The Glory that was Greece

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Aeneas

Aeneas was a hero of Troy, the son of
Aphrodite

and the mortal Anchises. He plays a small but important role in Homer’s
Illiad
. A favorite of the gods, Aeneas has their protection when
he unwisely enters into combat with Diomedes and Achilles
, both famous Greek warriors. Aeneas was among the few to escape from
Troy at the end of the Trojan War (as prophesied by
Poseidon

). Aeneas’ story does not end there, however. Hundreds of years after the
Homeric epics had become a part of Greek culture, other myths about Aeneas
began to gain currency. These legends told of an epic voyage to the western
Mediterranean, where Aeneas founded cities in Sicily and Italy. (The Roman
poet Vergil’s epic, the Aeneid, deals with this voyage.)


Aeolus

    Aeolus was the keeper and god of the winds. After
    Zeus

    triumphed over the Titans, (an earlier race of gods) he assigned
    his brothers, sisters, and relatives tasks in the realm of Mount Olympos.
    The winds needed to be contained and looked after, so that they wouldn’t
    destroy the earth. Hera
    put forward Aeolus, as she was impressed with his steadfast nature.
    Aeolus was sent to an island named Aeolia, beneath which ran four deep
    passages in which the north, south, east and west winds were locked, to
    escape only when Aeolus or another god deemed it necessary.


Aphrodite

    One of the best-known goddesses in modern culture, Aphrodite
    was the goddess of love. Born of the foam of the sea, she came to symbolize
    passion and lust. She was a prime example of the anthropomorphic nature
    of the Olympian gods, being herself prone to fits of pride and temper,
    and drawn to troublemaking. Although given in marriage to
    Hephaestus

    by Zeus
    , she was well known for her liasons with other gods and even mortals.
    Her son, Eros
    , took after her in both mischieviousness and iconography.


Birth of Aphrodite
The Birth of Aphrodite. Early 5th Century BCE. Museo delle Terme,
Rome.


Apollo

    Apollo was the god of light, the intellect, the arts, and healing.
    He was the son of Zeus
    and the Titan Leto. Also heralded as Phoebus, Apollo signifies light,
    order, and the sun. The most beautiful of all the gods, Apollo represented
    the more rational side of both the universe and man. His oracle at Delphi,
    on Mount Parnassus, was revered throughout the mortal world as a vessel
    of Apollo’s predictions for the future. Mortals sought the oracle from
    vast distances to discover the will of the gods.


Ares

    Ares was the god of war, the son of Zeus
    and Hera
    . He loved fighting and to incite war, althought he lost his courage
    immediately if he himself was wounded. Followed by Panic, Terror, and Trembling,
    and accompanied by his sister, Eris, and her son, Strife, everywhere
    Ares walked he brought death and violence.


Artemis

    Twin sister to Apollo
    and goddess of the hunt and unmarried women, Artemis vowed to remain
    chaste. Attended by her hunting-hounds and nymphs, Artemis ranged throughout
    the mortal forests, hunting with her silver bow. Any mortal man who
    saw her bathing, or in any way harrassed her, met with a horrible fate.
    She changed one man into a stag and set his own pack of hunting hounds
    on him. Like the moon she is often related to, Artemis had two sides.
    She was gentle and protective toward women and their young children.


Atalanta

Atalanta was a mortal heroine of Arcadia, an accomplished
athlete and hunter. She chose to remain a virgin, and claimed that she would
only marry a man who could defeat her in a race on foot. In some myths, Atalanta
would kill her suitors with a spear as she passed them in the race. The suitor
Melanion (Hippomenes in some versions) won Atalanta in marriage with the aid
of Aphrodite, who gave him three golden apples with which to beguile the
heroine into stopping to collect the treasures. Occupied in seeking the golden
apples, Atalanta lost the race and became Melanion’s wife.


Athena

    Athena was the goddess of wisdom, laws and jurisprudence,
    arts and crafts, culture, and learning. She was said to have sprung fully
    grown and fully armoured from Zeus’
    head, who, complaining of a headache, asked Hephaestus to split
    his skull with an ax. In all of the myths but one, Athena had no mother.
    In the Homeric Hymn-28, however, Athena was described as the
    daughter of Metis, a Titan. Metis, renowned for her wisdom and cleverness,
    was fated to have two children: first a girl, and later a boy. The boy
    was destined to someday overthrow his father. Upon learning this, Zeus
    flew into a rage and consummed the pregnant Metis. Later, he developed
    a headache, and here the divergence among the myths merges. Athena was by
    all accounts Zeus’s favorite child, and in many ways the most powerful god
    on Mount Olympos.

    Athena had many facets. She was her father’s child in bravery
    — she was the protector of heroes in battle and just causes in war.
    But she was her mother’s child in her just, compassionate behavior.
    She was the patron of the city of Athens, her gift of the olive tree
    defeating Poseidon’s gift of the horse in their contest for the city.
    Athena was a virgin goddess, but, unlike Artemis
    , she was equally compassionate towards both men and women. Her favorite
    mortal was a man, Odysseus, whose cunning appealed to her. In one account,
    Athena gave Prometheus
    the fire he sought from heaven, shielding him until he can escape to
    the earth. Athena, unlike the other gods, acknowledged her mistakes. She
    accidentally killed her dearest friend, the mortal Pallas, when she was
    new to the world, misjudging her own strength. From that point forward
    she placed his name before hers, making Pallas Athena her full name.


Circe

    Circe was a sorceress who lived on an enchanted island in the
    western Mediterranean, daughter of Helios
    and Perse. Odysseus encountered her in Book X of The
    Odyssey.
    She amused herself by turning the reconnaisance
    messengers sent by the tactical Odysseus into pigs. Hermes saved Odysseus
    himself from succumbing to this fate by apprising him of the situation,
    giving him both a magic flower to resist Circe’s magic and a warning not
    to go to her bed without first exacting a binding promise to ensure his
    own safety. Odysseus was thus entertained by the now-benevolent sorceress
    for a year. When Odysseus decided that he felt homesick again, Circe sent
    him to the realm of the dead to question the seer Teiresias, telling him
    that he is fated to wander many strange paths before he can return to Ithaca.


Demeter

Demeter,
goddess of the harvest, was Zeus’
sister. While many of the Greek goddesses were “adopted” into Greek religion
from other cultures, the cult of Demeter seems to have originated in Greece.
Her cult was centered on the town of Eleusis, where the Eleusian Mysteries
were held in honor of Demeter and her daughter each year. Demeter had a
daughter with Zeus named Kore. Kore quickly became associated with, and
then merged with, Persephone
, a pre-Greek goddess of the dead.

Demeter was responsible for bringing crops
to fruition, both wild and cultivated. If she did not give her blessing
to the earth, famine and starvation would follow. In the myths, Persephone
was kidnapped by Hades
, god of the underworld, to be his queen. Demeter was so stricken that
she disguised herself as an old woman and wandered the earth, seeking her
lost daughter. Eventually she came to Eleusis, where a local ruler took
her into his home. Zeus, knowing that if his sister was not given aid, the
mortal world would perish, sent Hermes to bargain with Hades for the return
of the sunny Persephone. Hades slyly told Persephone that she was free to
go — and then gave her a handful of pomegranate seeds to eat if she was
hungry on the way back to the surface. Persephone ate four seeds, and thus
she was bound to spend four months of the year with Hades in his dark kingdom.
During that period, Demeter was so sorrowful that she allowed the earth to
grow barren and the plants to wither despite the bright sun. The myth of
Demeter explains why the harsh Greek summers rendered crops and wild plants
alike unproductive, and also why Eleusis was a special place for the cult
of Demeter.


    Eros

      Eros, the god of love and passion, was said in the later
      myths to be the son of Aphrodite
      . In some of the earliest myths, however, he was considered to be the
      very first god, the son of Darkness, or Chaos, who brought light and order,
      and therefore life, through love (Theogony, Hesiod). This idealistic
      view of love is very different from the erotic version associated with
      Eros in later myths. Represented as the conceited and spoiled young
      son of Aphrodite, he used his magical bow and arrows to cause mortals
      and immortals alike to fall hopelessly in love. Although he obeyed his
      mother, most of his arrows were shot for personal entertainment.


    Hades

      God of the dead and king of the underworld, Hades was
      Zeus’
      brother. He rarely left his silent, gray palaces underground to
      visit bright Mount Olympos. Hades was also the god of wealth, for
      he owned all of the precious gems and minerals that lay below the surface
      of the earth.


    Helios

      Helios, the god of the sun, drove his fiery horses and
      golden chariot across the sky each day, bringing day, heat, and light.
      Although his own origins are obscure, there is a myth concerning his
      son by the mortal Clymene, the boy Phaëthon. Granted one wish, he
      chose to drive the chariot. Phaëthon set fire to te earth in his
      dipping and diving, until Zeus
      was forced to throw a thunderbolt at him to cease the destruction.
      Eventually, the earth recovered, and Helios, deeply saddened by his son’s
      headstrong wish, returned to his daily task.


    Hephaestus

      Hephaestus was the god of fire, craftsmen, and the protector
      of blacksmiths, son of Zeus
      and Hera
      . He walked with a limp because his father had thrown him over the
      palace wall when he sided with Hera in an argument. He fell for an
      entire day, and was nursed by a sea goddess until he could return.
      The only ugly god, Hephaestus was loved by both gods and mortals because
      he was peace-loving and kind-hearted. A skilled craftsman, he made the
      furniture and weaponry to arm and adorn Mount Olympos.


    Hestia

      Hestia, Zeus’
      sister, was goddess of the hearth and home, and the third virgin goddess.
      Her sole task at Mount Olympos was to keep the fire burning brightly in
      the palace hearth.


    Hera

      Both sister and wife to Zeus
      , Hera was the goddess of marriage and the protector of women. She
      initally refused to become Zeus’s wife, knowing his reputation for philandering.
      But Zeus changed himself into a shivering little bird and created an enormous
      thunderstorm, so that Hera took pity on him and took him into her arms.
      However, Zeus continued to woo women, constantly making Hera furious with
      jealousy. The myths are filled with tales of Zeus’s infidelity and her
      ensuing rage.


    Hermes

      The messenger of the gods, Hermes was the son of
      Zeus

      and a demigoddess named Maia. A mischievious trickster, Hermes was
      also the god of thieves, travellers, shepards, and merchants. With his
      winged cap and sandals, Hermes could travel to the ends of the earth in
      the blink of an eye. His more serious duty was that of escorting the newly
      dead to the underworld. Hermes had two famous sons: Pan, the god of shepards,
      and Hermaphroditus, the son of Aphrodite
      and Hermes. Hermaphroditus possessed his father’s handsome virility
      and his mother’s beautiful face. In some accounts, it is said that the
      nymph Salmacis, upon falling in love with Hermaphroditus, prayed to be joined
      with him forever. Her prayers were granted, and their two bodies were physicaly
      united, making the first hermaphrodite.


    Hermes of Praxiteles
    Hermes of Praxiteles. 4th Century BCE.


    The Moirai

      The Moirai were the three sisters of Fate. They were the
      children of Zeus
      and the titan Themis. Clotho, whose name means “spinner”, created
      the thread of life, signifying the birth of a mortal being. Lachesis,
      whose name means “apportioner”, measured the thread. Atropos, whose name
      means “inflexible”, cut the thread, ending the lifespan of the mortal
      being. Not even the gods had control over the Fates, who in some earlier
      myths were born of Necessity, greater and more ancient than even the immortals.


    Persephone

      The daughter of Demeter, a child of sun and laughter.
      For her complete myth, see Demeter’s
      entry.


    Poseidon

      God of the sea, Poseidon had enormous power.
      Zeus’

      brother, Poseidon lived in a palace beneath the ocean. When he
      struck the sea with his trident, he could call forth violent storms,
      but his golden chariot was able to quiet the waves again. If he plunged
      his trident into the ocean floor, earthquakes rolled out from the epicenter
      of his rage. His wife, the sea nymph Amphitrite, and his son, Triton,
      lived with him in his undersea kingdom. Triton was half-man, half-fish,
      and rode a sea monster with his conch-shell horn. Athena
      was often pitted against Poseidon in the myths, a pairing that perhaps
      pitted the ideas of human jurisprudence and wisdom against the elemental
      chaos of nature.


    Prometheus

      Prometheus and his brother, Epimetheus, whose names mean
      “forethought” and “afterthought” were two Titans whose aid enabled
      Zeus

      to win his battle against Cronos and the other Titans. They were
      given the task of creating the men and animals. Epimetheus decided that
      he would create the animals, while Prometheus set about making the first
      man. Epimetheus, however, gave to his creations all of the useful and beautiful
      attributes that Prometheus would have liked to give to man. But all of
      the swiftness, cunning, courage, claws, wings, and strength, the very
      finest gifts, had been given already. Prometheus was determined to find
      a suitable gift for man, greater than the other gifts that Zeus had allotted.

      When Prometheus was chosen by Zeus to determine the means
      by which men should give sacrifice to the gods, he dissected an ox and covered
      the better parts with the skin and stomach, to make them appear poor.
      He created a second offering, this one consisting of bones, offal, and
      the less desirale parts, but covering the pile with fat. Zeus realized that
      Prometheus was trying to trick him, but he chose the poorer portion anyway.
      Zeus retaliated by taking from the men the fire they would need to cook
      the fine meats witheld from the gods. Athena
      , taking pity on the cunning and inventive Titan, showed him how he
      could steal the fire back for mankind — the perfect gift to make up for
      his brother’s mistake. But she could not save him from Zeus’ rage. First,
      Zeus created Pandora, and sent her to earth to marry Epimetheus, where
      she released all of the evils into the world. Zeus then punished Prometheus
      by chaining him to a rock, where by day an eagle ate his liver, and by
      night his flesh grew again so that another day of torment was possible.
      Later, he relented and allowed Heracules to kill the eagle, thus ending
      Prometheus’s torture.


    Zeus

      Zeus, god of thunder and lightening, and the king of the
      gods, was the son of the Titan queen and king, Rhea and Cronos. His grandmother,
      Mother Earth, (Gaea) first bore the Cyclopes, and then the Titans,
      to her consort Father Heaven. Father Heaven thought that the Cyclopes
      were ugly as well as fearsome, and he trapped them under the earth. Gaea
      was greatly angered by this, and she sent the Titans to slay Father Heaven,
      and to bring back her children. Cronos, the strongest of the Titans,
      wounded Father Heaven badly, enabling the Cyclopes to escape. The Titans
      made Cronos the ruler, and Rhea, his sister, became his wife and queen.
      With his power came corruption, and Cronos imprisioned the Cyclopes once
      again. Gaea was even angrier than before, but she hid it this time, for
      she knew that Rhea’s child would grow up to overthrow his father.

      Cronos, however, also knew this prophesy. He swallowed
      his children as soon as they were born to prevent them from reaching adulthood
      and gaining enough power to defeat him. Rhea was in despair as Cronos
      swallowed her first five children — Hestia
      , Demeter
      , Hera
      , Hades
      , and Poseidon
      . She plotted to save her sixth child from Cronos. She gave the infant
      Zeus to Gaea to hide and protect, and offered to Cronos a stone wrapped
      in a blanket to swallow.

      Zeus grew strong on the isle of Crete, where he drank milk
      and honey, and was raised by kind nymphs and protected by armed guards.
      His mother, Rhea, visited him often and told him of the cruelty of his
      faher, and the necessity that he be hidden from him. If the baby Zeus
      cried too loudly, the guards would beat upon their shields to drown out
      the noise, so that Cronos would not hear the baby’s powerful wails and realize
      that he had been fooled. When Cronos discovered the trick, Zeus changed himself
      into a serpent and Cronos searched for the child in vain. Zeus bided his
      time, nursing his hatred for his father and vowing to rescue his brothers
      and sisters.

      When Zeus was of age, he disguised himself as a menial
      serving man in Cronos’s great palace. Rhea mixed a potent poison that
      Zeus fed to Cronos. The drink caused Cronos to vomit — first the stone,
      and then each of the children that he has swallowed.  Zeus’brothers
      and sisters vowed their undying loyalty to their deliverer, and for
      ten long years they fought a bitter war against the Titans. Gaea finally
      told Zeus the secret to his victory — if he released the Cyclopes, they
      would fight for him and overthrow the ancient race of gods. In gratitude,
      the Titans gave to Zeus the thunderbolts, to Poseidon the trident, and
      to Hades the magic helmet of darkness. The three-hundred handed Cyclopes
      heaved boulders at the stronghold of Cronos, and the three brothers used
      their gifts to win the battle. They punished the all of the Titans, save
      for Prometheus and Epimetheus, who had aided them. Gaea, however, gave birth
      to one more horror before the three victorious brothers could rest. It was
      the monster Typhon, with hundreds of heads and fire-spouting eyes. Zeus
      destroyed it with his thunderbolts.

      The three brothers drew lots to see which one of them
      should become the ruler of the gods, because they didn’t wish to become
      evil and corrupt like their father. Zeus won the sky, becoming the king
      of heaven and ruler of the gods. Hades won the underworld and all of
      its riches, and Poseidon won the sea. Throughout the Greek myths, the
      concept of the gods as a younger race pervades. They are almost as new
      as the human beings who worship them, and there are older forces in the
      earth that even the gods of Mount Olympos do not understand.

    Contents Copyright © 2003
    Leigh
    T. Denault

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