Greek mythology is extremely rich in legends associated with Ancient Greece. Particularly the worship of gods and heroes is important in the everyday life of Ancient Greeks and practically defines the religious and political institutions. Through a series of ritual practices, Greek Pantheon is an inherent part of Ancient Greek religion and fundamentally related to the Greek civilization as known since the ancient times.
What Is the Greek Pantheon?
According to the Greek mythology, the twelve important and powerful Gods resided at “the home of the gods” at Mytikas, the highest peak of Mount Olympus. Being the principal gods of the Classical Greek and Hellenistic times, the Greek Pantheon was worshiped like being real people rather than immaculate deities. With their perfect bodies, supernatural powers, and immortality that was guaranteed by using ambrosia and nectar, the twelve Olympian gods were both protectors and punishers mirroring human weaknesses and passions. By worshiping their gods, Ancient Greeks were actually projecting their fears, faults, virtues, nightmares and hopes.
Who Are the Olympian Gods?
After a long-standing war against the Titans, known as the Titan Wars, the Pantheon of Olympian Gods was confirmed. Each one of the twelve Olympian Gods had a unique personality and own characteristics and aimed at different things. However, all of them were associated to every part of the everyday life in Ancient Greece and therefore were worshiped in impressive temples all over the Greek territory.
Zeus is the most important god of the Greek Pantheon, symbolizing the omnipotence and absolute power. According to the legend, Zeus was brought up with ambrosia and nectar that white doves were carrying to feed him and also with the milk of goat Amalthea. At the highest peak of Mount Olympus, Zeus governed the lives of gods and humans with his fair laws and was punishing hard anyone who disobeyed his rules. His word was an order and his orders should be obeyed. Holding a thunderbolt in one hand, Zeus was in control of the lightning which he could send on anyone who was disobedient or whose actions were disapproved by him. Being the one that actually defeated the Titans and the Giants and condemned them to live the rest of their lives in the Tartars, the deepest point of Hades where the bad souls were expelled, Zeus was the absolute leader and the governor of the whole.
Hera is one of the most interesting figures of the Greek Pantheon symbolizing marriage and stability and protecting all women. Hera was a very beautiful woman, but also a very respected and honored goddess mostly because she could give a proper advice to anyone who could seek for her help. Being both the wife and sister of Zeus, Hera was famous (and infamous) for her jealousy. Because Zeus had countless erotic adventures, Hera often had to punish her husband’s lovers and children. However, despite the problems created by the almighty Zeus and the fact that Hera was often abandoning him and wandered for days, she was always returning to her beloved husband, making their companionship one of the most eternal pair of the Greek Pantheon.
Poseidon, the god of sea and earthquakes, was the governor of drinkable waters, sources and the geological phenomena, symbolizing power. Being Zeus’ brother, Poseidon got the undersea world when the world was split after the Titan Wars among the three brothers, namely Zeus, Pluto and Poseidon. Poseidon built a wonderful palace under the sea that was as glorious as the one of Zeus in Mount Olympus. Although he was strong enough and he could punish gods and humans with his trident, he could not overpower Zeus. Poseidon was the protector of seamen and was often depicted holding, besides the trident, a dolphin or a tuna.
Ancient Greeks were the first people to understand reasoning and formulate universal laws for the functioning of the universe. This explains their need to coin goddess Athena, who symbolized wisdom and wit. Athena, daughter of Zeus and Metis, was the goddess of wisdom, craftsmanship, strategy and war and if she were brought up in a modern day family she would definitely be a career woman. Bearing the wisdom, the mental power and the skills to help Zeus in difficult times, Athena was strong, fair, and merciful and did not hesitate to participate in the Titan Wars using her shield and spear to defeated and kill the Giant Enceladus. Although her appearance implied fighting in battle, Athena was mostly worshiped as a judge, diplomat, and mediator. Besides, by being an outstanding strategist, Athena could offer her valuable help to mortal heroes, helping them to triumph in their battles. According to the legend, Athena was born from the head of Zeus, emerging all armed with a helmet and holding a shield. Zeus had swallowed her fearing that Hera would give birth to a more powerful son. Besides wisdom, Athena symbolized also eternal virginity and the city of Athens was named after her. Her symbols were the spear, the owl and the olive.
It would be impossible for the Ancient Greeks, who adored the natural and physical beauty, not to coin a goddess who would protect and personify eternal beauty and love. Aphrodite was the most beautiful goddess in the Greek Pantheon symbolizing beauty, love and erotic pleasure. Daughter of Zeus and Dione, Aphrodite emerged from the sea, according to the legend, with a gentle blast from the wind Zephyr who pushed her over the white foamy waves (in Greek foam is “aphros”). Being the absolute deification of feminine beauty, Aphrodite could not but intrigue and dazzle gods and mortals with her beauty and sensuality. Being joyful and impulsive, Aphrodite had nothing in common with her ugly and whinny husband Hephaestus whom she married because Zeus was afraid that all other gods would fight over her beauty. Whatsoever, Aphrodite is believed to have been extremely unfaithful to Hephaestus both with gods and humans. According to Homer, her most significant love affair was with Ares, the god of war, with whom she got a daughter named Harmony.
Hephaestus, son of Zeus and Hera, was the ugliest god of the Greek Pantheon. Hephaestus was also limp because Hera threw him off Mount Olympus because he was so ugly she was embarrassed even looking at him. However his immortality saved his life as he fell in the sea and survived. Symbolizing craftsmanship and inventiveness and being the god of fire, metalworking, volcanism, and carpentry, Hephaestus returned back to Olympus because of his exceptional ability to make jewelry, a fact that caught the attention of Hera. Being jealous of Thetis’ jewels, the woman who collected and brought up Hephaestus, Hera took Hephaestus back to Olympus and offered him a smithery. Some of his most famous creations were Pandora, the first mortal woman whom he molded using clay, and the construction of Talus, the first robot of the ancient era that became known as the guard of Crete. Besides, volcanoes in Greek are named after Hephaestus as in Greek volcano is called “hephestio”.
Son of Zeus and Hera, Ares symbolized war. Although for some researchers it comes as a surprise how Ancient Greeks have coined such an aggressive god, it should be considered that in ancient Greek mythology two major military operations are omni-present: the Trojan War and the Argonauts. Therefore, Ares is not a foreigner god as some scholars claim but a true, second generation Olympian god who loved to cause wars and fights and was particularly obnoxious to gods and humans. Because of his provocative nature, he was not honored by any city in the Greek territory. Besides, his famous conflicts with Athena over war issues were often upsetting Mount Olympus. On the other hand, his love affair with Aphrodite gave birth to a daughter who was named Harmony.
Apollo, son of Zeus and Leto, was the god of the sun and light symbolizing the youth and the beauty. Being one of the most important Gods in the Greek Pantheon, Apollo stayed eternally young like the Sun. He was also associated to medicine because his therapeutic light could heal humans like the solar light sterilizes and grows the plants. Apollo was also the god of music because he could vibrate all the elements of the Music in the entire universe. According to the legend, Apollo became a great musician out of his grief for having accidentally killed his best friend, Yakinthos. Every day the two friends were playing discus, which was their favorite game. However, Zephyr got jealous and blew a bit stronger thus changing the course of Apollo’s discus that hit Yakinthos on the head and killed. From the blood that came out of the young man’s head beautiful flowers bloomed that were named after him (hyacinth). However, Apollo, devastated and sad, went back to the palace and since that day he never stopped playing sad tunes with his golden lyre.
Artemis was one of the oldest, most multifaceted but extremely interest characters of the Greek Pantheon. Daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo, Artemis were the goddess of hunting, mountains and forests and protector of young children and animals. Zeus’ admiration for Artemis was immense particularly for her persistence and determination and also because of the versatility of her character. Being faithful and committed, Artemis maintained her virginity and dedicated herself to the hunting and nature ignoring the pleasures of marriage and erotic intercourse. She was also extremely strict with the nymphs that surrounded her and she required that they also remained innocent. The regions of Ancient Greece where Artemis was worshiped were fertile and the ground could seed. On the contrary, the regions where humans did not honor Artemis were infertile as the goddess was deeply displeased. In fact, Artemis was a cruel goddess particularly with those who disobeyed her and offended her rules. She was often portrayed holding an arc, and being surround by coffins and a deer.
Son of Zeus and Maia, Hermes was the messenger of the Greek Pantheon and protector of tradesmen, wayfarers and wrestlers. Cunning and clever, agile and resourceful, deceitful and dreamer, a thief and flatterer, energetic and restless, Hermes symbolized speech and eloquence and was the inventor of letters and numbers. Hermes was also known for his countless erotic adventures. Although his absolute love was Aphrodite, he never really succeeded in attracting her. Besides, Hermes was the one who gave Pandora, the first mortal woman that Hephaestus molded with clay, human voice. Hermes is also associated with astronomy because he liked to do his activities at night and considered the creator of weights and measures and by analogy patron of commerce. Hermes was portrayed with a caduceus, emblem of messengers, and the winged sandals.
Being one of the oldest and most famous goddesses of the Greek Pantheon, Demeter, daughter of Cronos and Rea, was the goddess of agriculture, vegetation and land symbolizing fertility. Although she was humble and disliked romance, her brother Zeus fell in love with her and had intercourse with her after transforming her into bull. From this intercourse, Demeter gave birth to her only daughter, Persephone. Demeter and Persephone are the main characters in the Eleusinian mysteries that were extremely important in Ancient Greece. The abduction of Persephone from Hades caused depression to Demeter, who decided to get dressed in black and to punish humanity with infertility. Until Persephone returned from the Under World, humanity suffered from famine because the ground could not seed. According to the legend, six months every year that Demeter mourns, the ground is infertile, but when Persephone returns, Demeter is happy and this is when good weather returns and summer time allows the ground to seed.
Hestia, daughter of Cronos and Rea, was the goddess of home symbolizing domestic life and family. Her name originating from the Greek word “estia” which means “fire” symbolized the domestic fire that burned and allowed humans to communicate with gods. Hestia was actually the first goddess to disclose the existence of fire to humans. This is why her name has a holy importance that is associated to the Holy Fire that was used for the sacrifices in Ancient Greece. By practicing all the religious rituals during a sacrifice, Ancient Greeks were honoring Hestia who was believed to reside in the altar. Besides, Hestia’s name symbolized the treaty between the colonies and their mother-cities and therefore the cities that were protected by her could not be captured. For this reason, Hestia was honored in every single home to protect every member of each family, bur she was never worshiped in public.