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An Overview of Greek Gods and Goddesses

Author: Lena Santos

The Twelve Olympians were the main gods and goddesses in Greek mythology. They resided in Mount Olympus and actually totals to fourteen Olympians but never more than twelve in a time. The ten gods and goddesses who were always considered Olympians were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hermes, Ares, Hephaestus, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis and Apollo. The alternative Olympians were Hades, Demeter, Dionysus and Hestia.

Before the Olympians were the Titans. The twelve Titans were then known as the elder gods who ruled the earth during its Golden Age before they were overthrown by the Olympians. The twelve Titans were coupled as: Cronus and Rhea; Oceanus and Tethys; Hyperion and Theia; Coeus and Phoebe; Mnemosyne and Themis, the single Crius and Iapetus.

The Theogony, a poem written in 700 B.C by the Greek writer Hesiod, narrated the creation of the Greek gods. According to Theogony, the twelve Titans were the children of the union between Uranus (heaven) and Gaia (earth). Their children posed as threats to Uranus that he pushed them back-in to Gaia and then banished Cronus, his youngest son. Gaia was grief-stricken by the lost of her children that together with the Hundred-handers and Cyclops (her children too) helped Cronus castrate his father Uranus. Cronus set himself as king of the Titans after freeing his siblings. He chose Rhea to be his queen and produced a new line of gods and demi-gods. Cronus, fearful that his children might overthrow him one day, swallowed them one by one. Zeus was spared for his mother Rhea swaddled a stone instead of him and gave it to Cronus to swallow. Zeus was taken to Crete to be guarded and raised by the Kouretes.

When Zeus reached adulthood he returned and overpowered Cronus. He forced him to swallow a concoction made by Gaia, his grandmother. The potion made Cronus vomit his other children and thus a war between the younger god and the elders ensued. The War of the Titans (Titonomachy) was a long struggle but the new breed of gods and goddesses under the leadership of Zeus won, banishing the Titans to Tartarus. Some of the elders who did not fight the forces of Zeus remained in Mount Olympus and were crucial in the new administration. They were Rhea, Mnemosyne, Gaia, Hyperion, Themis, Metis and some notable sons of Iapetus who were Atlas, Menoetius, Epimetheus, and Prometheus. The Titans no longer were in power as the Olympians took reign.

Zeus, the youngest son of Cronus and Rhea, became the supreme god as he was in control of the heavens and the ruler of mankind. He was represented by a thunderbolt gifted by the Cyclops when he freed them during the war of the Titans. His siblings were Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia and Demeter. All the other Olympians, except for Aphrodite, were the children of Zeus with other women. Athena was said to have been born by Zeus alone and that in retaliation Hera produced Hephaestus. Zeus is Jupiter.

Hera (Juno) was the goddess of marriage and family which was quite ironic as Zeus was a philandering husband that kept Hera on her toes. She readily caused havoc to Zeus’s mistresses as Zeus himself was invincible. She bore four children – Eilithyia, Ares, Hebe and Hephaestus.

Aphrodite was born out of foam produced when Cronus threw out his father Uranus’s testicles into the sea. She was the goddess of love and beauty and was commonly associated with doves, swans, pomegranates, lime trees and dolphins. She was Venus in Roman mythology. In the numerous myths accorded to Aphrodite she was depicted as ill-tempered, jealous and vain. She was married to Hephaestus but was often unfaithful. She might be the goddess of love but the “love” that was her realm was not romantic love but rather “lust”.

Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto. He was the god of Music and the twin of Artemis, the hunter. It was said that he invented the lute but he was more popularly known for his prowess in playing the lyre. He was depicted as a very handsome golden-haired god and was represented by the lyre, laurel tree, navelstone and the tripod.

Artemis (Diana) was the goddess of the hunt and was aptly represented by a bow and arrow. The worship of Artemis pertained to the moon while that of Apollo was of the sun. Artemis was one of the three Virgin Goddesses in Greek mythology with the other two Athena and Hestia.

Ares was the god of war. He was the son of Zeus and Hera. He was represented by a spear and dogs. He was Mars in Roman mythology and was the lover of Aphrodite. Ares was a difficult god to contend with that no ancient Greek city wanted him as the patron.

Athena was the daughter of Zeus and the Metis, the first wife of Zeus. Her birth was extraordinary as she sprung fully grown out of Zeus’s head. She was the goddess of wisdom, skills and war. She was the favorite of Zeus. Her symbols were the distaff and shield. Minerva is her Roman name.

Demeter was a sister of Zeus. She was the goddess of agriculture and vegetation. She was depicted as a peaceful deity with golden hair. She was known as Ceres in Roman mythology. She was the mother of Persephone the goddess of the underworld.

Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, joy, theatre. He was the son of Zeus and princess Semele. He was known as Bacchus.

Hades or Pluto was the brother of Zeus and was the ruler of the underworld. His wife was Persephone whom he abducted from his sister Demeter. His sacred symbol was a helmet.

Hephaestus (Vulcan) was the Greek god of metallurgy. He was the son of Zeus and Hera and was thrown out as an infant because he was so ugly. He was also accredited with the creation of Pandora. His wife was Aphrodite.

Hermes (Mercury) was the messenger of gods and the god of trade. He was the son of Zeus and the nymph Maea who was the daughter of Titan Atlas. Hermes’s human weakness was that of cheating and thievery.

Hestia was Zeus sister and the eldest daughter of Titan Cronus and Rhea. She was the goddess of the hearth, home and family. She was called Vesta in Roman mythology.

Poseidon was an older brother of Zeus was the ruler of the sea. He was Neptune in Roman mythology. He was an unforgiving god and was known to be bad-tempered, greedy and vengeful. His symbols were the trident and his sacred animals the horse and the dolphin.

The Olympians had their own powers as “gods” and their frailties just like humans. Greed, lust, wrath, pride and envy were their weaknesses. If I add gluttony and sloth to the list, the Olympians weaknesses could be summed up Catholicism’s seven deadly sins.

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