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The Olympian Gods
 
 

Religious practices as far back as the middle Paleolithic period involved an Earth goddess. In prehistoric Greece, the earth-mother goddess was given the name Gaea. This goddess was said to have created the sky god Uranus. Gaea and Uranus were joined as rulers of the world by their children. As a group, Gaea, Uranus and their offspring were known as the elder gods, the Titans. One of the Titans, Cronus, emerged as their leader.

Wary of being overthrown by his children, Cronus ate them soon after they were born. But Cronus’ wife, Rhea, wanted her children to live, and through a ruse saved her son Zeus. Cronus’ and Rhea’s offspring went on to include Poseidon, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Demeter.

When Zeus grew up, he rebelled against his father Cronus and the other Titans. Zeus prevailed, and the Titans were overthrown. Most of them were banished to a place called Tartarus, deep in the underworld. Together with his fellow younger gods, the Olympians, Zeus became the ruler of the world.

 
Venus

Aphrodite (Venus)

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love and beauty, the daughter of Zeus and Dione. At birth she rose from the sea foam and the sea carried her to Cytherea. Her symbols are sea shells, doves, the rose, and the swan.
Zeus married her to Hephaestus, who fashioned lavish jewelry for her. She was the mother of Eros.
The Romans called her Venus, and in the Middle East she was worshiped under the names Ishtar and Astarte. At her temples, priestesses joined selected worshipers in sexual intercourse, which was considered an act of worship.
Aphrodite was irresistible in form and manner, and she found lovers among several gods and mortals. She had the power to influence the feelings of mortals and could sway human passion to reward her faithful, or punish those who would interfere with the natural course of love and passion.

Apollo

Apollo

Apollo is the Greek and Roman Sun god, patron of the arts and philosophy. His symbols are the sun, the lyre, and the bow and arrow.
Born in the island of Delos, he is the son of Zeus and the Titan Leto, and twin brother of Artemis.
Apollo is very handsome, the epitome of manly good looks. He represents order and harmony and is the leader of the Muses. Master of the sun that gives light and warmth to Earth, he is also augur, archer, and a source of sound morals. Apollo was associated with the cure of illness, and his son Asclepius (Roman Aesculapius) was a healer who could sometimes resuscitate the dead.

Ares

Ares (Mars)

The son of Zeus and Hera, Ares is the Greek god of war and violence. His symbols are the helmet, and the shield, spear, and sword.
Ares is a god of action and determination, handsome and cruel, loved by Aphrodite, but not a favorite of other Olympians. He is the father of Deimos and Phobos.
Ares was called Mars by the Romans, who identified him as the father of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. In battle he rides a war chariot drawn by immortal stallions, carrying a shield and a spear. Warriors worshiped him, but he was also feared and was associated with discord and death.

Artemis

Artemis (Diana)

Artemis is the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, and wild animals. She is the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. Her symbols include the moon, deer, and hounds.
Artemis is closely identified with the Roman goddess Diana, the huntress, and less closely with the Middle Eastern goddess Cybele, associated with fertility and nature. A virgin goddess, Artemis is armed with bow and arrows. On occasion she made deadly use of her weapons to protect her honor and that of those dear to her. Artemis often hunts in the company of Nymphs: wild game, including dangerous game, such as panther and lion, as well as deer.
Artemis is associated with healing, fertility and childbirth, and is the protector of children. Her cult welcomed young boys to study at her sanctuary at Brauron. Girls were received into her cult when they reached their puberty. Upon their decision to marry, young women would lay down their dolls, toys and other personal objects associated with their virginity at the altar of Artemis, signifying their departure from the virgin goddess’s realm.

Athena

Athena (Minerva)

Athena sprang full-grown and in full armor from Zeus’ head. She is his daughter, powerful and self-sufficient. The Parthenon, in the acropolis at Athens, is her temple. Gray-eyed, Athena is the protector of civilized life, the embodiment of wisdom, justice, reason, and moral intelligence.
Athena is a virgin goddess, ruthless and warlike when necessary to defend the state and the home from outside enemies. She is often armed, and possessed the Aegis, a shield worn upon her breastplate. Athena invented the bridle and the carriage. She is often accompanied by Nike, the swift goddess of strength and victory.
Serenely beautiful, Athena is identified with the Libyan and Egyptian war-goddess Neith. Her symbols are the Aegis, the owl, and the helmet and spear. Her Roman name is Minerva. The Romans observed a yearly festival of Minerva, from the nineteenth to the twenty-third day of March.

Demeter

Demeter (Ceres)

Demeter is the Greek goddess of fertility, the successful cultivation of the soil, and the resulting abundance of the harvest. The Romans called her Ceres. Demeter is the daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. She guarded the sanctity of marriage, and oversaw morality and the cycle of life and death. Her priestesses instructed new couples on the duties of marriage. Demeter is often depicted with grain, a scepter, torch, and a sacrificial bowl.
Demeter was at one time (before his marriage to Hera) Zeus’ lover. Persephone is their daughter and Dionysus their son. Demeter’s daughter Despoena is the offspring of her union with Poseidon.
Hades took an interest in the beautiful and youthful Persephone. With Zeus’s consent, Hades abducted Persephone and took her to the underworld. Demeter was filled with anguish when Persephone disappeared. She wandered tirelessly through the world in search for her daughter. Demeter was furious when she found out that Hades had taken her daughter for his wife. She felt betrayed by Zeus and Hades and threatened to make harvests fail unless Persephone was returned to her. To prevent disaster, Zeus yielded and ordered Hades to release Persephone. Demeter was reunited with her daughter, except that each year Persephone had to return to the underworld for the summer.
Demeter and Persephone are the principal deities associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, secret rites designed to lead the participants to basic principles of perfect enjoyment of spiritual wellness. There were yearly Lesser Mysteries, and Greater Mysteries celebrated every five years. Held at and near Eleusis, the mysteries involved ritual bathing at sea, animal sacrifices, fasting, reenactments, processions, revelations concerning life after death, and festivals.

Hades

Hades (Pluto)

Hades is the Greek god of the underworld and of the dead. He is the son of Cronos and Rhea and the brother of Zeus and Poseidon.
Hades is also known as Pluto, and to the Romans as Dis Pater. He is the giver of all the bounties that come from the earth. His wife is Persephone.
Hades is associated with invisibility and wealth. He possesses a helmet that renders the wearer invisible. Hades is vigorous, and by temperament impulsive and decisive. His domain has several rivers: Styx (hate), Phlegethon (fire), Lethe (forgetfulness), Cocytus (lamentation), and Acheron (sadness). Hades is the master of the three-headed dog Cerberus. Hades’ symbols are gold and silver, the narcissus, and the cypress.

Hephaestus

Hephaestus (Vulcan)

Hephaestus is the Greek god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, and artisans.
Hephaestus made exquisitely crafted equipment: Aphrodite’s girdle, Zeus and Athena’s Aegis breastplate, the winged helmet and sandals Hermes wore, and Achilles’ armor. He also created Pandora.
Hephaestus is the son of Zeus and Hera. He is lame and physically unattractive, an accident of birth. Aphrodite is his wife, but the two have an uneasy relationship. Both had various lovers. The Roman name for Hephaestus is Vulcan. He is associated with technology and fire, and his symbols are the forge, hammer, anvil, and tongs. He gave skills to mortal artists.

Hera

Hera (Juno)

Hera is the Greek goddess of marriage, the daughter of Cronos and Rhea. She is married to Zeus and is the mother of Ares and Hephaestus.
Hera is associated with the Great Mother goddess worshipped since prehistoric times. On Olympus, she sat on a golden throne beside her husband. Like Zeus, she can project lightning. Hera is the most beautiful of the immortals, even more beautiful than Aphrodite.
Her Roman name is Juno. The Romans named the month of June after her. Juno was thought of as warlike, and she was often depicted wearing a goatskin cloak like those worn on the field by Roman soldiers. Hera’s symbols are the peacock, the scepter, and the pomegranate.

Mercury

Hermes (Mercury)

Hermes, the messenger of the Olympian gods, who flies as fleet as thought, is the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia.
He was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcady. Hermes is young and good-looking, with an athletic body. He carries a magic wand, the Caduceus, and wears a winged cap and winged sandals. Cunning, shrewd, and determined, he is the god of travel, merchants, shepherds, athletics, weights and measures, literature, and oratory.
A master thief, as a newborn he stole cattle from a herd belonging to his brother, Apollo, and fashioned his first lyre from the shell of a tortoise and the intestines of one of the stolen cows. Hermes later traded his lyre to Apollo in exchange for the cattle. Hermes also fashioned the first flute. His Roman name is Mercury. Known for his swiftness and athleticism, he was credited with the invention of foot-racing and boxing. A statue of him stood at the entrance to the Olympic stadium.

Hestia

Hestia (Vesta)

Hestia is the virgin goddess of family and home. Gentle and modest, she is the daughter of the titans Cronus and Rhea, and sister of Zeus.
Hestia kept the hearth lit at Mount Olympus. Her public hearths, the Prytaneum, were a source of sacred fire. She is the serene patroness of sacred intentions.
The Romans called her Vesta. Her temple in the Roman Forum was tended by priestesses called the Vestal Virgins, who kept the sacred fire lit in perpetuity. The temple was round and its entrance faced east, toward the rising sun. Hestia’s symbols are the hearth, the flame, and the bowl.

Poseidon

Poseidon (Neptune)

Poseidon is the ruler of the sea. He is the brother of Zeus and Hades, and gave the first horse to man. Poseidon is as dignified as Zeus, but not as powerful. He married a Nereid, Amphitrite.
He had many love affairs and fathered many children, among them Triton, Theseus, and Pegasus. The Romans called him Neptune. He carries a trident, a three-pronged spear, and commands earthquakes, sea winds, storms, and the surges and stillness of the seas.
When Poseidon rides his golden-maned horses in a chariot over the sea, it becomes still as he approaches. He is a protector of charioteers, horse races and fishermen. Poseidon’s symbols are the trident and the horse.

Zeus

Zeus (Jupiter)

Zeus is a celestial god, the mightiest of the Pantheon of Olympian gods. He is associated with weather, and controls thunder, lightning and rain. Zeus never helped liars or those who broke their oaths.
The Greeks held the Olympic games in his honor. He is bearded, middle-aged, regal, with an imposing figure. Among his attributes are the scepter and the eagle. His most famous temple, Olympia, held a gold and ivory statue of him enthroned.
The Sanctuary of Zeus atop Mount Lykaion in southwestern Arcadia was established before 1400 B.C. Ritual ceremonies were conducted outdoors at the Ash Altar of Zeus, near the summit. A stadium, hippodrome, and bathhouse were located nearby.
Zeus is chief judge and peacemaker, the father of gods and men. His wife Hera bore him Ares and Hephaestus. His union with Leto resulted in the twins Apollo and Artemis. The Romans called him Jupiter. His symbols include the thunderbolt and the eagle.

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