Greek Gods and Goddesses: Their Creation, Behavior and Power

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Altar with twelve gods at the Louvre
The ancient Greeks believed that their gods and goddesses would protect them and guide them if they were treated properly. A key element of this was worshipping the the gods by carrying out ceremonies and sacrifices. The Greeks worshiped their gods affect their fate while living and secure a relatively good place in the afterlife.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The ancient Greeks worshipped many gods, each with a distinct personality and domain. Greek myths explained the origins of the gods and their individual relations with mankind. The art of Archaic and Classical Greece illustrates many mythological episodes, including an established iconography of attributes that identify each god.” [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

Harold Koda of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The Roman poet Ovid recounted an ancient myth in which Pygmalion, a sculptor disenchanted by mortal women, creates an image of feminine perfection. When he becomes enthralled with his own sculpted ideal, Venus—the Greek Aphrodite—responds to his prayers and brings the statue to life as Galatea.” [Source: Harold Koda, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome;
The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Polytheism in Ancient Greece

Mary Leftowitz, a classics professor at Wellesley College wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The Greek gods weren’t mere representations of forces in nature but independent beings with transcendent powers who controlled the world and everything in it. Some of the gods were strictly local, such as the deities of rivers and forests. Others were universal as Zeus, his sibling and his children.”

“Zeus do not communicate directly with humankind. But his children — Athena, Apollo and Dionysus — played active roles in human life. Athena was the closest to Zeus of all the gods; without her aid, none of the great heros could accomplish anything extraordinary. Apollo cold tell mortals what the future had in store for them. Dionysus could alter human perception to make people see what’s not really there. He was worshipped in antiquity as the god of theater and of wine. Today, he would be the god of psychology.” [Ibid]

“The Greeks and Romans did not share the narrow view of the ancient Hebrews that a divinity could only be masculine. Like many other peoples in the eastern Mediterranean , the Greeks recognized female divinities and they attributed to goddess almost all the powers held by male gods.” [Ibid]

Fertility cults and goddesses were often associated with the moon because its phases coincided the menstruation cycles of women and it was thought the moon had power over women. Male gods were more likely to associated with things like suns and bulls.

Evolution of Gods in Ancient Greece

The Furies

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “To the people of ancient Greece (as well as to earlier and neighboring civilizations) the universe they knew was filled with terrible forces not fully understood. Occasionally they saw dramatic demonstrations of power and might - violent thunderstorms, raging seas, gale force winds, eclipses, plagues, drought, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. It was not unreasonable to suspect that powerful and unpredictable entities were the cause of these events and that the originators might be appeased through prayer and sacrifice. In ancient times and in truly grave circumstances the ultimate gift of human sacrifice was made to placate those supernatural beings. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“In time the number of these entities blossomed to represent or personify the virtues and vices of humankind, their wants, urges and fears. Eventually a complex realm was created, inhabited by greater and lesser gods and goddesses, heroes, titans, muses, graces, furies, fates, sirens and so on- each addition intended to account for another aspect of the human experience. Some of these deities and semi-deities were perceived as being benevolent; others were more likely to bring misery and distress. Petitions and sacrifices were made for two reasons: to make good things happen for the petitioner and to prevent bad things from coming to pass.The major deities lived on Mount Olympus and numbered twelve. Naturally, they were called “the Olympians”. |

Important Points About Ancient Greek Gods, Creation, Men and Women

On some important points to remember about ancient Greek gods, John Adams, California State University, Northridge listed: “1) Greek gods are not 'good'. As Xenophanes complains they are like humans, only worse. 2) Zeus is King of the Gods (after he deposed his father, Kronos) but he is not the Creator. 3) Man is not created by a Creator-god, or by the oldest generation of the gods. He is a cosmic after-thought. (See Hesiod, Five Ages of Man, in Powell, Classical Myth, p. 131-134.) 4) In the Hesiodic creation story, the primary struggle is between Zeus and Prometheus (a metter of cleverness, or ego). Human involvement is a secondary matter. [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

“5) Man is created by Prometheus. Woman is invented on orders from Zeus (Jupiter) as a committee effort (Hesiod). 6) Woman is not a helpmate, but a curse sent by Zeus upon mankind. 7) Zeus is the father of Justice (Dike) by way of Themis ('Order'), but he is not 'just' in all his actions; his basic attribute and concern is his power. His behavior is that of a tyrant. 8) Prometheus is the Benefactor of Humanity, not Zeus. Prometheus gives mankind cleverness, intelligence, technology, religious practices, culture (writing, mathematics, astronomy, seafaring, etc. (See excerpt from Aeschylus Prometheus Bound in Powell, 7th edition, p. 120-122.) 9) In general, as Herodotus the 'Father of History' puts it (ca. 450/430 B.C.), "...all deity is jealous and fond of causing troubles.....god gives a glimpse of happiness to many, and then casts them down headlong."”

Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Pandore

The Ancient Greek creation myth we recognize today was written by Hersiod, a poet that lived in the 8th century B.C. about the same time as Homer. Some of the main principles of “Hesiod's View of History ('The Five Ages of Humanity') are: “A) The gods (Zeus, in particular) create and dispose of humankind (Bronze Age people, Heroes, Iron Age people). B) History is on a downward path, in terms of ethics. C) Technology is not a good thing in itself (fire, metals, war). D) Mankind tends to be self-destructive. The ultimate state (Age of Iron) shows mankind as the self-centered egotistical individual without social restraints. E) Justice (Dike) and Shame (Aoidos) are the last divinities to abandon the earth to wicked mankind. They represent a society which is 'tradition directed' and 'other directed', rather than a society in which people are 'self-directed' ethically. 'What people think' strongly influences the idea of good or 'correct' actions. Actions are what are emphasized, not motives.

The Pandora Story comes from Hesiod. The main points to take away from it are: 1) Zeus is vengeful and fearful. Humanity with intelligence and technology is dangerous. 2) Woman is invented to distract, harass and confuse men. She is 'the beautiful evil in recompense for the blessing of fire.' 3) If a man marries, he suffers with women. If he does not, he suffers the loneliness of old age, the greed of distant relations, and the danger of being forgotten when dead. 4) "It is not possible to go beyond the Will of Zeus nor to deceive him." 5) The children of Epimetheus and Pandora, Deucalion and Pyrrha (Mr & Mrs Noah) are saved from the great catastrophic Flood because: a) Deucalion was the man most devoted to justice. b) Pyrrha was the woman most reverent toward the gods. Their son, Hellen, is the ancestor of all of the Greeks (the first "Hellene"). His sons are Doros, Aeolos, and Xuthus (father of Ion). 6) The human race is repropagated according to the prophetic advice of THEMIS, Prometheus' mother (an earth goddess, a Titan).

Prayers and Power of the Ancient Greek Gods

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The Greeks believed that the gods could see everything that humans did and could, if they choose, fulfill such needs as food, shelter and clothing as well as wants like love, wealth and victory. They sought the protection of the gods from their enemies, disease and the forces of nature. Prayers often begin “by identifying the god/goddess being petitioned, and the realm for which he or she was responsible. Former requests are mentioned, the results and the offerings made. Then the new request is presented for consideration. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

Ancient inscriptions and surviving writings show that the prayer usually sounded something like this: ‘Oh Great Poseidon, brother of Zeus, Lord and Ruler of the Seas, I call on you to help me once again. Last year I asked you to protect my ship and its crew during that violent storm. You made the waters tranquil almost immediately and I honored your name with offerings in your temple. This time, on the day of the month sacred to you, I am beginning a long voyage to a distant land and I seek your blessings for fair weather and calm seas. At dawn today I ask you to accept this offering.’

“According to an ancient Greek myth it was the titan Prometheus who was instrumental in determining the nature of the offerings to be made to the gods. He made up two bundles from the body of a sacrificed animal. In the smaller bundle he put all the choice cuts of meat. In the larger, he put the bones of the animal and covered it with fat. Zeus was asked to select the portion that should always be offered to the gods. Zeus quickly, and rashly, selected the larger bundle finding out later that he had passed up on the better portion.” |

Ancient Greek Myths

Abduction of Persephone by Hades

Mythology and religion were intertwined in ancient Greek and Roman religion. Many elements and figures in Greek religion and mythology have become important elements and icons in modern European and American culture. The word myth comes from “ mythos” , the Greek word which meant both “truth” and “word.”

Myths were popular in ancient times because they helped explain the complexities of the universe in ways that human beings could understand and also explained things in the past that no one observed directly. Myths appeared in many culture to explain things like why the sun disappeared at night and reappeared in the day; to sort out why natural disasters occur; explain what happens to people when they die; to create a credible story as how the universe and mankind were created. Because so many of things were unexplainable it was simple enough to create gods and say did the did the unexplainable things.

The myths on similar subjects — such as the coming of spring and the presence of gods in the sky — are often remarkably similar in cultures that have and never have had contact with one another. Flood stories after creation, for example are very common. By the same token, the telling of a certain myth can vary in small ways and in large between groups of a certain time period or area within a culture.

The originators of the Greek myths are unknown. The sources of many of the myths are Homer’s epics, the plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides and other writings that have been passed down over the centuries. In some cases the stories were not spelled out but have been inferred from references to them in other stories. The story of creation and other stories comes from “ Theogony” by the Greek poet Hesiod (750-675B.C.), who claims the Muses told him the story while he was tending sheep.

See Separate Articles on Myths

Gods of Mount Olympus: the Major Ancient Greek Gods

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “According to Greek mythology, when the sons of Cronus divided the universe among themselves, Zeus received the regions above the world, Poseidon claimed the vast regions of ocean as his domain, and Hades was given the regions beneath the earth. But, except for Hades, who preferred his underworld domain, it was agreed that the clouds above Mt. Olympus should be the common dwelling place of all the gods.[Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome.]

Mt. Olympus gods

“Assembled on Mt. Olympus, the gods formed a kind of extended family, an exclusive society, with its own laws and hierarchy. First came the twelve great gods and goddesses: Zeus, Poseidon, Hephaestus, Hermes, Ares, and Apollo; Hera, Athene, Artemis, Hestia, Aphrodite, and Demeter. Not part of this original twelve but placed with them were several other deities, the most important of whom are Helios and Selene (the sun and the moon) and Dionysus.

“As the first among equals, the mighty Zeus ruled over this frequently contentious and somewhat dysfunctional Olympian family. These gods were thought of as resembling people, except they were much bigger, more powerful, and usually more beautiful. Like mortals, they experienced emotions, such as love, hate, anger, and jealousy. But unlike mortals, their bodies always healed from the wounds of war or the ravages of disease, and they never aged. The gods also possessed the ability to change themselves into all manner of disguises, including those of animals and inanimate objects.

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The king of the gods and father of many of them was Zeus. He was originally a weather god or sky-god controlling thunder, lightening and rain but as time went on he took on more responsibilities such as upholding justice and the law. Endowed with supreme strength and wisdom he was far more powerful than the other gods but, even so, he was subject to the limitations imposed by the three Fates, who controlled the destinies of humankind and, some said, of the gods themselves. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“The god Poseidon, a brother of Zeus, not only looked after the seas; he was also in charge of earthquakes and horses. Quarrelsome, surly, petulant and greedy were some of the adjectives used to describe him and he was reputed to hold a grudge for a long time. His symbol was the trident or fish spear which could cause earthquakes or create springs when struck on the ground. Hera was the sister and wife of Zeus, which automatically made her Queen of the gods. She was also considered to be the goddess of marriage, a particularly daunting task given the roving eye of the King of the gods- little wonder she was accused of being jealous. |

“Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom and the daughter of Zeus and the goddess Metis, believed to be the wisest deity. Athena also looked after arts and crafts (technology) and was regarded as the guardian of the working woman. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and concerned with beauty and procreation. She held a special place in the hearts of sailors. Apollo was the god of music, of health, healing and human enlightenment. His twin sister Artemis was the goddess of hunting and, oddly enough,guardian of wildlife. Ares was the god of war and essentially a troublemaker. Other major deities include Demeter, goddess of agriculture, Hermes, messenger of the gods as well as Dionysus and Hephaistos.” |

Major Greek Gods

20120219-Zeus Antikensammlu.JPG
Zeus (Jupiter to Romans) was the supreme god.
Poseidon (Neptune to Romans) was the god of the sea and brother of Zeus.
Hades (Pluto to the Romans) was god of the Underworld and brother of Zeus.
Hestia was the goddess of hearth and home and sister of Zeus
Hera (Juno to Romans) was the god of marriage and the wife of Zeus.
Hephaestus (Vulcan to Romans) was the god of fire and blacksmiths. He was the son of Hera
Ares (Mars to Romans) was the god of war and the son of Zeus.
Athena (Minerva and Pallas Athene to Romans) was the god of wisdom and skills, and the favorite daughter of Zeus.
Apollo (Apollo to Romans) was the god of the sun, light and music and the son of Zeus.
Aphrodite (Venus to Romans) was the goddess of love and daughter of Zeus.
Hermes (Mercury to Romans) was the god of traveling, merchants and thieves, an escort of the dead, and a messenger of the gods. He was also a son of Zeus.
Artemis (Diana to Romans) was the goddess of hunting, wild nature and newborn children. She was the twin sister of Apollo.
Eros (Cupid) was Aphrodite's son.
Demeter (Ceres to Romans) was the goddess of fertility and harvest.
Dionysus (Bacchus to Romans) was the god of drama, dance, music, fertility and wine.
Hercules (Hercules to Romans)

Iconography of the Twelve Main Greek Gods

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “There were twelve principal deities in the Greek pantheon. Foremost was Zeus, the sky god and father of the gods, to whom the ox and the oak tree were sacred; his two brothers, Hades and Poseidon, reigned over the Underworld and the sea, respectively. Hera, Zeus's sister and wife, was queen of the gods; she is frequently depicted wearing a tall crown or polos. Wise Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, who typically appears in full armor with her aegis (a goat skin with a snaky fringe), helmet, and spear, was also the patroness of weaving and carpentry. The owl and the olive tree were sacred to her. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

“Youthful Apollo, who is often represented with the kithara, was the god of music and prophecy. Judging from his many cult sites, he was one of the most important gods in Greek religion. His main sanctuary at Delphi, where Greeks came to ask questions of the oracle, was considered to be the center of the universe. Apollo's twin sister Artemis, patroness of hunting, often carried a bow and quiver. Hermes, with his winged sandals and elaborate herald's staff, the kerykeion, was the messenger god. Other important deities were Aphrodite, the goddess of love; Dionysos, the god of wine and theater; Ares, the god of war; and the lame Hephaistos, the god of metalworking. The ancient Greeks believed that Mount Olympos, the highest mountain in mainland Greece, was the home of the gods. \^/

Behavior of Greek Gods

The Titans in Dante's Inferno

The earliest gods worshiped by people are believed to have been closely connected to things of importance in their immediate natural world: the weather, the foods they ate, water, dangerous animals, animals that provided foods, disease, mothers. As time went on gods also became connected with human activities and affairs — hunting, harvests, war, love, morality, cities — and rituals and methods of worship were developed to honor them.

The Greek gods were very real to the ancient Greeks and their behavior was dictated was much by passion and weakness as their human subjects. Many Greek gods were originally local gods that wove their way into general Greek scheme. Some gods were highly regarded in some city-states and ignored in other.

Unlike Egyptian gods, the Greek gods were very much like human men and women. There were no animal gods or gods with animal heads (some like Pan had a few animal parts, and some monsters were animal-like). And although they were powerful and heroic they possessed many human shortcomings, such as jealousy, lust and envy. The schemed and plotted and were more like self-indulgent teenagers than all-knowing dispensers of life and justice.

Hesiod and Theogony

The story of creation and other stories comes from “Theogeny” by the Greek poet Hesiod who claims the Muses told him the story while he was tending sheep. According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The poet Hesiod lived in the same timeframe as Homer, perhaps around 700 B.C. Most scholars agree that he was born in Boeotia and Hesiod himself in one of his major poems - Works and Days - characterizes his homeland as “a cursed place, cruel in winter, hard in summer, never pleasant”. (According to legend he became involved in a bitter land dispute with his brother which, if true, might have coloured his perspective on the matter.) [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“Hesiod’s birthplace was at the foot of Mount Helicon and tradition has it that the nine muses lived on the mountain. Hesiod credits them with inspiring his words, of breathing into him “a divine voice to celebrate things that shall be and things that were aforetime.” (Theogeny, lines 31-32) |

“Hesiod is remembered for two poems in particular: “Works and Days” and “Theogeny.” The former is an 800 verse poem that extols the virtue of honest labour, a sentiment echoed in later Christian writing that “by the sweat of thy brow thou shalt earn thy bread”. The latter work tells the story of the origins of the world and of the Greek pantheon. Hesiod is credited with a number of other poems but of these only fragments have survived. He is considered to be the first Greek didactic poet.” |

Creation, Sex and the Titans

Night and her children Aither and Hemera

The Greek creation story emphasizes the creation of gods not the creation of the Earth and has a lot of sex in it. The Greeks believed that love and sex existed at the beginning of creation along with the Earth, the heavens, and the Underworld . Chaos, apparently the first Greek celestial being, was a goddess who beget "Gaia, the broad-breasted" and "Eros, the fairest of the deathless gods." Chaos also gave birth to Erebos and black Night. These two offspring mated and gave birth to Ether and Day. They in turn gave birth to the Titans.

The Titans existed before the gods. They were the sons of the heaven and earth. Cronus , the father of Zeus was one of the Titans. He castrated his father, Uranus, and out his blood emerged the Furies, the Giants and the Nymphs from the Ash Trees. Aphrodite arose from the discarded genitals. The god's lovemaking positions were also a little weird. Tartarus, the goddess of the Underworld , made love with Typhoeus while he was one her shoulders with his hundred snake heads "licking black tongues darting forth."?

Prometheus was another Titan. He was chained to a rock for 30,000 year for giving mankind fire and then forces to push the rock uphill for eternity. Atlas, another Titan, rebelled against Zeus and was punished by being forced to hold the weight of the world and eternity on his shoulders for eternity. The Pleiades (the Seven Sisters) were the daughters of Atlas. The Nymphs were also Titans.

Film: camp classic "Clash of the Titans" (1981) with Laurence Olivier as Zeus.

Birth of Zeus

Hesiod wrote in “Theogeny” ll. 453-491: “But Rhea was subject in love to Cronos and bare splendid children, Hestia, Demeter, and gold-shod Hera and strong Hades, pitiless in heart, who dwells under the earth, and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker, and wise Zeus, father of gods and men, by whose thunder the wide earth is shaken. These great Cronos swallowed as each came forth from the womb to his mother's knees with this intent, that no other of the proud sons of Heaven should hold the kingly office amongst the deathless gods. For he learned from Earth and starry Heaven that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, strong though he was, through the contriving of great Zeus. [Source: Hesiod, “Theogony”, “The Homeric Hymns and Homerica”, English translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914]

Zeus as a baby

“Therefore he kept no blind outlook, but watched and swallowed down his children: and unceasing grief seized Rhea. But when she was about to bear Zeus, the father of gods and men, then she besought her own dear parents, Earth and starry Heaven, to devise some plan with her that the birth of her dear child might be concealed, and that retribution might overtake great, crafty Cronos for his own father and also for the children whom he had swallowed down. And they readily heard and obeyed their dear daughter, and told her all that was destined to happen touching Cronos the king and his stout-hearted son. So they sent her to Lyetus, to the rich land of Crete, when she was ready to bear great Zeus, the youngest of her children. Him did vast Earth receive from Rhea in wide Crete to nourish and to bring up.

“Thither came Earth carrying him swiftly through the black night to Lyctus first, and took him in her arms and hid him in a remote cave beneath the secret places of the holy earth on thick-wooded Mount Aegeum; but to the mightily ruling son of Heaven, the earlier king of the gods, she gave a great stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Then he took it in his hands and thrust it down into his belly: wretch! he knew not in his heart that in place of the stone his son was left behind, unconquered and untroubled, and that he was soon to overcome him by force and might and drive him from his honours, himself to reign over the deathless gods.

(ll. 492-506) “After that, the strength and glorious limbs of the prince increased quickly, and as the years rolled on, great Cronos the wily was beguiled by the deep suggestions of Earth, and brought up again his offspring, vanquished by the arts and might of his own son, and he vomited up first the stone which he had swallowed last. And Zeus set it fast in the wide-pathed earth at goodly Pytho under the glens of Parnassus, to be a sign thenceforth and a marvel to mortal men. And he set free from their deadly bonds the brothers of his father, sons of Heaven whom his father in his foolishness had bound. And they remembered to be grateful to him for his kindness, and gave him thunder and the glowing thunderbolt and lightening: for before that, huge Earth had hidden these. In them he trusts and rules over mortals and immortals.”

Creation of Women: from Hesoid’s Theogeny

Hesoid listening to a muse

Hesiod wrote in “Theogeny” ll. 570-584: “Forthwith he made an evil thing for men as the price of fire; for the very famous Limping God formed of earth the likeness of a shy maiden as the son of Cronos willed. And the goddess bright-eyed Athene girded and clothed her with silvery raiment, and down from her head she spread with her hands a broidered veil, a wonder to see; and she, Pallas Athene, put about her head lovely garlands, flowers of new-grown herbs. Also she put upon her head a crown of gold which the very famous Limping God made himself and worked with his own hands as a favour to Zeus his father. On it was much curious work, wonderful to see; for of the many creatures which the land and sea rear up, he put most upon it, wonderful things, like living beings with voices: and great beauty shone out from it. [Source: Hesiod, “Theogony”, “The Homeric Hymns and Homerica”, English translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914]

“(ll. 585-589) But when he had made the beautiful evil to be the price for the blessing, he brought her out, delighting in the finery which the bright-eyed daughter of a mighty father had given her, to the place where the other gods and men were. And wonder took hold of the deathless gods and mortal men when they saw that which was sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.

“(ll. 590-612) For from her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth. And as in thatched hives bees feed the drones whose nature is to do mischief — by day and throughout the day until the sun goes down the bees are busy and lay the white combs, while the drones stay at home in the covered skeps and reap the toil of others into their own bellies — even so Zeus who thunders on high made women to be an evil to mortal men, with a nature to do evil. And he gave them a second evil to be the price for the good they had: whoever avoids marriage and the sorrows that women cause, and will not wed, reaches deadly old age without anyone to tend his years, and though he at least has no lack of livelihood while he lives, yet, when he is dead, his kinsfolk divide his possessions amongst them. And as for the man who chooses the lot of marriage and takes a good wife suited to his mind, evil continually contends with good; for whoever happens to have mischievous children, lives always with unceasing grief in his spirit and heart within him; and this evil cannot be healed.”


Three Muses [Ephoros]: 1) Melete ('practice'), 2) Aoide ('song'), 3) Mneme ('memory') . Four Muses [Mnaseas]: 1) Melete, 2) Aoide, 3) Arche, 4) Thelxiope. Seven Muses [Myrtilos]: 1) Neilous, 2) Tritone, 3) Asopus, 4) Heptapolis, 5) Achelois, 6) Tmoplous, 7) Rhodia [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

Nine Muses [Hesiod]: 1) Clio (History), 2) Euterpe (tragedy-flute), 3) Melpomene (tragedy-lyre), 4) Terpsichore (dance), 5) Erato(hymns/lyre), 6) Polyhymnia (hymns), 7) Urania (Astronomy), 8) Thalieia(Comedy), 9) Calliope (Epics).

Hesiod wrote in Theogeny” ll. 36-103: “Let us begin with the Muses who gladden the great spirit of their father Zeus in Olympus with their songs, telling of things that are and that shall be and that were aforetime with consenting voice. Unwearying flows the sweet sound from their lips, and the house of their father Zeus the loud-thunderer is glad at the lily-like voice of the goddesses as it spread abroad, and the peaks of snowy Olympus resound, and the homes of the immortals. And they uttering their immortal voice, celebrate in song first of all the reverend race of the gods from the beginning, those whom Earth and wide Heaven begot, and the gods sprung of these, givers of good things. Then, next, the goddesses sing of Zeus, the father of gods and men, as they begin and end their strain, how much he is the most excellent among the gods and supreme in power. And again, they chant the race of men and strong giants, and gladden the heart of Zeus within Olympus, — the Olympian Muses, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder. [Source: Hesiod, “Theogony”, “The Homeric Hymns and Homerica”, English translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914]

“(ll. 53-74) Them in Pieria did Mnemosyne (Memory), who reigns over the hills of Eleuther, bear of union with the father, the son of Cronos, a forgetting of ills and a rest from sorrow. For nine nights did wise Zeus lie with her, entering her holy bed remote from the immortals. And when a year was passed and the seasons came round as the months waned, and many days were accomplished, she bare nine daughters, all of one mind, whose hearts are set upon song and their spirit free from care, a little way from the topmost peak of snowy Olympus. There are their bright dancing-places and beautiful homes, and beside them the Graces and Himerus (Desire) live in delight. And they, uttering through their lips a lovely voice, sing the laws of all and the goodly ways of the immortals, uttering their lovely voice. Then went they to Olympus, delighting in their sweet voice, with heavenly song, and the dark earth resounded about them as they chanted, and a lovely sound rose up beneath their feet as they went to their father. And he was reigning in heaven, himself holding the lightning and glowing thunderbolt, when he had overcome by might his father Cronos; and he distributed fairly to the immortals their portions and declared their privileges.

Nine Muses and their attributes

“(ll. 75-103) These things, then, the Muses sang who dwell on Olympus, nine daughters begotten by great Zeus, Cleio and Euterpe, Thaleia, Melpomene and Terpsichore, and Erato and Polyhymnia and Urania and Calliope (3), who is the chiefest of them all, for she attends on worshipful princes: whomsoever of heaven-nourished princes the daughters of great Zeus honour, and behold him at his birth, they pour sweet dew upon his tongue, and from his lips flow gracious words. All the people look towards him while he settles causes with true judgements: and he, speaking surely, would soon make wise end even of a great quarrel; for therefore are there princes wise in heart, because when the people are being misguided in their assembly, they set right the matter again with ease, persuading them with gentle words. And when he passes through a gathering, they greet him as a god with gentle reverence, and he is conspicuous amongst the assembled: such is the holy gift of the Muses to men. For it is through the Muses and far-shooting Apollo that there are singers and harpers upon the earth; but princes are of Zeus, and happy is he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his mouth. For though a man have sorrow and grief in his newly-troubled soul and live in dread because his heart is distressed, yet, when a singer, the servant of the Muses, chants the glorious deeds of men of old and the blessed gods who inhabit Olympus, at once he forgets his heaviness and remembers not his sorrows at all; but the gifts of the goddesses soon turn him away from these.

Wives, Girlfriends and Children of Zeus

Hesiod wrote in “Theogeny” ll. 886-900: “Now Zeus, king of the gods, made Metis his wife first, and she was wisest among gods and mortal men. But when she was about to bring forth the goddess bright-eyed Athene, Zeus craftily deceived her with cunning words and put her in his own belly, as Earth and starry Heaven advised. For they advised him so, to the end that no other should hold royal sway over the eternal gods in place of Zeus; for very wise children were destined to be born of her, first the maiden bright-eyed Tritogeneia, equal to her father in strength and in wise understanding; but afterwards she was to bear a son of overbearing spirit, king of gods and men. But Zeus put her into his own belly first, that the goddess might devise for him both good and evil. [Source: Hesiod, “Theogony”, “The Homeric Hymns and Homerica”, English translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914]

“(ll. 901-911) Next he married bright Themis who bare the Horae (Hours), and Eunomia (Order), Dike (Justice), and blooming Eirene (Peace), who mind the works of mortal men, and the Moerae (Fates) to whom wise Zeus gave the greatest honour, Clotho, and Lachesis, and Atropos who give mortal men evil and good to have. And Eurynome, the daughter of Ocean, beautiful in form, bare him three fair-cheeked Charites (Graces), Aglaea, and Euphrosyne, and lovely Thaleia, from whose eyes as they glanced flowed love that unnerves the limbs: and beautiful is their glance beneath their brows. “(ll. 912-923) Also he came to the bed of all-nourishing Demeter, and she bare white-armed Persephone whom Aidoneus carried off from her mother; but wise Zeus gave her to him. And again, he loved Mnemosyne with the beautiful hair: and of her the nine gold-crowned Muses were born who delight in feasts and the pleasures of song. And Leto was joined in love with Zeus who holds the aegis, and bare Apollo and Artemis delighting in arrows, children lovely above all the sons of Heaven. Lastly, he made Hera his blooming wife: and she was joined in love with the king of gods and men, and brought forth Hebe and Ares and Eileithyia.

winged goddess, maybe Metis

“(ll. 924-929) But Zeus himself gave birth from his own head to bright-eyed Tritogeneia (29), the awful, the strife-stirring, the host-leader, the unwearying, the queen, who delights in tumults and wars and battles. But Hera without union with Zeus -- for she was very angry and quarrelled with her mate -- bare famous Hephaestus, who is skilled in crafts more than all the sons of Heaven.

(ll. 929a-929t) (30) But Hera was very angry and quarrelled with her mate. And because of this strife she bare without union with Zeus who holds the aegis a glorious son, Hephaestus, who excelled all the sons of Heaven in crafts. But Zeus lay with the fair- cheeked daughter of Ocean and Tethys apart from Hera.... ((LACUNA)) ....deceiving Metis (Thought) although she was full wise. But he seized her with his hands and put her in his belly, for fear that she might bring forth something stronger than his thunderbolt: therefore did Zeus, who sits on high and dwells in the aether, swallow her down suddenly. But she straightway conceived Pallas Athene: and the father of men and gods gave her birth by way of his head on the banks of the river Trito. And she remained hidden beneath the inward parts of Zeus, even Metis, Athena's mother, worker of righteousness, who was wiser than gods and mortal men. There the goddess (Athena) received that (31) whereby she excelled in strength all the deathless ones who dwell in Olympus, she who made the host-scaring weapon of Athena. And with it (Zeus) gave her birth, arrayed in arms of war.”

List of Wives, Girlfriends and Offspring of Zeus

List Girlfriends and Offspring (name of wife or girlfriend, followed by children):
Metis: children: Athena (With the Aid of Prometheus or Hephaestus)
Themis: children: Seasons (Eunomia, Dike, Eirene): children: Fates (Moirai: Clotho, Lacheses, Atropos)
Eurynome: children: Graces (Charis, Aglaia, Pasitheia)
Demeter: children: Persephone [Perse, Proserpina]
Mnemosyne: children: Muses (Nine: Hesiod, Theogony )
Leto: children: Apollo and Artemis [Diana] Twins [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

birth of Athena

Hera: children: Ares [Mars], Eileithyeia, Hebe, [Eris?]
Maia: children: Hermes
Semele: children: Dionysos
Io: children: Epaphus (Apis Bull of Egypt)
Antiope: children: Zethus, Amphion (Theban Rulers, Oedipus' Great-uncles)
Leda: children: Helen, Pollux (Half-siblings of Castor and Clytamnestra)
Niobe (Daughter of Phoroneus): children: Argus (Hera's Watchman) [Apollodorus Ii.1.1]
Europa: children: Minos (Father of Ariadne and Phaedra), Rhadamanthys, Sarpedon
Danaë: children: Perseus (Herakles' Great-grandfather)

Electra (Pleiad): children: Dardanus (Ancestor of Priam and Aeneas), Iasion
Taygete: children: Lacedaemon
Eurynome: children: Aesopus River (Father of Aegina, the Island)
Aegina: children: Aeacus (Father of Peleus, Grandfather of Achilles)
Callisto: children: Arcas
Alcmene: children: Herakles
Plouto (Daughter of Kronos): children: Tantalus (Father of Pelops, Grandfather of Pittheus, Atreus, and Thyestes, Great-great-grandfather of Theseus)

Liaisons of Zeus and Young Men
Ganymede: Trojan prince, Cupbearer of Zeus (Iliad XX. 231; Ibycus, Fragment 289)
Phaenon: (Hyginus Poetica Astronomica 2. 42) a creation of Prometheus, reported to Zeus by Eros, carried to Zeus by Hermes, became the Planet Jupiter or Saturn

Mt. Olympus

Mount Olympus
The Greeks believed their gods dwelled on Mt. Olympus, which the Greeks believed was the highest mountain in the world. Zeus and his community of nine gods occupied it because he won a lottery against Poseidon and Hades soon after creation The ten residents of Mt. Olympus were: 1) Zeus, 2) Hestia, 3), Hera, 4) Ares, 5) Athena, 6) Apollo, 7) Aphrodite, 8) Hermes, 9) Artemis, and 10) Hephaestus

The God kept their privacy because Mt. Olympus was often shrouded in clouds. But they could also look down on human kind and interact with them.

There are a lot of mountains that claim to be Olympus, I know of three in Turkey alone. The one that is generally accepted to the home of the Gods is a great massif of limestone that rises up from the Aegean Sea in east-central Greece and extends for 25 miles between Macedonia and Thessaly. See Greece.

In the “Odyssey” , Homer described Olympus in this way:
” Olympos, where the abode of the gods stands firm
and unmoving
forever, they say, and is not shaken with winds nor
with rains, nor does snow pile ever there, by the
shining bright air
stretches cloudless away, and the white light
glances upon it”

Mt. Olympus is a real mountain in Greece. Located 73 miles south of Salonika, it is 9,570 feet high, making it the highest mountain in Greece. Extending for 25 miles between Macedonia and Thessaly, it is a great massif of limestone that rises up from the Aegean Sea in east-central Greece. There are a lot of mountains that claim to be Olympus, I know of three in Turkey alone, but this is one that is generally accepted to the home of the Gods.

Mount Olympus was first climbed in 1913 by two Swiss mountaineers and a Greek, Christos Kakalos. Since them thousands of climbers and hikers have made it to the top. A plan to develop the mountain with a ski resort, hotels and a cheesy amusement park with a Greek God theme was scuttled after a group of hikers led by the legendary Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner hiked to the summit and held a demonstration there in 1989.

Greek Gods Today

Hardly anyone worships the Greek and Roman gods anymore. A small but passionate group of around 1,000 devotees of the Olympian gods remain active in Athens. They find it disturbing that Christians enter Greek temples and Christmas music has been played there. Nikolaos Tziotis, secretary of the Committee of for the Recognition of the Greek Religion of the 12 Gods, told AP, "The Parthenon, temple of Athena, is a sacred place of the Greek religion. It is the greatest blasphemy for songs of another religion to be heard there and we will not allow it."

Most Greeks do not take the group seriously and the Orthodox church regards them as a "New Age" cult. The Greek government hasn’t accepted their application to be recognized as an official religion because they don't have a formal place of worship.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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