Ancient Greek civilization enjoyed a long era of productivity and culture. It begins with the Greek dark ages and extends through the Greco-Persian wars, the conquests of Alexander the Great, and ends with the Romans establishing Macedonia in Roman Greece. As the empire and culture spread, the Greek encountered many local gods which were adopted or syncretized into their canon of Greek Gods. Here are the top ten most talked about immortal gods.
Zeus was the King of all the Olympian gods and the god of justice. His father was Cronus (one of the Titans), who had heard a prophecy that one of his children would kill him, so he ate all of his children as they were born. To protect Zeus, his mother, Rhea (also a Titan), gave Cronos a rock to swallow instead. Zeus was raised by nymphs and as an adult gave Cronos a poison which caused him to throw up all of Zeus’s siblings. Together, they defeated the Titans. Zeus was known for his thunderbolts and his romantic escapades.
Hera was among the first goddesses of the Olympians, alongside Demeter, and Hestia. She was married to Zeus, and together they had Ares and Hephaestus. Hera was the goddess of marriage and childbirth. Hera was known for her jealous outbursts due to Zeus’s numerous infidelities. Hera, alongside Aphrodite and Athena, figures prominently in the outbreak of the Trojan War: all three had a feud over a golden apple which led to the beginning of the war when Paris decided that Aphrodite, as the “fairest” was due the apple.
Athena is the goddess of war, wisdom, and the patron of handicrafts and arts. Athena was the daughter of Zeus and Metis (the Titan); she sprang into being full grown from the head of her father. Zeus had tricked the pregnant Metis into turning into a fly and then swallowed her to avoid the prophecy of a child who would eventually overthrow him. When Athena was born, she was also fully armed and armored. Athena was also a virgin goddess, however she was such, not as a result of shunning men, but because she was the city-goddess of Athens. Athena’s symbol was the wise owl and she was known for involving herself in the lives of humans. Athena features in many of the Greek stories which are still told today.
Apollo was the son of Zeus and the Titaness Leto. He was the twin brother of the goddess Artemis. Apollo was the god of prophecy, archery, and music. Apollo spoke through the oracle at Delphi
Artemis is the daughter of Leto and Zeus. Her twin brother is Apollo. Artemis was the goddess of the moon and the hunt. Artemis was a virgin goddess, a woman unto herself and was known as the virgin huntress. Artemis wandered the mountains with a band of nymphs as her companions. There were traces of human sacrifice within her story: Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, sacrificed a stag (which was sacred to Artemis) and the only way to mollify Artemis was to agree to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia.
The Greek god of war, Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera. He did not have any children of his own, however he did have three children by Aphrodite. He had twins, Phobos “panic” and Deimos “fear”, who always accompanied him at battle. Ares was associated with the violence and bloodiness of war, rather than the heroic warrior aspect.
Hades is known as the God of the Underworld; he was the son of Rhea and Cronos and the brother of Zeus, Poseidon, Demeter, and Hestia. He married Demeter’s daughter, Persephone. His name means “unseen.” Different from Christianity’s view of Satan, Hades was not viewed as evil. Rather, he was believed to be implacable and grim and so worshippers would avert their eyes when they offered sacrifices to him. The underworld was reached via the river Styx, where one paid the boatman, Charon, to ferry them across. Cerberus, the three-headed dog, guarded the underworld’s gates, beyond the river.
Poseidon was one of the sons of Cronos and Rhea. He helped Zeus and his other siblings overthrow Cronos. Once they succeeded, the three brothers (Zeus, Poseidon and Hades) divided the world into domains. Poseidon’s kingdom was the sea. He rules the sea, horses, and earthquakes. Poseidon used a trident given to him by the Cyclops to stir up storms at the sea.
Hermes, the Greek messenger god, was the son of Zeus and Maia. He was also a trickster and the gods would send him to steal what was seen as unobtainable. Hermes accompanied the dead to the underworld, and was seen as the god who most easily crossed between the land of the living and the dead. Hermes is often portrayed as a young man with a wide-brimmed hat and winged sandals. He carries a staff crowned with two snakes. Hermes had two sons with Aphrodite: Hermaphroditos and Priapus.
Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. There is some discrepancy around whether she was the daughter of a Titan or the daughter of Zeus. She was born from the foam of the sea and married the god Hephaestus. However, Aphrodite was known for her infidelities and affairs with others, both gods and mortals.
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