Olympians Part 12 – Hephaestus

Hephaestus is the god of blacksmiths and fire. Called “the celestial artificer,” he was also associated with other craftsmen (sculptors, carpenters, metalworkers) and, as evident in the name of his Roman counterpart Vulcan, with volcanoes. Even though an ugly god lamed by his own mother, he was the husband of none other than Aphrodite herself.

Hephaestus’ Role

Hephaestus’ Name

It is not known what the name Hephaestus means. However, since it’s similar to few pre-Greek toponyms (Phaistos), it is supposed that Hephaestus is a very old deity.

Hephaestus’ Portrayal and Symbolism

He is arguably the most extraordinary member of the Olympian Pantheon. Bearded and ugly, stocky and lame, he neither possesses the physical flawlessness of the other gods nor does he stimulate the fitting respect. Sometimes he is depicted with an oval cap and almost always with a hammer and an anvil.

Hephaestus’ Epithets

The epithets most commonly associated with Hephaestus are far from flattering: “the lame one” and “the halting.” He is also sometimes referred to as “shrewd” and habitually as the “Aetnaean,” since his workshop was believed to be located under Mount Aetna.

Hephaestus’ Family and Difficult Childhood

Son of Zeus and Hera

Homer says that Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera. However, he is unclear whether he was born lame or whether he was lamed after his father threw him from Olympus for intervening on behalf of his mother during a quarrel between Zeus and Hera.

Hephaestus Hated by His Mother

Hesiod, however, claims that Hephaestus is solely Hera’s child and that she gave him birth by parthenogenesis to get back at her husband who had done the same with Athena. In this version of the story, after bringing him to the world, Hera was so disgusted with Hephaestus’ looks and ashamed of his deformity that she was the one who threw him out. Hephaestus was severely hurt from the fall, but he was rescued by Thetis and Eurynome, who sheltered him in a cave under the Ocean for the following nine years.

Hephaestus’ Revenge on Hera

Later on, Hephaestus got his revenge. He made a golden throne, so beautiful that Hera accepted it right away. However, the minute she sat on it, she was all tied up by the numerous delicately fashioned cords invisible to anyone’s eyes but their creator’s. Many gods tried to persuade Hephaestus to free Hera, promising him a place on Olympus in return. However, he was unremorseful and released his mother only when Dionysus got him drunk.

Hephaestus as a Craftsman

Just like Hera’s golden throne, Hephaestus’ creations were masterworks.

Hephaestus’ Architectural Wonders

No one but him was able to build the beautiful, indestructible bronze mansions where all the other Olympians lived. Crafty and cunning, he added a distinctive element here and there, such as the secure doors of Hera’s chamber which no other god but her could open.

Hephaestus’ Automata

In the “Iliad,” Homer tells us something even more fascinating. Namely, that Hephaestus had fashioned for himself handmaidens of gold, who were able to understand him, speak to him and assist him. And they weren’t the only creations of this kind. Among other automata, Hephaestus sculpted golden dogs to guard the palace of Alcinous and Talos, a giant bronze man to protect Crete. Some even say that, at the request of Zeus, he also sculpted the first mortal woman, Pandora.

Hephaestus’ Arms and Armor

Finally, Hephaestus was the creator of some of the most stunning pieces of military equipment ever seen. Most famously, as a favor to Thetis, he created the shield of Achilles, whose five bronze layers he masterfully engraved with scenes representing almost all aspects of life. But he was also the one who made the scepter of Agamemnon, the breast-plate of Diomedes, and the sword of Peleus.

Hephaestus’ Women and Children

For an ugly god, Hephaestus couldn’t have fared much better when it comes to women.

Hephaestus and Aphrodite

Most commonly, his wife is said to have been none other than Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty herself. However, she wasn’t very faithful to him, sleeping with Ares behind his back. One day, Hephaestus caught the lovers and trapped them in a fine-woven chain-net, after which he called upon the other gods to laugh at their shame. Poseidon persuaded him to free the adulterers, but Hephaestus wasn’t done. When Ares and Aphrodite’s daughter Harmonia married Cadmus, he gifted her a magical necklace which would bring misfortune to her and everyone who will afterward wear it.

Hephaestus and Aglaea

Other authors say that Hephaestus was married to Aglaea, the youngest of the Graces. She gave him four children: Eucleia, Euthenia, Eupheme, and Philophrosyne.

Hephaestus and Athena

One time, Hephaestus tried to force himself upon Athena. Athena managed to escape on time, so Hephaestus’ seed fell on the earth and impregnated Gaea, who afterward gave birth to Erichthonius, an early ruler of Athens.

Source: https://www.greekmythology.com/Olympians/Hephaestus/hephaestus.html

Olympians Part 11 – Hestia

Hestia was the Greek virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and hospitality. In Greek mythology, she is the eldest daughter of Cronus and Rhea. In her role as a protector of the family and political community, sacrifices and offerings were regularly made to Hestia at the hearth within each private home and at the town or city‘s public hearth. To the Romans, the goddess was known as Vesta.


In the Greek myths, Hestia’s parents were Cronus and Rhea and so her younger siblings were Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, and Hades. Cronus, paranoid that one of his own children would overthrow his rule, swallowed them all. Zeus, however, was saved by his mother when she gave her husband a rock wrapped in cloth instead of the infant who later returned and made his father cough up his siblings. Hestia never married and remained a virgin, despite the amorous attentions of Apollo, Poseidon, and Priapus, the fertility god.

The Greek goddess was the only one to not join the Olympians in their failed attack on Zeus. In some lists, Hestia is one of the 12 Olympian gods but more commonly her place is taken by Dionysos. In some myths the goddess voluntarily relinquishes her place amongst the gods on Mount Olympus, swapping with Dionysos because she prefers to withdraw from godly affairs and is sure of a fond welcome in any mortal city she chooses. Being a somewhat housebound god, Hestia does not get into any entertaining adventures in Greek mythology, rather, she seems to have taken the role of a senior goddess aloof from the other gods and their all-too-human weaknesses.

The Hearth in Greek Culture

The goddess was the personification of the hearth and so she received sacrifices in all the temples of the gods as each one had its own hearth. By tradition, Hestia received any sacrifices before the other gods, even at such places as Olympia where Zeus was honoured. Hestia also received the first and last libations of wine offering at any feast and was usually mentioned first in any prayers and oaths. For this reason, there developed a saying ‘to begin from Hestia.’ In mythology, the honour of receiving the first sacrifice was given by Zeus when Hestia swore that she would always remain a virgin.

Within a Greek house, the hearth was usually a portable brazier but it symbolised the heart and soul of the household and came to represent its centre. The hearth was thus the focal point for many activities, not just cooking. A birth ceremony involved carrying the baby around the hearth, brides and slaves new to the household were showered in nuts and figs before it, and following the death of a family member, the hearth might be put out and relit again (a practice common in Argos). At everyday meals, a token offering might also be made to Hestia by throwing it into the hearth. The goddesses personification as the hearth also linked her to ideas of hospitality, the protection of guests, and the inventor of good housebuilding.

Besides individual homes, Hestia was particularly associated with the prytaneion and bouleuterion, the symbolic centre of a town or city where civic functions were held and the business of local government was carried out. Here there was usually a hearth which was a tradition dating back to Mycenaean Greece when the king’s throne and reception room in his palace, the megaron, had a large hearth. The later town’s hearth was continuously maintained by the community, typically by unmarried women selected for that purpose. The goddess received sacrifices at this communal hearth each time a new magistrate began and ended their term of office and before council sessions. Curiously, following the failed invasion of Greece by the Persians in the 5th century BCE, Delphi – in many ways the religious heart of the Greek city-states – ordered that all communal hearths be extinguished because they were now considered impure. The hearths were then relit using purified flames taken from the hearth at Delphi.

Cults to the Goddess

Public worship of Hestia was especially prevalent in Attica with notable cults at Piraeus, Eleusis, Halimos, and Krokonidai. Some cults, for example at Naukratis and Kos, forbade women to participate in rituals related to Hestia at the communal hearth due to its connection with the political life of the city (which only men could participate in). Priests and priestesses specifically dedicated to Hestia seem to have been particularly prevalent from the Hellenistic period. In the Roman period, Hestia, now known as Vesta, continued to be worshipped, for example at Ephesus where the high priest was a female.

Hestia in Art

As Hestia has no particular mythology surrounding her, she does not appear very often in Greek art, and when she does, she can be difficult to distinguish from other goddesses, especially as she does not carry an easily identifiable object associated with her. She is usually presented as a young female wearing a head covering and modest clothing, and sometimes she is pouring a libation, as in a c. 500 BCE red-figure kylix now in the Berlin Staatliche Museen which shows her in the company of Apollo and Hermes as they lead Hercules to Mount Olympus.

She appears on the celebrated Francois Vase (570-565 BCE) and, this time named, on the north frieze of the Siphinian Treasury at Delphi (c. 525 BCE) where she and an unidentified goddess face two giants in hoplite uniform. Hestia may be a seated figure in the group from the east pediment of the Parthenon, but the marble statue is incomplete and so it is difficult to identify with certainty. Another possible appearance is the so-called ‘Hestia Giustiniani’ – a standing female with a veiled head and suitably austere peplos dress – but this could also be Hera or Demeter. The figure, standing 1.9 metres (6.2 ft) tall, is a copy of an original made around 470 BCE and can be seen at the Villa Albani in Rome.


Olympians Part 10 – Hermes

Hermes was the ancient Greek god of trade, wealth, luck, fertility, animal husbandry, sleep, language, thieves, and travel. One of the cleverest and most mischievous of the Olympian gods, he was the patron of shepherds, invented the lyre, and was, above all, the herald and messenger of Mt. Olympus so that he came to symbolise the crossing of boundaries in his role as a guide between the two realms of gods and humanity. To the Romans, the god was known as Mercury.

Origins & Family

Hermes has a very long history, being mentioned in the Linear B tablets of the Mycenaean civilization, at its height from the 15th to 13th century BCE. Such tablets have been discovered at Pylos, Thebes, and Knossos. With origins, then, as an Arcadian fertility god who had a special love for the Peloponnese, the ancient Greeks believed Hermes was the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia (daughter of the Titan Atlas) and that he was born on Mt. Cyllene in Arcadia. In mythology, Hermes was also the father of the pastoral god Pan and Eudoros (with Polymele), one of the leaders of the Myrmidons, although the god was not given a wife in any Greek myth. The idea that Hermes represented movement is reflected in his role as the leader of both the Nymphs and Graces (Charites).

Hermes & the Gods

Noted for his impish character and constant search for amusement, Hermes was one of the more colourful gods in Greek mythology. While still a baby, he stole his half-brother Apollo‘s herd of 50 sacred cattle from Pieria, cleverly reversing their hoofmarks by adding bark shoes to make it difficult to follow their tracks. Hermes, therefore, became associated with thieves and he managed to keep the stolen herd of cattle until the satyrs finally discovered it in a cave in Arcadia. After a hearing before Zeus and the Olympian gods, Hermes was permitted to hold on to the herd (now down to 48 as he had already sacrificed two of them) if he gave Apollo his lyre. The episode illustrates the god’s link with both physical and moral boundaries and crossing them, and may have a basis in historical events, as here described by the famed expert on Greek mythology Robert Graves:

A tradition of cattle raids made by the crafty Messenians on their neighbours, and of a treaty by which these were discontinued, seems to have been mythologically combined with an account of how the barbarous Hellenes took over and exploited, in the name of their adopted god Apollo, the Creto-Helladic civilizations which they found in Central and Southern Greece. (66)

As messenger and herald, particularly for Zeus, Hermes is involved in many mythological episodes. Perhaps most celebrated was his killing of the many-eyed (some accounts say 100-eyed) monster Argos on the orders of Zeus in order to free Io. Hermes also freed Ares from his year-long imprisonment in a cauldron by the twin Giants Otus and Ephialtes. One of his most famous regular roles was as a leader of souls to the river Styx in the underworld, where the boatman Charon would take them to Hades. Hermes was also known as something of a trickster, stealing at one time or another Poseidon’s trident, Artemis’ arrows, and Aphrodite’s girdle.

Hermes & the Heroes

Hermes figures in the Trojan War of the Mycenaean period, as told by Homer in the Iliad. Although in one lengthy passage he acts as counsellor and guide to the Trojan King Priam in his attempt to reclaim the body of his fallen son Hector, Hermes actually supports the Achaeans in the Trojan War. The god is most often described by Homer as ‘Hermes the guide, slayer of Argos’ and ‘Hermes the kindly’. Hermes gives particular help to Odysseus, especially on his long return voyage to Ithaca (as told in Homer’s Odyssey), for example, giving him an antidote to the spells of Circe. Another hero helped by the god was Perseus, Hermes giving him an unbreakable sword or sickle (harpe) of adamantine and guiding him to the three Graeae who would reveal the location of Medusa.

Inventions & Associations

Hermes was credited with inventing fire, the alphabet, dice (actually knucklebones) – and so he was worshipped by gamblers in his capacity as god of luck and wealth, and musical instruments, in particular, the lyre – made from a tortoiseshell by the god. Hermes was regarded as the patron of thieves and shepherds thanks to his invention of the pan pipes (syrinx). He was the patron of travellers, and stone pillars (hermae) with a phallus symbol were often to be seen set up along roadsides to act as guides and offer good fortune to those who passed. Hermae were particularly set up at boundaries, reminding of the god’s role as a messenger between the gods and humanity, as well as his function as a guide for the dead into the next life. In addition, Hermes was regarded as the patron of the home, and people often built small marble stelai in front of their doors in his honour.

Famous for his diplomatic skills, he was also regarded as the patron of languages and rhetoric. Orators regarded the god who transferred words from sender to receiver as their patron, as did interpreters (another group of boundary-crossers) and, even today, the study and interpretation of texts carries his name: hermeneutics. In the Hellenistic period, the god was often associated with gymnasia and seen as the protector of youths. Finally, the god’s Latin name, Mercury, is, of course, the name of a planet, naturally, the fastest one to orbit the sun.

Cults to the God

Hermes was honoured just about everywhere in ancient Greece but especially in the Peloponnese at Mt. Cyllene and such city-states as Megalopolis, Corinth and Argos. Athens had one of the oldest cults to the god where the Hermaia festival for young boys was held annually. Delos, Tanagra, and the Cyclades were other places where Hermes was especially popular. Finally, the god had a noted sanctuary on Crete at Kato Symi where young men about to become full citizens engaged in a two-month-long rite where they spent time cultivating homosexual relations with older men in the mountains thereabouts. Another Hermaia festival on Crete permitted slaves to temporarily take the part of their masters. Once again, Hermes’ association with crossing boundaries of all kinds is evident here.

Representation in Art

In ancient Greek Archaic and Classical art, Hermes is depicted holding the kerykeion or caduceus staff (signifying his role as a herald, the stick is either cleft or with an open figure of 8 at the top), wearing winged sandals (symbolic of his role as a messenger), a long tunic or leopard skin, sometimes also a winged cap (petasos), and occasionally with a lyre. He may also carry a ram in a nod to his role as patron of shepherds, especially in Boeotian and Arcadian art. In his association with youths, the god was often portrayed as abeardless youth holding the infant Hercules or Achilles. At the same time, his association with trade is evidenced in the seals of Delos where he carries a purse. Perhaps the most celebrated depiction of Hermes in Greek art is the magnificent statue by Praxiteles (c. 330 BCE) which once stood in the temple of Hera at Olympia and now resides in the archaeological museum of the site.


Olympians Part 9 – Aphrodite

Aphrodite was the ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty, desire, and all aspects of sexuality. She could entice both gods and men into illicit affairs with her beauty and whispered sweet nothings. Born near Cyprus from the severed genitalia of the sky god Uranus, Aphrodite had a wider significance than the traditional view as a mere goddess of love.

Worshipped by men, women, and city-state officials, Aphrodite also played a role in the commerce, warfare, and politics of ancient Greek cities. In addition, Aphrodite was honoured as a protector of those who travelled by sea and, less surprisingly, courtesans and prostitutes. The goddess’ Roman equivalent was Venus.

Birth from Uranus

In mythology, the goddess was born when Cronos castrated his father Uranus (Ouranos) with a sickle and cast the genitalia into the sea from where Aphrodite appeared amidst the resulting foam (aphros). In other versions, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, the Titaness. Hesiod recounts the first version and Homer the second, and the Greeks were troubled by such an obvious contradiction from their two great myth-makers. Indeed, Plato even came up with a theory to reconcile the two ancient authors, suggesting that there were actually two different goddesses of the same name, one to represent (in his view) the higher love between men and another to represent the love between men and women. Plato called these the ‘Heavenly Aphrodite’ and ‘Pandemic Aphrodite’ respectively.

Believed to have been born close to Cyprus, Aphrodite was especially worshipped in Paphos on the island – a geographic location which hints at her eastern origins as a fertility goddess and possible evolution from the Phoenician goddess Astarte or the Near Eastern goddess Inanna (Ishtar). The two areas of Greece and the Near East witnessed intense cultural exchange prior to the 8th-century BCE Archaic Period, and it is perhaps significant that the 5th-century BCE Greek historian Herodotus states that the most ancient cult site to Aphrodite was at Ascalon in Syria. It is also possible that the goddess derived from an entirely local Cypriot deity. The strong association with the island is evidenced in her common name, Cypris, meaning ‘of Cyprus’.

More certain than her origins is that the goddess’ birth and consequent association with the sea was manifested in the location of many coastal sanctuaries dedicated to her and several common epithets such as Aphrodite Pontia (‘of the deep sea’) and Aphrodite Euploia (‘of the fair voyage’). Aphrodite was associated with the brightest planet, Venus, and this, always a valuable navigational aid, may be another connection with ancient mariners.

Hephaistos & Ares

Compelled by Hera to marry the not-so-great catch of Hephaistos, the lame god of fire and crafts, Aphrodite was less than faithful, having notorious affairs with the gods Ares, Hermes, and Dionysos. The fling with Ares was perhaps the most shocking of the many episodes of infidelity that occurred amongst the Olympian Gods. Hephaistos, a fiendishly clever designer and engineer, manufactured a special golden bed to entrap his wife. When Aphrodite and Ares were at their most passionate, the bed sprang forth golden chains which locked the naked gods in their illicit embrace. Their embarrassment was made worse when Helios the sun god shone down his bright light upon the couple so that all the Olympians could get a good look at the disgrace. When finally freed, Ares fled to Thrace and Aphrodite back to Cyprus.

Aphrodite was considered the mother of Eros, Harmonia (with Ares), the Trojan hero Aeneas (with Anchises), Eryx the king of Sicily (with Butes the Argonaut) and, with either Dionysos or Adonis, Priapus (a gardener with huge genitals). The goddess had a large retinue of lesser deities such as Hebe (goddess of youth), the Hours, Dike, Eirene, Themis, the Graces, Aglaia, Euphrosyne, Thaleia, Eunomia, Daidia, Eudaimonia, Himeros (Desire) and Peitho (Persuasion).

Aphrodite often represented unity and concord, as well as mixis or ‘mingling’, and this may explain the goddess’ wide range of associations such as warfare and politics, arenas where disparate groups had to work together as one. She was specifically the protectress of city magistrates, too.

The Trojan War

In mythology, Aphrodite is cited as partly responsible for the Trojan War. At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Eris (goddess of strife) offered a golden apple for the most beautiful goddess. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite vied for the honour, and Zeus appointed the Trojan prince Paris as judge. To influence his decision, Athena promised him strength and invincibility, Hera offered the regions of Asia and Europe, and Aphrodite offered the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose Aphrodite and so the victorious goddess gave him fair Helen of Sparta. However, as she was already the wife of Menelaos, Paris’s abduction of Helen provoked the Spartan king to enlist the assistance of his brother Agamemnon and send an expedition to Troy to take back Helen.

Hesiod describes the goddess as ‘quick-glancing’, ‘foam-born’, ‘smile-loving’, and most often as ‘golden Aphrodite’. Similarly, in Homer’s description of the Trojan War in the Iliad, she is described as ‘golden’ and ‘smiling’ and supports the Trojans in the war. In notable episodes, Aphrodite protects her son Aeneas from Diomedes and saves the hapless Paris from the wrath of Menelaos.


One of the goddess’ most famous flings was with the beautiful Adonis. Aphrodite kept the youth safely in a chest guarded by Persephone, but the latter fell in love with him too and would not give him back to the goddess of love. Zeus was obliged to intervene, and he ruled that Adonis should spend four months of the year with each lady (and fourth months rest on his own). Tragically killed in a hunting accident, the impossibly handsome youth was transformed into a flower without scent. Aphrodite was distraught at her loss, and her grief was commemorated in a cult, the annual highlight of which was a women-only festival, the Adonia.

Representation in Art

The birth of Aphrodite from the sea (perhaps most famously depicted on the throne base of the great statue of Zeus at Olympia) and the judgment of Paris were popular subjects in ancient Greek art. The goddess is often identified with one or more of the following: a mirror, an apple, a myrtle wreath, a sacred bird or dove, a sceptre, and a flower. On occasion, she is also depicted riding a swan or goose. She is usually clothed in Archaic and Classical art and wears an elaborately embroidered band or girdle across her chest which held her magic powers of love, desire, and seductive allurement. It is only later (from the 4th century BCE) that she is depicted naked or semi-naked, such as in the Venus de Milo marble statue. The story of Aphrodite continued to interest artists, especially during the Renaissance, and she was perhaps most famously captured in Sandro Botticelli‘s 1486 painting the Birth of Venus, now in the Uffizi gallery of Florence.


Olympians Part 8 – Artemis

Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting, wild nature, and chastity. Daughter of Zeus and sister of Apollo, Artemis was a patron of girls and young women and a protectress during childbirth. She was widely worshipped but her most famous cult site was the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

In Greek mythology, Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto. Born either on Delos or Ortygia (near Ephesus in Western Turkey), she is the twin sister of the god Apollo. When she was three years old her father sat her on his lap and asked her what gifts she would like. Knowing her father’s power, the young Artemis was not shy of asking and this was her reply (one gets the impression she had been thinking about this for a while):

Pray give me eternal virginity; as many names as my brother Apollo; a bow and arrow like his; the office of bringing light; a saffron hunting tunic with a red hem reaching to my knees; sixty young ocean nymphs, all of the same age, as my maids of honour; twenty river nymphs from Amnisus in Crete, to take care of my buskins [boots] and feed my hounds when I am not out shooting; all the mountains in the world; and, lastly, any city you care to choose for me, but one will be enough, because I intend to live on mountains most of the time.

(From Callimachus’ Hymn to Artemis, quoted in Graves, 83)

Given such gifts as a silver bow made by the Cyclopes and a pack of dogs as a hunting companion from Pan, Artemis was, then, regarded as a patron goddess of hunting and wild nature and a mistress of the animals. For this reason, she is associated with wild animals like the deer and boar (especially young ones), forests, and the moon. As a goddess of chastity, childbirth, and fertility, Artemis Kourotrophos was the patron of young women, particularly brides-to-be, who dedicated their toys to her as symbolic of the transition to full adulthood and the assumption of a wife’s responsibilities. Finally, the goddess, as a dweller of wild nature, was linked to boundaries and transition, both in physical terms and the abstract. For this reason, perhaps, the temples dedicated to Artemis were often built either on the margins of human settlements or at places where the land changes such as marshes or at water junctions.

In Mythology

Artemis plays only a minor role in the Trojan War of Homer‘s Iliad and is described most often as ‘the archer goddess’ but also on occasion as the ‘goddess of the loud hunt’ and ‘of the wild, mistress of wild creatures’. Supporting the Trojans, she notably heals Aeneas after he is wounded by Diomedes. Hesiod in his Theogony most often describes her as ‘arrow-shooting Artemis.’

A notable episode at the start of the Trojan War which involves the goddess is the saving of Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon. The king had displeased the goddess by killing one of her deer in a sacred grove. As punishment, Artemis becalmed the Achaean fleet and only the sacrifice of Iphigenia would appease the goddess into granting a fair wind to Troy. Agamemnon duly offered his daughter in sacrifice, but in pity and at the last moment, the goddess substituted a deer for the girl and made Iphigenia a priestess at her sanctuary at Tauris.

Other accounts of Artemis, however, display her in a far less charitable light. She is said to have killed the hunter Orion after his attempted rape of either Artemis herself or one of her followers. Artemis turned Callisto, one of the goddess’ entourage, into a bear after she had lain with Zeus, who then turned her and her son Arcas into the constellations the great and little bear (though not before Arcas had founded the race of Arcadians). The goddess uses her bow to mercilessly kill the six (or in some accounts seven) daughters of Niobe following her boast that her childbearing capacity was greater than Leto’s. The hunter Actaion, after he dared boast he was the greater hunter or, in another version, had spied on Artemis while she had bathed in a forest pool, was turned into a stag by the goddess. Actaion was then torn to pieces by his own pack of 50 hunting dogs. Finally, Artemis sent a huge boar to ravage Kalydon after the city had neglected to sacrifice to the goddess. An all-star hunting party of heroes which included Theseus, Jason, the Dioskouroi, Atalanta, and Meleager was organised to hunt and sacrifice the boar in Artemis’ honour. After a lengthy expedition, Atalanta and Meleager do finally succeed in killing the boar.

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

As a deity of fertility, Artemis Ephesia was particularly revered at Ephesus, near to what many believed was her birthplace, Ortygia. Here, her cult included eastern elements (borrowed from goddesses such as Isis, Cybele, and the “Mistress of the Animals”) and her principal symbols were the bee, date-palm, and stag. The famous temple of Artemis at the city (begun c. 550 BCE) was almost twice the size of Athens‘ Parthenon when it was finally finished after a century of labour; it was regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The temple boasted 127 columns, and the architrave blocks above them were so heavy, weighing some 24 tons each, that the Ephesians credited Artemis herself with having helped in the construction. Inside the temple was a giant cult statue of the goddess made of cedar-wood. Today all that remains of the temple are its foundations and a rather sad single column which has been erected from composite remains.

Other Places of Worship

Other notable places of worship of Artemis were the sanctuaries at Brauron, Tauris, Magnesia, Perge, and on the island of Delos, where the goddess was born in some myth versions and where she assisted the birth of her brother Apollo. At Brauron, on the east coast of Attica, a temple site and sacred spring was in use from the 8th to 3rd century BCE and hosted rites of passage for young girls and brides-to-be. It is not clear what the rites actually involved but painted pottery vessels used for libations at the site do show young girls running and dancing. In Sardis, Lydia (western Turkey) there was the fourth largest Ionic Greek temple ever built set up in Artemis’ honour around 300 BCE and then renovated by the Romans in the 2nd century CE who knew Artemis as Diana. At Sparta and Athens (after the Battle of Marathon of 490 BCE), Artemis was worshipped as Artemis Agrotera and regarded as a goddess of battle, a goat being sacrificed to her before an engagement by the Spartans and an annual 500 offered to the goddess by the Athenians.

Depictions in Art

Artemis is most frequently portrayed in ancient Greek art as a beautiful maiden huntress with quiver and bow or, alternatively, a spear. She is often accompanied by a deer, stag, or a hunting dog, and on occasion, she wears a feline skin. Early representations also emphasise her role as goddess of animals and show her winged with a bird or animal in each hand. For example, on the handles of the celebrated Francois vase (570-565 BCE), she holds a panther and stag in one depiction and lions in another. In later Attic red- and black-figure vases she is also often depicted holding a torch.

A celebrated marble representation of the goddess is on the east frieze of the Parthenon where she is seated between Apollo and Aphrodite with Eros (c. 440 BCE). The goddess is pulling up her robe to better cover herself, perhaps in reference to her reputation for chastity. A later and perhaps today more famous representation is as a huntress impressively grasping the antlers of a stag, a pose captured in marble by a Roman sculptor copying a lost Greek original attributed to Leochares (c. 325 BCE). Known as the Diane de Versailles, it is now on display in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

Artemis continued to interest the Romans, and there is a fine 2nd-century CE marble statue of the goddess with bow at the ready and hunting dog at her feet in the Vatican Museums, Rome. The goddess has a crescent moon on her head, reminding of her long association with that celestial body. Finally, Artemis’ association with fertility, which was particularly prevalent at Ephesus, is best seen in a marble figurine from that city which has the goddess covered in what appear to be small eggs and animals. Dating to 125-175 CE, it is now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Selcuk, Turkey.


Olympians Part 7 – Ares

Ares was the Greek god of war and perhaps the most unpopular of all the Olympian gods because of his quick temper, aggressiveness, and unquenchable thirst for conflict. He famously seduced Aphrodite, unsuccessfully fought with Hercules, and enraged Poseidon by killing his son Halirrhothios. One of the more human Olympian gods, he was a popular subject in Greek art and even more so in Roman times when he took on a much more serious aspect as Mars, the Roman god of war.

Family Relations

Son of Zeus and Hera, Ares’ sisters were Hebe and Eileithyia. Despite being a god, the Greeks considered him from Thrace, perhaps in an attempt to associate him with what they thought of as foreign and war-loving peoples, wholly different from themselves. Ares had various children with different partners, several of whom were unfortunate enough to come up against Hercules when he performed his celebrated twelve labours. Ares’ daughter Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, lost her girdle to Hercules; his son Eurytion lost his cattle; and Diomedes had his horses stolen by the Greek hero. The courageous but warlike Amazons were also thought to be descendants of Ares.

In the Greek myths, Ares was noted for his beauty and courage, qualities which no doubt helped him win the affections of the Greek goddess Aphrodite (even though she was married to Hephaistos) with whom he had a daughter, Harmonia, and the god of love and desire Eros. Hephaistos managed to entrap the lovers in an ingenious bed, and the tale is told in some detail in Book 8 of Homer‘s Odyssey. Once caught, the punishment for Ares’ indiscretion was temporary banishment from Mount Olympus.

Described by Hesiod in his Theogony as ‘shield-piercing Ares’ and ‘city-sacking Ares,’ the god represented the more brutal and bloody side of battle, which was in contrast to Athena who represented the more strategic elements of warfare. In stories from Greek mythology, Ares was usually to be found in the company of his other children with Aphrodite, Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Terror), with his sister Eris (Strife), and with his charioteer Ennyo.

Battle with Hercules

The most popular myth involving Ares was his fight with Hercules. Ares’ son Kyknos was infamous for waylaying pilgrims on their way to the oracle at Delphi, and so earned the displeasure of Apollo, who sent Hercules to deal with him. Hercules killed Kyknos, and a furious Ares engaged the hero in a fight. However, Hercules was protected from harm by Athena and even managed to wound Ares. Another myth and ignominious episode for Ares was his capture by the twin Giants Ephialtes and Otus when they stormed Mount Olympus. They imprisoned the god in a bronze jar (or cauldron) for one year and he was only freed through the intervention of Hermes.

The Trojan War

In Homer’s version of the Trojan War in the Iliad, Ares supports the Trojans, sometimes even leading them in battle along with Hector. The Iliad shows Ares in a less than positive light and a rather unpopular member of the Greek pantheon. He is described as ‘hateful Ares,’ ‘the man-killer,’ ‘the war-glutton,’ and the ‘curse of men.’ Homer’s picture of Ares, like the above mythological tales, often demonstrates his weakness in comparison to the other gods. Ares is roundly beaten by Athena who, supporting the Achaeans, knocks him out with a large rock. He also comes off worse against the Achaean hero Diomedes who even manages to injure the god with his spear, albeit with the help of Athena. Homer describes the scream of the wounded Ares as like the shouts of 10,000 men. Fleeing back to Olympus, Zeus ignores the complaints of Ares but instructs Paieon to heal his wound.

Athens & Cult

Ares again upset the harmony of Olympus when he was accused of killing Poseidon’s son Halirrhothios near a stream below the Athenian acropolis. A special court was convened – the Areopagos – on a hill near the stream, to hear the case. Ares was acquitted as it was disclosed Halirrhothios had raped Ares’ daughter Alcippe. Thereafter in Athens, the Areopagus became the place of trial for cases involving murder and impiety.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the city’s strong militaristic culture, Ares was greatly esteemed in Sparta. Ares was not commonly worshipped but there were cult sites with temples dedicated to the god on Crete (he is mentioned in Linear B tablets from Knossos) and at Argos, Athens, Erythrae, Geronthrae, Megalopolis, Tegea, Therapne, and Troezen. He also had a cult in Thrace and was popular among the Colchians on the Black Sea.

Representation in Art

In ancient Greek Archaic and Classical art, Ares is most often depicted wearing full armour and helmet and carrying a shield and spear. In this respect, he may appear indistinguishable from any other armed warrior. Sometimes the Greek deity is shown riding his chariot pulled by fire-breathing horses. The myth of Ares’ battle with Hercules was a popular subject for Attic vases in the 6th century BCE.

In later times, the Roman god Mars was given many of the attributes of Ares, although, as was typical of the Roman view of the gods, with less human qualities. In Roman mythology, Mars was also the father of Romulus and Remus (through the rape of the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia), the legendary founders of Rome, and, therefore, the city achieved a sacred status. Like Athena for Athens, Mars was also the patron god of the Roman capital and the month martius (March) was named after him.


Olympians Part 6 – Apollo

Apollo was a major Greek god associated with the bow, music, and divination. The epitome of youth and beauty, source of life and healing, patron of the arts, and as bright and powerful as the sun itself, Apollo was, arguably, the most loved of all the gods. He was worshipped at Delphi and Delos, amongst the most famous of all Greek religious sanctuaries.

Son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin brother of Artemis, Apollo was born on the island of Delos (in Hesiod‘s Theogony he is clutching a golden sword). His mother, fearful of revenge from Zeus’ wife Hera, had chosen barren Delos as the safest retreat she could find. At his first taste of ambrosia, he was said to have immediately transformed from babe to man. Apollo was then given his bow, made by the master craftsman of Mount Olympus, Hephaestus.

As with the other major divinities, Apollo had many children; perhaps the most famous are Orpheus (who inherited his father’s musical skills and became a virtuoso with the lyre or kithara), Asclepius (to whom he gave his knowledge of healing and medicine) and, according to the 5th-century BCE tragedian Euripides, the hero Ion.

In Mythology

Apollo is a significant protagonist in Homer‘s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad. On the side of the Trojans, he gives particular assistance to the Trojan heroes Hector, Aeneas, and Glaukos, saving their lives on more than one occasion with his divine intervention. He brought plague to the Achaeans, led the entire Trojan army (holding Zeus’ fearsome aegis) in an attack which destroyed the defensive walls of the Greek camps, and was also responsible for guiding Paris‘ arrow to the heel of Achilles, killing the seemingly invincible Greek hero. Apollo is most frequently described by Homer and Hesiod as the ‘far-shooter’, the ‘far-worker’, the ‘rouser of armies’, and ‘Phoebus Apollo’.

Apollo generally played the dutiful son to Zeus, father of the gods, and never attempted to usurp his position (unlike Zeus who had overthrown his own father Cronus). The pair did have a serious falling out when Zeus killed Asclepius after he had used his marvellous medicinal skills to bring a mortal back to life. In revenge, Apollo then killed the Cyclopes, the one-eyed giants who made Zeus’ thunderbolts. As punishment, Apollo was obliged to spend a year in the humble service of Admetus of Therae, tending the king’s sheep.

Apollo acquired his lyre from his mischievous half-brother Hermes, the messenger god. While still a baby, Hermes had stolen Apollo’s sacred herd of cattle, cleverly reversing their hooves to make it difficult to follow their tracks. Hermes was permitted to keep his ill-gotten gains but only after he gave Apollo his lyre which he had invented using a tortoiseshell.

Apollo’s darker side as the bringer of plague and divine retribution is seen most famously when he is, with his sister Artemis, the remorseless slayer of Niobe’s six (or in some accounts seven) sons as punishment for her boasting that her childbearing capacity was greater than Leto’s. Another hapless victim of Apollo’s wrath was the satyr Marsyas who unwisely claimed he was musically more gifted than the god. The pair had a competition and the Muses ruled that Apollo was indeed the better musician. Apollo then had the mortal flayed alive for his presumption and nailed his skin to a pine tree. The tale is an interesting metaphor for the competition between (at least to Greek ears) the civilised and ordered music of Apollo’s lyre and the wilder, more chaotic music of Marsyas’ flute. Apollo won another musical competition, this time against the pastoral god Pan and, judged the victor by King Midas, Apollo thus became the undisputed master of music in the Greek world. The god’s defeat of Marsyas and Pan may reflect the Greek conquest of Phrygia and Arcadia respectively.


Objects traditionally associated with the god include:

  • a silver bow – symbolic of his prowess as an archer.
  • a kithara (or lyre) – made from the shell of a tortoise, this was symbolic of Apollo’s ability in music and his leadership of the chorus of the nine Muses.
  • a laurel branch – symbolic of the fate of Daphne who, after Apollo’s amorous pursuit of her, led her father, the river god Phineus, to transform her into a laurel tree.
  • the omphalos – symbol of Apollo’s sanctuary at Delphi as the navel of the world.
  • a palm tree – which Leto gripped when she gave birth to her son.

Apollo was a much-loved god, and this was most likely due to his association with many positive aspects of the human condition such as music, poetry, purification, healing, and medicine. The god was also associated with moderation in all things. His arrows, although they could bring destruction could also ward off harm to those he favoured. A strategy to keep away evil from Greek homes was to set up a pillar of Apollo Agyieus and, on a grander scale, Apollo Propylaios protected city gates.

Apollo oversaw the initiation rites performed by young males (ephebes) as they entered the full civic community and became warriors. Rituals in this process involved cutting hair and offering it to the god, as well as athletic and martial challenges. The god is frequently associated with the sun (as Phoebus Apollo) and the sun god Helios, but modern scholars mostly agree that the link between Apollo and Helios does not go further back than the 5th century BCE. Apollo continued to inspire the Romans when he was principally considered a god of healing. Octavian, the future emperor Augustus (r. 27 BCE – 14 CE), famously claimed the god as his patron and even dedicated a temple to Apollo at Actium. The god of moderation was a useful association and in direct contrast to the god of excess, Dionysos, championed by Octavian’s no. 1 enemy, Mark Antony.

Sacred Sites

Sanctuaries were built in honour of Apollo throughout the Greek world, notably at the islands of Delos and Rhodes and at Ptoion and Claros. Sites which still possess some vestiges of once-great temples dedicated to Apollo include those at Naxos (6th century BCE), where the massive doorway still stands proud, at Corinth (550-530 BCE), where seven Doric columns give an impression of a once impressive structure, at Didyma, Turkey (4th century BCE), whose temple was the fourth largest in the Greek world, and at Side, also in Turkey (2nd century CE) where a corner of its elegant columned facade has been restored.

Apollo’s most direct presence amongst the Greeks, though, was manifested in his oracle at Delphi, which was consulted for its prophetic powers and which was the most important in the Greek world. According to legend, Apollo, wishing to reveal to humanity the intentions of his father Zeus, created the oracle on the site where he had killed the serpent (or dragon) Python. The Panhellenic Pythian games were begun at the site in order to commemorate the death of this divine creature. Tripods and laurel wreaths were given as prizes to the victors at these games. The 30 treasuries built at Delphi by various cities indicate the popularity of the god and the sanctuary in the wider Greek world such as in Asia Minor.

The oracle of Delphi was already well-visited in the 8th century BCE – despite being difficult to get to and open only in summer – and the sometimes cryptic proclamations of its priestesses were not taken lightly, often deciding how laws would be applied or whether a foreign war should be pursued. Sometimes the oracle’s responses to questions were so obscure that priests at the site offered (for a fee) to give them greater clarity. As the historian B. Graziosi summarises,

Pilgrims often continued to ponder Apollo’s responses, and consult further experts, back home. After that long process of consultation and interpretation, Apollo’s revelations usually crystallised into lines of hexameter poetry, and were always found to be true – even if the correct interpretation sometimes emerged only after the relevant events had come to pass. (21)

Representation in Art

Apollo appears frequently in all media of ancient Greek art, most often as a beautiful, beardless youth. He is easily identified with either a kithara or a lyre, a bronze tripod (signifying his oracle at Delphi), a deer (which he often fights over with Hercules), and a bow and quiver. He is also, on occasion, portrayed riding a chariot pulled by lions or swans.

Perhaps the most celebrated representation of Apollo in ancient Greek art is the statue which dominated the centre of the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (c. 460 BCE). Here, in a majestic pose, he brings order and reason to the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs at the wedding of Peirithoos. Another fine example of Apollo in his guise as a handsome youth, this time with long locks, is a 2nd-century CE marble relief from a funerary monument in Piraeus. The head of Apollo frequently appeared on Greek coins, notably on the silver tetradrachms of 5th-century BCE Catane (Catania) in Sicily and the gold staters of Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-356 BCE).

Roman sculptors were also fond of Apollo and a celebrated marble statue of the god, now in the Vatican Museums in Rome, is the Apollo Belvedere, a 2nd-century CE copy of a bronze statue of the 4th-century BCE by Leochares. Even the Etruscans were at it, perhaps one of their most famous sculptures in terracotta being the Apollo of Veii (late 6th century BCE), a striding figure of the god, known to them as Aplu, which once stood on the roof of a temple.


Olympians Part 5 – Athena

Goddess of wisdom, war and the crafts, and favourite daughter of Zeus, Athena was, perhaps, the wisest, most courageous, and certainly the most resourceful of the Olympian gods.

Zeus was told that his son would take his throne from him, just as he had taken power from his father Cronus. Accordingly, when Metis was pregnant, he swallowed her and Athena was born from Zeus’ head, wearing armour and fully grown. A popular theme in ancient Greek art, Hephaistos is often depicted in the role of midwife, splitting Zeus’ head with an axe. Athena is often cited as Zeus’ favourite child.

Epithets of Athena include Pallas (girl) and Parthenos (virgin), living up to which, she is conspicuous amongst the gods of Greek mythology for not indulging in illicit relationships with other divinities, demigods, or mortals. Other epithets were Promachos (of war) – perhaps referring to more patriotic, defensive, and strategic warfare, rather than attacking warfare, in contrast to her more aggressive, conflict-loving brother Ares, Ergane (of the crafts), and Nike (victory). Nevertheless, the goddess was noted for her military prowess.

The goddess was not to be trifled with as her transformation of Medusa into a Gorgon demonstrates, and her sense of justice was such that acts of impiety were swiftly avenged, as with the Achaean heroes following their capture of Troy and desecration of the goddess’ sanctuary.

Athena is also the patron goddess of household crafts, giving mortals the gifts of cooking and sewing. She is said to have invented the aulos but on seeing her reflection and her puffed cheeks when playing these pipes, she threw them away, to be picked up by the satyr Marsyas.

She is closely associated with Athens, the city named in her honour after the people of Attica chose her as their patron following her gift of the olive tree, symbol of peace and plenty. The 5th century BCE temple of the Parthenon, which continues to this day to dominate the acropolis of the city, was built in her honour. Her adopted son Erichthonios, one of the first kings of Athens, is traditionally credited with inaugurating the Panathenaic festival, held every four years to honour the goddess. The festival included a magnificent procession through the city, the presentation to Athena of a specially woven peplos (depicting the Gigantomachy), and athletic games. Prizes for the games were amphorae painted with a figure of Athena and contained prime olive oil. In her role as protector, she was also revered in many other major cities, notably as patron of Sparta, as the founder of Thebes in Boeotia, and at Corinth where she appeared on the city’s coins.

In the Greek myths, she is the protector of Hercules and Athena often aids him in his twelve labours, for example, by helping him hold the world as Atlas searches for the sacred apples of the Hesperides. Perseus was another favourite and was given a shield to protect himself in his quest to kill Medusa. Achilles is helped to kill Hector, and Odysseus too was often given the benefit of Athena’s wisdom, for example the idea to dress as a beggar on his return to Ithaca, and he is also protected from the arrows of his rivals when he clears the palace of the interlopers. Jason was yet another hero who benefitted from Athena’s resourcefulness when she encouraged Argo to build the first Greek longship which would carry his name and the fame of the Argonauts.

Athena was a major protagonist in Homer‘s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad where she supports the Achaeans and their heroes, especially Achilles, to whom she gives encouragement and wise counsel, Menelaos, who is saved from the arrow of Pandaros, and Diomedes, whose spear, in one notable episode, is diverted to injure Ares himself. Aphrodite was another divinity who came off second best when she clashed with Athena. She also gave protection to Odysseus and is credited with giving him the idea of the Wooden Horse. Both Homer and Hesiod refer to Athena as ‘bright-eyed’ and ‘Tritogeneia’. She is also frequently called ‘goddess of spoil’, the ‘lovely-haired goddess’, and ‘Alalkomenaian Athena’.

Objects associated with the goddess include an owl – symbol of wisdom – and the olive tree. She is often depicted in art with armour, a golden helmet, a shield, and holding a spear. Her armour is the aegis made, in some accounts, from the skin of a Giant, hung with tassels of gold, and featuring the head of the Gorgon given to her by Perseus. The most famous representation of Athena in the ancient world was undoubtedly the monumental gold and ivory statue of the goddess by Pheidias which resided in the Parthenon of Athens and was over 12 m high. The statue has been lost but survives in the form of smaller Roman copies and shows Athena standing majestic, fully armed, holding Nike in her right hand and with a shield in her left depicting scenes from the Battles of the Amazons and the Giants. On her helmet were a sphinx and two griffins. Celebrated surviving depictions of Athena include friezes from the Parthenon and metopes from the temple of Zeus at Olympia.


Olympians Part 4 – Hera

Hera (Roman name: Juno) is the wife of Zeus and queen of the ancient Greek gods. She represented the ideal woman, was the goddess of marriage and the family, and protectress of women in childbirth. Although always faithful herself, Hera was most famous for her jealous and vengeful nature, principally aimed against the lovers of her husband and their illegitimate chldren.

Family Relations

In Greek mythology, Hera was the daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and mother of Ares (god of war), Hebe (goddess of youth), and Eileithyia (goddess of childbirth), all with Zeus. Hera also gave birth alone to Hephaistos (god of metallurgy) in retaliation for Zeus’ similarly single-handed birth of Athena. However, Hera threw Hephaistos from Mount Olympus because of his ugliness, and crashing to earth, the god became lame. In other accounts, Hephaistos was thrown from the heavens by Zeus precisely because of his lameness. In any case, Hephaistos held a grudge against his mother and even imprisoned her in a special throne. Hera was only released from the device by promising her son the hand of Aphrodite in marriage.

The Infidelities of Zeus

Hera constantly battled with her husband’s infidelity and she often took swift revenge. Leto was so punished through Hera promising to curse any land that gave the pregnant goddess refuge. Only after months of wanderings could Leto find a place (Delos) to give birth to her son, the god Apollo. Even then, Hera had her daughter Eileithyia prolong the labour to nine months.

In various versions, a very popular myth involved Hera, Zeus, and Io. In some accounts, the queen of the gods turned Io, who was one her own priestesses and a former princess of Argos, into a cow to deter Zeus’ advances, but in other versions, it was Zeus who turned the girl into a white cow, either to secretly rendezvous with her or to persuade Hera that he was not really interested in Io. However, Hera discovered their courting, took custody of the cow. and set the one- hundred-eyed Argos to guard her. Zeus then employed Hermes to lull Argos to sleep and kill him. In memory, Hera then set his 100 eyes on the wings of a bird – the peacock. Finally, not to be outdone, the Greek goddess sent a gadfly to continually pester the unfortunate Io.

Other victims of Hera’s jealousy were Semele, who was tricked by Hera into asking Zeus to reveal himself in all his godly splendour and the sight immediately destroyed her. Callisto was another of Zeus’ lovers who caught the wrath of Hera as she was turned into a bear and hunted by Artemis. Zeus, in pity, later made her into a constellation, the Bear.

Hera went to great lengths to revenge herself for Zeus’ infidelity with Alkmene, principally focussing her wrath on their son Hercules. Hera delayed his birth so that his cousin Eurystheus could claim the throne of Tiryns, sent two snakes to kill the infant while he slept, caused the hero to become mad and kill his own wife and children, and had Eurystheus set the hero his twelve labours, which being so dangerous, she hoped they would be fatal. She also set the Hydra of Lerna against the inhabitants of Hercules’ home town and set the Amazons against the hero when he went in search of the girdle of Hippolyta. Hera was also responsible for some of the fierce monsters Hercules had to fight – the lion which terrorized Nemea and the Ladon dragon which protected the goddess’ sacred apple trees, a wedding gift from Gaia. Another panHellenic hero though, who did receive Hera’s favour, was Jason, of the Golden Fleece fame. The hero had helped the goddess unknowingly when she was disguised as an old woman and wanted to cross a dangerous river, and she promised to be always at hand in any hour of need.

Finally, two more victims of the queen of gods were Ixion, who was tied to an ever-spinning wheel down in Hades as punishment for his attempted seduction of Hera, and Tityos, who was punished for the same indiscretion by being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten daily by a vulture.

The Trojan War

Hera was a major protagonist in the story of the Trojan War as told in Homer‘s Iliad. The goddess supports the Achaeans and frequently schemes with other deities to bring the downfall of Troy, as she never forgave the Trojan prince Paris for choosing Aphrodite above her as the most beautiful goddess. In the Iliad, Hera mentions three cities particularly dear to her – Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae (or Mykene). We are also told that as a child she was raised by Ocean and Tethys whilst Zeus battled with Cronos. Homer most often describes Hera as ‘white-armed’, ‘ox-eyed’, and ‘Hera of Argos’. Hesiod, in his Theogony, similarly describes Hera as: ‘of Argos’ and more frequently as ‘golden-sandaled’.

Sacred Sites

Hera was a major figure in the Greek religion. She was the patron of Argos, which possessed a sanctuary to the goddess from the mid-8th century BCE. She also had a temple dedicated to her at Olympia (650-600 BCE), and Tiryns was an important cult centre to the goddess in the 7th century BCE. The island of Samos, in some accounts the birthplace of the goddess, had been a centre for cult worship of the Greek goddess as far back as the Mycenaean period in the mid-2nd millennium BCE, and a major centre was created from the 8th century BCE which prospered right into the Roman period. Hera was greatly esteemed at Elis, where coins depicted the goddess in the 5th and 4th century BCE. Across Greece, sporting competitions for women, the Heraia, were held in Hera’s honour, as were annual marriage festivals (hierogamy) when couples re-enacted the marriage of Zeus and Hera.

Representation in Art

As one of the most important deities, Hera was, naturally, a prominent figure in ancient Greek art, particularly on Attic red- and black-figure pottery. However, without any specific attributes she is often hard to distinguish from other goddesses. She is most often seated on a throne and sometimes wears a crown (polos), holds a royal sceptre, and wears a bridal veil. On occasion she is also depicted holding a pomegranate, a traditional symbol of fertility. Other associations include the peacock – symbol of pride – and the cuckoo, the form Zeus first took when he courted Hera – both of which the goddess reportedly kept as pets on Mount Olympus – and finally, with the lily flower.

Hera as Roman Juno

In Roman culture the goddess lived on as Juno, although she principally represented the good family and faithful marriage attributes of Hera rather than the jealous avenger of infidelity. Juno was one of the most important Roman gods along with Jupiter and Minerva; indeed she was also the patron of Rome itself. The annual Matronalia was a festival held in her honour in June, the month which carried her name and the period regarded as the most auspicious time to get married in Roman culture.


Olympians Part 3- Hades


Hades is the Ancient Greek god of the Underworld, the place where human souls go after death. In time, his name became synonymous with his realm. It has to be said unsurprisingly – since he barely left it. Appropriately, the most significant myth related to Hades concerns one of the very few times he did – to abduct Demeter’s daughter, Persephone.

Hades means “The Unseen One” – a suitable name since Hades is the ruler of the invisible world. However, the Ancient Greeks rarely used this name – just like Christians rarely used the word “Hell” during the Middle Ages. So, since minerals and precious metals are found underground, they often referred to Hades euphemistically as Plouton – namely, “The Wealth-Giver.” Unsurprisingly, Hades’ Roman equivalent is called Pluto as well.

Hades’ Portrayal and Symbolism

As the ruler of the dead, Hades was a grim and ghastly figure, inspiring awe and terror in everybody. Consequently, he was rarely depicted in art. When he was, he was most commonly portrayed with a beard, and a solemn, mournful look. He frequently wears a helmet, named the Helm of Darkness or the Cap of Invisibility. Cerberus, the three-headed dog which guarded the entrance to the Underworld, is usually beside him. Every so often he carries a scepter or holds the key to his kingdom. At a later stage, he became associated with his weapon of choice, the bident, a two-pronged fork modeled after Poseidon’s trident. As Plouton, he was sometimes shown with a cornucopia, the horn of plenty.

Hades’ Epithets

Among the Ancient Greeks, Hades was known as “the Other Zeus.” Homer even calls him “The Infernal Zeus,” in addition to “the grisly God.” He was also called “the host of many” or “the Attractor of Man” – since all men eventually went to serve him.

Hades was the fourth child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea (after Hestia, Demeter, and Hera), both the oldest and the youngest male sibling. In other words, he was the first of the three brothers (Hades, Poseidon, Zeus) to be born and swallowed by his father, but the last one to be regurgitated.

Titanomachy and Hades

After being rescued by Zeus from the belly of Cronus, Hades joins him in the Titanomachy. Eventually, the decade-long war ends with a victory for the Olympians. Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus cast lots to decide who of the brothers will rule which domain. Hades gets the underworld.

Since Hades was a fearsome deity who rarely left his kingdom, there are very few myths about him in Ancient Greek sources.

The Abduction of Persephone

By far the most important myth is Hades’ abduction of Persephone, Demeter’s daughter. That was one of the few times Hades traveled above ground. The reason, naturally, was love: he fell for Persephone. However, Persephone didn’t want to give in easily, so Hades devised an ingenious ploy. As Persephone was gathering flowers with her maidens at the Nysian plain, he caused an indescribably beautiful flower to suddenly bloom before her. When Persephone reached out to pluck it, the ground under her opened and Hades appeared before her, all dreadful and majestic in his four-horse golden chariot and took her with him to the Underworld.

Demeter, the goddess of fertility, was so distressed at the absence of her daughter, that she started fasting and wandering aimlessly. Finally, after nine days, Hecate told her what happened. After the All-Seeing Helios confirmed the event, Demeter left Olympus as an act of protest against the injustice done to her.

With her gone, the earth was as barren and infertile as a desert. One year passed, and the gods started worrying that the famine would wipe out humanity. So Zeus sent all the gods, one by one, to beg Demeter to come back, promising her all kinds of gifts and functions. She wanted none; the only thing she wanted was to see her daughter once again.

So, Zeus had no choice but to send Hermes to Hades with the request that he return Persephone to Demeter. He complied, but only after making Persephone eat one pomegranate seed before leaving. This ensured that she would remain bound to his kingdom eternally.

Winter and Spring

Now, both sides had no choice but to accept Zeus’ compromise: Persephone would spend two-thirds of the year with her mother, but one-third of it with Hades. And this is the part of the year which corresponds with the winter months: they say that Demeter retreats from Olympus to her temple at Eleusis to grieve the absence of Persephone.  Every spring Persephone would be reunited with her mother Demeter marking the season of rebirth.

It’s possible that Hades and Persephone didn’t have any children. However, some say that Zagreus may have been their son. Macaria is also claimed to have been Hades’ daughter – but no mother is mentioned.

Hades in the Bible

As the realm of the dead, Hades is mentioned ten times in the “New Testament” in its original Greek text. Older translations – such as the King James Bible – invariably translate it as “hell.”

Source: https://www.greekmythology.com/Olympians/Hades/hades.html