines which grew in abundance on the island.

The Cabeiri were demonic figures whose cult arose on Lemnos and spread throughout Greece.  They were associated with fire, fertility and vegetation, and were protectors of the transition through adolescence.  The Cabeiri had a sanctuary at Thebes, the Caberium, where initiation ceremonies were performed.

Poseidon was brought up, supposedly, on Rhodes, where as a child he was nurtured by the Telchines,  The Telchines were frightful creatures resembling men, snakes and fish.  They were true amphibians, equally happy on land and in water.  However, they were highly skilled metalworkers, who were the first workers in iron and bronze and who created the trident of Poseidon and Cronus’ sickle which he used to castrate Uranus.

 

 

 


coeus

Coeus was one of the Titans along with Cronus, Rhea, Métis, Mnemosyne, Hyperion and others (there were twelve Titans altogether).  With Phoebe, Coeus was a parent of Leto who conceived Apollo and Artemis with Zeus. 

 

cronUs

Rhea and Cronus were parents of both Zeus and Hera, hence although Zeus and Hera were married they were brother and sister.    This kind of incestuous relationship was apparently not at all unusual amongst the Gods.  Cronus had the habit of eating his children to prevent them from usurping his throne but as Hera was female, presumably she was not perceived as a threat.   Evidently she grew up with her parents as Hera and Zeus fell in love at an early age and had clandestine meetings unbeknown to their parents. 

Zeus, on the other hand, would have been eaten by Cronus but for the cunning of Rhea.  She wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and convinced Cronus that the swaddling clothes contained the baby Zeus.  Later, Zeus defeated Cronus in battle and took his position as Captain of the Gods.  He also forced Cronus to vomit up his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades (Pluto), Hera, Hestia and Demeter, although this does not entirely accord with other versions where, for instance, Poseidon escaped being eaten in the first place.

Some consider that Pan was a child of Cronus and Rhea though there are other interpretations.

       

Cronus devouring his children

 Francisco de Goya ( 1746 – 1828 )

 

 

 

 


Demeter

Roman Name:      Ceres

Goddess of Vegetation and Fruitfulness

Demeter was the Goddess of crops, vegetation and fruit and daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea.   As the bringer of corn she represented civilization.  She represented the seasons and was responsible for the success of the harvest. 

Her own daughter was Persephone, fathered by Zeus.   Hades, Lord of the underworld, fell in love with Persephone and carried her off to the underworld.  Demeter disguised herself as a mortal and left Olympus, wandering all over the world looking for her daughter.  She decreed that the earth should be barren until her daughter was returned to her.  Zeus arranged with Hades that Persephone should return to her mother at the first growth of spring and remain with her until the harvest was gathered in.

Demeter then revealed her true identity to the King of Eleusius who had helped her.  A cult was established in his city and the Eleusinian mysteries were inaugurated.  The secrets of the Eleusinian mysteries are unknown to this day.

Later she tried to avoid the advances of Poseidon by turning herself into a mare but Poseidon turned himself into a stallion and mated with her.  The offspring was the horse Areion.

Another affair was with the hero Jason.  She lay with him three times in a ploughed field, eventually giving birth to Plutus. Plutus represented earthly wealth, especially that which arises from tilling the soil.  Often Tyche is depicted holding the baby Plutus.

 

 

 

 


dioMe

Mother of Aphrodite, whose father was Zeus, although other sources consider that her father was Uranus.

 

 

 

 


Dionysus

Roman Name:      Baccus

 

Dionysus was God of fertility, wine and ecstasy and the losing of inhibition.   Son of Zeus and Semele, Zeus’ wife Hera in a rage of jealousy over the union caused the pregnant Semele to incinerate.  Zeus rescued Dionysus from his mother’s belly and hid him in his leg until he was fully grown.

Dionysus wandered the world pursued by Hera until he reached India where he was nurtured by the chief of the Satyrs, Silenius.  He learned the use of the vine and the Ivy – which is both an intoxicant and a symbol of immortality.

He returned to Greece accompanied by an unruly mob of Gods, Satyrs and Marnads – off-the-planet drunken women – in a ship whose mast sprouted vine leaves.  He respected no laws or customs and his followers indulged in orgiastic rituals said to include the sacrificing of animals and even humans.

His rituals are associated with dancing and masks and gave rise to theatre, comedy, satire and drama.

 

 

 

 

 


epimetheus

In one version of the creation story, Epimetheus and Prometheus, sons of the Titan Iapetus, were given the task by the Gods to arrange the features of the new creatures including man.  Epimetheus undertook the task and equipped all the animals of the earth with what they needed to survive and propagate their species.  However, in his enthusiasm for the other creatures he forgot to give man any advantages at all.  Prometheus, seeing the unfortunate state of man stole wisdom from Athena and fire from Hephaestus and gave them to the human race.

Zeus was not amused and dealt out a harsh punishment.  Prometheus was exiled to the Eastern end of the earth just as Atlas had been sent to the West.  He was tied to a stake in the Caucasus mountains, where an eagle swooped down every morning and pecked out his liver.  The liver grew back every day, leaving Prometheus in perpetual agony for thirty years until Heracles released him by shooting the eagle with an arrow.  Epimetheus’ daughter with Pandora was Pyrrha.  Because man had become so evil since the opening of Pandora’s box, Zeus decided to unleash a flood to wipe out the human race.  Prometheus, whose  son was Deucalion, husband of Pyrrha, got wind of the plan and Deucalion built an ark and rode out the storm for seven days until it subsided.

 

 

 

 


Eros

Roman Name:      Cupid

 

 

The son of Aphrodite, Eros represents sexual and amorous desire.  Depicted as young and playful, he had another side – he wounded hearts for fun, and made people lose their willpower and their minds.

Jealous of the beauty of Psyche (“the soul”), Aphrodite made Eros arrange for Psyche to fall for the ugliest man on earth.  However, disobeying his mother, Eros fell in love with her and visited her every night but remained invisible.  Curiosity eventually overcame her and she lit a lamp to see him while he was sleeping.  A drop of hot oil fell on to him and awoke Eros, who was furious and abandoned her.

The distraught Psyche roamed the Earth until Zeus took pity on her and the distraught Eros and eventually Zeus gave his permission for them to marry.

       

 

 

 

 


Gaia (Ge)

Both mother and wife of Uranus, Gaia represents Earth.  In the beginning was only chaos, the void.  From the void was created Gaia (earth) in a way which remains unclear, along with Tartarus (the underworld), Eros (desire), Erebos (the darkness of the Underworld) and Night (the darkness of the earth).  Night and Erebos joined to produce Aither (bright air), Gaia gave birth to Uranus (heaven, the sky), and together they produced the twelve Titans (giants in human form), three Cyclopes (wheel-eyed creatures) and three Hecktonchires (monsters with 100 hands).

Uranus was disgusted with his creations and banished them to the underworld.  Gaia was furious and persuaded the youngest Titan, Cronus, to take revenge.  Cronus hid in his parents bed, castrated Uranus and took power.  The drops of blood fell to earth and became the Furies – Alecto, Megaera and Tsiphone.       

 

 

 


The graces

Minor Goddesses to both the Greeks and Romans, their name derives from their Roman name Gratiae.  There were three Graces – Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia, according to the most widely accepted myth.  They were attendants to the Goddess of love – Aphrodite in Greece and Venus to the Romans and were thought to represent beauty, gentleness and friendship.  They were daughters of Zeus and Euphrosyne.

 

 


hebe

Legitimate child of Zeus and Hera, Hebe symbolises eternal youth.    Heracles married Hebe on mount Olympus so that he could secure eternal youth and from then on he lived happily with the Gods. 

 

 


HELIOS

Roman Name:      Sol

Son of the Titan Hyperion, Helios was the sun God of the Greeks and gave his name to Helium – which was first discovered by spectroscopic analysis in the Sun.  After crossing the sky during the day, he sailed round the earth in a golden bowl during the night on the encircling waters of Oceanus.

Helios had many children including Pasiphae, Circe and a son called Phaethon.  Phaethon once took control of his father’s chariot but he quickly lost control of the horses, and only the quick intervention of Zeus prevented the chariot overturning and the earth catching fire.  However, Phaeton fell from the chariot into the sea and was drowned.

The Colossus of Rhodes – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – Was erected to the sun God Helios.  It straddled the harbour at Rhodes but was destroyed in an earthquake in c. 226 BC

 

 

 

 


hephaestus

Roman Name:      Vulcan

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus.

Legitimate child of Zeus and Hera according to some sources but others see him as born of Hera without male intervention at the same time that Athena sprang from the head of Zeus.  A crippled smith, he was married to Aphrodite, believed to have originally been a West Asian Goddess brought to the Greek islands by traders.  However, Aphrodite had children by several other Gods including Ares.  Outraged when he found Aphrodite in bed with Ares, Hephaestus caught them in a mesh of gold and summoned the other Gods to see the spectacle.  However, they only laughed and Poseidon persuaded him to release them.

As a punishment to  both Prometheus and the human race for  stealing wisdom and fire from the Gods, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to fashion a beautiful woman from a mixture of earth and water.   Athena adorned her and taught her to weave while Aphrodite endowed her with grace and passion.  Hermes, however, put malicious and lying words into her heart.  Zeus named her Pandora.  Epimetheus fell in love with her and presented her for mankind to see.  She opened a jar from which all the evils of the world spilled: Pandora’s box.  However, the last thing to come out of the box was hope.

Hephaestus had his workshop on the island of Lemnos, his sacred island.  Here the Cabeiri – his three children with Cabeiro – were protectors of metal workers and the vines which grew in abundance on the island.

 

 

 


hera

Roman Name:      Juno

Goddess of Marriage and Married Women

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus. Wife of Zeus.

Like Zeus, Hera was a child of Rhea and Cronus, hence although married they were brother and sister.  By marrying Zeus she acquired all of his properties but in a feminine form.  Cronus had the habit of eating his children to prevent them from usurping his throne but as Hera was female, presumably she was not perceived as a threat.  Evidently she grew up with her parents as Hera and Zeus fell in love at an early age and had clandestine meetings unbeknown to their parents.

The sacred marriage between these two deities was interpreted as a symbol of fertility as in this description from Homer’s Iliad (Lord Derby translation):

 

 

Thus saying, in his arms he clasped his wife, the teeming earth between them caused to spring the tender grass, and Lotus dew-besprent, crocus and hyacinth, a fragrant couch, profuse and soft, up-springing from the earth.

 

However, Zeus’s amorous adventures did not sit well with Hera and her jealousy was extreme, turning Callisto, for instance, into a she-boar.

While Hera was Goddess of Marriage and Married Women, she also had significance at other stages in a woman’s life.  As Parthenos she was the “virgin” or “maiden”, as Telia she was honoured by married women and as Chera by widows.

Hera supervised the rearing of Thetis, whom she suckled against her will.  The milky way arose when she spilt some drops of milk as she thrust him violently away from her breast.

Hera was more majestic than any other Goddess on Mount Olympus, and all of Olympus shook when she exhibited her rage. 

 

 

 

 

 


hermes

Roman Name:      Mercury

God of Commerce

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus

 

As well as being the God of commerce, Hermes was known as a messenger of the Gods.

In one version of the creation story, Prometheus and Athena fashioned man out of clay and fire in a likeness to the Gods.  In another version, Prometheus and Epimetheus were given the task by the Gods to arrange the features of the new creatures including man.  Epimetheus undertook the task but in his enthusiasm for the other creatures he forgot to give man any advantages at all.  Prometheus, seeing the unfortunate state of man stole wisdom from Athena and fire from Hephaestus and gave them to the human race.

Zeus also punished the human race for accepting the gifts of Prometheus: Wisdom and fire, which Prometheus stole from Athena and Hephaestus.  He ordered Hephaestus to fashion a beautiful woman from a mixture of earth and water.  However,  Hermes was charged with putting malicious and lying words into her heart.  Zeus named her Pandora.  Epimetheus fell in love with her and presented her for mankind to see.

When Pandora opened her box all the evils of the world spilled out.  However, last to come out was hope.

 

 

 


hestia

Roman Name:      Vesta

Goddess of Hearth and Home

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus

Born of Cronus and Rhea.

 

 


Hypnos

Roman Name:      Somnus

The Greek God of sleep, Hypnos gave his name to Hypnotism and associated words such as Hypnotherapy.

Originally mortal, he took the form of a bird and tricked Zeus into going to sleep.  This gave rise to a terrible wrath in Zeus and Hypnos, terrified, fled from the earth and sought sanctuary with Nyx, God of night, and became divine.

He lived in the underworld by day and never saw the sun but he came out at night to bring sleep to mankind.

Hypnos had three sons: Morpheus, Phobetor and Phantasos.  Morpheus brought dreams to mankind (hence, Morphine).   Phobetor and Phantasos brought the same to animals and inanimate objects.

He is depicted as a youth with wings, holding a poppy (opium?) and a horn.

 

 

 


Iris

The Harpies – The Winds

Iris was one of the messengers of the Gods, running down from heaven to earth along the rainbow which was also her dress.  Iris was daughter of Thaumus who was son of Pontus and Electra, daughter of Oceanus.  As well as her rainbow dress Iris had winged sandals and gold wings, which enabled her to run like the wind.

The Harpies – Aello, Ocypete and Celaeno, were her sisters.  They were winged monsters who made a frightening noise when they passed,   They were voracious, and devastated every place they visited like a plague of locusts.   Jason and the Argonauts found the blind seer Phineas nearly starved to death as the Harpies, which had sharp talons and the bodies of birds, stole his food.

The Harpies represented the winds of the storms but the Greeks also had figures to represent the ordinary winds, chief of which were Boreas, Notas, Euros and Zephyrus.

 

 

 


iapetus

Son of Oceanus and Tethys, the Titan Iapetus was father to Epimetheus and Prometheus.

 

 

 


leto

Leto was daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe.  With Zeus she was parent of Apollo and Artemis, with whom her cult was usually associated.   Traditionally, they are considered to have been born on the island of Delos, which was permanently secured to the bottom of the sea for her, by Poseidon, with a huge pillar.  Unusually, she was one of the few Titanesses to be worshipped in ancient Greece.          Even the Persians respected her sanctuary when in 400 BC their fleet passed by on the way to do battle with the Greeks.

 

 

 


NYX

The God of night who sheltered Hypnos when he fled from the wrath of Zeus, after tricking Zeus to go to sleep.

 

 

 


oceanUS

Metia was daughter of Oceanus and Tethys.   According to legend Zeus lay with Metia and the resulting pregnancy led to Athena being born from Zeus’s head (see Athena).        Oceanus was also progenitor with Tethys of the Titan Iapetus who was father to Epimetheus and Prometheus.  During the night, Helios, the sun God, sailed around the world in a golden bowl on the encircling waters of Oceanus.  Both the Greeks and Romans believed that the earth was a large island surrounded by an ocean. 

 

 


The muses

The nine Muses were born to Zeus and Mnemnosyne, daughter of Uranus, created to sing the praises of the victory over the Titans.  The Muses were born in the Pieria mountains, close to Mount Olympus and this was also the site of their most important sanctuary.  Hesiod was bestowed the gift of poetry when he encountered the muses on the slopes of Helicon.


According to myth the sirens once competed in their singing with the muses but lost, so they threw themselves into the sea and drowned.

One of the Muses was Urania, not to be confused with Uranus, responsible for astronomy.  Another was Cleio, the Muse of history.  Euterpe was responsible for flute playing, Thaleia for comedy and Melpomene of tragedy.

 

 

 


Nemesis

The Furies

The Greeks didn’t just convert human concepts into Gods on a kind of production line technique, and in fact Nemesis, along with Hubris, were concepts rather than Gods.  Offending against the Gods – the crime of Hubris – resulted in Nemesis, divine justice.  It was much later that Nemesis became the Goddess whose rage represented the punishment of the Gods.

The Furies – Alecto, Megaera and Tsiphone – were born from the blood spilled when Cronus cut of the genitalia of Uranus.  They were earth Goddesses responsible for maintaining balance and moral order and as such, they were closely associated with Nemesis and Themis.  The Furies were not the kind of characters you would want to meet in the dark;  for instance, they pursued Orestes, guilty of matricide, with “their burning breath, blood in their eyes and with snakes for hair”.

 

 


The nymphs

Daughters of Zeus and born of rain falling from heaven, the nymphs were nature Goddesses who spent their time dancing in the forests and meadows, and at springs and waterfalls.  They were associated with vegetation and water and were worshipped in damp caves, at waterfalls and on the banks of rivers.

 

 


Pan

Companion of Dionysus, pan was a goat-footed demon of the woods whose time was spent in hunting, singing and dancing, and amorous adventures with nymphs.  Pan invented the Pan-pipe, which takes its alternative name from he nymph Syrinx.  He was handy both in the Battle off the Giants and in the Persian wars for causing Pan-ic in the enemy by letting out wild cries.

Besides Syrinx, another of the many nymphs he seduced was Pitys, who turned herself into a tree to avoid his attentions.

 

 


persephone

 

 

 

Representing spring, Persephone was married to Hades (Pluto), God of the underworld and wealth.         Her mother was Demeter and her father was Zeus.

Neither  Persephone or her mother were actually notified of the marriage arrangements; Persephone was simply abducted and taken to a gloomy, dark underground chamber.  Demeter went on strike at this affront and the famine broke out in the world.  However, after four months (of winter) Persephone was allowed to revisit her mother, an arrangement which persisted each year hence giving rise to the seasons.

 

Hades and Persephone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


phoebe

With Coeus, parent of Leto who conceived Apollo and Artemis with Zeus.

 

 

 


The pleiades

The Hyades

The seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, the Pleiades were turned into stars because they could not bear the sight of their father carrying the world on his back.

The Pleiades is still a constellation in modern astronomy.

The Hyades were nymphs who reared Dionysus.  They had a brother called Hyas who died when bitten by a snake, and they were transformed into stars because they could not bear the grief.

 

 

 


Pluto (hades)

Roman Name:      Pluto

God of the Underworld and Wealth

Brother of Zeus, Pluto or Hades was actually the king of death but he was not death itself – that was Thanatos, known as Orcus to the Romans.  Pluto had enormous wealth and power, not only because he was undertaker in chief (and the Athenians and Spartans were always at war, either with each other or with someone else) but also because of the minerals which were obtained from underground.  As an enormously wealthy young man he should have had a rich romantic life but unfortunately, it seems that the other deities were rather embarrassed about his profession and didn’t want too much to do with him.  Eventually Zeus got fed up with his sex-starved brother eyeing up the muses and arranged a marriage with Persephone, daughter of Demeter.

No one actually told Demeter or Persephone; Persephone was simply abducted and taken to a gloomy, dark underground chamber.  Demeter went on strike at this affront and the famine broke out in the world.  However, after four months (of winter) Persephone was allowed to revisit her mother, an arrangement which persisted each year hence giving rise to the seasons.

 

 


poseidon

Roman Name:      Neptune

See also: The Marine Deities

God of the sea

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus

Brother of Zeus, Poseidon was a son of Rhea and Cronus, the cruel God who ate his children to prevent them from usurping his throne.  Rhea outwitted Cronus and saved Zeus by wrapping a stone in swaddling clothes.  Later, Zeus defeated Cronus in battle and took his position as Captain of the Gods. 

Rhea had a different trick up her sleeve in the case of Poseidon.  She hid him in a stable and presented Cronus with a donkey which he took for his son and promptly ate.  Evidently, Cronus wasn’t all that bright.  Anyway, Poseidon escaped the effects of his father’s unfortunate culinary habits and was brought up, supposedly, on Rhodes, where as a child he was nurtured by the Telchines, who were the first workers in iron and bronze and who created the trident of Poseidon.  In another version he was given the trident by the Cyclops in recognition of his contribution in the battle of the Titans.  With his trident he could split open the earth.

Other symbols of Poseidon are the bull and the horse; Poseidon was supposed to have created the first horse.  According to a tradition which originates from Thessaly, Poseidon breathed life into the first horse.  Demeter tried to avoid the advances of Poseidon by turning herself into a mare but Poseidon turned himself into a stallion and mated with her.  The offspring was the horse Areion.

 It was Poseidon who shut up the Titans in Tartarus and he became the God who guaranteed order in the universe.  After the war the universe was shared out between Zeus, Poseidon and Hades (Pluto).  The sky went to Zeus, the sea to Poseidon and the underworld to Pluto.  All three had a claim to the earth itself. 

Poseidon’s palace on the sea bed was, according to Homer, near to Aigea, made of gold and housed his legal wife, Ampitrite. 

Polyphemus, son of Poseidon, was blinded by Odysseus who was pursued by him in his wanderings over troubled seas.

 

 

 

 


prometheus

God of fire

In one version of the creation story, Prometheus and Athena fashioned man out of clay and fire in a likeness to the Gods.  In another version, Prometheus and Epimetheus were given the task by the Gods to arrange the features of the new creatures including man.  Epimetheus undertook the task but in his enthusiasm for the other creatures he forgot to give man any advantages at all.  Prometheus, seeing the unfortunate state of man stole wisdom from Athena and fire from Hephaestus and gave them to the human race.

Zeus was not amused and dealt out a harsh punishment.  Prometheus was exiled to the Eastern end of the earth just as Atlas had been sent to the West.  He was tied to a stake in the Caucasus mountains, where an eagle swooped down every morning and pecked out his liver.  The liver grew back every day, leaving Prometheus in perpetual agony for thirty years until Heracles released him by shooting the eagle with an arrow.

Zeus also punished the human race for accepting the gifts of Prometheus.  He ordered Hephaestus to fashion a beautiful woman from a mixture of earth and water.  Athena adorned her and taught her to weave while Aphrodite endowed her with grace and passion.  Hermes, however, put malicious and lying words into her heart.  Zeus named her Pandora.  Epimetheus fell in love with her and presented her for mankind to see. 

She opened a jar (Pandora’s box) from which all the evils of the world emerged and became the source of all of man’s misfortunes.  However, the last thing to emerge from pandora’s box was hope.

 

 

 


rhea

Rhea and Cronus were parents of both Zeus and Hera, hence although Zeus and Hera were married they were brother and sister.    Cronus had the habit of eating his children to prevent them from usurping his throne but as Hera was female, presumably she was not perceived as a threat.   Evidently she grew up with her parents.  Hera and Zeus fell in love at an early age and had clandestine meetings unbeknown to their parents.  Zeus, on the other hand, would have been eaten by Cronus but for the cunning of Rhea.  She wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and convinced Cronus that the swaddling clothes contained the baby Zeus.  Later, Zeus defeated Cronus in battle and took his position as Captain of the Gods.

Some consider that Pan was a child of Cronus and Rhea though there are other interpretations.

 

       

 

 


tethys

Tethys was progenitor with Oceanus of the Titan Iapetus who was father to Epimetheus and Prometheus.

 

 

 

 


Themis

The Hours and the Fates

Second wife of Zeus after Métis.  All justice emanated from Zeus, Themis was closely associated with him and therefore became responsible for ensuring justice was done, protecting the weak and protecting institutions.  Zeus and Themis were the parents of the Hours and the Fates.

The hours, companions to Aphrodite, were the first to greet her when she arose from the waves at Cyprus.  They guarded the gates of heaven which they could open and close from within a dense cloud which preserved secrecy.  Their names were Eunomia, Dike and Irene and they bestowed good laws, justice and peace upon men.  They also represented the seasons.

The Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropus – daughters of Zeus and Themis – were responsible for the birth, life and death of every mortal and none of the Gods – not even Zeus – could intervene in their decisions.  Clotho spun the thread of life for every individual hence, obviously, the origin of he word “cloth”.  Lachesis was responsible for the fortune of each, and Atropos cut the cord and brought death – hence the word “atrophy”.

 

 

 


Tyche

Almost every city had a temple dedicated to Tyche.  She was the deity who gave them good fortune and was protector of the fortune of city-states.  She is usually represented with the Cornucopia (Horn of Plenty), the baby Plutus, son of Demeter, or a sheaf of corn (a symbol of plenty).

 

       

 

 


uranus

Father of Aphrodite, whose mother was Diome, although other sources consider that Aphrodite’s father was Zeus.  Uranus is sometimes said to be the father of Pan and his mother, Ge, though others consider that Pan was the son of Cronus and Rhea.

Mnemosyne was daughter of Uranus and Ge (her name means “memory” – hence “mnemonic”) and she gave birth to the muses, fathered by Zeus, in the Pieria mountains close to mount Olympus.  The muses were a group of minor divinities created to sing the praises of the victory over the Titans.  One of the muses was Urania, not to be confused with Uranus, responsible for Astronomy.

Uranus’ genitalia were cut of by Cronus, using a sickle created by the Telchines, who were the first workers in iron and bronze.  The drops of blood gave rise to the Furies.  The Telchines also created the trident of Poseidon.

 

       

 

Zeus

Roman Name:      Jupiter

Captain of the Gods

One of the twelve deities who dwelt on Mount Olympus

 

The most senior of all the Gods, Zeus was son of Rhea and Cronus, the cruel God who ate his children to prevent them from usurping his throne.  However, he was outwitted by Rhea who wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and convinced Cronus that the swaddling clothes contained the baby Zeus.  Later, Zeus defeated Cronus in battle and took his position as Captain of the Gods.  The kings were seen as his descendants and were often described as “Born of Zeus” or “Nurtured by Zeus”.  His first wife was Metis and the second, Themis.

When the Greek cities ceased to have kings, Zeus, by then known as Polieus and Poliouchos – Patron of the city – was charged with the cities’ defence.  Because of this he was worshipped as “Promachus” (leader in battle) and “Promachus” (saviour).

Amorous in the extreme, and as a result in mortal conflict with his wife, the earth Goddess Hera, Zeus’s lovers included Callisto and Europa, now two of the larger satellites of the planet Jupiter.  Europa (the planet) is particularly interesting as it has a large ocean under its surface ice.  The ocean is believed to be warm as a result of the distorting effects of Jupiter’s massive gravity.  This makes it one of the most likely places for extra-terrestrial life to be found in our solar system.

Callisto herself was a forest nymph and hunting companion of Artemis.   She bore Zeus a son, Arcas, after which she was turned into a bear.  It is unclear whether Hera turned her into a bear out of Jealousy  or whether Zeus carried out the metamorphosis to hide Callisto from the wrath of Hera.  Rather unfortunately this led to her being shot by Artemis, after which she took her place in the stars as the She Boar.

Zeus emerged from the waves as a bull to woo Europa, whom he carried off to Crete where she gave him three sons.  Antiope, the daughter of a river God,  bore Zeus a further two sons while he was in the form of a goat-like creature called a Satyr.

Danae was confined in a tower by her father who feared an oracle predicting her death at the hands of a grandson.  Zeus visited her as a shower of gold, and she bore him a son, Perseus.  Semele was shown Zeus in all his radiance, with the encouragement of Hera, as the God of thunder and lightning.  She was burned by the fire and died giving birth prematurely to Zeus’s son Dionysus.

 

 

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The Marine Deities

See also: Poseidon

 

Nereus

The Neraids

Son of Poseidon and Ge, writers depicted Nereus as an old man with hair as white as the foam of the sea, who lived in a palace built in a cave under the sea.

He was married to Doris, daughter of Oceanus, and they had fifty daughters called the Neraids.  They were among the most beautiful women of Greek mythology and lived in a silver cave near their father.  They sang on the beaches and rode on the backs of dolphins.  Amphitrite was married to Poseidon, Galatea was married to the Cyclops Polyphemus and Thetis was mother of Achilles.

 

 

proteus

Often seen as a personification of the waves, Proteus is known as a venerable old man who could transform himself into anything from a dragon to a tree and was known as a soothsayer.

King Menelaus wished to discover his future from Proteus but found it impossible to confront him.  Menelaus transformed himself into a seal and lay on the beach where Proteus took his morning stroll.  When he rushed up to Proteus, Proteus transformed himself into a lion, a dragon, a tiger, a wild boar, water and a tree but in the end was forced to submit and answer Menelaus’ questions.

The Trojan war started because the Greeks believed that Helen had been abducted by Paris of Troy, but one tradition holds that she was the guest of Proteus in Egypt and was found there by Menelaus after the war.

 

 

 

The sirens

Scylla - Charybdis

Famous for luring ships on to the rocks by enchanting sailors with their songs, the sirens had the heads of beautiful women and the bodies of birds – not, as is often supposed, fish; they weren’t mermaids. Homer tells us in the Odyssey:

 

He who draws nigh, in his ignorance,

And hears the song of the Sirens will

Never be seen again returning home

By his joyful, tender children and his wife.

 

According to myth the sirens once competed in their singing with the muses but lost, so they threw themselves into the sea and drowned.  They were associated with death and were often depicted on a mound of human skeletons.

Other evil spirits of the sea included Scylla and Charybdis who ambushed ships in the Strait of Sicily.  Scylla rolled rocks down to sink ships while other ships foundered in Charybdis’ whirlpool.

 

 

triton

Son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, he lived with them at the bottom of the sea.  Able to cause extreme weather, move islands and transform himself to spread panic (see Pan), he is usually seen as a giant monster.  Originally, Triton represented the power and mystery of marine forces but he was gradually transformed in Greek mythology into a band of Tritons, loyal companions to Poseidon.

 

 

 

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Acknowledgements and further reading

 

Bullfinch’s Complete Mythology          Thomas Bullfinch                                                  Chancellor Press

Encyclopaedia of Mythology                Arthur Cotterell                                                  Lorenz Books

Gods and Goddesses                             Dr Elizabeth Hallam (Editor)                                       Blandford

The Greek Gods                                      Maureen O’Sullivan                                               Efstathiadis Group

Greek Mythology and Religion             Maria Mavromataki                                         Hattalis

World Mythology                                  Arthur Cotterell (Editor)                                    Parragon

 

© Ken James 2008