Aeneas was a hero of Troy, the son of
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
). 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 was the keeper and god of the winds. After
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.
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
, she was well known for her liasons with other gods and even mortals.
Her son, Eros
, took after her in both mischieviousness and iconography.
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 was the god of war, the son of Zeus
. 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.
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 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 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 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.
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
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.
God of the dead and king of the underworld, Hades was
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, 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 was the god of
of blacksmiths, son of Zeus
. 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.
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.
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
The messenger of the gods, Hermes was the son of
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.
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.
The daughter of Demeter, a child of sun and laughter.
For her complete myth, see Demeter’s
God of the sea, Poseidon had enormous power.
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 and his brother, Epimetheus, whose names mean
“forethought” and “afterthought” were two Titans whose aid enabled
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
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
, 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
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.