In ancient Greek mythology, a group of 12 Olympian gods ruled after Zeus had overthrown the unruly Titans. The gods lived on the top of Mount Olympus- the highest in Greece. Mount Olympus (2,917 metres) is situated in northern Greece and has forested slopes and tumbling waterfalls.
Greek mythology is a collection of stories, myths and legends about the origins of the world and they are important as they give a valuable insight into every day life in ancient Greece. There were actually more than 12 gods, but the others did not live on Mount Olympus. Hade, god of the Underworld for example, lived under the earth’s surface where he could rule the dead.
The 12 Gods of Mount Olympus
Zeus was the son of Kronos and Rhea and with his siblings he defeated the Titans who were led by his father, Cronus. The Titans and Olympian gods fought for a long time, but the Olympian gods were victorious and Zeus put his father and the other Titans in Tartarus – the deepest part of the Underworld- where they were tortured forever. Zeus was god of the sky and earth and King of Olympus. He married Hera (but had many lovers) and became the father of the gods and humans.
Zeus was a powerful warrior who used lightning and thunder bolts as his weapons. When he was upset, his temper affected the weather badly. There were many sanctuaries dedicated to Zeus and the ancient Greeks regularly gave offerings to Zeus in the hope that they could keep him happy.
Hera, the goddess of the marriage and childbirth, is usually depicted with a crown and sceptre. She was married to Zeus in an opulent ceremony and became Queen of Olympus. She sought revenge whenever she was betrayed by Zeus and his lovers. She played an active role in the Trojan War in which she strongly supported the Greeks. Her symbols were the peacock and cow.
Like his brother Zeus, Poseidon was one of the most powerful gods. with Poseidon was the god of the seas. He did not live on Mount Olympus but in a beautiful palace at the bottom of the sea. He is usually depicted holding a trident. Like his brother Zeus, Poseidon had a bad temper which caused storms and earthquakes.
Seafarers still believe in his mythological powers and ask his permission to sail the oceans before they leave harbour. A beautiful temple dedicated to Poseidon can be seen at Cape Sounio, where it stands overlooking the sea.
Demeter is the goddess of agriculture and fertility. She was a lover of Zeus and together they had a daughter – Persephone. Demeter was very protective of her daughter and was angered by the advances made to Persephone by Hades. He persuaded Persephone to eat pomegranate seeds that would ensure she stayed with him as his wife.
Demeter was furious and killed all the crops in the world. Zeus bargained with Hades and Persephone was allowed to live with her mother for eight months each year. Whenever Persephone returned to live with her husband in the Underworld, the earth would turn cold and no crops would grow. Demeter’s symbol is an ear of corn.
Athena the goddess of wisdom, was skilled in war and known to be both clever and courageous. She helped several of her heroes including Odysseus and Hercules in combat. She was born from the forehead of her father Zeus, and was his favourite child. Athena was born fully dressed in armour.
She and Poseidon competed to see which of them would be chosen to be the protector of Athens. Athena was chosen because she had planted the first olive tree in the city. Poseidon was so upset he flooded Attica. Many temples were built in her honour and festivals were regularly dedicated to her. Athena’s symbols are the olive tree and the owl.
You might be interested in: How Athens got its name.
Apollo was the god of music and healing. Apollo and his twin sister, Artemis, were born to Zeus and his Titan lover, Leto. Apollo was a great hunter and always used a silver bow and arrow. One day when he was out, he came across a young lady and fell madly in love with her. He chased her everywhere, but her father was displeased and changed her into a scared bay tree to protect her. Apollo was a popular god and a large temple was built in his honour at Delphi. Apolllo’s symbols are the laurel, crow and dolphin.
Goddess of the moon and hunting, Artemis is also often portrayed as the goddess of marriage and the protector of women in childbirth. She was an excellent hunter but had a quick temper. One day, a young man stumbled across her as she bathed in a pool of water. He would not leave so she changed him into a stag and commanded his own dogs to chase him. She is often portrayed with a bow and a deer. Her symbols are the cypress tree and a fallow deer.
Often known as the ugly looking god, Hephaestus was the god of fire and art. When he was a child, he was thrown from the top of Mount Olympus by his father, Zeus. The injuries he sustained, left him with a lame leg. He was a very talented ironmonger and he would make weapons for all of the gods.
He also created an excellent suit of armor for Achilles in his forge. He found his wife Aphrodite cheating on him with Ares and threw a giant net over them to capture them. He humiliated them both and stripped them of their special powers. To punish his mother Hera, he once tied her up in thick chains that he had made and then refused to undo them. His symbols are the anvil and the forge.
Aphrodite was the goddess of beauty and love. She emerged from the foam on the waves of the sea on the island of Cyprus. Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and another of his lovers – the Titan – Dione. Aphrodite was so beautiful that every man fell in love with her and just like her father, she was very flirtatious.
She had numerous affairs, She had a son with Ares, the god of war and they named him Eros who became famous for shooting arrows at people to make them fall in love. Aphrodite loved roses and doves and her chariot was pulled by these beautiful birds.
Ares, the god of war was said to be violent and full of physical aggression – so much so, that his own parents, Zeus and Hera did not like him. He was born in Thrace, an area in north-east Greece, known for its fierce fighters and Ares was very successful in war.
He was unpopular and not worshipped and any myths about him talked of his humiliation. The best-known myth is that when he was Aphrodite’s lover, the pair were caught in bed and imprisoned in a giant net by Aphrodite’s husband, Hephaestus. Ares is usually depicted with a spear and helmet.
Hermes, with his winged helmet and characteristic sandals, was the god of commerce and travel. Hermes was also the messenger of the gods. He invented the lyre which he made from the shell of a turtle. One day he took Hera, Athena and Aphrodite to visit Paris and this event triggered the Trojan War.
The most gentle and oldest goddess was Hestia, sister of Zeus. She was goddess of the home and family. She was responsible for ensuring that all the fire hearths on Mount Olympus kept burning, which was considered an important job as the fire hearth was the focus of the family. Her symbol is fire.