Major Greek Gods

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20120219-Zeus-Gany-sculpt1.jpg 1) Zeus (Jupiter to Romans) was the supreme god.
2) Poseidon (Neptune to Romans) was the god of the sea and brother of Zeus.
3) Hades (Pluto to the Romans) was god of the Underworld and brother of Zeus.
4) Hestia was the goddess of hearth and home and sister of Zeus.
5) Hera (Juno to Romans) was the god of marriage and the wife of Zeus.
6) Hephaestus (Vulcan to Romans) was the god of fire and blacksmiths. He was the son of Hera
7) Ares (Mars to Romans) was the god of war and the son of Zeus.

8) Athena (Minerva and Pallas Athene to Romans) was the god of wisdom and skills, and the favorite daughter of Zeus.
9) Apollo (Apollo to Romans) was the god of the sun, light and music and the son of Zeus.
10) Aphrodite (Venus to Romans) was the goddess of love and daughter of Zeus.
11) 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.

12) Artemis (Diana to Romans) was the goddess of hunting, wild nature and newborn children. She was the twin sister of Apollo.
13) Eros (Cupid) was Aphrodite's son.
14) Demeter (Ceres to Romans) was the goddess of fertility and harvest.
15) Dionysus (Bacchus to Romans) was the god of drama, dance, music, fertility and wine.
16) Herkules (Hercules to Romans) was a half-human, half-divine hero.

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


Zeus was the supreme god, thunder god, sky god, lord of the universe, creator men and women, upholder of justice, avenger of broken promises, regulator of the seasons and protectors of kings and states . Homer wrote "No mortal could view with Zeus, for his mansion and possessions are deathless...All Olympus trembled at his nod.”

Zeus was king of the 12 major gods of Olympus and the father of many of them. Armed with a powerful thunderbolt, Zeus ruled from his throne on Mount Olympus and shared power with his brothers and sisters, six of his children and Aphrodite. His two brothers, Hades and Poseidon, reigned over the Underworld and the sea, The ox and the oak tree were sacred to Zeus

Zeus is believed to have been derived from the Indo-European sky-go Dyaus introduced by the Hellenes who invaded southern Greece from the north in second millennia B.C. The early Zeus often embraced the local earth-mother goddess as his lover. Later Zeus was worshiped so exclusively it was almost a monotheistic religion. The Olympics were conceived as a way to honor Zeus. According to the Canadian Museum of History: 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 |]

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS's Frontline: “Even in the ancient Greek poems of Homer and Hesiod, Zeus was the ruler of the gods, the most powerful and the most wise. But in his early days, Zeus also was guilty of numerous sexual indiscretions with both goddesses and mortal women. These liaisons resulted in the birth of a number of demi-gods and heroes, for whom the Greeks also established cults. Despite his wisdom and majesty, this early Zeus could also be petty, self-indulgent, and occasionally cruel." [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

Birth of Zeus

Zeus was the son of Cronus and Rhea. 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]

baby Zeus with Cronus and Rhea

“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.”

How Zeus Became the Supreme God

Saturn (Cronus)

After Cronus overthrew his father Uranus to become supreme god, he had a premonition that one of his children would usurp him. He then ordered all of his children killed. Rhea was overcome with grief at the loss of her children. When Zeus was born she wrapped a stone in children’s clothing and gave it to Cronus to eat and Zeus was spirited away to a cave on Crete, where he was raised by nymphs and a goat with a horn of plenty.

After growing up to become a powerful god, Zeus married Metis, the goddess of prudence, who helped him devise a plan to overthrow Cronus. She gave Cronus a magic herb that she said would make him unconquerable but she lied. The herb caused Cronus to get violently ill and vomit up Zeus's sibling who joined with Zeus and hundred-handed, fifty-headed monsters to dethrone their father. Laterr, warned that one of his offspring would overthrow him like he did to his father, he tricked his daughter Mentis into becoming a fly and swallowed her.

After usurping the throne Zeus repelled attacks by giants and conspiracies by other gods. After the dethronement of the Titans a lottery with himself and his brothers Poseidon and Hades was held to decided who would occupy the heavens, the sea and the Underworld . Zeus won. He chose the heavens while Poseidon and Hades were awarded the sea and the Underworld respectively.

Leftowitz, the classics professor at Wellesley, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Zeus “Retained his power by using his intelligence along with superior force, Unlike his father...he did not keep all the power for himself but granted rights and privileges to other gods. He was not an autocratic ruler but listened to, and was often persuaded by, the other gods.”

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]

Jupiter (Zeus) and Ceres (Demeter)

“(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.

“(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

Zeus Kisses Ganymede

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]

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

Temple of Zeus in Athens

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): “Before the entrance to the sanctuary of Olympian Zeus” is “the statue, one worth seeing, which in size exceeds all other statues save the colossi at Rhodes and Rome, and is made of ivory and gold with an artistic skill which is remarkable when the size is taken into account...Before the pillars stand bronze statues which the Athenians call "colonies." The whole circumference of the precincts is about four stades, and they are full of statues” from “every city... and the Athenians have surpassed them in dedicating, behind the temple, the remarkable colossus. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

Within the precincts are antiquities: a bronze Zeus, a temple of Cronus and Rhea and an enclosure of Earth surnamed Olympian. Here the floor opens to the width of a cubit, and they say that along this bed flowed off the water after the deluge that occurred in the time of Deucalion, and into it they cast every year wheat meal mixed with honey. On a pillar is a statue of Isocrates, whose memory is remarkable for three things: his diligence in continuing to teach to the end of his ninety-eight years, his self-restraint in keeping aloof from politics and from interfering with public affairs, and his love of liberty in dying a voluntary death, distressed at the news of the battle at Chaeronea1. There are also statues in Phrygian marble of Persians supporting a bronze tripod; both the figures and the tripod are worth seeing. The ancient sanctuary of Olympian Zeus the Athenians say was built by Deucalion, and they cite as evidence that Deucalion lived at Athens a grave which is not far from the present temple.

“Close to the temple of Olympian Zeus is a statue of the Pythian Apollo. There is further a sanctuary of Apollo surnamed Delphinius. The story has it that when the temple was finished with the exception of the roof Theseus arrived in the city, a stranger as yet to everybody. When he came to the temple of the Delphinian, wearing a tunic that reached to his feet and with his hair neatly plaited, those who were building the roof mockingly inquired what a marriageable virgin was doing wandering about by herself. The only answer that Theseus made was to loose, it is said, the oxen from the cart hard by, and to throw them higher than the roof of the temple they were building.

“Concerning the district called The Gardens, and the temple of Aphrodite, there is no story that is told by them, nor yet about the Aphrodite which stands near the temple. Now the shape of it is square, like that of the Hermae, and the inscription declares that the Heavenly Aphrodite is the oldest of those called Fates. But the statue of Aphrodite in the Gardens is the work of Alcamenes, and one of the most note worthy things in Athens. There is also the place called Cynosarges, sacred to Heracles; the story of the white dog1 may be known by reading the oracle. There are altars of Heracles and Hebe, who they think is the daughter of Zeus and wife to Heracles. An altar has been built to Alcmena and to Iolaus, who shared with Heracles most of his labours. The Lyceum has its name from Lycus, the son of Pandion, but it was considered sacred to Apollo from the be ginning down to my time, and here was the god first named Lyceus.”

20120219-Assembly_of_Gods_around Zeus.jpg
Assembly of Gods around Zeus


Hades was a brother of Zeus. He occupied the Underworld , also known as Hades. Hades is both the name of the Greek Underworld and the god that presided over it. After usurping the throne Zeus repelled attacks by giants and conspiracies by other gods. After the dethronement of the Titans a lottery with himself and his brothers Poseidon and Hades was held to decided who would occupy the heavens, the sea and the Underworld . Zeus won. He chose the heavens while Poseidon and Hades were awarded the sea and the Underworld respectively. The word “Hades” came from the Greek “ term a des” , meaning “the unseen” or concealed. It inhabitants were known as “Shades.” See Hades, the Underworld.

Hades was one of the Twelve Olympians, and brother of Zeus and Poseidon. He has no shrines or temples of his own, except in Elis (w. Peloponnesus), and the small temple in the Sacred Enclosure at Eleusis. Hades rarely leaves the 'House of Hades' but when he does he ride in golden chariot drawn by four black horses. Once he did go after the nymph Menthe, but Persephone turned her into a shrub ('mint'). He also hit on the nymph Leuke ('white') who became a white poplar tree. Hades is not the Devil, and does not usually punish souls in the House of Hades. Punishments take place in Tartaros. [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

Hades is sometimes called Zeus Katachthonios ('Underworld Zeus'). He is also known as Aidoneus and PLOUTON ('The Rich')–itles used to avoid mentioning his real name — as well as Polydegmon ('Hospitable') and Eubouleus ('He of Wise Counsel').Hades is a major figure in the myth Rape of Persephone: With Zeus' connivance, Demeter's daughter Persephone was taken to Underworld. This myth explains cycle of the seasons. Persephone is also called Eubouleia, especially in the Orphic lamellae.

Poseidon and the Sea Gods

Poseidon (Neptune to Romans) was the god of the sea and brother of Zeus. He lived in an underwater golden palace and traveled around on a wave-skimming sea-shell chariot pulled by snow-white horses. His attendants included dolphins, Nereids and Tritons. He carried a trident with a three-prong spear. One of the most powerful gods, Poseidon he could produce earthquakes by striking the Earth with his trident and huge waves and storms by striking it to the sea. When in a mellow moon he used his power to calm seas and bring forth new land from the water. Sailors prayed to him for calms seasons, raised temples to honor him and went out their way not to provoke his anger. Poseidon challenged Athena to become the patron of Athens. Each god was asked to perform a miracle. Poseidon produced a spring that turned out to be salty while Athenian produced an olive tree and was judged the winner. See Poseidon and the Trojan War, Literature

According to the 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.[Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

Poseidon was: 1) the son of Kronos (Saturn) and Rhea; 2) brother of Zeus, Hades, Hestia, Demeter and Hera; 3) husband of Amphitrite (daughter of Doris, an Oceanid, and Nereus); she is a 'Nereid' and thus sister of Thetis (Achilles' mother). [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

Favorite Residences of Poseidon: 1) Aegae (Aigai) a town on the northern shore of the Peloponnesus, on the Corinthian Gulf (aigos means 'goat'; cf. Aegean Sea and Aegeus, father of Theseus.) 2) Corinth, not on the acropolis of Corinth, but on the Isthmus, where an international festival in honor of Poseidon was founded in 573 B.C. in competition with Olympia (776 B.C.) and Delphi (582 B.C.). The people of Nemea in the territory of Argos had the same idea in the same year, the Nemean Games in honor of Zeus; and the Athenians followed suit with the Great Panathenaic Festival (566 B.C.). The Greek Government Archaeological Service has WWW pages for the Museums of Corinth, The Isthmus, and Nemea, as well as for the archaeological sites: click Museums of Corinth, The Isthmus, and Nemea to begin a visit. 3) Athens, a large temple survives at the southern tip of Athenian territory at Sounion. In the sea off Sounion was found the famous full-size nude statue of Zeus-hurling-a-thunderbolt, or maybe Poseidon-hurling-a-trident

Vulcan (Hephaestus)
Competition for Prestige: 1) With Athena for Athens (Olive/salt Spring); 2) With Hera for Argos; 3) With Helios for Corinth (Helios Got the Acropolis); 4) With Athena for Troezen (Theseus' Home Town)

Couplings (Poseidon's friend: form of coupling, offspring):
Demeter: horse, Despoina ('mistress'), Arion
Medusa: bird, Pegasus & Chrysaor
Theophane: ram, Ram of the Golden Fleece
Canace: bull
Melantho: dolphin
Tritonis: Athena (!)
Libya: Lelex, Belus, Agenor
Thoosa (Nereid): Polyphemus
Aithra: Theseus

Poseidon Temples in Corinth

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece” Book II: Corinth (A.D. 160): “A legend of the Corinthians about their land is not peculiar to them, for I believe that the Athenians were the first to relate a similar story to glorify Attica. The Corinthians say that Poseidon had a dispute with Helius (Sun) about the land, and that Briareos arbitrated between them, assigning to Poseidon the Isthmus and the parts adjoining, and giving to Helius the height above the city.Ever since, they say, the Isthmus has belonged to Poseidon. Worth seeing here are a theater and a white-marble race-course. Within the sanctuary of the god stand on the one side portrait statues of athletes who have won victories at the Isthmian games, on the other side pine trees growing in a row, the greater number of them rising up straight.[Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

“On the temple, which is not very large, stand bronze Tritons. In the fore-temple are images, two of Poseidon, a third of Amphitrite, and a Sea, which also is of bronze. The offerings inside were dedicated in our time by Herodes the Athenian, four horses, gilded except for the hoofs, which are of ivory, and two gold Tritons beside the horses, with the parts below the waist of ivory. On the car stand Amphitrite and Poseidon, and there is the boy Palaemon upright upon a dolphin. These too are made of ivory and gold. On the middle of the base on which the car is has been wrought a Sea holding up the young Aphrodite, and on either side are the nymphs called Nereids. I know that there are altars to these in other parts of Greece, and that some Greeks have even dedicated to them precincts by shores, where honors are also paid to Achilles. In Gabala is a holy sanctuary of Doto, where there was still remaining the robe by which the Greeks say that Eriphyle was bribed to wrong her son Alcmaeon. Among the reliefs on the base of the statue of Poseidon are the sons of Tyndareus, because these too are saviours of ships and of sea-faring men. The other offerings are images of Calm and of Sea, a horse like a whale from the breast onward, Ino and Bellerophontes, and the horse Pegasus.

“Within the enclosure is on the left a temple of Palaemon, with images in it of Poseidon, Leucothea and Palaemon himself. There is also what is called his Holy of Holies, and an underground descent to it, where they say that Palaemon is concealed. Whosoever, whether Corinthian or stranger, swears falsely here, can by no means escape from his oath. There is also an ancient sanctuary called the altar of the Cyclopes, and they sacrifice to the Cyclopes upon it. The graves of Sisyphus and of Neleus — for they say that Neleus came to Corinth, died of disease, and was buried near the Isthmus — I do not think that anyone would look for after reading Eumelus. For he says that not even to Nestor did Sisyphus show the tomb of Neleus, because it must be kept unknown to everybody alike, and that Sisyphus is indeed buried on the Isthmus, but that few Corinthians, even those of his own day, knew where the grave was. The Isthmian games were not interrupted even when Corinth had been laid waste by Mummius, but so long as it lay deserted the celebration of the games was entrusted to the Sicyonians, and when it was rebuilt the honor was restored to the present inhabitants.

“The names of the Corinthian harbors were given them by Leches and Cenchrias, said to be the children of Poseidon and Peirene the daughter of Achelous, though in the poem called The Great Eoeae1 Peirene is said to be a daughter of Oebalus. In Lechaeum are a sanctuary and a bronze image of Poseidon, and on the road leading from the Isthmus to Cenchreae a temple and ancient wooden image of Artemis. In Cenchreae are a temple and a stone statue of Aphrodite, after it on the mole running into the sea a bronze image of Poseidon, and at the other end of the harbor sanctuaries of Asclepius and of Isis. Right opposite Cenchreae is Helen's Bath. It is a large stream of salt, tepid water, flowing from a rock into the sea. As one goes up to Corinth are tombs, and by the gate is buried Diogenes1 of Sinope, whom the Greeks surname the Dog. Before the city is a grove of cypresses called Craneum. Here are a precinct of Bellerophontes, a temple of Aphrodite Melaenis and the grave of Lais, upon which is set a lioness holding a ram in her fore-paws.”

Temples of Hera and Poseidon in Paestum, Italy

Hephaestus and Ares

Lame Hephaistos (Vulcan to Romans) was the god of metalworking, fire and blacksmiths. The son of Zeus and Hera, he was a kind and peaceful god in spite of his hobby of making weapons and other objects from metal using a volcano as a forge and was assisted by the one-eyed giant, the Cyclops. Vulcan gave birth the word volcano (eruptions were sparks from his anvil) and the science of vulcanology.

Hephaestus was ugly, making him the only resident of Mt. Olympus who was not beautiful. Even so he was well liked by other gods including his father. But on one occasion, when Hephaestus sided with his mother in argument Zeus threw him off Olympus. Hephaestus landed with such force he was never able to walk again without the help of two thinking robots he made from gold and silver. To keep the other gods from fighting over her, Zeus arranged the marriage of Aphrodite to Hephaestus.

Ares (Mars to Romans) was the god of war and essentially a troublemaker. The opposite of his brother Hephaestus, he was cruel and mean and took great pleasure from watching the slaughter and bloodshed that resulted from the wars he caused. He often mounted a chariot and joined in on the killing, not caring who won just as long as there was a lot of violence. None of the other gods cared much for Ares especially since he whined about his wounds when he returned to Olympus (even though he was immortal he still suffered injuries). He was often accompanied by Eris, the female spirit of strife. Her greatest pleasure was tossing a golden apple into a friendly gathering and watching people fight over it.

On a temple dedicated to Ares, Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): There is also the Hill of Ares, so named because Ares was the first to be tried here; my narrative has already told that he killed Halirrhothius, and what were his grounds for this act. Afterwards, they say, Orestes was tried for killing his mother, and there is an altar to Athena Areia (Warlike), which he dedicated on being acquitted. The unhewn stones on which stand the defendants and the prosecutors, they call the stone of Outrage and the stone of Ruthlessness. On descending, not to the lower city, but to just beneath the Gateway, you see a fountain and near it a sanctuary of Apollo in a cave. It is here that Apollo is believed to have met Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]


Apollo (Apollo to Romans) was the god of the sun, light, music, health, healing and human enlightenment. His twin sister Artemis was the goddess of hunting and, oddly enough, guardian of wildlife. Originally called Phoebus Apollo, he lived on the island of Delos in the east, where he was born, and Delphi to the north of Athens. He drove the chariot of the sun across the sky and had the power to cure illness and inflict it.

20120219-Apollo.jpg Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Not to be confused with the sun itself, which was represented by a special divinity, Helios, Apollo was nonetheless a solar god. Because the Mediterranean sun's rays strike the earth like darts, Apollo was thought of as an archer-god, whose arrows could either wound or heal. He was also the god of song and the lyre, as well as the god of divination and prophecy. His sanctuary at Delphi was one of the most sacred places in the Greek world for revelation and interpretation.” [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

Youthful Apollo is often represented with the kithara 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 was both a patron of healing and a god of plague. In Homer’s Iliad Book I and the beginning of Sophocles play Oedipus Tyrannos, it is Apollo who is responsible for the death of Achilles. Apollo Smintheus was 'The Mouse God'. Apollo was worshiped by musicians and poets. He was regarded as the handsomest of the Greek gods and was the master of the Oracle of Delphi. His connection with the sun led to associations with agriculture and titles such as “destroyer of locusts,” “destroyer of mice,” “protector of gain” and “sender of fertilizing dew.”

Apollo was the son of Zeus and one of his other wives, the goddess Ledo. When Hera discovered Ledo was pregnant she forbade her offspring from being born on earth. Delos had just been created by Poseidon and was still floating around and not under Hera's authority. That is why Apollo and his twin sister Artemis were born there.

Apollo was known for his heroism. When Apollo was a young god man Zeus sent him to claim the oracle of Delphi, the most sacred place on earth and a fiery place where a priestess was told prophecies by Mother Earth. Apollo captured the oracle after slaying the deadly serpent Python, a beast no else would even approach, with a golden arrow. Myths involving Apollo include: 1) Hyacinthus and Apollo, 2) Daphne and Apollo, 3) King Midas and Apollo, 4) The Punishment of Niobe by Apollo and Artemis. See Oracle of Delphi

Apollo also could be vengeful and ruthless. Once a satyr boasted he could produce better music than Apollo and challenged him to a contest. Apollo won the contest, which was judged by the nine Muses. As punishment for being so bold as to challenge him Apollo had the uppity satyr skinned alive. Because Apollo was the god of music a number of theaters have been named after him. He also credited with inventing the flute.

Apollo’s Male Lover Hyacinthus

Apollo and Hyacinthus

John Adams of CSUN wrote: “Apollo Hyakinthios is a cult dedicated to Apollo in Laconia (Sparta). The shrine was at Amyclae, some 5 miles south of Sparta town. The shrine is described in Pausanias' Description of Greece (II cent. A.D.) Book III. The explanation of the cult name is given in the story of the handsome young Spartan Prince Hyakinthos, with whom Apollo fell in love. See: Ovid Metamorphoses X. 162-219; Apollodorus I. 1.1-2; Pausanias IV. 19. [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

It seems, in fact, that Hyakinthos was the first young man in history with whom another male (the Poet Thamyras) fell in love. Thamyras boasted that he could surpass the Muses in song (cf. Athena and Arachne and weaving, Apollo and Marsyas the Satyr in singing). Apollo jealously told the Muses, who robbed Thamyras of his sight, voice, and memory for lyre playing. (See: Homer Iliad II. 594-600; Apollodorus Bibliotheka I. 3.3; Pausanias Guide to Greece IV. 33.3-7)

The West Wind (Zephyros) too fell in love with Hyakinthos, and one fine day when Apollo was teaching his boyfriend how to throw the discus (a sort of ancient frisbee made out of stone or metal), the Wind blew it off course so that it hit Hyakinthos in the head and killed him. From the boy's blood that fell on the ground sprang the hyacinth flower, which has on its petals the initials of Hyakinthos. [Note that -inthos is actually a pre-Greek place-name ending, as in Corinth, Probalinthos, etc.]

Jean Broc of the Musée de Poitiers wrote: “The month Hyakinthos is found in the calendars of Sparta, Gytheion, Thera, Rhodes, Kos, Knidos, Kalymna, and maybe Byzantium. Despite Robert Graves' statement in the Greek Myths I, p. 81, the order of the month in the calendars and the season at which it fell is, to a large extent, unknown. [See: Alan E. Samuel, Greek and Roman Chronology (München 1972) p. 93.]

Apollo and His Son Asklepios

John Adams of CSUN wrote: “Apollo was in love with Coronis ('crow'), the daughter of King Phlegyas of the Lapiths (a son of Zeus, brother of Ixion, temple burner)Coronis was unfaithful to Apollo with ISCHYS the Arcadian (!) while she was pregnant with Apollo's child. A white bird, set by Apollo to keep watch over Coronis, informed the god about the infidelity, and (in anger) Apollo complained to Artemis his sister, who used her bow and arrows on the unlucky girl. Too late, when she was already being cremated, Apollo repented of his anger.” [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

Apollo “had his brother Hermes (Psychopompos) cut the child, still alive, from the womb of the deceased Coronis. The child Asklepios was carried off by Apollo and placed in the Hero Academy which was run by the Centaur Cheiron. Apollo shot down Ischys, and turned the white bird to coal black (it became a crow or raven: etymological explanation) because it had not kept Ischys away from Coronis.

“When Asklepios grew up he practiced the art of medicine (which he learned from Apollo and Chiron). Athena gave him two vials of Medusa's blood; the one could kill instantly, the other could raise the dead. Asklepius used this latter fluid on Tyndareus, Capaneus, Lycurgus and Hippolytus, much to the annoyance of great-uncle Hades, who complained to Asklepios' granddad Zeus that his privileges were being violated. Zeus killed his grandson with a thunderbolt, but later was compelled to bring him back to life because of his knowledge of medicine which would work for divinities. (Cf. twice-born Dionysos) The most famous sanctuary of Asklepios was at Epidauros in the Peloponnesus.”

Delphic Hymn to Apollo

Apollo chasing Daphne

This hymn to Apollo, god both of the Delphic Oracle and of music, was found inscribed on a stone at Delphi. The text is marked with a form of music notation which makes it one of the earliest pieces of music to have survived in the western world. We have no way of determining exactly how the piece would have been performed, but recordings have been made which may convey something of the sound of the work. One version is available on the album “Music of Ancient Greece,” Orata ORANGM 2013 (track 3), and another on “Musique de la Grèce Antique” Harmonia Mundi (France) HMA 1901015 (track 24). Here is a translation of the first part of the Paean.

Oh, come now, Muses, (1)
and go to the craggy sacred place
upon the far-seen, twin-peaked Parnassus, (2)
celebrated and dear to us, Pierian maidens. (3)
Repose on the snow-clad mountain top;
celebrate the Pythian Lord (4)
with the goldensword, Phoebus,
whom Leto bore unassisted (5)
on the Delian rock (6) surrounded by silvery olives,
the luxuriant plant
which the Goddess Pallas (7)
long ago brought forth. [Source: translated by Richard Hooker]

Notes: (1) The muses were the goddesses of the arts, the word “music” comes from their name. (2) Mount Parnassus was the site of the temple of the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, the most sacred spot in Greece. (3) The muses were also associated with a place called Pieria near Mount Olympus; but another explanation of the reference is that they were said to be the nine daughters of one Pierus. (4) Apollo. His priestess was called the Pythia, after a legendary snake that Apollo had killed in laying claim to the shrine. (5) There are many different accounts of how Apollo’s mother wandered the earth looking for a safe place in which to bear her child. (6) The island of Delos. (7) Athena. Note how the Athenian poet, even while praising the chief god of Delphi manages to bring in by a loose association the chief goddess of Athens.

Pythian Apollo Homeric Hymn

Apollo with kithara

Pythian Apollo Homeric Hymn III:179 goes: “O Lord, Lycia is yours and lovely Maeonia and Miletus, charming city by the sea, but over wave-girt Delos you greatly reign your own self. Leto's all-glorious son goes to rocky Pytho, playing upon his hollow lyre, clad in divine, perfumed garments; and his lyre, [185] at the touch of the golden key, sings sweet. Thence, swift as thought, he speeds from earth to Olympus, to the house of Zeus, to join the gathering of the other gods: then straightway the undying gods think only of the lyre and song, and all the Muses together, voice sweetly answering voice, [190] hymn the unending gifts the gods enjoy and the sufferings of men, all that they endure at the hands of the deathless gods, and how they live witless and helpless and cannot find healing for death or defence against old age. [Source: Anonymous. “The Homeric Hymns and Homerica” translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Homeric Hymns. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914]

“Meanwhile the rich-tressed Graces and cheerful Seasons dance with [195] Harmonia and Hebe and Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus, holding each other by the wrist. And among them sings one, not mean nor puny, but tall to look upon and enviable in mien, Artemis who delights in arrows, sister of Apollo. [200] Among them sport Ares and the keen-eyed Slayer of Argus, while Apollo plays his lyre stepping high and featly and a radiance shines around him, the gleaming of his feet and close-woven vest. And they, [205] even gold-tressed Leto and wise Zeus, rejoice in their great hearts as they watch their dear son playing among the undying gods.

“How then shall I sing of you —though in all ways you are a worthy theme for song? Shall I sing of you as wooer and in the fields of love, how you went wooing the daughter of Azan [210] along with god-like Ischys the son of well-horsed Elatius, or with Phorbas sprung from Triops, or with Ereutheus, or with Leucippus and the wife of Leucippus ... you on foot, he with his chariot, yet he fell not short of Triops. Or shall I sing how at the first [215] you went about the earth seeking a place of oracle for men, O far-shooting Apollo? To Pieria first you went down from Olympus and passed by sandy Lectus and Enienae and through the land of the Perrhaebi. Soon you came to Iolcus and set foot on Cenaeum in Euboea, famed for ships: [220] you stood in the Lelantine plain, but it pleased not your heart to make a temple there and wooded groves. From there you crossed the Euripus, far-shooting Apollo, and went up the green, holy hills, going on to Mycalessus and grassy-bedded Teumessus,”


Hermes (Mercury to Romans) was the god of traveling, an escort of the dead, and a messenger of the gods. He performed his duties with the help of a pair of winged sandals given to him by his father Zeus (his mother Maia was the daughter of Atlas). Both merchants and thieves admired him because he was “swifter than thought.” Cairns are have traditionally been placed on the side of the road to honor him and to ensure safe passage.

Eros, Hermes and Aphrodite

Hermes was the god of culture and music (he invented the lyre, from the shell of a tortoise) and was the patron of young men, gymnasiums (each of which contained a Hermaeum) and merchants, (whom the Greeks often regarded as travelers, liars and thieves). His identifying features include his winged sandals and elaborate herald's staff (the kerykeion)Jolly and friendly, Hermes was one of the most well liked of the gods. Even Hera liked him despite the fact that he killed one of her servants, the hundred-eyed Argus. Hermes achieved this feat by telling a story that was so long-winded and tedious Argus shut all his eyes and died of boredom. As the messenger of the gods he made a number of trips to the Underworld .

Hermes was also quite clever and crafty. A few hours after he was born he found a tortoise, attached a few strings to it and invented the lyre. Later that same day he stole the oxen of his half-brother Apollo by tying brooms to their tails so they erased their tracks as they walked away. It didn't take Apollo long to uncover the trick but ultimately he was appeased by Hermes who played a beautiful song with lyre and gave it to Apollo as a gift. Apollo also used to produce beautiful music. In return Apollo gave Hermes a magic wand — the “caduceus” — that brought wealth and good fortune and turned everything it touched into gold.

The son of Zeus and Maia, Hermes was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. The etymology of Hermes is unknown. H. J. Rose wrote in “A Handbook of Greek Mythology”: "We must not forget the possibility that the Arcadians found [HERMES] in Arcadia when they arrived there, and that his name is not Greek at all. Certain it is that he was often worshipped under the form of a mere stone [herma]" Martin P. Nilsson wrote in “History of Greek Religion”: "The name is one of the few that are etymologically transparent and means "he of the stone-heap" ." [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

Stories Involving Hermes

20120219-Mercury Wenceslas_Hollar.jpg 'Slayer of Argus' (in Hesiod's Theogony): John Adams, of CSUn wrote: “When Zeus was sleeping with Io and Hera became aware of it, Zeus changed himself and Io into cattle. Pretending that Io was only a heifer, Zeus could not refuse giving it to Hera when she asked. Hera assigned Argus Panoptes (‘Argus-with-eyes-all-over‘) to watch Io. Hermes lulled Argus to sleep and killed him. Thereupon Hera sent the gadfly to torment Io, who was driven mad. Argus' eyes (according to that romantic Roman mythological pervert, Ovid (Metamorphoses I. 722) were put by Hera into the tails of her favorite peacocks. [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

“Hermes Psychopompos (psyche ‘shade’ pompos ‘guide’) conducts the souls of the deceased from their bodies to the shores of the River Styx (in the Underworld) where he hands them over to the Ferryman CHARON. Hermes carries a staff with snakes wound about it as his symbol, the CADUCEUS (nowadays seen mostly on double-parked Mercedes convertibles belonging to doctors).

Hermes the Shepherd was appointed by his half-brother Apollo, after the theft and return of Apollo's sacred cattleherd (from Pieria in Macedonia). Apollo also gave Hermes some prophetic gifts as well.

Hermes the Thief (of Apollo's cattle): The Homeric Hymn to Hermes [text in Morford and Lenardon] also the thief of Apollo's quiver and arrows. Magnes, the shepherd, who kept and later suffered the loss of Apollo's sacred herd of cattle, had a son named Hymenaeus (Hymenaios), with whom Apollo was in love. Since Apollo hung around Magnes' house all the time to be with Hymenaeus, Hermes was able to make the shepherd Magnes go to sleep so that the cattle could be robbed.

Battos, an old vineyard caretaker, witnessed the theft and had the knowledge of the thief's identity and modus operandi. He was bribed with the gift of one of the cows (receiving stolen property) to keep his mouth shut. After Hermes' adventure with the cattle was over and he and Apollo had patched things up, Hermes returned to Pieria and visited Battos (in disguise). Battos blabbed the whole story, and was turned into a stone (a herm ?). [Is this an aetiological tale? or (considering that Battos means 'blabbermouth') is it an etymological tale? or is it both?]


20120219-Dionysus Caravaggio_007.jpg
Dionysus by Caravaggio
Dionysus (Bacchus to Romans) was the god of drama, dance, music, fertility and wine. He was the only god to be born twice and the only one with a mortal parent. Because of his association with drinking, partying, festivals and having a good time it is not surprising that he was one of the most popular gods. Dionysus often traveled is disguise. He was known for appearing and reappearing quickly. When he wanted to make a show he arrived with a procession of nymphs and satyrs.

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Although not one of the original Olympians, the cult of Dionysus was very old and was celebrated throughout the Greek world and beyond. As the god of the vine and of the pleasures of its cultivation, his cult became associated with that of Demeter at an early time. As with Demeter, his devotees ranged the entire spectrum of the social scale. Likewise, his cultic observance ranged from dignified ceremonies and parades to orgiastic celebrations and festivals. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“Later Rome, fearing that these festivals would lead to civil unrest, attempted to suppress his cult, but it met with very little success. Although the Romans could not curtail the immense popularity of Dionysus, the god's appearance and the legends surrounding his worship did change dramatically over time.

“Even though fairly early in his history Dionysus's appearance changed from that of a mature, bearded man of a decidedly rustic quality to a long-haired and somewhat effeminate adolescent with exotic attributes, throughout most of his history his essential character remained that of a charming rogue. He was depicted as the god who brought the joys and ecstasies of the vine, as well as the fruits of civilization, and not only to Greece but also to far-away India and Egypt. But Dionysus also could reduce even people of consequence to madness, if they crossed him.

“During the Roman period a new legend developed concerning Dionysus, one that offers intriguing parallels to Christianity. According to this legend, Dionysus was killed while battling the enemies of Zeus. His body was dismembered, but Zeus restored him to immortal life. Henceforth, according to the late first-century Greek philosopher Plutarch, Dionysus became a dying and rising god, and a symbol of ever-lasting life.

“For all of their majesty and beauty, however, the Olympian deities seemed not to care about the lives of ordinary human beings. And by the arrival of the common era, with the exception of Demeter and Dionysus, these gods had become largely ceremonial. The devotion of the average Greek or Roman centered on gods of lesser rank, gods who had once been mortal and who, therefore, understood the sufferings of mortals — gods who cared.

Dionysus’s Origin and Birth

Dionysus was the son of the beautiful mortal Semele, After conceiving a Dionysus, Semele died from shock when Zeus revealed himself to her in celestial form after Semele had been tricked by Hera to ask Zeus to reveal himself (something no mortal could withstand). Zeus then took the aborted fetus and sewed it into his leg until the infant Dionysus was born.

Dionysus was raised by nymphs, who taught him how to make wine, a skill he shared with mankind. Zeus was proud of the joy he brought mankind and made him a god even though he was only half mortal. Later Dionysus was killed and eaten by the Titans but Zeus saved his heart from which he was reborn and the Titans were killed by Zeus lightning bolts.

Birth of Dionysus depicted on a Roman sarcophagus

According to some myths, when Dionysus grew up, he descended into Hades to rescue his mother, which also established him as the god of death. His duel role as god of fertility and death meant that he appeared and disappeared in a seasonal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. According to another legend Dionysus was kidnaped by pirates and scared them by growing vines all over the ship from which the pirates leapt overboard and were turned into dolphins.

John Adams of CSUN wrote: “It has usually been claimed that Dionysos was a late arrival among the Greek gods, on the grounds that the XII Olympians as known to Homer do not yet (or ever) admit or know of Dionysos, and that his cult-places seem to point to the north (Thrace and Macedonia), to Asia Minor, or to Asia. Evidence has come to light, however, from the Mycenaean Linear-B tablets, to show that Dionysos was already known in Greece before 1200 B.C. at Pylos (the home of Nestor in the Iliad of Homer), as DI-WO-NI-SO-JO . [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

“There are two (incompatible) stories, one obviously a Theban story, the other Orphic in origin: 1) Dionysos, son of Zeus and Semele,princess of Thebes (daughter of Kadmos and Harmonia, and thus the granddaughter of Ares and Aphrodite, and great-granddaughter of Poseidon (through the line Poseidon, Agenor, Kadmos). Poseidon had had relations with Libya, who was a daughter of Epaphus, son of Io and Zeus, and thus Semele is great-great-great grandaughter of Zeus too. Angry (as usual) that Zeus had been fooling around and gotten a girl pregnant, Hera disguised herself as a nurse of Semele (Beroe) and talked Semele into asking her lover Zeus to show himself to her in his full heavenly glory. After much whining he did so, and Semele was consumed by the divine emanations (or a thunderbolt). Dionysos was six months along at the time, and Hermes snatched him up (cf. Apollo and Coronis) and sewed him up in Zeus' thigh, from which he was born three months later (cf. Athena from Zeus' forehead). Semele had a tomb in Thebes, which is in the orchestra and referred to in Euripides play, the Bacchae. Her sisters (Autonoe, Ino, and Agave) were not prepared to believe that their sister's lover was Zeus, or that Dionysos was at least semi-divine. This is the reason why Dionysos visits Thebes in the Bacchae. Dionysos later rescued his mother from Hades, and she was installed in heaven under the name Thyone.

2) Dionysos, son of Zeus and Persephone: In this story Persephone slept with Zeus in the form of a serpent, and the 'original' name of the child was Zagreus. But at HERA's instigation the TITANS seized the child, tore him apart, and ate him (cannibalism). Only his heart was preserved, and Athena took it to Zeus, (a) who swallowed it (as he swallowed Metis, Athena's mother); (b) who served it up to Semele in a drink, which made her pregnant.

The result was Dionysus, the 'Twice-Born' (one of his cult-titles at Thebes). Dionysus was born (alphabetically) at Dracanum, Icarus, Naxos and on a Mount Nysa (which is apparently in Ethiopia, Libya, India, Thrace, or somewhere else). Apparently Dionysos was raised by Nymphs on this Mount Hyades (though he was also raised elsewhere by Aunt Ino, who was given the child by Hermes; and also at Macris in Euboea).

Stories Involving Dionysos

Dionysus and the pirates

John Adams of CSUN wrote: “Dionysos and the Pirates: (Homeric Hymn to Dionysos, Hymn I): One day the god, who was on the Island of Icarus, was captured by Tyrrhenian pirates, who had agreed to give him passage to Naxos, but decided to hold him for ransom instead (Arion and the dolphin story: Herodotus I). Since he was (of course!) very handsome, they also tried to rape him. Suddenly flutes were heard; ivy and grapevines fouled the oars and sails; wild beasts appeared on the deck (lions, panthers, bears). The sailors jumped into the sea, but were transformed into dolphins. One of them was put in the sky as a constellation (Delphinus) as a warning to sailors to behave.

Dionysos' Madness: Hera finally caught up with young Dionysos, and like his great-grandmother Io, he goes mad and runs away from his nurses (a) to Egypt; (b) through Syria; and (c) Phrygia (where Cybele (=Rhea) cured him of his madness). He adopted Phrygian clothing out of gratitude. He even visited India at some point (wild ecstatic dancing).

Dionysos in Thrace: Dionysos and his women are frightened at 'male aggression' and run away into the sea (near Thasos) where they are put up for the night in the home of Thetis. Dionysos at Thebes: The story of Dionysos and his first-cousin Pentheus, king of Thebes, and the god's revenge for his own and his mother’s disgrace at the hands of his family. The story is told in full in Euripides' last play The Bacchae (produced in 405 B.C.).

Dionysus Cult

Because his half-breed status made his position at Olympus tenuous, Dionysus did everything he could to make his mortal brethren happy. He gave them rain, male semen, the sap of plants and "the lubricant and stimulant of dance and song" — wine.

In return the Greeks held winter-time festivals in which large phalluses was erected and displayed, and competitions were held to see which Greek could chug his or her jug of wine the quickest. Processions with flute players, garland bearers and honored citizens dressed as satyrs and nymphs were staged, and at the end of the procession a bull was sacrificed. [Source: "The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin,?]

dancing maenad
The text believed to be from funeral of an Dionysus cult initiate read: “I am a son of Earth and Starry Sky; but I am desiccated with thirst and am perishing, therefore give me quickly cool water flowing from the lake of recollection.” The “long, cared way which also other...Dionysus followers gloriously walk” is “the holy meadow, for which the initiate is not liable for penalty” or “shall be a god instead of a mortal.” See Wild Dionysus Festivals Under Festivals or Mystery Cults

Dionysiac Frenzy in Italy

Describing the Senatusconsultum de Bacchanalibus in Italy, Livy wrote in “History of Rome”, Book 39. 8-19 (186 B.C.): "During the following year, the consuls Spurius Postumius Albinus and Quintus Marcius Philippus were diverted from the army and the administration of wars and provinces to the suppression of an internal conspiracy.... A lowborn Greek came first into Etruria [Tuscany], a man who was possessed of none of the numerous arts which [the Greeks] have introduced among us for the cultivation of mind and body. He was a mere sacrificer and a fortuneteller–not even one of those who imbue men’s minds with error by preaching their creed in public and professing their business openly; instead he was a hierophant of secret nocturnal rites. At first these were divulged to only a few. Then they began to spread widely among men, and women. To the religious content were added the pleasures of wine and feasting–to attract a greater number. [Source: (Livy History of Rome Book 39. 8-19: 186 B.C., John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

“When they were heated with wine and all sense of modesty had been extinguished by the darkness of night and the commingling of males with females, tender youths with elders, then debaucheries of every kind commenced. Each had pleasures at hand to satisfy the lust to which he was most inclined. Nor was the vice confined to the promiscuous intercourse of free men and women! False witnesses and evidence, forged seals and wills, all issued from this same workshop. Also, poisonings and murders of kin, so that sometimes the bodies could not even be found for burial. Much was ventured by guile, more by violence, which was kept secret, because the cries of those calling for help amid the debauchery and murder could not be heard through the howling and the crash of drums and cymbals.

“This pestilential evil spread from Etruria [Tuscany] to Rome like a contagious disease. At first, the size of the city, with room and tolerance for such evils, concealed it. But information at length reached the Consul Postumus.... Postumus laid the matter before the Senate, setting forth everything in detail-first the information he had received; and then, the results of his own investigations. The Senators were seized by a panic of fear, both for the public safety (lest these secret conspiracies and nocturnal gatherings contain some hidden harm or danger) and for themselves individually (lest some relatives be involved in this vice). They decreed a vote of thanks to the Consul for having investigated the matter so diligently and without creating any public disturbance. Then they commissioned the consuls to conduct a special inquiry into the Bacchanalia and nocturnal rites. They directed them to see to it that Aebutius and Faecenia suffer no harm for the evidence they had given, and to offer rewards to induce other informers to come forward; the priests of these rites, whether men or women, were to be sought out not only in Rome but in every forum and conciliabulum, so that they might ‘be at the disposal of’ the consuls. Edicts were to be published in the City of Rome and throughout Italy, ordering that none who had been initiated into the Bacchic rites should be minded to gather or come together for the celebration of these rites, or to perform any such ritual. And above all, an inquiry was to be conducted regarding those persons who had gathered together or conspired to promote debauchery or crime.

“These were the measures decreed by the Senate. The consuls ordered the Curule Aediles to search out all the priests of this cult, apprehend them, and keep them under house arrest for the inquiry; the Plebeian Aediles were to see that no rites were performed in secret. The Three Commissioners (Tresviri Capitales) were instructed to post watches throughout the City, to see to it that no nocturnal gatherings took place and to take precautions against fires. And to assist them, five men were assigned on each side of the Tiber, each to take responsibility for the buildings in his own district....

“The Consuls then ordered the Decrees of the Senate to be read [in the Assembly] and they announced a reward to be paid to anyone who brought a person before them, or, in the absence of the person, reported his name. If anyone took flight after being named, the Consuls would fix a day for him to answer the charge, and on that day, if he failed to answer when called, he would be condemned in absentia. If any person were named who was beyond the confines of Italy at the time, they would set a more flexible date, in the event that he should wish to come to Rome and plead his case. Next, they ordered by edict that no person be minded to sell or buy anything for the purpose of flight; that no one harbor, conceal, or in any way assist fugitives.... Guards were posted at the gates, and during the night following the disclosure of the affair in the Assembly, many who tried to escape were arrested by the Tresviri Capitales and brought back. Many names were reported, and some of these, women as well as men, committed suicide. It was said that more than 7,000 men and women were implicated in the conspiracy.”

“Next the Consuls were given the task of destroying all places of Bacchic worship, first at Rome, and then throughout the length and bradth of Italy–except where there was an ancient altar or a sacred image. For the future, the Senate decreed that there should be NO Bacchic rites in Rome or in Italy. If any person considered such worship a necessary observance, that he could not neglect without fear of committing sacrilege, then he was to make a declaration before the Praetor Urbanus, and the Praetor would consult the Senate. IF permission were granted by the Senate (with at least one hundred senators present), he might perform that rite–provided that no more than five persons took part in the ritual, and that they had no common fund and no master or priest...."”

Dionysus procession

Last Hierophan of Eleusis

Eunapius wrote in “Lives of the Philosophers”: “Now when [Julian's] studies with them were prospering, he heard that there was a higher wisdom in Greek, possessed by the hierophant of the Goddesses, and hastened to him with all speed. The name of him who was at that time hierophant it is not lawful for me to tell, for he initiated the author of this narrative. By birth he was descended from the Eumolpidai. It was he who, in the presence of the author of this book, foretold the overthrow of the temples and the ruin of the whole of Greece, and he clearly testified that after his death there would be a hierophant who would have no right to touch the hierophant's throne, because he had been consecrated to the service of other gods and had sworn oaths of the uttermost sanctity that he would not preside over temples other than theirs. Nevertheless, he foretold that this man would so preside, though he was not even an Athenian. To such prophetic power did he attain that he prophesied that in his own lifetime the sacred temples would be razed to the ground and laid waste, and that that other man would live to see their ruin and would be despised for his overweening ambition; and that the worship of the Two Goddesses would come to an end before his own death, and that, deprived of his honor, his life would no longer be that of a hierophant, and that he would not reach old age. [Source: Eunapius Lives of the Philosophers 475-476, Loeb Classical Library , pp. 437-439]

Thus indeed it came to pass. For no sooner was the citizen of Thespiae made hierophant, he who was a pater in the ritual of Mithras, then without delay many inexplicable disasters came on in a flood. Some of these have been described in the more detailed narrative of my History, others, if it be permitted by the Divine, I shall relate. It was the time when Alaric with his barbarians invaded Greece by the Pass of Thermopylae [A. D. 395], as easily as though he were traversing an open stadium or a plain suitable for cavalry. For this gateway of Greece was thrown open to him by the impiety of the men clad in black himatia, who entered Greece unhindered along with him, and by the fact that the laws and restrictions of the hierophantic ordinances had been rescinded. But all this happened in later days, and my narrative digressed because I mentioned the prophecy.

At the time I now speak of, Julian had no sooner become intimate with that most holy of hierophants and greedily absorbed his wisdom, than he was forcibly removed by Constantius [Emperor, 337-361] to be his consort in the Empire and elevated to the rank of Caesar [November 6, 355], while Maximus remained in Asia (Aedesius had now passed away), and progressed by leaps and bounds in every kind of wisdom...But hearing the governor was giving a warm reception, I took my shiniest clothes, fresh from the tailor, and my unmatched shoes, and showed myself out.

“'The first I met were a torch-bearer, a hierophant, and others of the initiated, hailing Dinias before the judge, and protesting that he had called them by their names, though he well knew that, from the time of their sanctification, they were nameless, and no more to be named but by hallowed names; so then he appealed to me.' 'Dinias?' I put in; 'Who is Dinias?' 'Oh, he's a dance-for-your-supper carry-your-luggage rattle- your-patter gaming-house sort of man; eschews the barber, and takes care of his poor chest and toes.' 'Well,' said I, 'paid he the penalty in some wise, or showed a clean pair of heels?' 'Our delicate goer is now fast bound. The governor, regardless of his retiring disposition, slipped him on a pair of bracelets and a necklace, and brought him acquainted with stocks and boot. The poor worm quaked for fear, and could not contain himself, and offered money, if so he might save his soul alive.”

Homeric Hymn to Dionysus

Dionysus mosaic from Pella

“I will tell of Dionysus, the son of glorious Semele, how he appeared on a jutting headland by the shore of the fruitless sea, seeming like a stripling in the first flush of manhood: his rich, dark hair was waving about him, and on his strong shoulders he wore a purple robe. Presently there came swiftly over the sparkling sea Tyrsenian1 pirates on a well-decked ship —a miserable doom led them on. When they saw him they made signs to one another and sprang out quickly, and seizing him straightway put him on board their ship exultingly; for they thought him the son of heaven-nurtured kings. They sought to bind him with rude bonds, but the bonds would not hold him, and the withes fell far away from his hands and feet: and he sat with a smile in his dark eyes. [Source: Anonymous. “The Homeric Hymns and Homerica” translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Homeric Hymns. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914]

Then the helmsman understood all and cried out at once to his fellows and said: “Madmen! what god is this whom you have taken and bind, strong that he is? Not even the well-built ship can carry him. Surely this is either Zeus or Apollo who has the silver bow, or Poseidon, for he looks not like mortal men but like the gods who dwell on Olympus. Come, then, let us set him free upon the dark shore at once: do not lay hands on him, lest he grow angry and stir up dangerous winds and heavy squalls.”

“So said he: but the master chid him with taunting words: “Madman, mark the wind and help hoist sail on the ship: catch all the sheets. As for this fellow we men will see to him: I reckon he is bound for Egypt or for Cyprus or to the Hyperboreans or further still. But in the end he will speak out and tell us his friends and all his wealth and his brothers, now that providence has thrown him in our way.”

Asclepius, the Healing God

Asclepius was the Healing God. Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “The son of Apollo by a mortal woman, Asclepius was taken by his divine father at birth and apprenticed to a wise centaur (a mythical creature, half man and half horse). This centaur, whose name was Chiron, taught Asclepius the healing arts so that he could reduce the sufferings of mortals. With his miraculous cures, Asclepius quickly earned great fame. Motivated by compassion, he even succeeded in restoring the dead to life. But this proved his undoing. Hades complained to Zeus that if this were allowed to continue, the natural order of the universe would be subverted. Zeus agreed and struck Asclepius down with a thunderbolt. In some versions of the story, Asclepius was transformed into a star after his death. [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.]


“Asclepius was an immensely popular god, originally in Greece but later also in Rome. By the fourth century before the common era, he had established a number of sanctuaries in Greece, the most important ones being in Cos and Epidauros. Early in the third century B.C., his cult was brought to Rome after the city had been struck by a plague. Asclepius's medical knowledge and divine healing powers fostered two distinct traditions within the Greek world. On the one hand, he served as a divine mentor to the doctors who treated patients at his sanctuary at Cos. On the other hand, at the sanctuary of Epidauros, the god performed miraculous cures in response to the direct petitions of suppliants.

“In the early Roman imperial era, Asclepius assumed an even greater religious importance. He had become a savior god. The physically or emotionally afflicted received long-term care and guidance at his sanctuaries, and in return they devoted themselves to his worship and service.

“The most famous of devotee of Asclepius during the Roman imperial period was the rhetor and sophist (professional public speaker) Aelius Aristides. Having just embarked on his public career, Aristides was stricken by a complete physical and mental breakdown. After seeking the help of another god to no avail, he visited the shrine of Asclepius in his adoptive city of Smyrna.

“During this visit, the god appeared to Aristides in a dream-vision, and this encounter changed his life. Asclepius not only prescribed treatments for his chronic bouts of illness, the god also offered guidance for the conduct of all aspects of his life. Thereafter, Aristides placed himself and his career under the god's protection, making numerous extended visits to the renowned Asclepius sanctuary in Pergamon. In his autobiographical narrative of his numerous encounters with the god, Aristides reveals his special relationship with Asclepius by most often addressing the god as "Savior."

Asclepius: A Model for Jesus?

L. Michael White of the University of Texas at Austin told PBS: “When Christians talked about salvation we have to understand how a pagan would have heard that term. Salvation actually is a term of healing. It's medical, and it apparently was understood to mean deliverance from disease and death. Healing, magic, medical cures are part of the Jesus tradition going way back to ... the early gospel sources, and it continues to be a very important part of Christian tradition. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

Asclepius visiting Hippocrates in Kos

One of the most prominent scenes in all the catacombs is of Jesus as healer. Jesus as magician. This is really something very important within the Roman culture, and apparently health and disease were very important issues all around. It's often suggested that the mortality rate among members of Roman cities might have been as high as fifty percent of all children born died within the first five years of life. So death and disease were all around....

“One of the most popular deities of all is Asclepius, the healing God, and it's often suggested that Jesus is kind of modeled after a new or a younger Asclepius. Asclepius is often portrayed in some ways similar to Zeus as this great, old bearded god and he also has his wife or consort. Her name is Hygeia. Her name means health in Greek, and so the worship of Asclepius the healer and of health personified as his wife are very prominent cults. Indeed, the equivalent of hospitals for ancient society was really the temple of Asclepius, and we see these in a number of places around the Greek and Roman world. ...[T]he Asclepius cult, very much like Christianity and some of the other new religions of the Greco-Roman world, was a portable cult. You could have temples of Asclepius almost anywhere. Anywhere you're willing to have one built and pay for it.

“[W]hat happened in a temple of Asclepius was that one went there to take the cures. It was kind of like a spa. You could go and sleep in the temple. They call that incubating in the temple, and bathe in their ritual baths and offer incense and prayers and buy sacrifices from the cult priests. In order to try to get the god to perform a healing, and it's interesting that we have a mixture of real medicine. That is, real scientific medical practice going on side-by-side with these religious magical kinds of healing practices. So the ancients really thought of the two things going very much hand in hand and everyone knew about Asclepius. He was one of the most important gods around. After all, who else could give you health?”

Eros, Pan, Eros and Other Greek Gods

Eros (Cupid) was Aphrodite's winged son. He took great pleasure in shooting arrows of love into the hearts of unsuspecting victims, who then fell in love with the first person they saw. Eros drew great enjoyment and was often beside him with laughter over trouble he caused.

20120219-Eros Guido_Reni_020.jpg
One story involving Cupid begins with Psyche, the beautiful daughter of a mortal king. She was so beautiful that Aphrodite was beside herself with jealousy and called in Cupid to strike her with an arrow so she would fall in life with some low life man. Instead Cupid fell in love with Psyche and brought her to his palace. She was eventually made immortal.

Nike is the Greek goddess of victory and a companion of Athena. The chairman of the shoe company Nike, Philip Knight, originally wanted to name the company Dimension Four but was convinced by another employee to call it Nike.

Pan was the god of flocks and pastures and was the son of Hermes. He was greatly loved by small animals. Pan looked like a satyr but actually wasn’t and he made an effort to help travelers harassed by satyrs (the word “panic” was derived from the shock that travelers felt when Pan first appeared and was mistaken for a satyr). Pan was a gentle creature known for his beautiful pipe playing.

Triton was the trumpeter of the sea. Aeolus was the god of the wind. The Nymphs were goddesses of nature. The Naiads were water nymphs. The Erinyes were the avenging goddesses.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

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 September 2018

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