12 Major Gods of Ancient Greece
*Listed alphabetically, not in order of importance.
Aphrodite - Goddess of love, romance, and beauty. Her son was Eros, god of Love (though he is not an Olympian.)
Apollo - Beautiful god of the sun, light, medicine, and music.
Ares - Dark god of war.
Artemis - Independent goddess of the hunt, the forest, wildlife, and the moon. Sister to Apollo.
Athena (Athene) - Daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts.
Dionysus - God of Wine; invented wine. Springtime festivals in Ancient Greece were held in his honor and centered on theater.
Hephaestus - Lame god of fire and the forge.
Hera - Wife of Zeus, protector of marriage, familiar with magic.
Hermes - The speedy messenger of the gods.
Hestia - Calm goddess of home and symbolized by the hearth which holds the continually-burning flame.
Poseidon - God of the sea, horses, and of earthquakes.
Zeus - Supreme lord of gods, god of the sky, symbolized by the thunderbolt.
Roman Name: Venus
Appearance: Gorgeous, perfect, eternally young woman with great beauty.
Symbol or Attribute: Mirror. Her magical powers to compel love.
Strengths:Attractiveness, dazzling beauty.
Weaknesses:A bit stuck on herself, but with a perfect face, who can blame her?
Parents: One genealogy gives her parents as Zeus, King of the Gods, and Dione, an early earth/mother goddess. More commonly, she was believed to be born of the foam in the sea.
Birthplace: The island of Cyprus or Kythira.
Husband: Hephaestus, the lame smith-god.
Children:Eros, a Cupid-like figure.
Basic Story: Aphrodite rises from the foam of the waves of the sea, enchanting anyone who sees her and inciting feelings of love and lust wherever she goes. She is a contender in the story of the Golden Apples, when Paris chooses her as the fairest of the three goddesses (the others were Hera and Athena) and Aphrodite decides to "reward" him for giving her the Golden Apple (the prototype of most modern awards) by giving him the love of Helen of Troy, something of a mixed blessing that led to the Trojan War.
Roman Name: Apollo
Appearance: A young man with curly golden hair.
Symbol or Attribute: The Sun itself, the lyre (a type of musical instrument), the bow, and the chariot he drives across the sky daily.
Strengths: Creative, handsome, supportive of all the arts of civilization.
Weaknesses: Like his father Zeus, Apollo gets in trouble over love.
Birthplace: On the sunny Greek island of Delos, where he was born along with his twin sister, Artemis. Another tradition gives the islands of Lato, now called Paximadia, off the southern coast of Crete.
Spouse: Apollo was never married.
Children: The enchanting semi-divine singer Orpheus and Asklepios, god of healing, are the most famous of Apollo's offspring.
Basic Story: Apollo was the son of the supreme Greek god Zeus and Leto, a nymph. Zeus's wife Hera was outraged and convinced the earth to refuse to allow Leto to give birth anywhere on its surface. But the island of Delos allowed Leto to take refuge there and give birth to Apollo and his twin sister, Artemis, goddess of the hunt and wild things. The goddess Themis assisted in raising him by feeding him ambrosia, the sacred nectar of the gods.
Roman Name: Mars
Appearance: A bearded, good-looking man in the prime of life
Symbol or Attribute: The spear. He is also associated with vultures and dogs.
Animal: Vulture. Dog
Strengths:Decisive, determined, fearless.
Weaknesses: Impulsive, bloodthirsty, raring for a fight regardless of the consequences.
Relationships:No spouse, and his main love is war.
Children:Diomedes, by the nymph Cyrene; Cycnus by Pyrene; Oenomaus by Sterope; Eros by Aphrodite.
Basic Story: Ares is the sole son of the supreme Greek god Zeus and his legitimate wife, Hera. Neither of his far-from-mild-mannered parents were said to be too fond of their even more irritable son; a little more loving nurturing from them might have resulted in Ares being just the God of Minor Conflicts.
Roman Name: Diana
Appearance: An eternally young woman, beautiful and vigorous.
Symbol or Attribute: Her bow, which she uses to hunt, and her hounds. She often wears the lunar crescent on her brow.
Strengths/Talents: Physically strong, able to defend herself, defender and guardian of women in childbirth and of wildlife in general.
Weaknesses/Flaws/Quirks: Dislikes men, whom she sometimes orders torn apart. Opposes the institution of marriage and the subsequent loss of freedom it entails for women.
Parents: Zeus and Leto
Birthplace: The island of Delos, where she was born under a palm tree along with her twin brother Apollo.
Spouse: None. She runs with her maidens in the forests.
Basic Story: Artemis is a freedom-loving young woman who likes to roam the forests with her female companions. She doesn't care for city life and keeps to the natural, wild environment.
Roman Name: Minerva
Appearance: A young woman wearing a helmet and holding a shield.
Symbol or Attribute: the aegis (small shield) showing the snaky head of Medusa. Olive Tree.
Animal: The Owl, signifying watchfulness and wisdom
Strengths: Rational, intelligent, a powerful defender in war but also a potent peacemaker.
Weaknesses: Reason rules her; she is not usually emotional or compassionate but she does have her favorites, such as the beleaguered hero Odysseus.
Birthplace: From the forehead of her father Zeus.
Basic Story: Athena was born fully-armed from the forehead of her father Zeus - according to one story, this is because he swallowed her mother, Metis, while she was pregnant with Athena. Although Zeus's daughter, she could also oppose his plans and conspire against him, though she generally supported him.
Athena and her uncle, the sea god Poseidon, competed for the affections of the Greeks, each providing one gift to the nation. Poseidon provided either a wonderful horse or a salt-water spring rising from the slopes of the Acropolis, but Athena provided the olive tree, giving shade, oil, and olives. The Greeks preferred her gift and named the city after her and built the Parthenon on the Acropolis where Athena is believed to have produced the first olive tree.
Roman Name: Ceres
Appearance: Pleasant-looking mature woman, generally with a veil over her head though her face is visible. Often carrying wheat or her Horn.
Symbols or Attributes: An ear of wheat and the Horn of Plenty (Cornucopia).
Strengths: Demeter controls the fertility of the earth as goddess of Agriculture; also gives life after death to those who learn her Mysteries.
Weaknesses: Not one to cross lightly.
After the kidnapping of her daughter Persephone, Demeter blights the earth and won't let the plants grow. But who can blame her? Zeus gave Hades permission to "marry" Persephone but whoops! didn't mention it to her or her Mom.
Birthplace: Not known
Spouse: Not married.
Children: Persephone- Zeus is generally said to be her father.
Basic Story: Persephone is snatched by Hades; Demeter searches for her but can't find her, and finally stops all life from growing on the earth. Pan spots Demeter in the wilderness and reports her position to Zeus, who then starts negotiations. Ultimately, Demeter gets her daughter for a third of the year, Hades gets her for a third, and Zeus has her services as a handmaiden the rest of the time. Sometimes this is a simpler split, with Mom getting six months and Hubby getting the other six.
Roman Name: Bacchus
Appearance: Dionysus is usually depicted as a dark haired, bearded young man but he can be shown beardless as well.
Symbol or Attribute: Grapes, wine cups, and wineskins
Strengths: Dionysus is the creator of wine. He also shakes things up when it gets dull.
Weaknesses: God of intoxication and drunkenness, states he pursues frequently.
Parents: Son of Zeus and Semele, who unwisely asked to see her lover Zeus in his real form; he appeared and thunder and lightning and Semele was consumed; Zeus saved their child from the ashes of her body.
Spouse: Best known is Ariadne, Cretan princess/priestess who assisted Theseus defeat the Minotaur only to be abandoned by him on the shores of Naxos, one of the islands favored by Dionysos. Fortunately, Dionysus liked beach combing and quickly found and comforted the abandoned princess with an offer of marriage.
Children:Several children by Ariadne, including Oenopion and Staphylos, both associated with grapes and wine making.
Basic Story: Other than the story of his birth, Dionysus is relatively myth-free, yet he was very widespread in later Greek belief. He was not considered to be one of the Olympians, and since Homer skips him, it is suspected that his worship came late to the Greeks, possibly from Anatolia. He was later "adopted" by the Romans under the name of Bacchus, god of the grape, but the Greek worship of Dionysus was more ecstatic and may have preserved some early shamanic practices related to the intoxication provided by wine. Some see in him a survival of the young, vigorous "Cretan-born" Zeus.
Roman Name: Pluto
Appearance: Like Zeus, Hades is usually represented as a vigorous bearded man.
Symbol or Attribute: Invisible helmet.
Animal: Cerberus, his Three headed dog.
Strengths: Rich with the wealth of the earth, especially precious metals. Persistent and determined.
Weaknesses: Passionate over Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, whom Zeus promised to Hades as his bride. (Unfortunately, Zeus apparently neglected to mention it to either Demeter or Persephone.) Impulsive, favoring sudden, decisive actions. Can also be deceptive.
Birthplace: The most common story is that Hades was born to the Great Mother goddess Rhea and Kronos (Father Time) on the island of Crete, along with his brothers Zeus and Poseidon.
Spouse: Persephone, who must stay with him part of each year because she ate a few pomegranate seeds in the Underworld.
Pets: Cerberus, a three-headed dog (In "Harry Potter", this beast has been recently renamed "Fluffy".); black horses; various other hounds.
Basic Myth: Hades springs out of the earth and captures Persephone, dragging her off to be his queen in the Underworld. Her mother Demeter searches for her and stops all foods from growing until Persephone is returned. Finally, a deal is worked out where Persephone stays one-third of the year with Hades, one-third of the year serving as a handmaiden to Zeus at Mount Olympus, and one-third with her mother; other stories skip Zeus's portion and divide Persephone's time between Hades and her Mom.
Hephaestus: God of Forge & Fire
Roman Name: Vulcan
Appearance: A dark haired man who has difficulty walking due to misformed feet. Some accounts make him small in stature.
Symbol or Attribute: The forge and fire.
Strengths: Creative, cunning, an able metal worker
Weaknesses: Drink too much liquor; can be crafty and vindictive.
Parents: Usually said to be Zeus and Hera. Hera is also said to have thrown him into the sea, where he was rescued by Thetis and her sisters.
Children: He created Pandora of the famous box.
Basic Story: Feeling rejected by his mother Hera, Hephaestus made a lovely throne for her and sent it to Olympus. She sat in it and discovered she could not get up again. Then the chair levitated. The other Olympian gods tried to reason with Hephaestus, but even Ares was driven off with his flames. He finally was given wine by Dionysus and, drunk, was brought to Olympus. Drunk or not, he still refused to free Hera unless he could have either Aphrodite or Athene as wife. He ended up with Aphrodite, who in this instance was not a quick learner. When she lay with his brother Ares in the bed Hephaestus had made, chains emerged and they could not leave the bed, exposing them to the laughter of the rest of the Olympians when Hephaestus called them all together to witness his adulterous wife and brother.
Roman Name: Juno
Appearance: A young beautiful woman, maybe even beating out Aphrodite in some opinions.
Symbol or Attribute: Pomegranate
Animal: The peacock.
Strengths: Determined defender of the sanctity of marriage.
Weaknesses: Determined defender of marriage- married Zeus.
Birthplace: Said to be born on the island of Samos or at Argos.
Parents: Rhea and Kronos.
Siblings Zeus, Hestia, Demeter, Hades, and Poseidon.
Children: With Zeus, Ares. Hephaestus-by Zeus. Her daughters were Hebe, goddess of health, and Eileithyia, the Cretan goddess of childbirth.
Basic Story:Zeus was the brother of Hera, who fell in love with him from the first moment she saw him, and eventually got a love charm from Aphrodite to seal the deal. She is very relationship-oriented and spends much of her time driving off Zeus's innumerable nymphs, mistresses, and other dalliances. She also sometimes torments the offspring of those unions, especially Hercules. To her credit, she's gorgeous and kept Zeus busy on his honeymoon on Samos for three hundred years, so she rightfully wonders why on earth he needs to go anywhere else. When she's really fed up, she wanders off by herself, always hoping Zeus will miss her and seek her, usually eventually relenting and returning without being so sought.
Roman Name: Mercury
Appearance: A handsome young man with a winged hat, winged sandals, and a golden staff twined with serpents.
Symbol or Attribute: His staff, called kerykerion in Greek, caduceus in Latin. This is the symbol used by doctors, though Hermes' connection with healing is faint. He is, however, the god of merchants.
Strengths: Clever, bold, determined, athletic, a powerful magician. Can charm monsters with his flute or lyre music.
Weaknesses: No major weakness unless you count seldom staying still for long. Hermes has it together.
Birthplace: Born in a cave on Mount Cylene in Arcadia to Maia
Spouse: Hasn't settled down yet.
Children: By his affair with Dryope, Pan, lusty god of the wild; by the Goddess of Love Aphrodite, Hermaphroditus, a half-man, half-woman deity; Abderus (mother unknown).
Basic Myth: Hermes is the herald of the gods and also leads human souls into and occasionally out of the underworld. Zeus used him as a troubleshooter and secret-agent type, dispatching him to take care of assorted problems. For example, he put the many-eyed Argos to sleep so Io could escape from Zeus's outraged wife Hera. Hermes also arranged for Odysseus to slip away from Callisto, among many other tasks. He is definitely an ally of Zeus.
Roman Name: Vesta
Appearance: A sweet, modestly dressed young woman. She often is shown wearing a veil.
Symbol or Attribute: The hearth and the tamed fire which burns there.
Strengths:Constant, calm, gentle, and supportive of the family and home.
Relationships:Courted by Poseidon and Apollo but remained alone.
Children:Hestia had no children.
Basic Myth: Hestia is the eldest daughter of the Titans Rhea and Kronos (also spelled Chronos. Like the rest of his children, he ate her but she eventually was regurgitated by him. She asked Zeus to be the goddess of the hearth, and she kept the hearth lit at Mount Olympus.
Roman Name: Neptune
Appearance: Poseidon is a bearded, older man usually pictured with with seashells and other sealife.
Symbol or Attribute: The three-pronged trident. He is associated with horses, believed to be seen in the crashing of waves on the shore. He is also believed to be the force behind earthquakes, an odd expansion of the power of a sea god.
Strengths: A creative god, designing all the creatures of the sea.
Weaknesses: Warlike, though not so much as Ares; moody and unpredictable.
Spouse:Amphitrite, a sea goddess.
Parents:Kronos, god of time, and Rhea, goddess of the earth.
Children:Many - second only to Zeus. With his wife Aphitrite, he fathered a half-fish son, Triton. With Medusa he fathered Pegasus, the flying horse, and Demeter, his sister, with whom he fathered a horse, Arion.
Roman Name: Jupiter
Appearance: Usually represented as an older, vigorous bearded man. But representations of Zeus as a powerful young man also exist.
Symbols or Attributes: Thunderbolt.
Strengths: Highly powerful, strong, charming, persuasive.
Weaknesses: Gets in trouble over love, can be moody.
Birthplace: His mother is Rhea and his father is Kronos; things got off to a rocky start as Kronos, fearful of being usurped, kept eating Rhea's children. Finally, she got wise after giving birth to Zeus and substituted a swaddled rock for her husband's snack. Zeus conquered his father and freed his siblings, who were still living in Kronos' stomach.
Spouse: Hera in most stories; Europa, at least among the Cretans; Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis; Dione, mother of Aphrodite.
Children: Lots and lots of them. Hercules is one famous child.
Basic Story: Zeus is King of the Gods of Mount Olympus, seen here from space. He often fights with his wife Hera, and drops down to earth in a variety of disguises to seduce maidens who catch his fancy.
Zeus gained his power by fighting his own father, who had been consuming all the children born to his mother, Rhea. She concealed the birth of Zeus and gave Kronus a swaddled stone to swallow instead. Zeus was raised in secret on Crete, and when old enough and strong enough, defeated his father, forced him to vomit up his swallowed brother and sisters, and surrender to Zeus's power. This should have come as no surprise to Kronus; he had done almost the same with his own father, Uranus.