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

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

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

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

Ancient Greek Myths

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

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

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

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

Greek Gods and Creation

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

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

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

Creation, Sex and the Titans

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

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

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

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

Mt. Olympus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important Greek Gods

20120219-Zeus Antikensammlu.JPG
Zeus (Jupiter to Romans) was the supreme god.

Poseidon (Neptune to Romans) was the god of the sea and brother of Zeus.

Hades (Pluto to the Romans) was god of the Underworld and brother of Zeus.

Hestia was the goddess of hearth and home and sister of Zeus

Hera (Juno to Romans) was the god of marriage and the wife of Zeus.

Hephaestus (Vulcan to Romans) was the god of fire and blacksmiths. He was the son of Hera

Ares (Mars to Romans) was the god of war and the son of Zeus.

Athena (Minerva and Pallas Athene to Romans) was the god of wisdom and skills, and the favorite daughter of Zeus.

Apollo (Apollo to Romans) was the god of the sun, light and music and the son of Zeus.

Aphrodite (Venus to Romans) was the goddess of love and daughter of Zeus.

Hermes (Mercury to Romans) was the god of traveling, merchants and thieves, an escort of the dead, and a messenger of the gods. He was also a son of Zeus.

Artemis (Diana to Romans) was the goddess of hunting, wild nature and newborn children. She was the twin sister of Apollo.

Eros (Cupid) was Aphrodite's son.

Demeter (Ceres to Romans) was the goddess of fertility and harvest.

Dionysus (Bacchus to Romans) was the god of drama, dance, music, fertility and wine.

Hercules (Hercules to Romans)


Zeus was the supreme god, thunder 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.”

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. 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.

How Zeus Became the Supreme God

Zeus was the son of Cronus and Rhea. 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.”

Hades and Poseidon

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.

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

Hestia, Hephaestus, Ares and Hera

Vulcan (Hephaestus)
Hestia was the goddess of hearth and home and sister of Zeus. Not much is mentioned about her. Hera (Juno to Romans) was the god of marriage. She was Zeus's beautiful his wife and queen as well as his sister. 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.

Hephaestus (Vulcan to Romans) was the god of 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. 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.


20120219-Apollo.jpg Apollo (Apollo to Romans) was the god of the sun, light and music. 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.

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.


20120219-Mercury Wenceslas_Hollar.jpg 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.

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.


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.

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.

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. μ

Dionysus Cult

20120219-Dancing_maenad_Python_BM_VaseF2.jpg 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,μ]

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

Ancient Greek Goddesses

On the four main Greek goddesses, art critic Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times, “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]

20120219-Diane Titian_012.jpg
Diana by Titian
"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.

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. 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 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. 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.

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.

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).

Aphrodite, Love and Sex

Aphrodite (Venus to Romans) was the god 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.

Venus and Adonis
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.

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." A temple that honored her in Corinth employed 1,000 hospitality girls (prostitutes) and the verb "to Corinthize" later became synonymous with sexual immorality.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Eros, Demeter and the Muses

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.

Demeter (Ceres to Romans) was the goddess of fertility and 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" See Persephone in the Underworld Under Myths

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).

Other Greek Gods

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.

Greek Gods Today

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

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

20120219-Assembly_of_Gods_around Zeus.jpg
Assembly of Gods around Zeus

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

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Most of the information about Greco-Roman science, geography, medicine, time, sculpture and drama was taken from "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. Most of the information about Greek everyday life was taken from a book entitled "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum [||].

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2012

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