The Greek gods and goddesses are the central figures of Greek mythology and Ancient Greek religion. They rose to power after the Titanomachy, a great battle between the gods and their parents the Titans.
Cronus was the leader of the Titans, who overthrew his father Uranus, the sky, and began his rule over the earth with his eleven brothers and sisters. Cronus and his sister Rhea began having children together, but Cronus feared that his children would one day take his throne away from him. To prevent his children from growing and challenging his rule, Cronus began swallowing his children whole as Rhea bore them. However, Rhea managed to hide Zeus, the youngest of the gods, after he was born and Cronus devoured the rock she swaddled instead.
Zeus was raised in secret on the island Crete until adulthood, where he tricked his father and gave him a concoction that made Cronus vomit up all of Zeus' siblings. As soon as his brothers and sisters were freed, Zeus led them in an attack against the Titans. The Titans were defeated and thrown into Tartarus, a pit of despair and torture, and the Greek gods began their rule.
Here are some of the most prominent Greek gods:
Zeus rules over all the other Greek gods from Mount Olympus and also acts as the god of the sky and thunder. He is often depicted grasping a lightning bolt, which he wields in battle.
Though he is married to the goddess Hera, he is notorious for his sexual escapades with many, many... many women. He fathered gods, including Dionysus, Athena and Ares, along with mythological creatures and half-human heroes, such as Hercules and Perseus.
In one particularly memorable love affair with a mortal woman named Io, Zeus' wife Hera grew suspicious of their relationship. In order to deceive Hera, Zeus transformed Io into a large white cow. But Hera saw through the guise and demanded Io the cow as a gift, and placed a many-eyed giant Argus as a guard to watch Io and make sure Zeus couldn't get to her.
To free Io, Zeus sent the messenger god Hermes to distract Argus by lulling the giant to sleep with a harp. Io was able to escape Argus' guard, but was still trapped as a cow. Once Hera discovered what had happened, she sent gadflys to torment Io day and night as she wandered the earth as a hefer. She eventually made it to Egypt, where Zeus finally transformed her back into a woman and gave birth to a son and daughter, both fathered by Zeus.
Poseidon is the brother of Zeus and king of the seas. He also acts as the god of earthquakes, floods and horses, and is traditionally represented holding a trident.
He shared his brother's taste for affairs, and took lovers who were mortals, nymphs, lesser water goddesses and even Medusa (granted, this was before she was a monster). He fathered the Greek hero Theseus, who would go on to defeat the dreaded Minotaur monster and found Athens.
Despite his representation in the 1997 Disney movie, Hades is not an evil, devil-like figure. Unlike his brothers Zeus and Poseidon who live on Mount Olympus, Hades resides in the underworld (which also became known as Hades), where the souls of the dead would go. He is traditionally a more passive god and a maintainer of balance. He is often portrayed with his three-headed dog Cerberus, who guarded the entrance to the underworld.
But Hades wasn't alone in the underworld -- he obtained a wife, Persephone, by kidnapping her from her mother Demeter and forcing her to live with him beneath the earth. In mythology, Demeter was distraught when Persephone was stolen and roamed the world in search of her daughter. Demeter is the goddess of harvest, and while she was searching she did not allow the earth to grow, which led to a famine. To end the famine, Hades is forced to release Persephone.
However, before his new queen was to be freed, he gave her a pomegranate to eat. Because Persephone ate this food from the underworld, she was bound to the realm and forced to spend part of every year (winter) below ground with Hades.
Hera was married to her brother Zeus and gave birth to their children Ares, Hebe, Eileithyia, Eris, Hephaestus and Enyo.
Ironically, the Greek goddess of marriage's own marriage was, frankly, kind of a wreck. Her husband fathered many more children from his affairs, and Hera grew jealous and would often seek revenge on the women who slept with her husband. After Zeus birthed Athena on his own (see below), Hera was determined to show Zeus that she, too, did not need him to produce a child.
Hera prayed to Gaia, the personification of the earth, to give her a child as strong as her husband, and her prayers were answered when she became pregnant. When she gave birth, the child, Typhon, was a monstrous serpent-like creature and Hera immediately gave him away. Typhon would grow to be one of the most deadly and villainous monsters in Greek mythology, and would even end up challenging Zeus for control over the sky. Zeus defeated Typhon in battle and threw him into Tartarus with the Titans.
Athena is Zeus' favorite daughter, and was born through a rather unconventional circumstance. Zeus impregnated the goddess of wisdom Metis, but feared she would give birth to a child wiser than himself, so he gobbled her up. Time passed, and Zeus began experiencing a terrible headache and Athena was "born" -- she sprang out of his forehead, fully grown, clothed, armed and ready for battle.
She became the patron goddess of Athens after winning a competition with her uncle Poseidon. The two gods decided they would give the new city of Athens one gift, and whoever bestowed the best gift upon the city would become its patron. Poseidon used his trident to make a spring and Athena produced the first olive tree. King Cecrops accepted Athena's gift and became a symbol of the city.
If you're going to hang around any of the gods, Dionysus is the one the befriend. As the god of wine and theater, those in his presence always have a great time -- and are often sent into "wild frenzies".
Dionysus is the son of Zeus and princess Semele of Thebes, whom Hera tricked into demanding Zeus to appear before her in his godly form. Zeus complies and Semele is incinerated by the sight, leaving the premature baby Dionysus in a pile of her ashes. Zeus takes the fetus, sews him into his thigh and carries him to term.
Every year, Athens would hold the Dionysia festival to honor the god with theatrical performances of both comedies and dramas. Many prominent playwrights debuted their works there, including Sophocles and Euripides.
This son of Zeus is one of the most important and complex of all the Greek gods. He appears in numerous myths and stories, and, as the patron of the ancient sanctuary Delphi, is closely tied to oracles and Greek adherence to prophecies. He is often depicted as a young boyish figure with a bow and arrow, a lyre and a wreath of laurel.
Though he is the god of healing, Apollo also has a ruthless side. In one myth, Apollo becomes engaged in a music contest with a satyr named Marsyas. Marsyas challenged Apollo with his flute, while Apollo played his lyre. Marsyas lost, and as punishment for his pride Apollo tied him to a tree and skinned him alive.
Aphrodite was born from the sea after the Titan Cronus castrated Uranus, the personification of the sky, and threw his genitals into the water. They were carried for a long time until foam began forming around them and eventually grew into the Greek goddess.
As the goddess of love and procreation, Aphrodite took many lovers and caused people and gods alike to fall in love with her and with others, all over Greece. After a quarrel with Hera and Athena over who was the fairest goddess, Aphrodite promised Trojan prince Paris, who was judging this competition of beauty, that if he picked her, the most beautiful woman in the world marry him -- this woman was Helen, who was already married to King Menelaus of Sparta.
Paris named Aphrodite the fairest and Helen fell in love with Paris and left her husband, sparking the Trojan War.
While Athena is the goddess of war strategy and craft, Ares is the god of sheer brutality and violence. In Sparta, Ares was worshipped as the perfect soldier.
Ares is one of Aphrodite's most prominent lovers and fathered many of her children, which included Phobos, the personification of fear; Deimos, the personification of dread; Harmonia, the goddess of harmony; and Eros, the god of sexual attraction.
Ares and Aphrodite were lovers even when Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, the god of smiths. In one Greek myth, the two were caught together by Hephaestus, who angrily threw a net around the lovers, trapping them in the act. Hephaestus then summoned all the other gods, who came and jeered at the humiliated duo.
Often depicted with wheat and a cornucopia, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, sister of Zeus and mother of Persephone. She is a maternal figure not only because of her close relationship with her daughter, but because she is connected to the earth and oversees food production for all.
Demeter is also mother to Arion, a talking, winged, immortal horse, whom she conceived after being assaulted by Poseidon.
Hestia is the firstborn of Cronus and Rhea, making her the eldest of all the gods. She encompasses all of domesticity, including baking bread, cooking communal feasts and sacrificing to the gods. On Olympus, she is tasked with maintaining the hearth and its flames. She is usually depicted as a modest woman, wearing a veil and holding a flowery branch.
Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo, and, like her brother, has an affinity for archery and is often depicted with her bow and arrow. She is also associated with virginity, childbirth and the protection of young girls.
Like her twin brother, Artemis could be ruthless. One popular myth is of a man named Actaeon, who sees Artemis bathing naked in the woods while he is on a hunt. He tries to force himself on her and, as punishment, Artemis turns him into a stag and his own hunting dogs tear him apart.
Hermes is another god who encompasses many things, including thievery and cunning, astronomy, astrology, writing and heralds. He acted as the messenger of the gods and was known to be a trickster. Hermes is often depicted with winged sandals, a rooster and a satchel, but most commonly he is represented by winged a staff with two snakes wrapped around it.
This Greek god is seen as a protector of travelers. One of the most famous examples is the Trojan War -- Hermes was an ally of the Greeks against the Trojans, but he protected the Trojan king Priam when he entered the Greek camp to retrieve the body of his fallen son Hector.
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