Although there were many gods, goddesses, lesser gods and so on, there were twelve who were seen as the most powerful.
All twelve lived up on Mount Olympus and each had his or her own area of responsibility and dispensed justice and punishment upon the mortals living down helow. As you ‘ll see though, life wasn’t all ambrosia and nectar for a hardworking god or goddess!
Father ot all gods and humans and lord of heaven and earth, Zeus actually had a bit of a shaky start to hie! His father. Cronus had a rather odd taste for eating the babies he and his wife Rhea had after being told by his own fat her, I .’ranus, that one of his off-spring would grow up to steal his power. Rhea though, was getting just a little fed up with Cronus’ unm s and, after giving birth to Zeus, decided enough was enough and slipped him a stone wrapped in blankets in place of the newborn child. Cronus popped in the stone, swallowed it went off quite happily believing he hat] dispatched yet another baby. As a result of all the secrecy, Zeus had to be hidden away in a secret cave in Crete and was brought up by a goat and a few nymphs. Not surprisingly, he seems to have grown up with one1 or two cjuirks to his own personality! As soon as he came of age, Zeus left his cave and went off in search of his father and forced him to drink a potion that made him regurgitate all the babies he had swallowed! It must have come as something of a surprise to poor old Cronus when all the babies emerged as fully grown adults who then banded together with their new found hero, Zeus, atid a band of Titans who, in turn, defeated Cronus and his merry band of Giants in a massive battle.
So. suddenly finding himself master of all he-surveyed. Zeus telt it was time he settled down, took a wife and started a family of his own. Now one would have thought that Zeus, being something of a celebrity, could have had his pick of the local beauties. Strange then thai the one he chose to be his wife was none other than his sister, Hera! It seems though, ihat old Zeus had a bit ot a roving eye and embarked on many a love affair, much to the distress of Hera. Despite’ his reputation as a womaniser, Zeus did earn the respect of his people by being a strong leader, dispensing punishment and justice with a firm, but fair, hand.
Goddess of the family and patron ot married women, Hera was the wife (and sister), ot Zeus. The young and naive Hera had been tricked into the marriage by Zeus who, having unsuccessfully tried to court her, resorted to skullduggery. The sneaky Zeus turned himself into a sick bird which Hera clasped to her bosom in an attempt to keep it warm. Finding himself wrapped in Hera’s embrace, Zeus sprang back into his normal form and ravished her. Hera was then forced to agree to marry the cad to cover her shame. After giving birth to four children, Ares, I Ic-be, Hephaestus and Edeithia, Hera, understandably, became }U$( the tiniest bit enraged when she learned of her husbands philandering ways. In addition to her own four children. Hera was forced to bring up many of the children resulting from her husbands affairs, not an easy task as any modern day mum will confirm. After a long hard day of drudgery, Hera’s favourite pastime was plotting revenge on her husbands many paramours, one particularly successful plot involved a pretty young thing named lo. After hearing that Zeus was especially enamoured of the latest in his string of ladies, she took drastic action and turned lo into a cow!
God of the Sea, Poseidon had two brothers, Hades and Zeus. Having overthrown their father with rather a grand battle, the three brothers drew lots for which part of the world they would control. Poseidon drew the sea, although it could have been worse, poor old Hades got stuck with the Underworld. Still, he made the best of things and built himself a splendid underwater palace and stables where he kept his fine white horses and his golden chariot. Another handy piece of equipment carried by Poseidon was his trident with which he was able to conjure up typhoons, hurricanes and even earthquakes.
Having made himself a cosy home, and feeling secure in his job, Poseidon began casting his roving eye around for a likely bride, preferably one who would be able to live in his watery palace. A pretty little sea nymph called Amphirite caught his attention and he began his pursuit of her with a vengeance. The start of their relationship was just a little rocky, Amphirite found him repulsive, but being a fickle nymph, she was soon persuaded that Poseidon was quite a good catch after all and the date was set. Amphirite settled herself into the palace and dutifully produced three children for Poseidon, one of them a merman! But alas, Poseidon was much like his brother Zeus when it came to fidelity and before too long, Amphirite was consumed with jealousy as she learnt of her husbands many affairs. Maybe he wasn’t so repulsive after all. All this dashing around, juggling affairs, creating thunder storms, calming the seas and so on was obviously quite exhausting for Poseidon which might explain why he was such a surly old pus, constantly picking fights with other gods and generally making himself quite unpopular. One of his major contests was with the goddess Athena over possession of the city of Cecropia. Poseidon did his usual trick of striking the ground with his trident to produce a powerful stream of seawater as his gift to the local population. The wily Athena however, had a much better idea.
Goddess of Wisdom, Athena had a very strange- entry into the world. Her father, Zeus, had begun a dalliance with a young lady named Metis whose parents had foretold to him that their affair would produce a daughter who would be beautiful, brave and wise, and a son who would grow to be a serious rival to Zeus. Following in his father’s footsteps, Zeus promptly swallowed the heavily pregnant Metis. When the time was right, Zeus asked one of his sons, Hephaestus to crack open his head with an axe. Strange request though it was, Hephaestus duly obliged and struck Zeus with the axe. Much to everyone’s great surprise, out popped Athena, fully-grown, clad in armour and brandishing a spear! Dear old dad took a real shine to Athena and, before too long, she was fighting bravely at his side during the Battle of the Giants.
The squabble between Athena and Poseidon however, was the ca’use of Athena’s rtal rise to fame. Both wanted to become the patron of the city of Cecropia and a contest was arranged between the two to see who would give the most valuable gift to the people of the city. As we already know, Poseidon showered them with seawater. Athena, in her wisdom, stamped her foot on the ground and up popped an olive tree, the crowds cheered and the city was renamed Athens. Poseidon stomped off in a sulk and flooded the city with huge waves until Zeus intervened on his daughter’s behalf and told Poseidon to quit whilst he was ahead. Athena was a popular goddess with mortals and other gods and attracted many suitors. She chose, however, to remain celibate and unmarried, perhaps a wise decision given the track record of her family!
God of Light and Music Apollo (twin of Artemis) was the son of Leto and Zeus, much to the distress of Zeus’ wife Hera! When Hera had learnt of the affair, and of the pregnancy. she forced the poor expectant mum to flee to the barren island ofDelos, the only island that would offer her sanctuary and a safe place to give birth to her twins. The instant the God of Light, Apollo was born, the whole island began to glow and became a fertile and prosperous place.
Apollo grew tall and handsome and performed many armmng rcacs of courage, including the slaying of a dragon which had plagued the religious centre of Delphi. It seems though that the genes of Zeus were as strong as ever and before too long, Apollo was using his charm and good looks to seduce nymphs and mortal maidens by the score. One such maiden, Daphne, was so horrified by rhe unwanted attentions of Apollo that she begged her father, Peneus, to save her virtue by turning her into a tree. A little dramatic perhaps, but most effective!
Goddess ot the Moon and the Hunt, Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo. Artemis so valued her virtue that she begged Zeus to allow her to remain unmarried and wandered rhe forest with cleer and other wild beasts. Whilst seemingly a pleasant young lady, Artemis did have a slight temper that was ro prove the downfall of a young man named Aktaeon. The foolish young Aktaeon, whilst out hunting, had chanced upon the naked Artemis bathing in a pool one day deep in the forest. Being a bit of a rake, Aktaeon raced back to his pals to boast oi having seen the beautiful goddess in all her glory. Artemis was furious and took her cruel revenge by turning Aktaeon into a stag and setting his own pack of fifty hounds upon him. The unfortunate Aktaeon was torn to pieces and his Peeping Tom days came to an abrupt end.
Despite her virginity, Artemis became the protector ol women during childbirth and is often depicted as a symbol of fertility.
Goddess of Beauty and Love, Aphrodite, hacl her own peculiar beginning. One story says that she is the daughter oi Zeus arid Dione, the other story though, is far more romantic. It seems that Cronus had a bit of an altercation with Uranus and during the fight, Cronus somehow managed to castrate Uranus and flung the severed bits and pieces down into the sea. Immediately, the beautiful Aphrodite sprang torrh and waded to the shore in Cyprus.
In addition to the usual sort of powers that a goddess mighr have, Aphrodite was also said to possess a magical girdle thar caused all men who saw her to be consumed with desire! It seems that girdles these days are just not the same…
Despite being beautiful and having men fall at her feet left, right anci centre, Aphrodite chose to marry the only ugly god there was, Hephaestus. Of course, as seemed normal in chose days, she then embarked on many love affairs and her long suffering husband was forced to create a magical fishing net in which ro catch his wandering wife with one of her lovers. There followed a strange sort of court case presided over by rhe gods, the goddesses finding it all a bit distasteful having declined to be involved, and Aphrodite and her lover. Ares, were made a bit of a laughing stock. To get her revenge, Aphrodite cook to creating mischief and mayhem by causing the gods to fall in love with mortal women!
Cod of Commerce and Bearer of Dead Souls, Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia showed his crafty and cunning nature very early on. Whilst still in infancy, he stole the oxen of Apollo, his half-brother, and their father had to step in and put an end to (he squabble. In addition to being God of Commerce, Hermes was also entrusted to escort the souls of the dead to the Underworld and hand them over to Hades. He also earned the reputation of being a good guy by helping lo out after Hera had turned her into a cow. Hermes slaughtered the guard dog and broke the spell over lo and she was returned to herself. Just like the rest of the gods, Hermes had his share of romance (there was no telly in those days!), and was said to have fathered many children. One of his sons, it’s said, was the God Pan who is always depicted as half man, half goat with horns. Funny what can topple out of those whirling gene pools eh.’
Godciess of Agnculrure, Demeter, was saicl to be a happy and balanced lady and spent her time caring for the earrh and ensuring rhat wheat production was kept to a maximum. However, she had one daughter, Persephone, whom she adored beyond all else and when that daughter was kidnapped by Pluto and carried off to the Underworld, Persephone neglected her duties and went off to search for her missing child. Whilst she was away, the earth fell barren and nothing grew, so many of the humans who were under the care of the gocls died of starvation. Eventually, Zeus stepped in and ordered Pluto to send Persephone back. He did, but sneakily forced rhe gullible young lady to eat a pomegranate seed before she left. The pomegranate seed had the effect of making Persephone long to return to the Underwork! for eight months of the year. So, for rhe four months thar Demeter was happy wirh her daughter, everything in rhe garden was lovely, trees blossomed and gave fruit, vegetables were ripe and plentiful and the wheat yield was high. During rhe eight months that Persephone was away though, the land fell barren and would yield nothing until the next time Persephone returned.
Goddess of Family Peace, Hestia was the sister of Zeus and, as such, seems to have been the ‘maiden’ aunt that most families seem to have tucked away somewhere. She doesn’t seem to have played any part in any of the adventures or intrigues that went on, nor did she have any romantic interests. It seems she was simply happy up on Mount Olympus, taking care of the home and the many children produced by Zeus and his gang. All in all, Hestia seems to have been a nice lady who simply liked a quiet life.
God of Fire and Art, Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera. Unlike all the other gods, Hephaestus it seems was not blessed with the gootl looks of the rest of the family. The story goes that when he was born, Hera was so repulsed by his ugliness that she flung him from Mount Olympus into the sea anci broke both his legs. He was raised by sea nymphs and spent his youth plotting revenge on his mother. When the time was ripe, he fashioned a golden throne and sent it as a gift to Hera which, when she sat on it, bound her to the seat. Hephaesrus had cast such a strong spell on the seat that he was the only one with the power to break it and, once again, Zeus had to step in to arbitrate. He promised Hephaestus that if he set his mother free, he would be able to attract beautiful women, in spite of his ugliness. It seems to have worked too, Hephaestus was married to the lovely Aphrodite and is said to have had a secret and passionate affair with Chare, beauty personified. Jt seems that after taking his revenge on his mother, Hephaestus went on to be a kind and peaceful man and was patron god to blacksmiths and weavers. So, in some cases, all’s well rhat ends well.
God of War, Ares was another son of Zeus and Hera but was disliked immensely by both parents. It seems that wherever there was trouble, war, fighting or bloodshed. Ares would be found. He consrantly fought with the other gods including Zeus who called him a murderous and bloodstained coward. Strong words. Arcs rhough, had a way with rhe ladies and had numerous affairs one of which, with Aphrodite, produced two rather odd children, Fear and Terror!