Ancient Greek Goddesses

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Venus (Aphrodite), Ceres (Demeter) and Juno (Hera)

Major Greek Goddesses:
1) Hestia was the goddess of hearth and home and sister of Zeus.
2) Hera (Juno to Romans) was the god of marriage and the wife of Zeus.
3) Athena (Minerva and Pallas Athene to Romans) was the god of wisdom and skills, and the favorite daughter of Zeus.
4) Aphrodite (Venus to Romans) was the goddess of love and daughter of Zeus.
5) Artemis (Diana to Romans) was the goddess of hunting, wild nature and newborn children. She was the twin sister of Apollo.
6) Demeter (Ceres to Romans) was the goddess of fertility and harvest.

On the four main Greek goddesses, New York Times art critic Holland Cotter wrote: “Like most gods in most cultures they are moody, contradictory personalities, above-it-all in knowledge but quick to play personal politics and intervene in human fate...Athena comes on as a striding warrior goddess, armed and dangerous, avid as a wasp, in a tiny bronze statuette from the fifth century B.C. This is the goddess who, in “The Iliad,” egged the Greeks on and manipulated their victory against Troy, and the one who later became the spiritual chief executive of the Athenian military economy.Yet seen painted in silhouette on a black vase, she conveys a different disposition. She’s still in armor but stands at ease, a stylus poised in one hand, a writing tablet open like a laptop in the other. The goddess of wisdom is checking her mail, and patiently answering each plea and complaint.” [Source: Holland Cotter, New York Times, December 18, 2008]

"Artemis is equally complex. A committed virgin, she took on the special assignment of protecting pregnant women and keeping an eye on children, whose carved portraits filled her shrines. She was a wild-game hunter, but one with a deep Franciscan streak. In one image she lets her hounds loose on deer; in another she cradles a fawn. But no sooner have we pegged her as the outdoorsy type than she changes. On a gold-hued vase from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg she appears as Princess Diana, to use her Roman name, crowned and bejeweled in a pleated floor-length gown.

"Demeter was worshiped as an earth goddess long before she became an Olympian. Her mystery cult had female priests, women-only rites and a direct line to the underworld. And although you might not expect Aphrodite, paragon of physical beauty, to have a dark side, she does. She was much adored; there were shrines to her everywhere. And she had the added advantage of being exotic: she seems to have drifted in from somewhere far east of Greece, bringing a swarm of nude winged urchins with her. But as goddess of love she was unreliable, sometimes perverse. Yes, she brings people amorously together, but when things go wrong, watch out: “Like a windstorm/Punishing the oak trees,/Love shakes my heart,” wrote the poet and worshiper of women, Sappho.

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

Hera and the Muses

Juno (Hera) and Jupiter (Zeus)

Hera (Juno to Romans) was the god of marriage. She was Zeus's beautiful his wife and queen as well as his sister, which automatically made her Queen of the gods. Being the goddess of marriage was a challenging task given the roving eye of her husband. It is no surprise that she was accused of being jealous.. At first she turned down Zeus's request to be his wife but was eventually won her over after Zeus pretended to be a helpless bird trapped in a fierce thunderstorm. Hera was very jealous of Zeus' other wives and lovers and went to great lengths to give them a hard time. Hera was often worshiped by women. She is frequently depicted wearing a tall crown or polos. Hestia was the goddess of hearth and home and another sister of Zeus. Not much is mentioned about her.

The Muses were the goddesses of arts and sciences and the keepers of the Arts. The Greeks believed the Goddess of Memory (Mnemosyne) gave birth to all nine Muses and was the mother of the arts. The nine daughters of King Pierus once challenged the muses to a singing contest and lost. For their boldness the nine daughters were punished by being turned into magpies, birds capable of screeching out only one monotonous note. The nine Muses are: 1) Epic poetry (Calliope), 2) History (Clo), 3) Flute Playing (Euterpe), 4) Tragedy (Melpomene), 5) Dancing (Terposchore), 6) the Lyre (Erato), 7) Sacred Song (Polyhymnia), 8) Astronomy (Urania), and 9) Comedy (Thalia).

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

Muses in Hesoid’s Theogeny

Hesoid’s Theogeny is the source of many of the stories and characterizations of the Greek gods and goddesses 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.

“(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.

Nine Muses and their attributes

Creation of Women: from Hesoid’s Theogeny

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.”

Athena, the Helper of Mankind

Athena (Pallas Athene to the Greeks and Minerva to Romans) was one of the most important Greek deities and of particular importance because of her associated with Athens. She was the goddess of wisdom and skills, the patron goddess of Athens, and the daughter of Zeus and the goddess Metis, believed to be the wisest deity. For a while she was the goddess of war. She was often depicted wearing a helmet, armor and carrying a thunderbolt-producing aegis like her father. In matters of war, she proved to be a better negotiator than fighter.

Athena typically appears in full armor with her aegis (a goat skin with a snaky fringe), helmet, and spear. The owl and the olive tree were sacred to her. Athena also looked after arts and crafts (technology) and was regarded as the guardian of the working woman and patroness of weaving and carpentry.

Athena was of one of Zeus’s favorite children. She was born in an unusual way: emerging fulling grown from a growth on Zeus's head. After Zeus swallowed Mentis, who was pregnant at the time, he thought he would absorb her wisdom. He was wrong. Instead he was inflicted with terrible headaches. Hoping to give his father some relief, Hephaestus opened Zeus skull and out popped out Mentis's child, Athena. On earth, Athena greatly helped mankind get on with their lives: she invented the plow, taught men how to yoke oxen, instructed women how spin and weave and helped shipbuilders, potters, goldsmiths and shoemakers. See Athens and the Parthenon

Athena had a hand in many Greek myths. She helped Hercules on his adventures, she helped guide the Argonauts to the Golden Fleece, and she gave Perseus a shield that helped him slay the Medusa. During the Trojan War she acted as a counselor. After the war she helped guide Odysseus.

Athena participated in wars but unlike her half-brother Ares, who she loathed, she sided with armies that were fighting for just causes. During peacetime, she was a patron of the arts. As the patron god of Athens she was often in the company of Nike, the spirit of victory. Athens is named after her and the Parthenon is a temple built in her honor (nearby is a smaller temple honoring Nike).

Temple of Athena – the Parthenon — in the A.D. 2nd Century


Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): “As you enter the temple that they name the Parthenon, all the sculptures you see on what is called the pediment refer to the birth of Athena, those on the rear pediment represent the contest for the land between Athena and Poseidon. The statue itself is made of ivory and gold. On the middle of her helmet is placed a likeness of the Sphinx--the tale of the Sphinx I will give when I come to my description of Boeotia--and on either side of the helmet are griffins in relief.[1.24.6] These griffins, Aristeas1 of Proconnesus says in his poem, fight for the gold with the Arimaspi beyond the Issedones. The gold which the griffins guard, he says, comes out of the earth; the Arimaspi are men all born with one eye; griffins are beasts like lions, but with the beak and wings of an eagle. I will say no more about the griffins. [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]

The statue of Athena is upright, with a tunic reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medusa is worked in ivory. She holds a statue of Victory about four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear; at her feet lies a shield and near the spear is a serpent. This serpent would be Erichthonius. On the pedestal is the birth of Pandora in relief. Hesiod and others have sung how this Pandora was the first woman; before Pandora was born there was as yet no womankind. The only portrait statue I remember seeing here is one of the emperor Hadrian, and at the entrance one of Iphicrates,1 who accomplished many remarkable achievements.

“Opposite the temple is a bronze Apollo, said to be the work of Pheidias. They call it the Locust God, because once when locusts were devastating the land the god said that he would drive them from Attica. That he did drive them away they know, but they do not say how. I myself know that locusts have been destroyed three times in the past on Mount Sipylus, and not in the same way. Once a gale arose and swept them away; on another occasion violent heat came on after rain and destroyed them; the third time sudden cold caught them and they died. Such were the fates I saw befall the locusts.

“By the south wall are represented the legendary war with the giants, who once dwelt about Thrace and on the isthmus of Pallene, the battle between the Athenians and the Amazons, the engagement with the Persians at Marathon and the destruction of the Gauls in Mysia. Each is about two cubits, and all were dedicated by Attalus. There stands too Olympiodorus, who won fame for the greatness of his achievements, especially in the crisis when he displayed a brave confidence among men who had met with continuous reverses, and were therefore in despair of winning a single success in the days to come.

recreation of Phidias's giant Athena statue in the Parthenon

“Near the statue of Olympiodorus stands a bronze image of Artemis surnamed Leucophryne, dedicated by the sons of Themistocles; for the Magnesians, whose city the King had given him to rule, hold Artemis Leucophryne in honor.But my narrative must not loiter, as my task is a general description of all Greece. Endoeus1 was an Athenian by birth and a pupil of Daedalus, who also, when Daedalus was in exile because of the death of Calos, followed him to Crete. Made by him is a statue of Athena seated, with an inscription that Callias dedicated the image, but Endoeus made it. There is also a building called the Erechtheum. Before the entrance is an altar of Zeus the Most High, on which they never sacrifice a living creature but offer cakes, not being wont to use any wine either. Inside the entrance are altars, one to Poseidon, on which in obedience to an oracle they sacrifice also to Erechtheus, the second to the hero Butes, and the third to Hephaestus. On the walls are paintings representing members of the clan Butadae; there is also inside — the building is double — sea-water in a cistern. This is no great marvel, for other inland regions have similar wells, in particular Aphrodisias in Caria. But this cistern is remarkable for the noise of waves it sends forth when a south wind blows. On the rock is the outline of a trident. Legend says that these appeared as evidence in support of Poseidon's claim to the land.

“Both the city and the whole of the land are alike sacred to Athena; for even those who in their parishes have an established worship of other gods nevertheless hold Athena in honor. But the most holy symbol, that was so considered by all many years before the unification of the parishes, is the image of Athena which is on what is now called the Acropolis, but in early days the Polis (City). A legend concerning it says that it fell from heaven; whether this is true or not I shall not discuss. A golden lamp for the goddess was made by Callimachus. Having filled the lamp with oil, they wait until the same day next year, and the oil is sufficient for the lamp during the interval, although it is alight both day and night. The wick in it is of Carpasian flax,1 the only kind of flax which is fire-proof, and a bronze palm above the lamp reaches to the roof and draws off the smoke. The Callimachus who made the lamp, although not of the first rank of artists, was yet of unparalleled cleverness, so that he was the first to drill holes through stones, and gave himself the title of Refiner of Art, or perhaps others gave the title and he adopted it as his.

“In the temple of Athena Polias (Of the City) is a wooden Hermes, said to have been dedicated by Cecrops, but not visible because of myrtle boughs. The votive offerings worth noting are, of the old ones, a folding chair made by Daedalus, Persian spoils, namely the breastplate of Masistius, who commanded the cavalry at Plataea1, and a scimitar said to have belonged to Mardonius. Now Masistius I know was killed by the Athenian cavalry. But Mardonius was opposed by the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) and was killed by a Spartan; so the Athenians could not have taken the scimitar to begin with, and furthermore the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) would scarcely have suffered them to carry it off. About the olive they have nothing to say except that it was testimony the goddess produced when she contended for their land. Legend also says that when the Persians fired Athens the olive was burnt down, but on the very day it was burnt it grew again to the height of two cubits.Adjoining the temple of Athena is the temple of Pandrosus, the only one of the sisters to be faithful to the trust. I was much amazed at something which is not generally known, and so I will describe the circumstances. Two maidens dwell not far from the temple of Athena Polias, called by the Athenians Bearers of the Sacred Offerings. For a time they live with the goddess, but when the festival comes round they perform at night the following rites. Having placed on their heads what the priestess of Athena gives them to carry — neither she who gives nor they who carry have any knowledge what it is — the maidens descend by the natural underground passage that goes across the adjacent precincts, within the city, of Aphrodite in the Gardens. They leave down below what they carry and receive something else which they bring back covered up. These maidens they henceforth let go free, and take up to the Acropolis others in their place. By the temple of Athena is .... an old woman about a cubit high, the inscription calling her a handmaid of Lysimache, and large bronze figures of men facing each other for a fight, one of whom they call Erechtheus, the other Eumolpus; and yet those Athenians who are acquainted with antiquity must surely know that this victim of Erechtheus was Immaradus, the son of Eumolpus. On the pedestal are also statues of Theaenetus, who was seer to Tolmides, and of Tolmides himself, who when in command of the Athenian fleet inflicted severe damage upon the enemy, especially upon the Peloponnesians.”

Aphrodite, Love and Sex

Venus and Adonis
Aphrodite (Venus to Romans) was the goddess of love. Her origin is not clear. Homer wrote she was daughter of Zeus and Dione, a Titan goddess. Others stories have rising from the Poseidon’s sea on a cushion of foam (portrayed in the famous Botticelli painting as stepping out of a clamshell) and was carried to the shore by the west wind Zephyrus, who was enchanted by her beauty. Once on land, she was befriended by the Graces — goddesses of beauty — who escorted her to Mt. Olympus, where the gods, with the exception of Hera, found her so beautiful that they decided to accept her.

Aphrodite was concerned with beauty and procreation. She held a special place in the hearts of sailors. Her sacred bird is a dove or swans which drive her heavenly chariot. A temple that honored her in Corinth employed 1,000 hospitality girls (prostitutes) and the verb "to Corinthize" later became synonymous with sexual immorality. Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “The daughter of Zeus by yet another minor female deity, Aphrodite was the personification of female beauty. Although all of the Olympian goddesses were beautiful in their way, only Aphrodite exuded charm and seduction. Although she may have originated as a fertility goddess, she is known primarily as the goddess of love. Her devotees ranged from unmarried girls and widows, seeking to obtain husbands, to courtesans, some of whom served in her temples. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that sailors were among her most frequent worshipers! [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

Zeus like every god was so struck with her beauty he wanted her marry but Aphrodite turned him down as she had every other deity. Zeus got even by forcing her to marry his ugly son Hephaestrus (Vulcan), who built a lovely palace in Cyprus but was ultimately dumped by Aphrodite for Hephaestrus’s handsome brother Ares (Mars). One of their children was Eros (Cupid). Aphrodite’s true love was Adonis, who was killed in a boar hunt.

Aphrodite was known for helping lovers who needed her help. She gave orders to Cupid to shoot golden arrows into the hearts of lovers who wanted to get married and lent out her magic girdle that made its wearer irresistible. Her powers to induce love were such that she even made Zeus fall in love with mortals and helped Paris win the love of Helen of Troy. Myths involving her include: 1) Adonis and Aphrodite, 2) The Race of Atalanta, 3) Hero and Leander.

Origin of Aphrodite

Aphrodite is believed to be of Eastern (Asiatic) origin. Herodotus said that her oldest place of worship as Aphrodite Ourania was at Askalon in on the coast of Palestine. She has been linked to Inanna (Sumer in Mesopotamia), Ishtar (Babylon), Astarte (western Middle East, Rome), and Mylitta.

Aphrodite is widely believed to be a metamorphosis of the Babylonian God Ishtar and other earth-mother goddesses that existed before her. She was similar to other Mediterranean fertility gods like Anat of Syria. Some scholars believe she may have ultimately been Semitic in origin.

Botticelli's Birth of Venus

Aphrodite means "Foamborn" Her name is the source of the word "aphrodisiac." and this is thought to allude to two things: her birth and the "foam around semen." It is said ‘aphros’ comes ‘foam’ according to Hesiod Theogony, but this is a very ancient popular etymology, and in fact does not linguistically explain the "-dite" part of the name. [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

Places associated with Aphrodite: 1) Cyprus, the island, from which she is named Kypris Paphos a city on the Island of Cyprus; 2) Knidos a seaport in southwest Turkey (Asia Minor); and 3) Kythera an island between the Peloponnese and Crete that belonged to the Spartans and here her consort was Ares! See Separate Article on Inna and Ishtar Under Mesopotamia

Lovers, Children, Friends and Enemies of Aphrodite

Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus (Vulcan), the son of Hera and Zeus and brother of Ares (Mars). She had affairs with: 1) Ares, son of Zeus and Hera, her brother-in-law, producing the children: Eros (Cupid), Deimos ('terror') and Phobos ('fear'), Harmonia; 2) Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia, her brother-in-law, producing the child: Hermaphroditus (half male, half female); 3) Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele of Thebes, her brother-in-law, producing the child: Priapus, the god with the huge penis; and 4) Poseidon, producing the child: Eryx (who is also a mountain at the west end of Sicily, where there was a famous temple of the Semitic Aphrodite). [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

Enemies and Victims of Aphrodite: 1) Hippolytus, son of Theseus, king of Athens, and Hippolyte the Amazon queen (Euripides' play Hippolytus); 2) Tyndareus, king of Sparta, and his daughters, who were condemned to betray all their marriages with adultery. The most famous daughter was Helen of Troy, but also her sister Clytamnestra, who married Agamemnon of Mycenae (Aeschylus, Agamemnon; Sophocles, Electra, Euripides Electra). 3) Minos, king of Knossos in Crete: his wife Pasiphae (mother of Ariadne and Phaedra) was made to fall in love with a bull, from which came the Minotaur (the Bull of Minos).

Friends of Aphrodite: 1) Anchises, a Trojan prince (son of Capys, son of Assaracus, son of Tros), which produced AENEAS the first 'Founder' of Rome and ancestor of the Julian Family (Julius Caesar, the Emperor Augustus).; 2) Adonis, killed by a boar (son of Myrrha); 3) Ammuz, or Dumuzi, who is in the Sumerian king list as the predecessor of Gilgamesh as king of Erech (Uruk). He would thus belong ca. 3000/2800 B.C. Gilgamesh mentions his fate in the epic.

Artemis and Her Cult

Artemis (Diana to Romans) was the goddess hunting, wild nature and newborn children. The twin sister of Apollo and daughter of Zeus, she appealed to her father to be freed from the obligations of marriage and allowed to remain a wild maiden, hunting in the woods. Zeus agreed and gave Artemis 50 nymphs and packs of hunting dogs as companions. In the forest she found four deer with golden antlers and harnessed them to her golden chariot.

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. She often carried a bow and quiver. Artemis could be just as cruel as her brother. Once she was spotted naked, bathing with her nymphs, by a mortal. Outraged at being found in such a state, she turned the mortal into a stag and ordered her dogs to devour him.

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo. Their mother was Leto, one of the many goddesses seduced by Zeus. Like Apollo, Artemis was a goddess of the hunt. She is usually depicted as a kind of tomboy in short tunic, carrying a bow and arrows. Also like her brother, who was associated with the light of the sun, Artemis was associated with the light of the moon. As such, in some regions she was also considered the protectress of the tombs of the dead. Very different in origin and appearance is Artemis of Ephesus, whose immense temple came to be known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and whose ardent worshipers form the backdrop for one of the most dramatic encounters in the Book of Acts. This Artemis was a goddess of fertility and fecundity, who probably traveled to the area in and around Ephesus from barbarian regions further east.” [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

Artemis was sometimes described as an eternal virgin. Her origins can be traced as far back as Babylon and she may even have evolved from Stone Age earth mothers goddesses that dominated primitive cultures before the Greeks popularized male gods. Artists throughout history have been fascinated with Diana's image. A Raphael painting of her graces the Vatican and a sculpture by a modern Brooklyn artist gave her four buttocks as well as eight pairs of breasts.

Artemis was worshiped throughout most of Europe and the Mediterranean during ancient times and she still has followers today. Statues of her have endowed her with a dozen and half breasts on her chest and bees on her skirt. Some scholars believe the breasts are ova on sacred bees. None of the breasts on the early statues had nipples however, which led one classical scholar to venture they were actually bull's testes.

A large temple devoted of Diana (Artemis) in Ephesus (present-day Turkey) the was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and drew large numbers of pilgrims. Images of Diana and her temple were sold on the streets of Ephesus like miniature Eiffel towers and Statues of Liberty are sold today. During the festival of Artemis images of Diana were placed on the steps of her temple for worshipers to kiss.

Hymn III: To Artemis

Diana (Artemis)

Callimachus (310-240 B.C.), a poet and scholar from Libya, wrote: “Artemis we hymn – no light thing is it for singers to forget her – whose study is the bow and the shooting of hares and the spacious dance and sport upon the mountains; beginning with the time when sitting on her father’s knees – still a little maid – she spake these words to her sire: “Give me to keep my maidenhood, Father, forever: and give me to be of many names, that Phoebus may not vie with me. And give me arrows and a bow – stay, Father, I ask thee not for quiver or for mighty bow: for me the Cyclopes will straightway fashion arrows and fashion for me a well-bent bow. But give me to be Bringer of Light and give me to gird me in a tunic with embroidered border reaching to the knee, that I may slay wild beasts. And give me sixty daughters of Oceanus for my choir – all nine years old, all maidens yet ungirdled; and give me for handmaidens twenty nymphs of Amnisus who shall tend well my buskins, and, when I shoot no more at lynx or stag, shall tend my swift hounds. And give to me all mountains; and for city, assign me any, even whatsoever thou wilt: for seldom is it that Artemis goes down to the town. On the mountains will I dwell and the cities of men I will visit only when women vexed by the sharp pang of childbirth call me to their aid even in the hour when I was born the Fates ordained that I should be their helper, forasmuch as my mother suffered no pain either when she gave me birth or when she carried me win her womb, but without travail put me from her body.” So spake the child and would have touched her father’s beard, but many a hand did she reach forth in vain, that she might touch it. [Source: Callimachus, “Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus.” translated by A. W. and G. R. Mair, Loeb Classical Library, Volume . London: William Heinemann, ]

“And her father smiled and bowed assent. And as he caressed her, he said: “When goddesses bear me children like this, little need I heed the wrath of jealous Hera. Take, child, all that thou askest, heartily. Yea, and other things therewith yet greater will thy father give thee. Three times ten cities and towers more than one will I vouchsafe thee – three times ten cities that shall not know to glorify any other god but to glorify the only and be called of Artemis And thou shalt be Watcher over Streets and harbours.” So he spake and bent his head to confirm his words. And the maiden faired unto the white mountain of Crete leafy with woods; thence unto Oceanus; and she chose many nymphs all nine years old, all maidens yet ungirdled. And the river Caraetus was glad exceedingly, and glad was Tethys that they were sending their daughters to be handmaidens to the daughter of Leto...

“Artemis, Lady of Maidenhood, Slayer of Tityus, golden were thine arms and golden thy belt, and a golden car didst thou yoke, and golden bridles, goddess, didst thou put on thy deer. And where first did thy horned team begin to carry thee? To Thracian Haemus, whence comes the hurricane of Boreas bringing evil breath of frost to cloakless men. And where didst thou cut the pine and from what flame didst thou kindle it? It was on Mysian Olympus, and thou didst put in tit the breath of flame unquenchable, which thy Father’s bolts distil. And how often goddess, didst thou make trial of thy silver bow? First at an elm, and next at an oak didst thou shoot, and third again at a wild beast. But the fourth time – not long was it ere thou didst shoot at the city of unjust me, those who to one another and those who towards strangers wrought many deeds of sin, forward men, on whom thou wilt impress thy grievous wrath. On their cattle plague feeds, on their tilth feeds frost, and the old men cut their hair in mourning over their sons, and their wives either are smitten or die in childbirth, or, if they escape, bear birds whereof none stands on upright ankle. But on whomsoever thou lookest smiling and gracious, for them the tilth bears the corn-ear abundantly, and abundantly prospers the four-footed breed, and abundant waxes their prosperity: neither do they go to the tomb, save when they carry thither the aged. Nor does faction wound their race – faction which ravages even the well-established houses: but brother’s wife and husband’s sister set their chairs around one board.

Diana and Actaeon

“Lady, of that number be whosoever is a true friend of mine, and of that number may I be myself, O Queen. And may song be my study forever. In that song shall be the Marriage of Leto; therein thy name shall often-times be sung; therein shall Apollo be and therein all thy labours, and therein thy hounds and thy bow and thy chariots, which lightly carry thee in thy splendour, when thou drivest to the house of Zeus. There in the entrance meet thee Hermes and Apollo: Hermes the Lord of Blessing, takes thy weapons, Apollo takes whatsoever wild beast thou bringest. Yea, so Apollo did before strong Alcides came, but now Phoebus hath this task no longer; in such wise the Anvil of Tiryns stands ever before the gates, waiting to see if thou wilt come home with some fat morsel. And all the gods laugh at him with laughter unceasingly and most of all his own wife’s mother when he brings from the car a great bull or a wild boar, carrying it by the hind foot struggling. With this sunning speech, goddess, doth he admonish thee: “Shoot at the evil wild beasts that mortals may call thee their helper even as they call me. Leave deer and hares to feed upon the hills. What harm could deer and hares do? It is boars which ravage the tilth of men and boars which ravage the plants; and oxen are a great bane to men: shoot also at those.” So he spake and swiftly busied him about the mighty beast. For though beneath a Phrygian oak his flesh was deified, yet hath he not ceased from gluttony. Still hath he that belly wherewith he met Theiodamas at the plough.

Artemis and the Cyclopes

Callimachus wrote: “And straightway she went to visit the Cyclopes. Them she found in the isle of Lipara – Lipara in later days, but at the at time its name was Meligunis – at the anvils of Hephaestus, standing round a molten mass of iron. For a great work was being hastened on: they fashioned a horse-trough for Poseidon. And the nymphs were affrighted when they saw the terrible monsters like unto the crags of Ossa: all had single eyes beneath their brows, like a shield of fourfold hide for size, glaring terribly from under; and when they heard the din of the anvil echoing loudly, and the great blast of the bellows and the heavy groaning of the Cyclopes themselves. For Aetna cried aloud, and Trinacia cried, the seat of the Sicanians, cried too their neighbour Italy, and Cyrnos therewithal uttered a mighty noise, when they lifted their hammers above their shoulders and smote with rhythmic swing the bronze glowing from the furnace or iron, labouring greatly. Wherefore the daughters of Oceanus could not untroubled look upon them face to face nor endure the din in their ears. No shame to them! On those not even the daughters of the Blessed look without shuddering. Though long past childhood’s years. [Source: Callimachus, “Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus.” translated by A. W. and G. R. Mair, Loeb Classical Library, Volume . London: William Heinemann, ]

“But when any of the maidens doth disobedience to her mother, the mother calls the Cyclopes to her child – Arges or Steropes; and from within the house comes Hermes, stained with burnt ashes. And straightway he plays bogey to the child, and she runs into her mother’s lap, with her hands upon her eyes. But thou, Maiden, even earlier, while yet but three years old, when Leto came bearing thee in her arms at the bidding of Hephaestus that he might give thee handsel and Brontes set thee on his stout knees – thou didst pluck the shaggy hair of his great breast and tear it out by force. And even unto this day the mid part of his breast remains hairless, even when mange settles on a man’s temples and eats the hair away.

“Therefore right boldly didst thou address them then: “Cyclopes, for me too fashion ye a Cydonian bow and arrows and a hollow casket for my shafts; for I also am a child of Leto, even as Apollo. And if I with my bow shall slay some wild creature or monstrous beast, that shall the Cyclopes eat.” So didst thou speak and they fulfilled thy words. Straightway dist thou array thee, O Goddess. And speedily again thou didst go to get thee hounds; and thou camest to the Arcadian fold of Pan. And he was cutting up the flesh of a lynx of Maenalus that his bitches might eat it for food. And to thee the Bearded God gave two dogs black-and-white, three reddish, and one spotted, which pulled down very lions hen they clutched their throats and haled them still living to the fold. And he gave thee seven Cynosurian bitches swifter than the winds - that breed which is swiftest to pursue fawns and the hare which closes not his eyes; swiftest too to mark the lair of the stag and where the porcupine hath his burrow, and to lead upon the track of the gazelle.

“Thence departing (and thy hounds sped with thee) thou dist find by the base of the Parrhasian hill deer gamboling – a mighty herd. They always herded by the banks of the black-pebbled Anaurus – larger than bulls, and from their horns shone gold. And thou wert suddenly amazed and sadist to thine own heart: “This would be a first capture worthy of Artemis.” Five were there in all; and four thou didst take by speed of foot – without the chase of dogs – to draw thy swift car. But one escaped over the river Celadon, by devising of Hera, that it might be in the after days a labour for Heracles, and the Ceryneian hill received her.

Artemis and the Nymphs of Amnisus

Callimachus wrote: “For thee the nymphs of Amnisus rub down the hinds loosed from the yoke, and from the mead of Hera they gather and carry for them to feed on much swift-springing clover, which also the horses of Zeus eat; and golden troughs they fill with water to be for the deer a pleasant draught. And thyself thou enterest thy Father’s house, and all alike bid thee to a seat; but thou sittest beside Apollo. [Source: Callimachus, “Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus.” translated by A. W. and G. R. Mair, Loeb Classical Library, Volume . London: William Heinemann, ]

“But when the nymphs encircle thee in the dance, near the springs of Egyptian Inopus or Pitane – for Pitane too is thine – or in Limnae or where, goddess, thou camest from Scythia to dwell, in Alae Araphenides, renouncing the rites of the Tauri, then may not my kine cleave a four-acred fallow field for a wage at the hand of an alien ploughman; else surely lame and weary of neck would they come to the byre, yea even were they of Stymphaean breed, nine years of age, drawing by the horns; which kine are far the best for cleaving a deep furrow; for the god Helios never passes by that beauteous dance, but stays his car to gaze upon the sight, and the lights of day are lengthened.

“Which now of islands, what hill finds most favour with thee? What haven? What city? Which of the nymphs dost thou love above the rest, and what heroines hast thou taken for thy companions? Say, goddess, thou to me, and I will sing thy saying to others. Of islands, Doliche hath found favour with thee, of cities Perge, of hills Taygeton, the havens of Euripus. And beyond others thou lovest the nymph of Gortyn, Britomartis, slayer of stags, the goodly archer; for love of whom was Minos of old distraught and roamed the hills of Crete. And the nymph would hide herself now under the shaggy oaks and anon in the low meadows. And for nine months he roamed over crag and cliff and made not an end of pursuing, until, all but caught, she leapt into the sea from the top of a cliff and fell into the nets of fishermen which saved her. Whence in after days the Cydonians call the nymph the Lady of the Nets (Dictyna) and the hill whence the nymph leaped they call the hill of Nets (Dictaeon), and there they set up altars and do sacrifice. And the garland on that day is pine or mastich, but the hands touch not the myrtle. For when she was in flight, a myrtle branch became entangled in the maiden’s robes; wherefore she was greatly angered against the myrtle. Upis, O Queen, fair-faced Bringer of Light, thee too the Cretans name after that nymph.

“Yea and Cyrene thou madest thy comrade, to whom on a time thyself didst give two hunting dogs, with whom the maiden daughter of Hypseus beside the Iolcian tomb won the prize. And the fair-haired wife of Cephalus, son of Deioneus, O Lady, thou madest thy fellow in the chase; and fair Anticleia, they say, thou dist love even as thine own eyes. These were the first who wore the gallant bow and arrow-holding quivers on their shoulders; their right shoulders bore the quiver strap, and always the right breast showed bare. Further thou dist greatly commend swift-footed Atalanta, the slayer of boars, daughter of Arcadian Iasius, and taught her hunting with dogs and good archery. They that were called to hunt the boar of Calydon find no fault with her; for the tokens of victory came into Arcadia which still holds the tusks of the beast. Nor do I deem that Hylaeus and foolish Rhoecus, for all their hate, in Hades slight her archery. For the loins, with whose blood the height of Maenalus flowed, will not abet the falsehood.

Artemis, Lady of Many Shrines

Callimachus wrote: “Lady of many shrines, of many cities, hail! Goddess of the Tunic, sojourner in Miletus; for thee did Neleus make his Guide, when he put off with his ships from the land of Cecrops. Lady of Chesion and of Imbrasus, throned in the highest, to thee in thy shrine did Agamemnon dedicate the rudder of his ship, a charm against ill weather, when thou didst bind the winds for him, what time the Achaean ships sailed to vex the cities of the Teucri, wroth for Rhamnusian Helen. [Source: Callimachus, “Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus.” translated by A. W. and G. R. Mair, Loeb Classical Library, Volume . London: William Heinemann, ]

reconstruction of the Temple of Diana, one the Seven Wonders of the World

“For thee surely Proetus established two shrines, one of Artemis of Maidenhood for that thou dist gather for him his maiden daughters, when they were wandering over the Azanian hills; the other he founded in Lusa to Artemis the Gentle, because thou tookest from his daughters the spirit of wildness. For thee, too, the Amazons, whose mind is set on war, in Ephesus beside the sea established an image beneath an oak trunk, and Hippo performed a holy rite for thee, and they themselves, O Upis Queen, around the image danced a war-dance – first in shields and armour, and again in a circle arraying a spacious choir. And the loud pipes thereto piped shrill accompaniment, that they might foot the dance together (for not yet did they pierce the bones of the fawn, Athena’s handiwork, a bane to the deer). And the echo reached unto Sardis and to the Berecynthian range. And they with their feet beat loudly and therewith their quivers rattled.

“And afterwards around that image was raised a shrine of broad foundations. That it shall dawn behold nothing more divine, naught richer. Easily would it outdo Pytho. Wherefore in this madness insolent Lygdamis threatened that he would lay it waste, and brought against it a host of Cimmerians which milk mares, in number as the sand; who have their homes hard by the Straits of the cow, daughter of Inachus. Ah! foolish among kings, how greatly he sinned! For not destined to return again to Scythia was either he or any other of those whose wagons stood in the Caystrian plain ; for thy shafts are ever more set as a defence before Ephesus.

“O Lady of Munychia, Watcher of Harbours, hail, Lady of Pherae! Let none disparage Artemis. For Oeneus dishonoured her altar and no pleasant struggles came upon his city. Nor let any content with her in shooting of stags or in archery. For the son of Atreus vaunted him not that he suffered small requital. Neither let any woo the Maiden; for not Otus, nor Orion wooed her to their own good. Nor let any shun the yearly dance; for not tearless to Hippo was her refusal to dance around the altar. Hail, great queen, and graciously greet my song.”



Demeter (Ceres to Romans) was the goddess of agriculture, fertility and the harvest. She was the sister of Zeus and the mother of Persephone, who was greatly loved by everyone, filling Olympus with joy and causing flowers to bloom on earth. Demeter was popular on Earth because of her association with crops and harvests. A large festival was held in her honor around harvest time. Some of the rituals were so secret we have no idea what they were. Ceres is the source of the word "cereal"

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Of the twelve original Olympian deities, Demeter was probably the one who most affected the lives and fortunes of common people. She was the goddess of fertility and of the fruits of the harvest. She was worshipped throughout the Greek world and remained important to her Greek subjects even in the Roman imperial era. She had the reputation of being accessible to the needs of mortals, on whom she bestowed the benefits of the earth's abundance. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“Her primary sanctuary was at Eleusis, in the country beyond the outskirts of Athens. And her cult centered on the reenactment of a story by means of which the Greeks explained the mysteries of the agricultural seasons — how the earth's vegetation seemed to die in winter, only to be reborn again every spring.

“In addition to two yearly festivals in which the end of the harvest and the renewal of the planting were commemorated, a major festival was celebrated every five years. The principal object of this festival was the public veneration of Demeter and, for those who qualified, the celebration of her mysteries. Although Romans generally were not admitted to these secret rites, the goddess wisely permitted a few. We know of at least two emperors who were initiated into her mysteries and who supported her cult with material gifts.Since the proceedings of these mysteries and their rituals remained secret, historians do not know exactly what transpired. It is known, however, that those who participated were granted some assurance of the continued favor of the goddess, both in this life and the next.”

See Persephone in the Underworld Under Myths

Demeter Procession in Hermione

On a Demter procession, in Hermione, a coastal town in Argolis in the Peloponnese, Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book II: Cornith: “The object most worthy of mention is a sanctuary of Demeter on Pron. This sanctuary is said by the Hermionians to have been founded by Clymenus, son of Phoroneus, and Chthonia, sister of Clymenus. But the Argive account is that when Demeter came to Argolis, while Atheras and Mysius afforded hospitality to the goddess, Colontas neither received her into his home nor paid her any other mark of respect. His daughter Chthoia disapproved of this conduct. They say that Colontas was punished by being burnt up along with his house, while Chthonia was brought to Hermion by Demeter, and made the sanctuary for the Hermionians. [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]

Demeter mourning Persephone

“At any rate, the goddess herself is called Chthonia, and Chthonia is the name of the festival they hold in the summer of every year. The manner of it is this. The procession is headed by the priests of the gods and by all those who hold the annual magistracies; these are followed by both men and women. It is now a custom that some who are still children should honor the goddess in the procession. These are dressed in white, and wear wreaths upon their heads. Their wreaths are woven of the flower called by the natives cosmosandalon, which, from its size and color, seems to me to be an iris; it even has inscribed upon it the same letters of mourning.

“Those who form the procession are followed by men leading from the herd a full-grown cow, fastened with ropes, and still untamed and frisky. Having driven the cow to the temple, some loose her from the ropes that she may rush into the sanctuary, others, who hitherto have been holding the doors open, when they see the cow within the temple, close the doors. [2.35.7] Four old women, left behind inside, are they who dispatch the cow. Whichever gets the chance cuts the throat of the cow with a sickle. Afterwards the doors are opened, and those who are appointed drive up a second cow, and a third after that, and yet a fourth. All are dispatched in the same way by the old women, and the sacrifice has yet another strange feature. On whichever of her sides the first cow falls, all the others must fall on the same.[2.35.8] Such is the manner in which the sacrifice is performed by the Hermionians. Before the temple stand a few statues of the women who have served Demeter as her priestess, and on passing inside you see seats on which the old women wait for the cows to be driven in one by one, and images, of no great age, of Athena and Demeter. But the thing itself that they worship more than all else, I never saw, nor yet has any other man, whether stranger or Hermionian. The old women may keep their knowledge of its nature to themselves.”

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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