Zeus - King of the Gods

Zeus, the youngest son of Cronus and Rhea, he was the supreme ruler of Mount Olympus and of the Pantheon of gods who resided there. Being the supreme ruler he upheld law, justice and morals, and this made him the spiritual leader of both gods and men. Zeus was a celestial god, and originally worshiped as a weather god by the Greek tribes. These people came southward from the Balkans circa 2100 BCE. He has always been associated as being a weather god, as his main attribute is the thunderbolt, he controlled thunder, lightning and rain. Theocritus wrote circa 265 BCE: "sometimes Zeus is clear, sometimes he rains". He is also known to have caused thunderstorms. In Homer's epic poem the Iliad he sent thunderstorms against his enemies. The name Zeus is related to the Greek word dios, meaning "bright". His other attributes as well as lightning were the scepter, the eagle and his aegis (this was the goat-skin of Amaltheia).

When Zeus had grown into a young man he returned to his fathers domain, and with the help of Gaia, compelled Cronus to regurgitate the five children he had previously swallowed (in some versions Zeus received help from Metis who gave Cronus an emetic potion, which made him vomit up Zeus' brothers and sisters). However, Zeus led the revolt against his father and the dynasty of the Titans, defeated and then banished them. Once Zeus had control, he and his brothers divided the universe between them: Zeus gaining the heavens, Poseidon the sea and Hades the underworld. Zeus had to defend his heavenly kingdom. The three separate assaults were from the offspring of Gaia: they were the Gigantes, Typhon (Zeus fought them with his thunder-bolt and aegis) and the twin brothers who were called the Aloadae. The latter tried to gain access to the heavens by stacking Mount Ossa on top of Mount Olympus, and Mount Pelion on top of Mount Ossa, but the twins still failed in their attempt to overthrow Zeus. As he did with the Titans, Zeus banished them all to "Tartarus", which is the lowest region on earth, lower than the underworld.

According to legend, Metis, the goddess of prudence, was the first love of Zeus. At first she tried in vain to escape his advances, but in the end succumbed to his endeavor, and from their union Athena was conceived. Gaia warned Zeus that Metis would bear a daughter, whose son would overthrow him. On hearing this Zeus swallowed Metis, the reason for this was to continue to carry the child through to the birth himself. Hera (his wife and sister) was outraged and very jealous of her husband's affair, also of his ability to give birth without female participation. To spite Zeus she gave birth to Hephaestus parthenogenetically (without being fertilized) and it was Hephaestus who, when the time came, split open the head of Zeus, from which Athena emerged fully armed.

Zeus had many offspring; his wife Hera bore him Ares, Hephaestus, Hebe and Eileithyia, but Zeus had numerous liaisons with both goddesses and mortals. He either raped them, or used devious means to seduce the unsuspecting maidens. His union with Leto (meaning the hidden one) brought forth the twins Apollo and Artemis. Once again Hera showed her jealousy by forcing Leto to roam the earth in search of a place to give birth, as Hera had stopped her from gaining shelter on terra-firma or at sea. The only place she could go was to the isle of Delos in the middle of the Aegean, the reason being that Delos was, as legend states, a floating island.

Besides deities, he also fathered many mortals. In some of his human liaisons Zeus used devious disguises. When he seduced the Spartan queen Leda, he transformed himself into a beautiful swan, and from the egg which Leda produced, two sets of twins were born: Castor and Polydeuces and Clytemnestra and Helen of Troy. He visited princess Danae as a shower of gold, and from this union the hero Perseus was born. He abducted the Phoenician princess Europa, disguised as a bull, then carried her on his back to the island of Crete where she bore three sons: Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. Zeus also took as a lover the Trojan prince Ganymede. He was abducted by an eagle sent by Zeus (some legends believe it was Zeus disguised as an eagle). The prince was taken to Mount Olympus, where he became Zeus' cup-bearer. Zeus also used his charm and unprecedented power to seduce those he wanted, so when Zeus promised Semele that he would reveal himself in all his splendor, in order to seduce her, the union produced Dionysus, but she was destroyed when Zeus appeared as thunder and lightening. Themis, the goddess of justice bore the three Horae, goddesses of the seasons to Zeus, and also the three Moirae, known as these Fates. When Zeus had an affair with Mnemosyne, he coupled with her for nine consecutive nights, which produced nine daughters, who became known as the Muses. They entertained their father and the other gods as a celestial choir on Mount Olympus. They became deities of intellectual pursuits. Also the three Charites or Graces were born from Zeus and Eurynome. From all his children Zeus gave man all he needed to live life in an ordered and moral way.

Zeus had many Temples and festivals in his honor, the most famous of his sanctuaries being Olympia, the magnificent "Temple of Zeus", which held the gold and ivory statue of the enthroned Zeus, sculpted by Phidias and hailed as one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World". Also the Olympic Games were held in his honor. The Nemean Games, which were held every two years, were to honor Zeus. There were numerous festivals throughout Greece: in Athens they celebrated the marriage of Zeus and Hera with the Theogamia (or Gamelia). The celebrations were many: in all, Zeus had more than 150 epithets, each one being celebrated in his honor.

Symbols and weapons of Zeus: The thunderbolt, eagle, bull, and oak.

Hera - Queen of the Gods

The queen of the Olympian deities. She is a daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and wife and sister of Zeus. Hera was mainly worshipped as a goddess of marriage and birth. It is said that each year Hera's virginity returns by bathing in the well Canathus. The children of Hera and Zeus are the smith-god Hephaestus, the goddess of youth Hebe, and the god of war Ares. According to some sources, however, her children were conceived without the help of a man, either by slapping her hand on the ground or by eating lettuce: thus they were born, not out of love but out of lust and hatred.

Writers represented Hera as constantly being jealous of Zeus's various amorous affairs. She punished her rivals and their children, among both goddesses and mortals, with implacable fury. She placed two serpents in the cradle of Heracles; she had Io guarded by a hundred-eyed giant; she drove the foster-parents of Dionysus mad, and tried to prevent the birth of Apollo and Artemis. Even Zeus usually could not stand up to her. Sometimes when he got angry, he chained her to the mountain of Olympus by fastening anvils to her feet. However, most of the time Zeus resorted to stratagems: he either hid his illegitimate children, or he changed them into animals.

Symbols and weapons of Hera:
The scepter, diadem, and the peacock.

Poseidon - God of the Sea

Poseidon was a son of Cronus and Rhea. In most accounts he is swallowed by Cronus at birth but later saved, with his other brothers and sisters, by Zeus. However in some versions of the story, he, like his brother Zeus, did not share the fate of his other brother and sisters who were eaten by Cronus. He was saved by his mother Rhea, who concealed him among a flock of lambs and pretended to have given birth to a colt, which she gave to Cronus to devour. According to John Tzetzes the kourotrophos, or nurse of Poseidon was Arne, who denied knowing where he was, when Cronus came searching; according to Diodorus Siculus Poseidon was raised by the Telchines on Rhodes, just as Zeus was raised by the Korybantes on Crete.

Poseidon was a major civic god of several cities: in Athens, he was second only to Athena in importance; while in Corinth and many cities of Magna Graecia he was the chief god of the polis. In his benign aspect, Poseidon was seen as creating new islands and offering calm seas. When offended or ignored, he supposedly struck the ground with his trident and caused chaotic springs, earthquakes, drownings and shipwrecks. Sailors prayed to Poseidon for a safe voyage, sometimes drowning horses as a sacrifice.

Symbols and weapons of Poseidon:  The trident and the dolphin.

Athena- Goddess of Wisdom, War, Arts, Industry, Justice and Skill

Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industry, justice and skill. She was the favorite child of Zeus. She had sprung fully grown out of her father's head. Her mother was Metis, goddess of wisdom and Zeus' first wife. In fear that Metis would bear a son mightier than himself. Zeus swallowed her and she began to make a robe and helmet for her daughter. The hammering of the helmet caused Zeus great pain in the form of headaches and he cried out in agony. Skilled Hephaestus ran to his father and split his skull open and from it emerged Athena, fully grown and wearing her mother's robe and helmet. She is the virgin mother of Erichthnonius.

Athena and her uncle Poseidon were both very fond of a certain city in Greece. Both of them claimed the city and it was decided that the one that could give the finest gift should have it. Leading a procession of citizens, the two gods mounted the Acropolis. Poseidon struck the side of the cliff with his trident and a spring welled up. The people marveled, but the water was as salty as Poseidon's sea and it was not very useful. Athena's gift was an olive tree, which was better because it gave the people food, oil and wood. Athena named her city Athens.

Symbols and weapons of Athena: Symbols are the olive tree and the owl.

Ares - God of War

The Greek god of war and battle and the instigator of violence, a son of Zeus and Hera. Because of his cruel and war-like nature he was despised by all the gods, even his own father disliked him. Ares could be bloody, merciless, fearful and cowardly and possessed no moral attributes. He was, however, unable to withstand the loveliness of Aphrodite, who subsequently became his consort. Ares was of giant stature and had a loud voice, and surpassed the other gods in speed.

On the battlefield Ares was accompanied by Phobos ("Fear") and Deimos ("Terror"), two lesser divinities who are sometimes given as his sons. He was furthermore attended by the goddesses Eris ("Strife") and Enyo ("Horror"). Ares is also the father of the Harmonia, the goddess of harmony, and of the Amazons Penthesilea and Hippolyte.

Ares' cult was never very popular in Hellas and there were only a few temples dedicated to him. His cult was probably introduced from Thrace, the region where he was held in high regard. Etymologically his name may mean "destroyer" or "avenger".

Symbols and weapons of Ares:
Vultures, dogs, boars, and a spear.

Demeter - Goddess of Fertility, Grain and Harvest

Demeter is a daughter of Cronus and Rhea and sister of Zeus by whom she became the mother of Persephone. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, lord of the underworld, Demeter wandered the earth in search of her lost child. During this time the earth brought forth no grain. Finally Zeus sent Hermes to the underworld, ordering Hades to restore Persephone to her mother. However, before she left, Hades gave her a pomegranate (a common fertility symbol). When she ate from it, she was bound to spend a third of the year with her husband in the infernal regions. Only when her daughter is with her, Demeter lets things grow (summer). The dying and blossoming of nature was thus connected with Demeter.

In the Eleusinian mysteries, Demeter and Persephone were especially venerated. When she was looking for her daughter, in the shape of an old woman called Doso, she was welcomed by Celeus, the king of Eleusis (in Attica). He requested her to nurse his sons Demophon and Triptolemus '. To reward his hospitality she intended to make the boy Demophon immortal by placing him each night in the hearth, to burn his mortal nature away. The spell was broken one night because Metanira, the wife of Celeus, walked in on her while she was performing this ritual. Demeter taught the other son, Triptolemus, the principles of agriculture, who, in turn, taught others this art. In Demeter's honor as a goddess of marriage, women in Athens, and other centers in Greece, celebrated the feast of Thesmophoria (from her epithet Thesmophoros, "she of the regular customs"). Throughout Classical times members of all social strata came from all parts of the Mediterranean world to be initiated in and celebrate her Mysteries at Eleusis.

Symbols and weapons of Demeter:  The scepter, torch, and corn.

Apollo - God of Light, Music, Medicine, Hunting, and Prophecy

The son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin brother of Artemis. Apollo was the god of music (principally the lyre, and he directed the choir of the Muses) and also of prophecy, colonization, medicine, archery (but not for war or hunting), poetry, dance, intellectual inquiry and the carer of herds and flocks. He was also a god of light, known as "Phoebus" (radiant or beaming, and he was sometimes identified with Helios the sun god). He was also the god of plague and was worshiped as Smintheus (from sminthos, rat) and as Parnopius (from parnops, grasshopper) and was known as the destroyer of rats and locust, and according to Homer's Iliad, Apollo shot arrows of plague into the Greek camp. Apollo being the god of religious healing would give those guilty of murder and other immoral deeds a ritual purification. Sacred to Apollo are the swan (one legend says that Apollo flew on the back of a swan to the land of the Hyperboreans, he would spend the winter months among them), the wolf and the dolphin. His attributes are the bow and arrows, on his head a laurel crown, and the cithara (or lyre) and plectrum. But his most famous attribute is the tripod, the symbol of his prophetic powers.

When the goddesss Hera, the wife of Zeus (it was he who had coupled with Leto) found out about Leto's pregnancy, she was outraged with jealousy. Seeking revenge Hera forced Leto to roam the earth in search of a place to give birth. Sicne Hera had forbidden Leto to stay anywhere on earth, either on terra-ferma or an island at sea, the only place to seek shelter was Delos, being in the center of the Aegean, and also difficult to reach, as there were strong under-currents, because it was said to be a floating island. Because it was a floating island, it was not considered either of Hera's prohibitions, and so Leto was able to give birth to the divine twins Apollo and Artemis (before Leto gave birth to Apollo, the island was encircled by a flock of swans, this is why the swan was sacred to him). As a gesture of thanks Delos was secured to the sea-bed by four columns to give it stability, and from then on it became one of the most important sanctuaries to Apollo. (A variation of Apollo's birth was that the jealous Hera had incarcerated Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth, but the other gods intervened forcing Hera to release Ilithyia, which allowed Leto to give birth ).

Apollo's first achievement was to rid Pytho (Delphi) of the serpent (or dragon) Python. This monstrous beast protected the sanctuary of Pytho from its lair beside the Castalian Spring. There it stood guard while the "Sibyl" gave out her prophecies as she inhaled the trance inducing vapors from an open chasm. Apollo killed Python with his bow and arrows (Homer wrote "he killed the fearsome dragon Python, piercing it with his darts"). Apollo not only took charge of the oracle but rid the neighboring countryside of widespread destruction, as Python had destroyed crops, sacked villages and polluted streams and springs. However, to make amends for killing Python, as the fearsome beast was the son of Gaia, Apollo had to serve king Admetus for nine years (in some versions eight) as a cowherd. This he did, and when he returned to Pytho he came in the guise of a dolphin bringing with him priests from Crete (Apollo's cult title "Delphinios" meaning dolphin or porpoise, is probably how Delphi was so named). After killing Python and taking possession of the oracle, the god of light (Phobus) became known as "Pythian Apollo". He dedicated a bronze tripod to the sanctuary and bestowed divine powers on one of the priestesses, and she became known as the "Pythia". It was she who inhaled the hallucinating vapors from the fissure in the temple floor, while she sat on a tripod chewing laurel leaves. After she mumbled her answer, a male priest would translate it for the supplicant. Delphi became the most important oracle center of Apollo, there were several including Clarus and Branchidae.

Apollo, as with Zeus his father, had many love affairs with goddesses and mortals. Apollo's infatuation for the nymph Daphne, which had been invoked by the young god of love Eros, because Apollo had mocked him, saying his archery skills were pathetic, and Apollo's singing had also irritated him. Daphne was the beautiful daughter of the river god Ladon, and she was constantly pursued by Apollo. To escape from Apollo's insistent behavior, she fled to the mountains, but the persistent Apollo followed her. Annoyed by this, she asked the river god Peneus for help, which he did. As soon as Apollo approached Daphne, he tried to embrace her, but when he stretched out his arms she transformed into a laurel tree. Apollo, distraught by what had happened, made the laurel his sacred tree. Apollo also loved Cyrene, she was another nymph, and she bore Apollo a son: Aristaeus, a demi-god, who became a protector of cattle and fruit trees, and a deity of hunting, husbandry and bee-keeping. He taught men dairy skills and the use of nets and traps in hunting.

The most famous mortal loves of Apollo was Hecuba, she was the wife of Priam, the king of Troy. She bore him Troilius. Foretold by an oracle, as long as Troilius reached the age of twenty, Troy could not be defeated. But the hero Achilles ambushed and killed him, when the young prince and his sister Polyxena secretly visited a spring. Apollo also fell in love with Cassandra, the sister of Troilius, and daughter of Hecuba and Priam. He seduced Cassandra on the promise that he would teach her the art of prophecy, but having learnt the prophetic art she rejected him. Apollo, being angry of her rejection punished her, by declaring her prophecies never to be accepted or believed.

Asclepius, the god of healing, was also Apollo's offspring, after his union with Coronis, who was daughter of Phlegyas, king of the Lapiths. While she was pregnant by Apollo, Coronis fell in love with Ischys, son of Elatus, but a crow informed Apollo of the affair. Apollo sent his twin sister Artemis to kill Coronis, and Artemis carried out he brothers wishes. While her body was burning on the funeral pyre, Apollo removed the unborn child, and took him to Chiron, who raised the child Asclepius.

Apollo also, as did his father Zeus, fall in love with one of his own gender, Hyacinthus, a Spartan prince. He was very handsome and athletic, which inflamed the passions of Apollo. One day while Apollo and Hyacinthus were practicing throwing the discus, Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, who was also attracted to the young prince, and jealous of Apollo's amorous affection towards the boy, made the discus veer off course by blowing an ill wind. The discus, which Apollo had thrown, hit Hyacinthus, smashing his skull. Apollo rushed to him, but he was dead. The god was overcome with grief, but to immortalize the love he had for the beautiful youth, he had a flower grow were his blood had stained the earth. Apollo also loved the young boy Cyparissus, a descendant of Heracles. The impassioned Apollo gave Cyparissus a sacred deer, as a love token. The young deer became tame, and was the constant companion of the boy, until a tragic accident occurred. As the young deer lay sleeping in the shade of the undergrowth, Cyparissus threw his javelin, which by chance hit, and killed the deer. Grief-stricken by what had happened, Cyparissus wanted to die. He asked Apollo to let his tears fall for all eternity. With apprehension Apollo transformed the boy into a tree, the cypress, which became the symbol of sorrow, as the sap on its trunk forms droplets, like tears.

Apollo could also be ruthless when he was angered. The mortal Niobe, boasted to Apollo's mother Leto, that she had fourteen children (in some versions six or seven), which must make her more superior than Leto, who had only bore two. Apollo greatly angered by this slew her sons, and Artemis killed Niobe's daughters. Niobe wept so much that she turned into a pillar of stone. Apollo was infuriated when the satyr Marsyas challenged Apollo to music contest. After winning the competition, Apollo had Marsyas flayed alive, for being so presumptuous, as to challenge a god.

Symbols and weapons of Apollo:
The bow, lyre, and laurel.

Artemis - Goddess of the Hunt

The daughter of Leto and Zeus, and the twin of Apollo. Artemis is the goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and fertility (she became a goddess of fertility and childbirth mainly in cities). She was often depicted with the crescent of the moon above her forehead and was sometimes identified with Selene (goddess of the moon). Artemis was one of the Olympians and a virgin goddess. Her main vocation was to roam mountain forests and uncultivated land with her nymphs in attendance hunting for lions, panthers, hinds and stags. Contradictory to the later, she helped in protecting and seeing to their well-being, also their safety and reproduction. She was armed with a bow and arrows which were made by Hephaestus and the Cyclopes.

In one legend, Artemis was born one day before her brother Apollo. Her mother gave birth to her on the island of Ortygia, then, almost immediately after her birth, she helped her mother to cross the straits over to Delos, where she then delivered Apollo. This was the beginning of her role as guardian of young children and patron of women in childbirth. Being a goddess of contradictions, she was the protectress of women in labor, but it was said that the arrows of Artemis brought them sudden death while giving birth. As was her brother, Apollo, Artemis was a divinity of healing, but also brought and spread diseases such as leprosy, rabies and even gout.

Being associated with chastity, Artemis at an early age (in one legend she was three years old) asked her father, the great god Zeus, to grant her eternal virginity. Also, all her companions were virgins. Artemis was very protective of her purity, and gave grave punishment to any man who attempted to dishonor her in any form. Actaeon, while out hunting, accidentally came upon Artemis and her nymphs, who bathing naked in a secluded pool. Seeing them in all their naked beauty, the stunned Actaeon stopped and gazed at them, but when Artemis saw him ogling them, she transformed him into a stag. Then, incensed with disgust, she set his own hounds upon him. They chased and killed what they thought was another stag, but it was their master. As with Orion, a giant and a great hunter, there are several legends which tell of his death, one involving Artemis. It is said that he tried to rape the virgin goddess, so killed him with her bow and arrows. Another says she conjured up a scorpion which killed Orion and his dog. Orion became a constellation in the night sky, and his dog became Sirius, the dog star. Yet another version says it was the scorpion which stung him and was transformed into the constellation with Orion, the later being Scorpio. Artemis was enraged when one of her nymphs, Callisto, allowed Zeus to seduce her, but the great god approached her in one of his guises; he came in the form of Artemis. The young nymph was unwittingly tricked, and she gave birth to Arcas, the ancestor of the Arcadians, but Artemis showed no mercy and changed her into a bear. She then shot and killed her. As Orion, she was sent up to the heavens, and became the constellation of the Great Bear (which is also known as the Plough).

Artemis was very possessive. She would show her wrath on anyone who disobeyed her wishes, especially against her sacred animals. Even the great hero Agamemnon came upon the wrath of Artemis, when he killed a stag in her sacred grove. His punishment came when his ships were becalmed, while he made his way to besiege Troy. With no winds to sail his ships he was told by the seer Calchas that the only way Artemis would bring back the winds was for him to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. Some versions say he did sacrifice Iphigenia, others that Artemis exchanged a deer in her place, and took Iphigenia to the land of the Tauri (the Crimea) as a priestess, to prepare strangers for sacrifice to Artemis.

Artemis with her twin brother, Apollo, put to death the children of Niobe. The reason being that Niobe, a mere mortal, had boasted to Leto, the mother of the divine twins, that she had bore more children, which must make her superior to Leto. Apollo being outraged at such an insult on his mother, informed Artemis. The twin gods hunted them down and shot them with their bows and arrows; Apollo killed the male children and Artemis the girls.

Symbols and weapons of Artemis:
The bow, dogs, and deer.

Hephaestus - God of Smiths and Fire.

Hephaestus, the god of fire, especially the blacksmith's fire, was the patron of all craftsmen, principally those working with metals. He was worshiped predominantly in Athens, but also in other manufacturing centres. He was the god of volcanoes. Later, the fire within them represented the smith's furnace. Hephaestus was associated with Mount Etna, which is on the island of Sicily. Known as the lame god, Hephaestus was born weak and crippled. Displeased by the sight of her son, Hera threw Hephaestus from Mount Olympus, and he fell for a whole day before landing in the sea. Nymphs rescued him and took him to Lemnos, where the people of the island cared for him. But other versions say Zeus threw him from Mount Olympus after Hephaestus had sided with his mother in a quarrel. This legend says that Hephaestus fell for nine days and nine nights, and he landed on the island of Lemnos. It was on Lemnos where he built his palace and his forges under a volcano.

To gain revenge for his rejection by Hera, Hephaestus fashioned a magic throne, which was presented to her on Mount Olympus. When Hera sat on the throne, it entrapped her, making her a prisoner. The gods on Mount Olympus pleaded with Hephaestus to return to their heavenly domain, as to release Hera, but he refused. Dionysus gave the smith god wine, and when Hephaestus was intoxicated, Dionysus took him back to Mount Olympus slumped over the back of a mule. This scene was a favorite in Greek art. Hephaestus released Hera after being given the beautiful Aphrodite as his bride. Dionysus was rewarded by being made one of the Olympian Pantheon.

Hephaestus is known as the son of Hera and Zeus, although Zeus had nothing to do with the conception. Hephaestus was parthenogenetic, meaning he was conceived without male fertilisation. Hera was jealous of Zeus after he had an affair with Metis, from which the goddess of prudence was pregnant with Athena. However, Gaia had warned Zeus that Metis would bear a daughter, whose son would overthrow him. To prevent this, Zeus swallowed Metis, so he could carry the child through to the birth himself, although Zeus could not give birth naturally. For retribution Hera produced (parthenogeny) Hephaestus, and legend says, that Hephaestus split the head of Zeus with an axe, from which Athena appeared fully armed.

One particular legend says that Hephaestus wished to marry Athena, who was also a patron of smiths, but she refused because she found him ugly. Another legend says that Athena disappeared from their bridal bed but Hephaestus did not see her vanish, and spilt his seed on the floor. In a similar version the semen fell from Athena's thigh and from it was produced Erechtheus, who became a king of Athens. (This relates to Erechtheus being the son of Gaia, Earth.)

Aphrodite, in some versions, was the wife of Hephaestus, and he was suspicious that Aphrodite had been committing adultery. To catch her being unfaithful he fashioned an extraordinary chain-link net, so fine and strong no one could escape from it. Then one day he surprised Aphrodite and the war god Ares as they lay together in bed. He threw his magic net over them and hauled them before the Olympian gods and exhibited them as they were, naked and wrapped in each others arms. Hephaestus asked the assembled gods for just retribution, but they did the total opposite. The gods roared with laughter at the sight of the naked lovers, after which they allowed the couple to go free. According to Homer's Iliad Hephaestus had a wife called Aglaea, who was one of the Charites (Graces).

Being a great craftsman Hephaestus manufactured wonderful articles from various materials, primarily from metal. With help from the Cyclopes, who were his workmen and assistants, he fashioned the thunderbolts for Zeus and his sceptre. He made weapons and armour for the other gods and heroes. For Athena, he made her shield or aegis and for the god of love, Eros, he made the arrows. The wonderful chariot which the sun god Helios rode across the sky was made by Hephaestus and in some versions it was a golden cup or goblet. He also fashioned the invincible armour of Achilles. Hephaestus helped to create the first woman, with the assistance of other gods, after Zeus had ordered that there be a new kind of human. Zeus plotted against Prometheus because he and his race of mortals had only included one gender, which was male, and so Hephaestus formed the first woman from clay. Her name was Pandora (all gifts) and from a supernatural jar, she released the evils of the world on mankind.

Symbols and weapons of Hephaestus:
Axe, a hammer and a flame.

Aphrodite  - Goddess of Love

In Greek mythology, Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty and sexual rapture. According to Hesiod, she was born when Uranus (the father of the gods) was castrated by his son Cronus. Cronus threw the severed genitals into the ocean which began to churn and foam about them. From the aphros ("sea foam") arose Aphrodite, and the sea carried her to either Cyprus or Cythera. Hence she is often referred to as Kypris and Cytherea. Homer calls her a daughter of Zeus and Dione.

After her birth, Zeus was afraid that the gods would fight over Aphrodite's hand in marriage so he married her off to the smith god Hephaestus, the steadiest of the gods. He could hardly believe his good luck and used all his skills to make the most lavish jewels for her. He made her a girdle of finely wrought gold and wove magic into the filigree work. That was not very wise of him, for when she wore her magic girdle no one could resist her, and she was all too irresistible already. She loved gaiety and glamour and was not at all pleased at being the wife of sooty, hard-working Hephaestus.

Aphrodite loved and was loved by many gods and mortals. Among her mortal lovers, the most famous was perhaps Adonis. Some of her sons are Eros, Anteros, Hymenaios and Aeneas (with her Trojan lover Anchises). She is accompanied by the Graces.

Her festival is the Aphrodisiac which was celebrated in various centers of Greece and especially in Athens and Corinth. Her priestesses were not prostitutes but women who represented the goddess and sexual intercourse with them was considered just one of the methods of worship. Aphrodite was originally an old-Asian goddess, similar to the Mesopotamian Ishtar and the Syro-Palestinian goddess Ashtart. Her attributes are a.o. the dolphin, the dove, the swan, the pomegranate and the lime tree.

Symbols and weapons of Aphrodite:
The scepter, myrtle, and doves.

Hermes - God of Riches, Trade and Good Fortune

Hermes, the herald of the Olympian gods, is the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia, daughter of Atlas and one of the Pleiades. Hermes is the god of shepherds, land travel, merchants, weights and measures, oratory, literature, athletics and thieves, and known for his cunning and shrewdness. Most importantly, he is the messenger of the gods. Besides that he was also a minor patron of poetry. He was worshiped throughout Greece -- especially in Arcadia -- and festivals in his honor were called Hermoea.

According to legend, Hermes was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. Zeus had impregnated Maia at the dead of night while all other gods slept. When dawn broke amazingly he was born. Maia wrapped him in swaddling bands, then resting herself, fell fast asleep. Hermes, however, squirmed free and ran off to Thessaly. This is where Apollo, his brother, grazed his cattle. Hermes stole a number of the herd and drove them back to Greece. He hid them in a small grotto near to the city of Pylos and covered their tracks. Before returning to the cave he caught a tortoise, killed it and removed its entrails. Using the intestines from a cow stolen from Apollo and the hollow tortoise shell, he made the first lyre. When he reached the cave he wrapped himself back into the swaddling bands. When Apollo realized he had been robbed he protested to Maia that it had been Hermes who had taken his cattle. Maia looked to Hermes and said it could not be, as he is still wrapped in swaddling bands. Zeus the all powerful intervened saying he had been watching and Hermes should return the cattle to Apollo. As the argument went on, Hermes began to play his lyre. The sweet music enchanted Apollo, and he offered Hermes to keep the cattle in exchange for the lyre. Apollo later became the grand master of the instrument, and it also became one of his symbols. Later while Hermes watched over his herd he invented the pipes known as a syrinx (pan-pipes), which he made from reeds. Hermes was also credited with inventing the flute. Apollo, also desired this instrument, so Hermes bartered with Apollo and received his golden wand which Hermes later used as his heralds staff. (In other versions Zeus gave Hermes his heralds staff).

Being the herald (messenger of the gods), it was his duty to guide the souls of the dead down to the underworld, which is known as a psychopomp. He was also closely connected with bringing dreams to mortals. Hermes is usually depicted with a broad-brimmed hat or a winged cap, winged sandals and the heralds staff (kerykeion in Greek, or Caduceus in Latin). It was often shown as a shaft with two white ribbons, although later they were represented by serpents intertwined in a figure of eight shape, and the shaft often had wings attached. The clothes he donned were usually that of a traveler, or that of a workman or shepherd. Other symbols of Hermes are the cock, tortoise and purse or pouch.

Originally Hermes was a phallic god, being attached to fertility and good fortune, and also a patron of roads and boundaries. His name coming from herma, the plural being hermai< meaning "pile of marker stones". A herm was a square or rectangular pillar in either stone or bronze, with the head of Hermes (usually with a beard), which adorned the top of the pillar, and male genitals near to the base of the pillar. These were used for road and boundary markers. Also in Athens they stood outside houses to help fend off evil. In Athens of 415 BCE, shortly before the Athenian fleet set sail against Syracuse (during the Peloponnesian War), all the herms throughout Athens were defaced. This was attributed to people who were against the war. Their intentions were to cast bad omens on the expedition, by seeking to offend the god of travel. (This has never been proved as the true reason for the mutilation of the herms.)

The offspring of Hermes are believed to be Pan, Abderus and Hermaphroditus. Hermes as with the other gods had numerous affairs with goddesses, nymphs and mortals. In some legends even sheep and goats. Pan, the half man half goat, is believed to be the son of Hermes and Dryope, the daughter of king Dryops. Pan terrified his mother when he was born, so much so that she fled in horror at the sight of her new born son. Hermes took Pan to Mount Olympus were the gods reveled in his laughter and his appearance and became the patron of fields, woods, shepherds and flocks. Abderus, a companion of the hero Heracles, is also thought to be a son of Hermes, he was devoured by the Mares of Diomedes, after Heracles had left him in charge of the ferocious beasts. Hermaphroditus (also known as Aphroditus) was conceived after the union of Hermes and Aphrodite. He was born on Mount Ida but he was raised by the Naiads (nymphs of freshwater). He was a androgynous (having the characteristics of both sexes) deity, depicted as either a handsome young man but with female breasts, or as Aphrodite with male genitals.

It was Hermes who liberated Io, the lover of Zeus, from the hundred-eyed giant Argus, who had been ordered by Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus, to watch over her. Hermes charmed the giant with his flute, and while Argos slept Hermes cut off his head and released Io. Hera, as a gesture of thanks to her loyal servant, scattered the hundred eyes of Argos over the tail of a peacock (Heras' sacred bird). Hermes also used his ingenuity and abilities to persuade the nymph Calypso to release Odysseus, the wandering hero, from her charms. She had kept Odysseus captive, after he was shipwrecked on her island Ogygia, promising him immortality if he married her, but Zeus sent Hermes to release Odysseus. Legend says that Calypso died of grief when Odysseus sailed away. Hermes also saved Odysseus and his men from being transformed into pigs by the goddess and sorceress Circe. He gave them a herb which resisted the spell. Hermes also guided Eurydice back down to the underworld after she had been allowed to stay for one day on earth with her husband Orpheus.

Known for his swiftness and athleticism, Hermes was given credit for inventing foot-racing and boxing. At Olympia a statue of him stood at the entrance to the stadium and his statues where in every gymnasium throughout Greece. Apart from herms, Hermes was a popular subject for artists. Both painted pottery and statuary show him in various forms, but the most fashionable depicted him as a good-looking young man, with an athletic body, and winged sandals and his heralds staff.

Symbols and weapons of Hermes:
The caduceus and winged boots

Dionysus - God of Wine, Agriculture, and Fertility of Nature

Dionysus, also commonly known by his Roman name Bacchus, appears to be a god who has two distinct origins. On the one hand, Dionysus was the god of wine, agriculture, and fertility of nature, who is also the patron god of the Greek stage. On the other hand, Dionysus also represents the outstanding features of mystery religions, such as those practiced at Eleusis: ecstasy, personal delivery from the daily world through physical or spiritual intoxication, and initiation into secret rites. Scholars have long suspected that the god known as Dionysus is in fact a fusion of a local Greek nature god, and another more potent god imported rather late in Greek pre-history from Phrygia (the central area of modern day Turkey) or Thrace.

According to one myth, Dionysus is the son of the god Zeus and the mortal woman, Semele (daughter of Cadmus of Thebes). Semele is killed by Zeus' lightning bolts while Dionysus is still in her womb. Dionysus is rescued and undergoes a second birth from Zeus after developing in his thigh. Zeus then gives the infant to some nymphs to be raised. In another version, one with more explicit religious overtones, Dionysus, also referred to as Zagreus in this account, is the son of Zeus and Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. Hera gets the Titans to lure the infant with toys, and then they rip him to shreds eating everything but Zagreus' heart, which is saved by either Athena, Rhea, or Demeter. Zeus remakes his son from the heart and implants him in Semele who bears a new Dionysus Zagreus. Hence, as in the earlier account, Dionysus is called "twice born." The latter account formed a part of the Orphic religion's religious mythology.

It does seem clear that Dionysus, at least the Phrygian Dionysus, was a late arrival in the Greek world and in Greek mythology. He is hardly mentioned at all in the Homeric epics, and when he is it is with some hostility. A number of his stories are tales of how Dionysus moved into a city, was resisted, and then destroyed those who opposed him. The most famous account of this is that of Euripides in his play the Bacchae. He wrote this play while in the court of King Archelaus of Macedon, and nowhere do we see Dionysus more destructive and his worship more dangerous than in this play. Scholars have speculated not unreasonably that in Macedon Euripides discovered a more extreme form of the religion of Dionysus being practiced than the more civil, quiet forms in Athens.

Briefly, Dionysus returns to Thebes, his putative birthplace, where his cousin Pentheus is king. He has returned to punish the women of Thebes for denying that he was a god and born of a god. Pentheus is enraged at the worship of Dionysus and forbids it, but he cannot stop the women, including his mother Agave, or even the elder statesmen of the kingdom from swarming to the wilds to join the Maenads (a term given to women under the ecstatic spell of Dionysus) in worship. Dionysus lures Pentheus to the wilds where he is killed by the Maenads and then mutilated by Agave.

Symbols and weapons of Dionysus:
The grape vine, ivy, and thyrsus.