Pantheon Of Gods and Goddesses, Heroes and Heroines,
Goodies and Baddies and Lots Of People You May Not Have Heard
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This made a lot of people very angry, and has been widely regarded as a bad idea." - Douglas Adams
Unless otherwise stated all entries are from William Smith's 1867 Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
Before the seas, and this terrestrial ball,
And Heav'n's high canopy, that covers all,
One was the face of Nature; if a face:
Rather a rude and indigested mass:
A lifeless lump, unfashion'd, and unfram'd,
Of jarring seeds; and justly Chaos nam'd.
No sun was lighted up, the world to view;
No moon did yet her blunted horns renew:
Nor yet was Earth suspended in the sky,
Nor pois'd, did on her own foundations lye:
Nor seas about the shores their arms had thrown;
But earth, and air, and water, were in one.
Thus air was void of light, and earth unstable,
And water's dark abyss unnavigable.
From The Creation of the World by Ovid
Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth.
And Eros, fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them.
From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus.
And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods.
And she brought forth long Hills, graceful haunts of the goddess-Nymphs who dwell amongst the glens of the hills. She bare also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, Pontus, without sweet union of love.
But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys.
After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.
From The Theogony of Hesiod
The Greek pantheon was established as early as the Homeric epoch. The many divinities of which it was composed generally appear in the Iliad and the Odyssey with their characteristic physiognomy, their traditional attributes and their own time-honoured legends. But the poet tells us nothing of their origin or their past. At the most he mentions that Zeus is the son of Cronus and says incidentally that Ocean and his spouse Tethys were the creators of gods and living beings.
It was only later that the Greeks felt the need to provide their gods with a genealogy and a history: Hesiod's poem, the Theogony, written in about the eighth century B.C., is the oldest Greek attempt at mythological classification. While recounting the origin of the gods, recalling their chief adventures and establishing their relationships, he also claims to explain the formation of the universe. The poem is thus as much a cosmogony as a theogony. A reflection of popular beliefs, the Theogony of Hesiod had, in Greece, a kind of official recognition.
From the sixth century B.C., however, until the beginning of the Christian era other theogonies were elaborated under the influence of Orphic doctrines; and these theogonies departed widely from the traditions of Hesiod. But the Orphic theogonies were never popular.
The first group of beings to come into existence at the beginning of the universe were the Protogenoi - First Born or Primeval and they form the very fabric of the universe and are immortal. The Protogenoi are the gods from which all the other gods descend.
Chaos The Protogenos of the lower air.
Phanes or Himeros The Protogenos of Procreation and the personification of longing love
Phusis The Protogenos of the origin and ordering of nature or Creation
Erebos The Protogenos of the mists of darkness.
Aither The Protogenos of the mists of light
Hemera The Protogenos of the day and the daughter of Erebos and Nyx and the sister-wife of Aither.
Nyx The Protogenos and personification of night.
Ananke The Protogenos of inevitability, compulsion and necessity.
Chronos The Protogenos of time was the very first being to emerge at creation self-formed.
Gaia The Protogenos of Mother Earth. She emerged at the beginning of creation to form the foundation of the universe.
The Nesoi the Protogonoi, goddesses and the personification, of the Islands were said to have been Ourea cast into the sea by Poseidon with his trident or that their rocky forms broke off from Gaia and sunk into the seas.
It was believed that each island had its own deity that personified the island and that their parents were Gaia and Ouranos. Asteria, mother of Hecate who fled from Zeus, jumped into the sea and became the island of Delos.
Ouranos the Protogonoi of the sky or heavens, and known as the god of the sky.
Thetys the Protogonoi of the Sea, Beaches, Islands, Fishing, Harbours. She created the coral and silver and also represents the 4th month. She is also the Titaness of Nursing and Underground Flow of Fresh Water.
Oceanos is the Protogonoi the great earth-encircling, fresh-water river. Also he was the Second King of the Sea, water Element, shape shifting, psychism, personification of the sixth month. Okeanos was the eldest son of Gaia and Ouranos and was the unending body of water flowing around and encircling the world, bounding it on all sides.
Tartaros the Protogonoi is both a deity and a place in the underworld.
The Gods on Olympus
High on Mount Olympus, the gods formed a society with its own laws and hierarchy. First came the twelve great gods and goddesses: Zeus, Poseidon, Hephaestus, Hermes, Ares and Apollo, Hera, Athene, Artemis, Hestia, Aphrodite and Demeter. Beside them were ranged other divinities, some of whom did not relinquish pride of place to the great twelve. Such were Helios, Selene, Leto, Dione, Dionysus, Themis and Eos.
Then, of a lower rank, forming as it were the courtiers of the Olypians and sworn to their service, came: the Horae, the Moerae, Nemesis, the Graces, the Muses, Iris, Hebe, Ganymede. It must be pointed out that Hades, although a brother of Zeus, did not frequent Olympus and, with the goddesses Persephone and Hecate, remained in his subterranean empire.
Over this society Zeus reigned as sovereign ruler. If at times the they were tempted by rebellious impulses they were quickly reduced to obedience. In Homer we see how Zeus speaks to them:
'Let no god, let no goddess attempt to curb my will. . . or I shall seize him and cast him into darkest Tartarus. Then will he recognise how much mightier am I than all the gods! Come, then, try it, 0 gods! And you will discover with whom you have to deal. Hang from the heavens a golden chain and attach yourselves all, godsand goddesses, to it, and no matter how hard you strive, you will not drag Zeus in his supreme wisdom from the sky down to earth. But when, afterwards, I begin to pull I shall draw you, you and the earth and the sea together, I shall draw you up and roll the chain around the summit of Olympus and you will all remain there suspended in the air.'
Without quite carrying out this threat Zeus nevertheless inflicted severe penalties on gods who had displeased him. For instance he would make them serve as slaves to mortals; such was the fate of Poseidon and Apollo. Therefore the gods did not resist him and even the irascible Hera counselled prudence.
'Foolish that we are to lose our tempers with Zeus... He sits apart and neither worries nor is disturbed; for he boasts of being incontestably superior to the immortal gods in might and power. So resign yourselves. '
Above the gods, however, and above Zeus himself hovered a supreme power to whom all were subject: Moros, or Destiny.
Son of the Nyx the primordial goddess of the night, Moros, invisible and dark like his mother, prepared his decrees in the shadows and extended his inescapable dominion over all. Zeus himself could not set aside his decisions and had to submit to them like the humblest mortal. He had, moreover, no desire to set aside the decisions of Destiny; for, being himself Supreme Wisdom, he was not unaware that in upsetting the destined course of events he would introduce confusion into the universe it was his mission to govern. Thus, even when it was a matter of saving the life of his own son Sarpedon, the hour of whose death the Fates had marked down, Zeus preferred to bow his head and let what was ordained be fulfilled.
The days of the gods passed in merrymaking and laughter. Sometimes, when they intervened in the affairs of men whose quarrels they enthusiastically adopted, the gods would disagree. But these passing storms did not affect the normal serenity of Olympus.
Seated around their golden tables the gods dined on celestial nectar and ambrosia, and savoured the rising fragrance of fatted cattle which mortals burned in their honour on their altars below.
Even when Zeus called them together in counsel on the topmost peak of Olympus where he resided. the fair Hebe would move among them pouring nectar, and the golden cups would pass from hand to hand. While they drank, Apollo would delight them with the harmony of his lyre and the Muses would sing in turn in their sweet voices.
Finally, when the brilliant torch of the sun had disappeared the gods would take their leave and return to the dwelling Hephaestus had built with wondrous cunning for each of them, there to rest and repose.
If the gods' daily life resembled that of men it was because, at least in appearance, their natures were not dissimilar. Their bodies were like mortal bodies, but superior in stature, strength and beauty. Ares' body, stretched on the ground, covered a length of seven plethra - wen over two hundred yards - and when Hera from the heights of Olympus swore by the Styx, she could touch the earth with one hand and with the other reach the seas. In the case of the gods, however, blood was replaced by a more fluid substance, the ichor, which rendered the body imperishable and incorruptible. This did not prevent the gods from being vulnerable to weapons used by men. But their wounds, no matter how painful, always healed and their bodies retained eternal youth.
Another privilege which the gods enjoyed was the power of metamorphosis, to change themselves if they wished into animals or even to take on the aspect of inanimate objects.
Like mortals the gods were subject to human passions. They were accessible to love, hate, anger, even to envy. They cruelly punished an who aroused their enmity, but showered favours on those who revered and honoured them with gifts.
Mount Olympus is situated in the north-east of Thessaly, and is about 6,000 feet high; on its summit which rises above the clouds of heaven, and is itself cloudless, Hephaestus had built a town with gates, which was inhabited by Zeus and the other gods. The palace of Zeus contained an assembly hall, in which met not only the gods of Olympus, but those also who dwelt on the earth or in the sea. This celestial mountain must indeed be distinguished from heaven; but as the gods lived in the city which rose above the clouds and into heaven, they lived at the same time in heaven, and the gates of the celestial city were at the same time regarded as the gates of heaven.
The Twelve Olympians
were the principal gods of the Greek pantheon, residing atop Mount Olympus. There were, at various times, fourteen different gods recognized as Olympians, though never more than twelve at one time.
Hestia gave up her position as an Olympian to Dionysus in order to live among mankind, eventually she was assigned the role of tending the fire on Mount Olympus.
Persephone spent six months of the year in the underworld, causing winter, and was allowed to return to Mount Olympus for the other six months in order to be with her mother, Demeter.
And, although Hades was always one of the principal Greek gods, his home in the underworld of the dead made his connection to the Olympians more tenuous.
The Olympians gained their supremacy in the world of gods after Zeus led his siblings to victory in war with the Titans; Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Hestia, and Hades were siblings; all other Olympians (with the exception of foam-born Aphrodite) are usually considered the children of Zeus by various mothers, except for Athena, who was possibly born of Zeus alone.
Additionally, it is also possible that Hephaestus was born of Hera alone as Hera's revenge for Zeus's solo birth of Athena.
Zeus is the highest ranking and most powerful god, the ruler of Mount Olympus greatest of the Olympian gods, and the father of gods and men, was a son of Cronus and Rhea, a brother of Poseidon, Hades (Pluto), Hestia, Demeter, Hera, and at the same time married to his sister Hera. When Zeus and his brothers distributed among themselves the government of the world by lot, Poseidon obtained the sea, Hades the lower world, and Zeus the heavens and the upper regions, but the earth became common to all.
Poseidon, together with Hades is one of the two
next most senior gods, controlling the oceans the god of the
Mediterranean sea. His name seems to be connected with Trorauos,
according to which he is the god of the fluid element.
He was a son of Cronos and Rhea (whence he is called Kpovios and by Latin poets Saturnius.) He was accordingly a brother of Zeus, Hades, Hera, Hestia and Demeter, and it was determined by lot that he should rule over the sea.
Hades is the second of the next most senior gods,
taking care of all souls after they leave the earth
The god of the lower world; Plato observes that people preferred calling him Pluton (the giver of wealth) to pronouncing the dreaded name of Hades or Aides. Hence we find that in ordinary life and in the mysteries the name Pluton became generally established, while the poets preferred the ancient name Aides or the form Pluteus.
Athena is the goddess of wisdom, the arts, inner beauty, education and war and one of the great divinities of the Greeks. Homer calls her a daughter of Zeus, without any allusion to her mother or to the manner in which she was called into existence, while most of the later traditions agree in stating that she was born from the head of Zeus. According to Hesiod, Metis, the first wife of Zeus, was the mother of Athena, but when Metis was pregnant with her, Zeus, on the advice of Gaea and Uranus, swallowed Metis up, and afterwards gave birth himself to Athena, who sprang from his head.
Ares is the god of war and heroes and the son of
A later tradition, according to which Hera conceived Ares by touching a certain flower, appears to be an imitation of the legend about the birth of Hephaestus, and is related by Ovid. Athena represents thoughtfulness and wisdom in the affairs of war, Ares, on the other hand, is nothing but the personification of bold force and strength, and not so much the god of war as of its tumult, confusion, and horrors.
Artemis is the goddess of the hunt, animals,
fertility and chastity.
Her name is usually derived from uninjured, healthy, vigorous; according to which she would be the goddess who is herself inviolate and vigorous, and also grants strength and health to others. According to the Homeric account and the Theogony of Hesiod she was the daughter of Zeus and Leto. She was the sister of Apollo, and born with him at the same time in the island of Delos.
Hephaestus is the god of fire, worksmanship, artisans and weaponry was, according to the Homeric account, the son of Zeus and Hera The Romans, when speaking of the Greek Hephaestus, call him Vulcan or Vulcanus, although Vulcanus was an original Italian divinity.
Apollo is the god of dance, music, healing and medicine, archery and reason. The son of Leto by Zeus, had Artemis as his slightly older twin sister. They were born on the island of Delos under the shade of the only tree that grew on it, a palm. The Roman traveler Pausanias said that there was a symbolic bronze palm tree in the sanctuary of Apollo when he visited Delos in the second century AD. Apollo was also the god of music, fine arts, poetry and eloquence. Like his sister, Artemis, was a hunter.
Aphrodite is the goddess of love, committed sexuality, outer beauty and attraction, and some traditions stated that she had sprung from the foam of the sea, which had gathered around the mutilated parts of Uranus, that had been thrown into the sea by Cronus after he had unmanned his father.
Hera, the consort of Zeus, and the goddess of marriage, sacrifices and fidelity. Zeus himself listened to her counsels, and communicated his secrets to her rather than to other gods. Hera also thinks herself justified in censuring Zeus when he consults others without her knowing it; but she is, notwithstanding, far inferior to Zeus in power: she must obey him unconditionally and she is chastised by him when she has offended him.
The Romans identified their goddess Juno with the Greek Hera.
Hestia is the goddess of the home, family and the hearth and a daughter of Cronus and Rhea. She was the first-born daughter of Rhea, and was therefore the first of the children that was swallowed by Cronus. She was, like Artemis and Athena, a maiden divinity, and when Apollo and Poseidon sued for her hand, she swore by the head of Zeus to remain a virgin for ever. Originally listed as one of the Twelve Olympians, Hestia gave up her seat in favour of Dionysus to tend to the sacred fire on Mount Olympus.
Demeter is the goddess of the earth, flowers and plants, food, preservation of marriage and agriculture and she and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries that also predated the Olympian pantheon. The Roman equivalent is Ceres. Demeter is easily confused with Gaia or Rhea. The goddess's epithets reveal the span of her functions in Greek life. Demeter and Kore ("the maiden") are usually invoked as to theo "The Two Goddesses", and they appear in that form at Mycenaean Pylos in pre-Hellenic times.
The youthful, beautiful, but effeminate god of wine. He is also called both by Greeks and Romans Bacchus, that is, the noisy or riotous god, which was originally a mere epithet or surname of Dionysus, but does not occur till after the time of Herodotus.