The pantheon of the ancient Greek gods is a complex collection of gods that spans three generations. Greek mythology is a series of entwined stories centered around gods, heroes, fools, and monsters. These stories were extremely important to the Greeks and permeated all aspects of their everyday life.
The Genealogy of the Greek Gods
As with any creation myth, the Greeks created gods as a way for them to understand the natural and social world. The ancient Greeks created a complex pantheon to explain their existence.
Many ancient Greek tales detail the creation of the world, the most well-known being the Theogony by the poet Hesiod. The Theogony is considered the most important and authoritative on the matter.
The Theogony dates back to the latter half of the 8th Century BCE. It details the origins of the gods and takes us through their genealogy. There are the first beings, the primordial deities, who were created as personifications to explain the beginning of the world. Then came the Titans, children of the primordial deities, and lastly, the Olympians.
As with any myths invented to explain the existence of humanity, Hesiod’s Theogony was not something he crafted on his own. It is a retelling and interpretation of earlier creation myths, transformed to suit the social needs of the time.
The stories of the Greek gods interlink, each tale enriching and expounding upon the one before, creating a colorful and captivating collection of myths.
The First Generation of Greek Gods; The Primordial Deities
Primordial deities are the first gods to be featured in the Theogony. These primordial forces are gods and goddesses who are personifications of natural processes and phenomena. Hesiod describes the primordial deities as being ‘deathless gods.’ These first beings from whom all other gods and goddesses originate play a vital role in the Greek pantheon.
This first generation of Greek gods has existed since the dawn of time. The primordial deities that emerged when the world began are elemental, as they are abstract concepts rather than a god with human characteristics.
The first generation of gods merely came into being, rather than being created through the union of male and female entities. The ancient Greeks believed the universe was a dome cut in half by the spherical Earth. Below the Earth was Tartarus, a misty pit that became a prison. Above the Earth, the starry Heavens.
The Theogony opens with the emergence of Chaos, the ‘yawning abyss.’ Before Chaos there was nothing. The emergence of Chaos marks the beginning of time. Chaos appears to be both a female goddess and a place. Five primordial gods emerged from Chaos; Gaia, Tartarus, Eros, Erebus, and Nyx.
From the abyss came Gaia, the Earth. Hesiod describes Gaia as being broad-breasted and wide-bosomed.’ Gaia is the mother goddess from which all life is created. Gaia was able to give birth to other primordial deities without a mate. The mother goddess birthed the Mountains, the barren Sea, and the Heavens alone.
Gaia married her son Uranus, and together they produced the twelve Titans, the second generation of gods.
After Gaia, Tartarus emerged, a dark pit found at the bottom of the universe below the Earth. Misty Tartarus, as Hesiod describes, is used as a prison. In the early myths, Tartarus is both the pit and the god who presides over it.
Initially, Tartarus is separate from the Underworld. It is as far away from Hades as the Heavens are from Earth. Later, Tartarus becomes the most feared section of the Underworld. Tartarus came to represent a hell pit. Tartarus becomes the place where the most wicked in Greek society would spend their afterlife. In Tartarus, the souls of the wicked were punished for all eternity.
Together, Tartarus and Gaia produced the most feared monster in Greek mythology, Typhon. The giant serpent is considered the father of all monsters.
Eros, the primordial force of desire and erotic love, followed Tartarus out of Chaos. He is described as being the ‘fairest of all the gods’ by Hesiod and is capable of influencing the judgment of mortals and gods.
Eros is the companion of the Olympian goddess of love, Aphrodite. He is usually depicted as either a beautiful youth or a young boy, he always carries a bow and arrows. The arrows represent Eros’ ability to overpower the sensibilities of mortals and gods alike, rendering them overcome with desire.
Erebus came into existence next, emerging from Chaos as a dark mist that spread around Gaia and swirled into the deepest crevices on the Earth. He is the god who personifies darkness and shadow.
Erebus mated with his sister, Nyx/Night, and together they created Aether and Hemera/Day. Nyx pulled her husband’s shadows across the sky to obscure the Aether, ushering in the night.
Erebus is also a place and is the darkest space in the universe, between Earth and Hades. In the Iliad, the epic poem by Homer, Erebus is the place in the Underworld the souls of the dead go first.
Goddess Nyx is the personification of the Night. She is a female goddess and the last of the primordial deities to emerge from Chaos. Nyx not only procreated with her husband and brother, Erebus, but was able to birth dark spirits alone.
She is the mother of the three Fates (Moirai), Strife, (Eris), Destruction (the Keres), Pain (Oizys), Sleep (Hypnos), Doom (Moros), and Death (Thanatos).
Nyx is usually depicted as driving a chariot or as a winged goddess with a crown of dark mist. She lives in Tartarus with her children. Homer describes the goddess of the night as being the “subduer of gods and men.”
After the first beings emerged from Chaos, other primordial deities were created. These deities were:
The Ourea were the personification of the mountains. Gaia gave birth to the mountains after Uranus. In ancient Greek art, the Ourea are shown as being old men with beards. Hesiod describes the Ourea as being the place where the nymphs dwell.
Pontus was the personification of the sea and Gaia’s son. Hesiod describes Pontus as being a ‘fruitless deep with his raging swell.’ Gaia and Pontus reproduced, and together they had Nereus, the old man of the sea. Nereus is a prominent character in many Greek myths and was a font of truthful wisdom. Nereus was not Gaia and Pontus’ only child.
Pontus is the father of the sea gods, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia. Thaumas fathered Iris, the messenger to the gods, and a group of half-bird half-human creatures responsible for the storm winds, called Harpies. Together Phorcys and Ceto bore many monstrous children, including the Gorgons.
Aether was the primordial personification of the bright upper atmosphere or heavenly light. He is the son of Erebus and Nyx. Aether was the bright and pure air that the gods breathed. The god of heavenly light is the brother of the goddess of the day, Hemera.
Hemera was the goddess of day. Hesiod described the transition from day to night as occurring when Nyx drew her dark shadows across the sky to obscure the heavenly light of Aether. In the morning, Hemera would clear away the shadows.
Starry Uranus is described by Hesiod as being “Gaia’s match in size, to encompass all of her.” Uranus became the first ruler of the cosmos. Together Uranus and Gaia created the second generation of gods, the Titans. Uranus also fathered six monstrous children with Gaia.
The above were the main primordial deities in the Theogony. There were other minor primordial deities which include:
Achlys, the personification of what is known as the death-mist. The death mist refers to the clouding of the eyes before death. Hesiod described Achlys as being on the shield of the great hero, Heracles. According to Hesiod, Achlys was the personification of misery and sadness. It is not known who her parents were.
Ananke was the primordial goddess of necessity, inevitability, and compulsion. She is mentioned in Orphic sources. In Orphic sources, she is closely linked to the creation of the universe and circled the Earth with her mate, Chronos (time).
Chronos is the primordial god that represents time. Like his mate Ananke, Chronos featured prominently in Orphic explanations of the creation of the universe.
Phanes was the primordial personification of procreation. He was found in Orphic retellings and was not mentioned by Hesiod.
Aion like Phanes and Ananke, does not appear in early tales of Greek creation. He is the personification of circular and cyclical time. Aion began to be mentioned in Hellenistic sources.
The Nesoi were the primordial goddesses of the islands. They were thought to have begun as Oureas, which were flattened into islands by the Olympian god of the sea, Poseidon.
The Moirai were a group of goddesses known as the fates. These primordial goddesses controlled the fates of gods and mortals alike. The fates were the daughters of Nyx in early cosmologies and of Zeus and Themis in later mythologies.
Clotho, Lachesis & Atropos
The three sisters, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos were weavers who spun and wove the strings of destiny. Clotho was the spinner, Lachesis was the alloter and Atropos was inflexible. Not even Zeus could interfere with the Fates.
Moros, the son of Nyx, was the personification of impending doom. In Ancient Greek Moros translates to fate or doom.
The primordial deities produced other characters found frequently in Greek myths, the divine Nymphs. Nymphs are female spirits who dwell in the woodlands and are the personifications of nature. Nymphs were often the mothers of the mighty heroes of Greek mythology.
The Titans are the children of the primordial deities and the second generation of the Greek gods. The Titans ruled the cosmos long before Zeus and his fellow generation of gods who dwelled on Mount Olympus.
Unlike the first generation of gods, the Titans were created from the union of other beings. Gaia married her son Uranus, the Sky, and together they created the twelve Titans. The Titans, like the primordial deities, married amongst themselves.
Many of the Titans only seem to be important because of the children they bore, the great Zeus, after all, is the son of two Titans. The Titans can be divided into two groups; the twelve Uranides, or the children of Uranus and Gaia, and the four Iapetionides, the sons and daughters of Iapetus.
The Titans were not the only children produced from the union of Gaia and Uranus. Gaia bore six more children, and although they were godly, they were monstrous. Gaia had three Cyclopes named Steropes, Brontes, and Arges. They were master blacksmiths and had incredible strength and intellect.
After the Cyclopes, Gaia gave birth to three Hecatoncheires. These children had one hundred hands and fifty heads and were hated and feared by their father, Uranus.
Disgusted with his monstrous children, Uranus locked them away in gloomy Tartarus, where they would remain until a new generation of gods began to emerge. While their siblings were imprisoned, the Titans were marrying amongst themselves and producing children.
Oceanus was the personification of a freshwater stream that encircled the world and the eldest Titan. The River Okeanos and, therefore, Oceanus was the source of the world’s freshwater. Oceanus provided the water for every spring and well. He was even considered responsible for water collected in the clouds to form rain.
Oceanus was not only a river but a boundary that marked the outer region of the Earth. It was from Oceanus that the Sun, Moon, and Stars began and ended their journeys each day.
Oceanus married his sister, Tethys and together they created the river gods and the Oceanids. Their union brought floods. Eventually, they had to separate to stop natural disasters from occurring.
Coeus was the Titan god of intellect or knowledge. He was the pillar of the north. The ancient Greeks believed the Earth and the heavens were divided by pillars, that were in fact gods.
Coeus was one of the Titans who conspired with Gaia and his brother Cronus to overthrow his father, Uranus. He married his sister Phoebe and produced three Titan children known as the Coeides. Coeus is regarded as the father of the Oracles.
Crius, meaning ‘ram’ was the Titan god of constellations. Like his siblings he is noteworthy in mythology for the children he sired with his half-sister, Eurybia. Eurybia was the daughter of Gaia and her second husband, Pontus.
Hyperion was the Titan god of light, observation, and wisdom. He was one of the four pillars that separated and held the heavens from each other. Hyperion married his sister Theia, and together their union preceded all light. Hyperion and Theia created the Sun (Helios), Moon (Selene), and Dawn (Eos).
Iapetus was the Titan god of morality or craftsmanship, but sources differ on this matter. His name means to pierce with a spear. Iapetus was the west pillar of the heavens. Together with his brothers, they helped their youngest brother Cronus depose their father, Uranus.
Theia was the Titan goddess of light. She replaced the primordial god Aether in representing the shimmering light of the upper atmosphere. Theia is known as the goddess from which all light preceded because of her children. Theia was not only the goddess of light but the goddess who could endow precious metals with their shimmer.
Rhea was the goddess of fertility. She married her youngest brother Cronus, and together they produced six children. Every child Rhea gave birth to, Cronus consumed.
Cronus feared he would meet the same fate as his father, and that one of his children would depose him. Rhea and her mother Gaia concealed her lastborn child, Zeus, and kept him safe from Cronus.
Themis is the Greek word for order. She was therefore the Titan goddess of justice. Themis was also closely associated with the Oracle of Delphi (she later gave the Delphic shrine to the Olympian god Apollo). She married Zeus, and together they created the Fates. Themis is responsible for the divine order of the universe.
Mnemosyne was the goddess of memory. According to Hesiod, Mnemosyne is the mother of the nine Muses, and Zeus was the father. The Muses are the personifications of inspiration in science, art, and philosophy. The Muses are Clio, Calliope, Melpomene, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Urania, and Thalia.
Phoebe, like her sister Themis, was also associated with the Oracle at Delphi. She however was the Titan goddess of prophecy. The goddess of Prophecy married her brother Coeus, together they created the stars and Leto. Phoebe is the grandmother of the Olympian god of music and prophecy (among other things,) Apollo, and Artemis (goddess of the hunt.)
Tethys was said by Hesiod, to provide the freshwater needed to nourish the Earth. She married her brother, Oceanus, and together they produced the rivers of the world. The pair created otherworldly rivers such as the River Styx in the Underworld.
Cronus was the youngest and strongest child of Gaia and Uranus. Together with his mother Gaia, his brothers, the four pillars of the heavens, Hyperion, Coues, Cirus, and Iapetus he deposed Uranus. The pillars held Uranus in place, while Cronus castrated the Sky god, with a sickle given to him by his mother, Gaia.
It was from the sea foam created at the castration of Uranus, that the Olympian goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, was born.
Cronus replaced his father as ruler of the cosmos and he and his consort, Rhea ruled as Gaia and Uranus had done before them.
The Iapetionides are the children of Iapetus and are believed to be the ancestors of humans. Ancient sources do not agree on who Iapetus created these children with, Hesiod pairs Iapetus with one of Oceanus’ daughters, the Oceanid Nymph, Clymene, or Asia.
The brothers are thought to be the personification of humanity’s faults. The Iapetionides are Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius.
Atlas features prominently in Greek mythology and is the god doomed by Zeus to hold up the heavens for all eternity.
Prometheus is regarded as the creator of humanity. Prometheus stole the fire of the gods and gave it to the humans. This act landed Prometheus in Tartarus where his liver was continuously eaten by two Eagles.
Epimetheus was described as a foolish Titan god, his name means ‘after thinker’ and therefore represents hindsight. Finally, Menoetius was the personification of anger. His name translates to doomed might. He was described as being too prideful and may have been seen as the personification of human morality.
Menoetius, like his brother Atlas, fought against the Olympians in the Titanomachy. Menoetius was banished to the misty prison pit, Tartarus. Here he was imprisoned for eternity.
The Titans Rise to Power
Gaia never forgave Uranus for locking her children away in the misty pit of Tartarus. She devised a plan to seek revenge on her husband. Gaia, together with her youngest son Cronus exacted the goddess’ revenge. Cronus castrated his father with a diamond sickle his mother had gifted him.
He had promised his mother Gaia that he would release his siblings from Tartarus once he dethroned his father. Cronus reneged on his promise, leaving his siblings hidden from sight in the pit of decay.
He replaced Uranus as ruler of the cosmos and married his sister, Rhea. The rule of the Titan gods and goddesses ushered in the Golden Age of humanity, meaning there was complete peace and harmony on Earth. This period of peace and prosperity would not last.
Cronus and His Children
Cronus learned of a prophecy that stated he was to suffer the same fate as his father Uranus. He was destined to be overthrown as the ruler of the cosmos by one of his children. To save himself from this fate, Cronus devoured each of his children as Rhea birthed them.
Cronus and Rhea created six of the new generation of gods; Demeter, Hades, Hestia, Poseidon, Hestia, and Zeus. Every one of the would-be gods had been swallowed by Cronus. Rhea went to her mother Gaia, for help. Both Rhea and Gaia wanted revenge on Cronus for his actions. Rhea wanted her children to live and Gaia wanted her children released from Tartarus.
When Zeus was born, Cronus was tricked by Rhea and Gaia into swallowing a swaddled stone, called the Omphalos Stone. Zeus was raised in secret in a cave on the island of Crete. The future King of the Gods was tended to by nymphs while in hiding.
When Zeus came of age, he plotted to depose his father. Firstly, Zeus knew he would need the help of his brothers and sisters, who were trapped within Cronus. Zeus, with help from his consort, the Titaness Metis, gave Cronus a tonic that made him regurgitate his children.
The Titanomachy and the Rise of the Olympians
When Zeus and his siblings deposed Cronus, the other Titans did not want to relinquish their power to the new generation of gods and goddesses. A decade-long divine war ensued between the two groups of gods. The new generation lived on Mount Olympus and the older generation on Mount Othrys.
This period of conflict is known as the Titanomachy. The Titanomachy paved the way for the rule of the twelve Olympians. The defeat of the Titans is Zeus’ final hurdle to becoming ruler of the cosmos.
The majority of the male Titans fought against Zeus, but the female Titans, or Titaniades as they are known, did not. Some of the younger generations of male Titans refused to fight with their parents, such as Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus.
Zeus enlisted the help of Gaia and Uranus’ monstrous children. He freed the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires from Tartarus. The Cyclopes helped the Olympians by crafting beautiful and powerful weapons for them. The Cyclopes created Zeus’ thunderbolts and Poseidon’s mighty Trident.
The combined power of the Olympians and the Titan’s siblings defeated the Titans. When the war ended, the Titans who had fought against Zeus were imprisoned in Tartarus. There the defeated gods were guarded by their monstrous siblings, the Hecatoncheires.
The Titaniades did not meet the same fate as their brothers and husbands. The Titaniades proceeded to reproduce with the Olympians or simply disappeared from the texts. Many of the functions the old deities personified, were replaced by the new generation of gods.
The Gods of Mount Olympus
In the Greek pantheon, the Olympian gods and goddesses are the most important group. This generation of gods and goddesses received their namesake from the Mountain the ancient Greeks believed they lived on, Mount Olympus. Each Olympian is related to the King of the Gods, Zeus. According to ancient Greek religion, these gods and goddesses ruled the cosmos with Zeus as their king. Belief in the Olympians permeated everyday life in ancient Greece.
According to the epic poem by Homer, the Iliad, when Zeus and his siblings defeated the Titans after the divine war, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades divided the Sky, Sea, and Underworld between them. Although Hades was extremely important in ancient Greek religion, he was not considered to be part of the ruling twelve deities.
The twelve Olympians were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Dionysus, and Hermes.
Zeus is the most famed and important deity to be found in Greek mythology. He was the Olympian god of storms which meant he could control the weather. The father of the gods was associated with thunder and lightning. Zeus’ weapon was a thunderbolt.
As the ruler of the cosmos, Zeus was naturally associated with justice and keeping order in the mortal world and the heavens.
Zeus married his sister Hera, but unfortunately for Hera, Zeus was a philanderer. The King of the God’s many affairs is the subject of many ancient Greek tales. As a result, Zeus fathered many gods and mortal heroes. As the supreme deity, it was Zeus’ job to punish all those who committed crimes against the gods.
Zeus maintained order in the universe. To do this, he would often be the voice of reason in difficult situations.
Hera was Zeus’ sister and wife. As the wife of Zeus, Hera was the Queen of the Gods. Hera was the goddess of marriage, the family, and women. Hera was the goddess who protected women during childbirth.
In Greek mythology, the Queen of the Gods had a reputation for being extremely jealous. Hera could be particularly vengeful when confronted with one of her husband’s numerous lovers or children. Hera caused the death of several of Zeus’ lovers. One such unlucky lover was the mother of Dionysus, who died when she looked upon Zeus in all of his godly glory.
Another of Zeus’ love interests, the goddess Callisto, was turned into a bear by Hera and shot by Artemis. Hera delayed the birth of the hero Hercule (another child of Zeus), so that Hercules’ cousin, Eurystheus, would become a king rather than Hercules. Hera unsuccessfully attempted to thwart Hercules’ success on his many adventures.
Poseidon was the Olympian god of the sea and rivers. He was thought of as being violent and ill-tempered because he could conjure destructive storms, strong winds, and earthquakes. The sea god’s weapon was the Trident. Very rarely is he depicted in ancient art without it. Poseidon has been credited with creating the first horse.
Poseidon was quick to anger and famously quarreled with many of the gods. The god of the sea was feared by mortals for his ability to shake the Earth, and plunge a calm sea into a tumultuous one if angered. Poseidon was also worshiped as the ‘stabilizer.’
Demeter was the Greek goddess of grain and agriculture. In Theogony, Hesiod describes Demeter as the corn mother who provides grain for bread and cereals. The goddess presided over ancient farmers’ crops and food.
As the goddess of grain, Demeter was also responsible for the fertility of the land. Demeter had a child with her brother Zeus, which she named Persephone. The goddess features in one of the oldest tales of abduction and one of the most well-known stories in Greek mythology, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.
In the Homeric Hymn, Demeter’s daughter gets abducted by Hades. Demeter, stricken with grief, makes the Earth barren, and a great famine follows. Zeus eventually demanded Hades return Persephone to Demeter, but because Persephone had eaten food in the Underworld, she was forced to live between the two worlds. Persephone spent a portion of the year in each world.
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter is the ancient Greek explanation for the seasons. When Persephone was in the Underworld, the land was barren because of Demeter’s grief.
Athena was the goddess of wisdom and war. The goddess was also associated with handicrafts such as weaving and was considered the protector of cities. Athena was most commonly associated with protecting the city of Athens. According to myth, Athena became the patron of Athens when she beat Poseidon in a contest.
In the Theogony, Athena was Zeus’ daughter. Athena emerged fully grown from Zeus’ forehead. Athena’s unusual birth was due to Zeus having swallowed his consort Metis while she was pregnant with the goddess of war and wisdom.
As the goddess of war and wisdom, Athena usually appears in myths to aid the mighty hero, such as Hercules.
In ancient Greece, Apollo was the god of prophecy, music, healing, light, and archery. Apollo is the twin brother of the goddess Artemis and the son of Zeus and the Titaness Leto. In the Theogony, Apollo and Artemis were born on the island of Delos as their mother feared the wrath of Zeus’ wife, Hera. Apollo was born holding a golden sword.
Apollo was considered the protector of the young. In particular, Apollo protected the young as they transitioned into adults. Apollo was always depicted as beautiful and youthful in Greek art.
Not only was Apollo considered the patron of the arts, but also shepherds. it was believed he watched over shepherds’ herds. The temple of Apollo at Delphi, which housed the famed oracle, was the most important religious center in the ancient Greek world for nearly 2,000 years.
In mythology, Apollo and his sister are credited with the creation of archery. For his skill with a bow and arrow, Apollo was dubbed ‘Far-shooter’ throughout mythology. Apollo could create plagues and epidemics with his arrows and guided the arrow that defeated the great hero Achilles during the Trojan War.
Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister and was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and the wilderness. She was a maiden goddess, meaning she vowed never to marry. Artemis was worshiped as a goddess of childbirth and was closely associated with the moon.
Artemis could be found dancing in the wilderness with the spirits of nature, the nymphs. Homer gives Artemis the title of Mistress of Animals for protecting animals from being overhunted.
Artemis, like her twin, was considered to be a protector of young children, especially girls. Artemis could inflict and heal illness in women and children, just as her brother could begin an epidemic.
Ares was the Greek god of war, often described as having a terrible temper. The god of war was the son of Zeus and Hera and the brother of Athena. Together, the siblings represented the different forms warfare and battle can take. Ares represented the savagery and chaos of war. He is the personification of both courage during battle and brutality on the battlefield.
Ares is closely associated with the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. In later myths, Aphrodite and Ares had several children together including Eros, the god of desire.
Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. Hesiod writes that Aphrodite emerged fully formed from the sea foam that was created when Uranus was castrated. The circumstances surrounding Aphrodite’s birth meant that, in addition to being the goddess of love and beauty, she was worshiped as a goddess of the sea.
Aphrodite married Hephaestus but was continuously unfaithful to him with both mortals and gods. The goddess of love liked to interfere in the love lives of gods and mortals, often through the use of her son, Eros’ gold-tipped love-inducing arrows.
Hephaestus was the god of blacksmiths and fire. According to Homer, Hephaestus is the son of Zeus and Hera. Hesiod however, claims Hera created Hephaestus alone. The god of blacksmiths and fire was lame, the accounts of how he became so vary. Hesiod writes that Hera was disgusted with her son’s appearance, so she threw him from Mount Olympus.
Other sources claim Hephaestus became lame when Zeus threw the god from Mount Olympus when he intervened in a quarrel between his parents. Homer makes Hephaestus both lame from birth and from being thrown from Mount Olympus.
Hephaestus was returned to Mount Olympus by Dionysus where he forged the Olympian’s weapons. It was Hephaestus who crafted, among other items, Hermes’ winged sandals and helmet.
Dionysus was the god of wine, revelry, and fertility. He is also commonly associated with the theatre. Dionysus was uniquely born twice. Originally the god of wine was the son of Zeus and Persephone, but he was killed by a Titan.
Years later, Zeus placed Dionysus’ soul into a drink he offered the mortal Semele (the daughter of Harmonia and Cadmus) with whom he had an affair.
Dionysus thus became the son of Zeus and Semele. Semele died while still pregnant with the god (Hera was behind the untimely death), Zeus then placed him in his thigh. After birth, Dionysus was raised by the satyrs. He was tutored on Mount Nysa by Silenus, who was an old and wise satyr. Silenus, is thought to have been the one to teach Dionysus how to make wine.
Dionysus is found in many myths. It was he who gave King Midas the golden touch for caring for his mentor. Sadly, this gift became a curse, as even food and drink touched by the king turned to gold.
Hermes was the herald and messenger of the gods. In addition, Hermes was the god of trade, wealth, animal husbandry, and luck. He was considered the protector of travelers, thieves, and merchants. Hermes possessed a pair of famed winged shoes that allowed him to flit between the mortal world and the heavens.
His ability to move quickly between worlds meant he had the job of leading the recently deceased mortal souls from the mortal world to the Underworld’s River Styx.
Hermes is considered to be one of the smartest and most mischievous of the Olympian gods. In the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Homer describes him as the ‘divine trickster’. As a baby, he committed one of the many tricks that forever associated him with thieves. Hermes stole Apollo’s herd of sacred cattle.
The Herald is one of the oldest gods and is believed to have been the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. Hermes plays a role in many myths and is said to have killed the one-hundred-eyed monster, Argos.
Greek Gods Associated with the Olympians
In mythology, there were other gods and goddesses mentioned that were of equal importance to the ancient Greeks as the Olympians. Hades, for example, is the equal of Zeus and Poseidon but is not technically an Olympian god because he lived in the Underworld and not on Mount Olympus.
He was the god of the Underworld and the eldest son of the Titans Rhea and Cronus. The ancient Greeks believed the Underworld was where mortal souls went after death. The name Hades translates to ‘unseen one,’ as the Underworld was believed to be an invisible realm.
As the King of the Underworld, Hades very rarely left his realm, which was eventually known as Hades. One of the only times the ruler of the dead left his kingdom was to abduct his wife, Persephone (Demeter’s daughter).
He was described as cold but not cruel. The god of the Underworld maintained the balance between life and death, and order in the Underworld.
Once a mortal soul had crossed the river Styx into the Underworld, they could never leave. If anyone tried to leave, or if someone tried to steal a soul from Hades, the King of the Underworld would become enraged and administer a fitting punishment. Hades did not take kindly to mortals who wished to cheat death and would inflict his wrath upon any who dared to do so.
Hestia was revered as the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, family, and state. She is the firstborn daughter of the Titans Rhea and Cronus. The goddess of the heart and family was also the goddess of the sacrificial flame.
As the goddess of the hearth and home, Hestia presided over the preparation of the family meal and bread making. Hestia received the first sacrifice at any ritual. Any meal prepared with sacrificial meat was presided over by Hestia.
Hestia did not live on Mount Olympus with her godly siblings. Instead, the ancient Greeks believed she dwelt in the homes of her most pious followers.
Other Noteworthy Gods and Goddesses
The gods and goddesses listed above were not the only ones in Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks created a vast and complicated pantheon to explain almost every aspect of their existence. The gods and goddesses below play strong supporting roles in Greek tales.
Pan was the god of the wild, shepherds and their flocks, and music. He was half man, half goat with the back legs and horns of a goat and upper body of a man. In mythology, Pan is said to be the son of Hermes and a nymph, possibly the wood nymph Penelope.
The most famous myth involving Pan was his invention of the Pan Flute. Pan is said to have created the Pan flute from reeds that were created from nymphs’ hair. The nymph in question had been trying to escape the goat-like god’s unwelcomed advances. To help her escape Pan, her sisters turned her into a reed.
Pan thought the sound created when the wind whistled through the reeds was beautiful and fashioned his instrument out of them.
Hecate is the daughter of the Titan Perses (son of Crius) and a nymph called Asteria. She was the goddess of magic and spells. Hecate is associated with crossroads and entryways as well as the night. In the Theogony, Hesiod describes Hecate as being honored by Zeus above all.
Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was abducted by Hades (a crime that Hecate witnessed but said nothing to Demeter), and subsequently became the Queen of the Underworld after consuming a single pomegranate seed.
Eris was the Greek goddess of discord and strife and is mentioned by both Homer and Hesiod. In the latter, Eris is the daughter of Nyx. The goddess of discord is credited with starting the Trojan War. Eris was offended when she was snubbed by the Olympians, as she was not invited to a wedding.
As revenge, Eris threw the Apple of Discord into the party. The apple bore the inscription ‘to the fairest one.’ A fight between the gathered goddesses as to who exactly the fairest of them was.
Eventually the Prince of Troy, Paris was made to judge. Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world if he chose her, which he did. The woman was Helen, the wife of Agamemnon who would become Helen of Troy.
Asclepius was the son of Apollo and was the god of medicine. Like his father, Asclepius was a healer. The god of medicine created many daughters, each representing an aspect of medicine.
There are many more Greek gods and goddesses that are mentioned or played a pivotal role in Greek mythology, they number in the thousands. The Greeks certainly created an interesting and thorough pantheon to understand their world.
Featured Image Credit: Henri Fantin-Latour, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons