Greek Gods and Goddesses
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The Titans, also referred to as the “Elder Gods,” are the gods and goddesses who flourished before the Olympian gods (the Olympians are the gods we are most familiar with). Enormous beings with incredible strength, the Titans ruled the world for ages before the age of man. The Titans are considered “primordial” gods, meaning they are the most basic embodiment of some natural force, like the earth, the sky, ocean, moon, or sun.
Mother Goddess and Father God
Gaea (gai-ah)—she is the earth goddess. She mated with her son, Uranus, whom she created out of nothing, and they created the other Titans. We still use the word “gaia” to mean the earth or an earth mother.
Uranus—he is the sky god. Son and wife of Gaea, he is the father of many of the Titans. The planet Uranus is named after him.
First Generation Titans
Chronus (crow-nuhs)—the ruler of the Titans and father of many of the Olympian gods and goddesses. Chronos means “time” in Greek.
Rhea (REE-uh)—the wife of Chronus. Considered the “mother of the gods” because she gave birth to the Olympians.
Oceanus (osheeANus)—he is the unending sea around the world. Our word “ocean” comes from him.
Tethys (TEE-thus)—the wife of Oceanus. She and Oceanus produced all the world’s rivers and the ocean nymphs.
Hyperion—the Titan of light. He is the father of the sun, moon, and dawn.
Thea—the wife of Hyperion. She is the mother of Helios (the sun), Selene (the moon), and Eos (the dawn). She is associated with brightness.
Mnemosyne (neMO-seenee)—the Titan of memory. She is the mother of the Muses.
Themis (THEE-mis)—the Titan of divine law and order. She is the mother of the Fates.
Iapetus—the Titan of mortal life. He is the father of Epimetheus, Prometheus, and Atlas, three of the second generation Titans.
Phoebe—the Titan of the moon.
Second Generation Titans
Helios (HEE-lios)—the sun.
Eos (ee-ahs)—the dawn.
Selene (suh-LEE-nee)—the moon.
Leto—Titan of motherhood and a protector of the young. She is the mother of Artemis and Apollo, two of the Olympian gods.
Asteria—Titan of oracles, prophetic dreams, astrology, and necromancy. She is the mother of Hecate (HEH-ka-tee).
Astreus (ah-STRAY-us)—god of the stars, astronomy, and astrology.
Pallas—Titan of war.
Perses—Titan of destruction. Father of Hecate.
Metis (mee-tis)—Titan of wisdom and knowledge.
Prometheus (pro-MEE-thee-us)—his name means “forethought.” He created humans along with his brother Epimetheus. Fortunately for Prometheus, he sided with the Olympians during the great battle between the Titans and the Olympians. Unfortunately, he tricked Zeus on a number of occasions and was punished severely for it.
Epimetheus—his name means “afterthought” and, predictably, he is not very smart. But he helped create humans with Prometheus.
Atlas—he holds the world up by his shoulders. He fought with the Titans in the big battle with the Olympians and was their fiercest warrior, and Zeus punished him for his betrayal by making him hold the world. The word atlas, which is a book of maps, comes from this god’s name. He held up the world, and an atlas shows pictures of the world.
The Titans and Olympians at War
The war between the two races of gods was an epic battle, but eventually the Olympians won and banished most of the Titans to Tartarus, a particularly awful place in the underworld.
The Olympians then became the preeminent gods and goddesses in the Greek world. When we in the modern world think of “Greek mythology” we think of the Olympian gods and all of their stories.
Olympian Gods and Goddesses
Zeus—king of the gods
- He is the most powerful of the gods
- The god of the sky and weather—he wields a thunderbolt
- The god of law and order and fate
- He fathered many children, both by his wife Hera and mortal women
- His bird is the eagle
- His tree is the oak
- Depicted as a regal man with a black beard
The Symbolism of a God’s Animal or Tree
The animal of a god or goddess means that animal is sacred to the god in some way. Some gods can turn into their animal and some gods are fond of their animal for some reason—Artemis loves the stag because she is a hunter/forest goddess. Some animals are sacred because they represent an aspect of that god; for example, Zeus’s animal is the eagle because Zeus is god of the sky and eagles are the “kings” of the sky.
The tree of a god or goddess follows the same concept as the animal. It either represents something about the god/goddess or it is a favorite for some reason. Zeus’s tree is the oak because it is strong and mighty like the king of the gods.
Harry Potter Connection!
In the Harry Potter world, the stag is Harry’s patronus, a special animal, being associated with his father. Hawkes the Phoenix is a special animal to Dumbledore, and one could say that it is his ‘sacred’ animal. If an artist were to depict Dumbledore in the style of the ancient Greeks, he might have Fawkes perched on his shoulder.
Poseidon—god of the sea and waters of the earth
- Second only to Zeus in order of power
- He creates earthquakes
- God of horses and the bull—he gave the first horse to man
- He is depicted holding a trident and surrounded by sea creatures
Hades—god of the Underworld and the dead
- After defeating the Titans, Hades and his brothers Zeus and Poseidon drew lots to see who would rule the heavens. Zeus won and Hades was forever stuck with the Underworld
- Since so many precious metals and gems are buried in the earth, he is also known as the God of Wealth
- He rarely comes to earth and is also known as the “Unseen One.” Although the god of the underworld, Hades is not evil, but just stuck in the gloomy underworld
- He owns the cap of invisibility
- His sacred bird is the owl
- Depicted as a dark bearded man holding a bird tipped scepter
Hera—Zeus’s wife and queen of the gods
- Hera is the goddess of married women
- Her animals are the cow and the peacock
- She is usually portrayed in stories as the jealous and vindictive wife of Zeus
- Depicted as a beautiful woman wearing a crown and holding a royal, lotus-tipped staff
Demeter (de-MEE-ter)—earth goddess of agriculture, grain, bread, and the fertility of the land
- Her daughter is Persephone (per-seh-fone-ee)
- Sacred animal is the pig—people offered it to her as a sacrifice to ensure good crops
- Depicted holding sheaves of wheat and a torch
Hestia—goddess of the hearth and home
- She did not play much of a role in stories but was important in everyday living because every house had a hearth. Meals started and ended with an offering to Hestia.
- Cities had a public hearth devoted to her which was never allowed to go out
- She is a virgin goddess and usually depicted with a veil, sometimes holding flowers or a kettle
Athena—goddess of war, wisdom, and protector of city life
- Goddess of the defensive and strategic aspects of war
- She is also the goddess of pottery, weaving, and other skilled crafts
- Athena was the first to tame horses for men to ride
- One of the three virgin goddesses, along with Hestia and Artemis
- Athena’s city is Athens and her temple, the Parthenon
- Athena’s animal is an owl
- She is depicted wearing a helmet, carrying a spear, and wearing a cloak with the image of the Medusa’s head on it. An owl usually either sits on her shoulder or on her head
Aprhodite (a-fro-DIE-tee)—goddess of love, sex, and beauty
- She is represented as beautiful and laughing
- In most stories she was the wife of Hephaestus
- The dove is her bird
- Her tree is the myrtle
- In art she is often depicted nude and accompanied by her son Eros, who we know better as Cupid
Artemis—goddess of hunting and wild animals
- Artemis is also the goddess of childbirth and the protector of young girls
- Depicted as a young girl in a short dress with a bow and arrows
- The deer and boar are her sacred animals
- Apollo is her twin brother
Mythology Connection! Artemis is the Greek goddess of the forest and wild animals with the stag as her sacred animal. The Norse goddess Freya also travels in a chariot, hers driven by cats.
Apollo—god of prophecy, oracles, music, healing, poetry, and archery
- He is a healer who taught the healing arts to humans
- God of prophecy
- His most famous oracle, given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, resides at Delphi
- He is light and truth and he utters no false words
- Apollo is associated with the sun, while his twin sister Artemis is associated with the moon
- He is represented with bow and arrow, the lyre, and the laurel
- His animal is the raven
- Depicted as a beautiful, young, beardless man
Apollo has similarities with the Norse gods Hermod and Balder and the Celtic god Lug. Like Apollo, the Norse god Hermod is a messenger god. The Norse god Balder lives in a hall where no untruth can reside. Baldur and Lug are also beautiful with a radiant light that surrounds them. Lug is a part of many stories. He gets involved with humans regularly. Lug is also the god of many aspects of human life.
Ares—god of war
- Ares is the god of a bloodthirsty kind of war
- The son of Zeus and Hera who both dislike him
- In one famous story he is Aphrodite’s lover
- He is represented by a helmet, spear and shield
- His animals are the vulture and the dog
- Depicted as a mature bearded man
Hephaestus (heh-FIE-stus)—god of fire
- A brilliant craftsman, especially with metalwork
- In some stories he was cast out of Olympus by Hera and/or Zeus because of his infirmity
- Represented by the ax and anvil
- His forge is deep in the earth, usually in volcanoes
- He is kindly and peace loving
- Loved by the people and important in the cities, because he is the god of artisans
- Depicted as lame and ugly and riding a donkey
- Also the god of many other things: travel, hospitality, heralds, trade, thieves, writing, cunning, athletic contests, astronomy, and astrology
- He is the guide into the Underworld for the dead
- Graceful and swift
- He wears winged sandals on his feet and carries a wand with the symbol of the Caduceus on it
- The most cunning of the gods, and also a thief
- Hermes appeared regularly in stories because he was very resourceful and the other gods asked him for help
- Depicted in art with his winged sandals and a traveler’s cloak
Dionysus (die-o-NIE-sus)—god of wine.
- He is a demi-god (half-god), son of Zeus and a mortal woman Semele
- The god of celebration and ecstasy and intoxication
- Represented by ivy and vines
- Dionysus is the youngest of the gods and usually accompanied by Satyrs or his female followers, the Mainids
Eros (air-ros)—god of love. We know him better as Cupid, his Roman name
Hebe (hee-bee)—goddess of youth. Married to Heracles
Iris—goddess of the rainbow
The Muses—the nine Muses are the daughters of Zeus and the Titan Mnemosyne (Titan of Memory).
- The goddesses of song, music, dance, and poetry
- The Muses were the source of inspiration for artists. Artists still refer to the muses today. They often say, “I’m waiting for my muse” or something similar. It means they are waiting for inspiration
- Depicted as beautiful young women
The Muses are…
Clio—muse of history
Calliope (cal-IO-pee)—epic poetry
Polyhymnia—songs to the gods
Euterpe (yoo-TER-pee)—lyric poetry
The Graces—the daughters of Zeus and the Titan Eurynome (yur-IN-nah-mee), the Titan of Water, Meadows, and Pasturelands.
- The goddesses of beauty, grace, festivity, dance, song, and goodness
- The Graces attend Aphrodite and Hera
- They are always depicted together, usually holding hands
The Graces are…
Aglaia (ah-GLI-uh)—represents splendor
Euphrosyne (yoo-FRO-seh-nee)—represents mirth
Thalia—represents good cheer
The Fates—the goddesses of fate
- Assign people their fate or destiny
- Associated with weaving and thread
- The Fates spin out the thread of a person’s life. When a person dies, the Fates will cut the thread and become goddesses of death
- Depicted as old women, ugly, and stern
The Fates are…
Clotho (klo-tho)—spins the thread of life and carries a spindle.
Lachesis (LACK-eh-sis)—measures the thread of life, assigning each person his destiny. She carries a staff.
Atropos (A-tro-pos)—cuts the thread of life. She carries scales and a cutting instrument.
Other Gods of the Water
Pontus—the primordial sea god and father of the sea creatures.
Nereus (nee-ree-us)—“Old man of the sea” and god of the fish. Shape-shifter. Depicted as an old man with a staff and sometimes with a fish tail.
Triton—son of Poseidon and also his herald. Depicted with a fish tail and a conch shell trumpet.
Proteus—Poseidon’s son. Herdsman of the seals. Also a shape-shifter.
Naiads—fresh water nymphs.
Other Gods of the earth
Pan—god of the wilds, shepherds, hunting, and rustic music.
- Also called the god of panic because his rustic music and wildness excited panic
- Plays pipes of reed
- He loves the wood nymphs, but they do not always return his affections
- Depicted as a man with legs, horns, and tail of a goat
Other Gods of the Underworld
Persephone (per-SEH-fone-ee)—Demeter’s daughter. Goddess of spring growth. She is the queen of the Underworld for half of the year.