The Beginning of the Greek Gods and Goddesses
The world began with several primordial beings. First came Chaos. Then Gaia, earth. And finally, Eros, love.
From Gaia there came Uranus, heaven, who both created the Titans. Uranus disliked his children and locked them deep within the earth. Gaia, sick of having her children imprisoned made a great sickle that she gave to her son Cronus.
Cronus hid until Uranus came to lie with his mother then leapt out and sliced off his father’s genitals, which fell into the sea. Cronus proceeded to release his fellow Titans from prison, and so, the age of the Titans began.
Cronus married the Titan Rhea, who gave birth to most of the major gods. Cronus, scared by a prophecy that his children would take his power, imprisoned them as soon as they were born, swallowing them whole.
Rhea pleaded to Gaia for help, who took pity hid Zeus after he was born on Mount Ida in Crete. When Cronus came to eat his son, Rhea fed him a stone instead, tricking the Titan.
Gaia raised Zeus until he was strong enough to take on his father.
The two fought and upon defeat Cronus was forced to release Zeus’s siblings, starting the war between the gods and the Titans. The war lasted 12 years until Zeus freed the cyclopes and the Hundred-Handed Giants whom Cronus had imprisoned.
The Cyclopes gifted Zeus his famous thunderbolt, Poseidon his trident, and Hades a Hat of Darkness, tipping the balance of battle. The Titans, defeated, were thrown into Tartarus, a prison deep within the underworld. And so, started the reign of the gods.
Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades decided to share power, drawing lots to decide where they will rule over. Zeus got the sky, Poseidon the seas, and Hades the dead.
Here are the main 13 Greek gods and goddesses in Greek mythology:
- Zeus: God of the Sky and Thunder
- Poseidon: God of the Sea, Storms, Earthquakes, and Horses
- Hades: Greek God of the Dead and the Underworld
- Hera: Greek Goddess of Women, Marriage, Family, and Childbirth
- Athena: Greek Goddess of War
- Ares: Greek God of Courage and War
- Aphrodite: Greek Goddess of Beauty and Love
- Artemis: Greek Goddess of the Hunt
- Apollo: Greek God of Healing, Medicine, Archery, Music, Poetry, and the Sun
- Hermes: Greek God of Trade, Wealth, Luck, Fertility, Animal Husbandry, Sleep, Language, Thieves, and Travel
- Demeter: Greek Goddess of Farming and Watcher of the Harvest
- Hephaestus: Greek God of Fire, Metalworking, Stone Masonry, Forges, and the Art of Sculpture
- Dionysus: God of Wine and Parties
Zeus, king of the gods, ruled from his throne on Mount Olympus, home of the immortals, often using his symbols of the thunderbolt and eagle to warn or encourage mortals.
Zeus was responsible for all weather changes from lightning to snow, depending on his mood. He was also a protector of the home and strangers, meaning being a bad host could land you in deep trouble.
Zeus married his sister Hera, who birthed the gods Ares and Hephaestus. Zeus was also infamous for his many affairs with other goddesses from which Athena, Hermes, Apollo, Artemis, and Persephone came.
He also engaged in many affairs with mortal women, where he created the god Dionysus and many heroes like Perseus and Hercules, most of whom experienced the wrath of the jealous Hera.
Poseidon, one of the most powerful gods ruled the sea, created earthquakes, and was the god of horses, much prized in ancient society. He had a palace on Mount Olympus, but an even more magnificent one under the sea where he spent most of his time.
Sailors would have to pray to Poseidon and offer sufficient sacrifice, otherwise risked a painful death at sea. It was very unwise to cross Poseidon as he held a grudge and could deal out very harsh punishments.
In the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, King Minos rules over the island Crete. Every year he sacrificed his best bull to Poseidon. One year, he withheld his favourite bull, a huge white animal.
Poseidon noticed, but instead of punishing Minos directly he decided to target his wife. He made her fall in love with the bull, which eventually led to the birth of the half-man half-bull creature called the Minotaur.
Hades, the oldest of the brothers ruled over the underworld where the spirits of the dead resided. He shared his throne with his wife,
Persephone, and the two were considered to be gods of fertility. The underworld had several guardians and trials, making it difficult for the dead and near impossible for the living to enter.
The gates they pass the deadly river Styx. The only way to enter was to get passage from the ferryman, Charon. Charon required payment, and this is the reason why Greek burials included placing coins on the eyes of the deceased. If the soul could not afford to enter, then they were fated to wait on the shores of the Styx forever.
Past Charon lay Cerberus, the fabled three-headed dog who guards the gates of the underworld. Ultimately, the soul will reach the three judges of the underworld, who decide where it should go.
They can choose Elysium, the Fields of Asphodel, or Tartarus.
Elysium is akin to heaven, a peaceful place where the souls of heroes, demigods, and especially good mortals reside.
The Asphodel Meadows is the place for ordinary folk who did not achieve anything notable in life, good or evil.
Tartarus is very similar to Hell and contains not only the Titans but also criminals who upset the gods who are tortured for eternity.
Hera, sister and wife of Zeus, and queen of the Gods, was the protector of marriage and women. She was deeply respected in Greek society. She was one of the most vengeful and spiteful gods, punishing women who lay with her husband and any subsequent children.
When Leto was pregnant with Apollo and Artemis, Hera stopped her giving birth. She kept Io, another of Zeus’s mistresses as a heifer and had her guarded by the hundred-eyed monster Argos.
A famous tale of her jealous vengeance is the story of Hercules—Hercules was an illegitimate child of Zeus.
Hera sent serpents to kill the future hero when he was just a child, but the demigod crushed the creatures with his bare hands. She later drove him to madness, making him kill his wife and children, the event that sent him on his 12 labours.
Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, the child of Zeus and Metis, was not born in a conventional way. Zeus received an omen that their children would take the throne from him and so swallowed Metis while she was pregnant.
After this, Zeus began to get a terrible headache. He asked a fellow immortal thought to be the fastest to split his head open with an axe. Athena was then born from his forehead, jumping out in full battle gear while letting out a war cry.
Athena had an affinity for heroics, coming to the aid of heroes like Perseus and Hercules. Her favourite was Odysseus, who she worked hard to keep safe so he could return to his homeland.
Athena was highly revered in Athens, which was named after her.
She competed with Poseidon for the city, both of whom attempted to give it the best gift. Poseidon struck the ground with his Trident, making a stream of water rise up. Athena kicked the earth and caused the first olive tree to emerge. The gods deemed Athena victorious, and the city took her name.
Athena was also one of the sacred virgin goddesses and so in her honour the temple built on the Acropolis in Athens was named the Parthenon, which comes from Parthenos, meaning “the virgin”.
Ares was the bloodthirsty and cruel god of war. Neither the gods nor the mortal particularly liked Ares. The warfare he represents is not honourable nor heroic, but rather the primal rage and bloodshed of the battlefield.
Ares had a relationship with the goddess Aphrodite who was married to the god Hephaestus. The two would sleep together whenever her husband was away. When Hephaestus found out, he made an invisible net and hung it over his bed and told his wife he was going away.
He hid, and as soon as Ares and Aphrodite got into bed together, they were trapped in the net and unable to move. Hephaestus called upon all the gods, inviting them to see the two naked immortals trapped in the net.
Laughter burst out everywhere and it was only due to the intervention of Poseidon that they were released.
Aphrodite — Greek Goddess of Beauty and Love
Aphrodite was the goddess of beauty and love, responsible for sexual attraction in both mortal and immortal alike, often using her powers for her own amusement. Her birth accounts vary with her either being born from the genitals of Uranus or as another illegitimate child of Zeus.
Aphrodite had a pivotal role in the Trojan War when Prince Paris of Troy was tasked with giving an apple to the fairest goddess. Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite, each promising him something different in return.
Paris chose Aphrodite, who promised him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. Helen was married to the king of Sparta, Menelaus. Aphrodite put Helen under a spell when Paris came to visit Sparta, making her run away with him.
King Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon raised a massive army to go take Helen back from Troy, and so started the Trojan War.
Goddess of Apollo’s hunt and the twin sister, Artemis was a deadly Archer and an important Olympus member. She watched over hunters as well as their prey, ensuring the wilderness was kept in check. Artemis is also prized for her virginity and guarded it jealously.
The hunter Actaeon once stumbled upon her naked as she was bathing. Artemis proceeded to change the man into a deer and set his fifty hunting dogs upon him, giving him a painful death for his mistake.
Apollo — Greek God of Many Things
Twin brother of Artemis, Apollo was a god of many things, which includes Healing, Medicine, Archery, Music, Poetry, and the Sun.
He was a god of archery, but also of light and music, seen with a lyre as much as a bow. Apollo is closely linked with prophecy. He was born on Delos and honoured the island by setting up an Oracle there.
He later travelled to Mount Parnassus and slew the great snake Python. He created a temple where he had achieved the feat marking the foundations for where the famous Oracle of Delphi would reside.
Hermes — Greek God of Trade, Wealth, Luck, Fertility, Animal Husbandry, Sleep, Language, Thieves, and Travel
Hermes, the messenger of God and the patron of thieves. Known as a trickster amongst the gods. He often pulled pranks and stole from his fellow divinities. Hermes was also one of the cleverest and mischievous of the Olympian gods.
When he came of age, he assumed the role of messenger, taking a golden rod with him as a mark of his authority. He is often seen with a winged helmet and sandals, which he used to fly around and deliver messages.
To the Romans, Hermes was known as ‘Mercury.’
The one thing she prized more than anything else was her daughter, Persephone. It happened that Hades was also interested in Persephone as he had fallen in love with her.
One day, while the girl was picking flowers, he opened up the ground and dragged her down to the underworld. Demeter was distraught when she found out and searched for her daughter for nine days and nights, until the Sun God Helios revealed her captor’s identity.
Demeter locked herself indoors for an entire year, refusing to come out until Persephone was returned. Without the goddess of farming, the world went into famine. In order to save the world, Zeus ordered Hades to release Persephone.
Hades had fed the girl the food of the dead, a pomegranate, meaning that she was bound to him. After much discussion, Zeus decided that Hades could have Persephone for three months of the year, and Demeter could have her for the other nine months.
This explains why the winter months are cold and the plants die as Demeter waits for her daughter to return.
God of smithing, Hephaestus, had a difficult start to life. He was born lame and so his mother Hera decided to throw him off Olympus into the sea to drown.
He later returned to the home of the gods and was given Aphrodite as wife by Hera to reconcile with him. He was a great inventor and fashioned many of the palaces on Olympus. He also fashioned the equipment of many heroes such as Achilles who he created armour and a magnificent shield.
God of wine and parties, Dionysus was perhaps the most fun of the Olympians.
Frenzied women called maenads and the half-goat man called satyrs followed him. He had a huge cult following in Greece, where his followers would participate in mass drinking and the orgies his mythological companions were so well known for.
The Greek gods represent humanity at its best and worst, from the violent and destructive Ares to the beautiful and seductive Aphrodite. Greek mythology demonstrates the epic power struggle between parents and children in an endless quest to gain control over the world.
Tales passed down from each generation, showing them to be some of the most influential deities in human history that continued to have a significant impact to this day. But you may ask, Are the Greek Gods and Goddesses Real?, If so, what happened to them.
Art Credit: Fran Fdez