Greek gods - credits: IMG Stock Studio/Shutterstock.com
Greek gods - credits: IMG Stock Studio/Shutterstock.com

If we go back several centuries, we will be dazzled by the plethora of myths that are recorded in Greek mythology. The Greeks, from the depths of history, tried to explain natural phenomena by creating stories, thus creating a rich mythological tradition. Here, you will learn all about the Olympian gods that will give you an insight into ancient and modern Greek culture

How many olympian gods are there?

Although this is often misconceived, the gods of Olympus were twelve -six men and 6 women. Namely, there were Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Hephaestus, Mars, Hermes, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, Demeter, and Estia. 

The Olympian Gods and Goddesses

The Olympian gods gained power by defeating the Titans in the Battle of Titans. In fact, the ancient Greeks did not have a specific twelve gods, but there were big and smaller gods and others that were worshiped locally, e.g. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades were the greatest gods, while Dionysus was the lesser god. The twelve gods is a concept formed by Western scholars in the 16th-17th century and has appeared in various compositions among 14 gods. 

Zeus

Zeus greek god definitelygreececomZeus - credits: definitelygreece.com

According to the ancient Greek theogony, Zeus was the ‘father of gods and men’ who ruled the gods of Olympus. He was the god of the sky and lightning in Greek mythology. He was the youngest child of Saturn and Rhea. He was married to Hera, but he was known for his love affairs. This led to many pious and heroic descendants, including Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, Perseus, Hercules, Helen of Troy, Minos, and the Muses.

From Hera, he acquired Ares, Ibi, and Hephaestus, while from Dioni he acquired Aphrodite. He was the strongest and most important of all mythological beings. In the Homeric epic of the Iliad, Zeus sent lightning bolts to his enemies. His other emblems were the eagle and the goat.

Hera

heraHera - credits: history.howstuffworks.com

In Greek mythology, Hera was the wife of Zeus, the daughter of Saturn and Rhea. She was the goddess of marriage. Always jealous of Zeus' husband for his infidelities, many times she took revenge on the women with whom Zeus cheated on her. The birth of the queen of the gods has been placed in many regions of Greece. Some of them are Samos or Stymfalia or Evia. Legend has it that when she was born, Saturn swallowed Hera along with her siblings, trying to fight his fate, as Gaia and Uranus had prophesied to him that one of his descendants would claim his power.

Only when Rhea managed to deceive Saturn did Hera see the light again. After Saturn was dethroned, Zeus proposed to her. Crazy with love for his sister, Zeus did not give up. One day, as the goddess was walking in the forest, Zeus transformed into a cuckoo and fell at her feet. Then, the king of the gods took his true form. Imposing and powerful, he made the goddess fall in love with him. From the marriage of Hera and Zeus, Ares, Ivi, and Eilithia were born.

According to Homer, Hephaestus was also born, while according to Hesiod, Hera gave birth to Hephaestus alone, without the participation of Zeus. Hera was often described or depicted holding a scepter as a symbol of domination or holding a pomegranate -the symbol of fertility- in her hands. Other well-known symbols of Hera were the peacock, the cuckoo that symbolized the coming of spring, and various flowers and plants that symbolized the blessing of nature.

Poseidon

poseidon alaturka.infoPoseidon - credits: alaturka.info

In Greek mythology, Poseidon is the god of land and sea, rivers, springs, and drinking water. Son of Saturn and Rhea and brother of Zeus, he sometimes lived on Olympus and sometimes in his palace in the depths of the sea along with his wife, the Nereid Amphitrite. He was the father of Theseus, but also of Procrustes and Skiron and several giants.

As the god of the sea, Poseidon traveled with his golden chariot on the waves, which opened happily in his passage, while dolphins played around him. With his trident, he could both create storms and calm the water. He was considered the protector of sailors and fishermen. He was also considered responsible for geological phenomena such as earthquakes. For that reason, he was offered sacrifices and invocations for the stability of the land and the safety of buildings, while he was also honored with horse racing. Its symbols were the trident, the fish -usually tuna- and more rarely the horse or the bull.

Demeter

demeter alaturka.infoDemeter - credits: alaturka.info

Demeter, in Greek mythology, was the ideal anthropomorphic deity of cultivation, ie agriculture, but also of free vegetation, soil, and its fertility, the consequence of which was to be considered the protector of marriage and motherhood of people. Demeter was the daughter of Saturn and Rhea. Sister of Hera, Hestia, Zeus and Poseidon. Her birth followed the same fate as her siblings.

Saturn swallowed his children as soon as they were born for fear of taking his throne. Rhea, no longer able to bear to lose her children, helped the youngest, Zeus, dethrone Saturn with a trick and free his brothers from their father's womb. Demeter and her daughter Persephone were the main characters in the Eleusinian mysteries and were probably deities worshiped before the twelve Olympian gods.

In many cases, the two deities are confused or considered a goddess with two faces. The abduction of Persephone by Pluto, the god of Hades, resulted in the withering of Demeter. She left Olympus and began to wander in black among the people looking for Persephone. Her youth and beauty were replaced by gray hair and mourning.

Ares

AresAres - credits: everyfactever.com

Ares was the Greek god of war, son of Zeus and Hera. Due to its particularly belligerent nature, several 19th-century writers unjustifiably claimed him to be a foreign god, as they believed that the Greek imagination could not have created such a savage god.

In the myths, Ares appears warlike and provocative and represents the impulsive nature of war. The Greeks were ambivalent about Ares: although he possessed the natural prowess necessary for success in war, he was a dangerous force. Overwhelming, insatiable in battle, destructive, and man-butcher. In Homer’s Iliad, his father Zeus tells him that he is the most hated god to him. Moreover, his value as a god of war was in doubt: during the Trojan War, Ares was on the side of the losers, while Athena, often depicted in Greek art as the holder of Victory in her hand, favored the triumphant Greeks.

Ares plays a relatively limited role in Greek mythology as represented in literary narrative, although his many love affairs and abundant descendants are mentioned. When Ares does not appear in myths, he usually faces humiliation. He is known as the lover of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who was married to Hephaestus, the god of handicrafts.

Hephaestus

Hephaestus ancient origins.netHephaestus - credits: ancient-origins.net

Hephaestus was the god of fire of heaven and earth and any process or art with it, such as coppersmithing and especially metallurgy. According to Homer's Iliad, he was the son of Zeus and Hera. However, Hesiod in Theogony presents him not as the fruit of love but the result of the quarrel between Zeus and Hera, allegedly born of Hera with parthenogenesis.

Hephaestus was the anthropomorphic flourishing deity of the natural power of fire in all its forms and uses, from lightning in the sky to a volcano on earth, but also as an inner human flame of inspiration and creation. He is the youngest of the gods. According to general descriptions, he is ugly and deformed, so much so that his own mother, Hera, threw him from Olympus out of shame.

The baby god fell into the sea, where he was collected by Thetis and Evrynomi, who raised him for nine years. As soon as he grew up, the god immediately set up his first blacksmith shop at the bottom of the Aegean, forging beautiful objects for these two deities.

Dionysus

Dionysus greekbostonDionysus - credits: greekboston.com

Dionysus belongs to the minor but important deities of the ancient Greek pantheon, as his worship significantly influenced the religious events of Greece. Although he is often considered not an Olympian god, already from the 6th BC. he is represented together with the Olympians. Sometimes he is depicted sitting on the right of his father on the Olympic clifftops.

Dionysus as a mythological entity "is neither a child nor a man, but an eternal teenager, occupying a position between the two". In this form, he represents the "spirit of energy and transformative power of the game" full of cunning, deception, and strategies that indicate divine wisdom, present in almost all the mythologies of the world. Dionysus is also very much associated with fulfilled love.

Apollo

 apollo alaturka.infoApollo - credits: alaturka.info

Apollo was one of the 12 gods of Olympus, the most important after Zeus. We have no clear indications of his origin. According to the prevailing opinion, his worship entered Greece from the East. Other theories carry the Dorians as bearers of his worship but also as his place of the appearance, Crete, through which his worship was transmitted to Asia Minor.

The most common myth about his birth states that it took place on the island of Ortygia -today's Delos- from Leto who was the wife of Zeus before Hera. Due to the great jealousy of Hera for Leto, no place accepted her to give birth except Ortygia. It was an island that until then sailed free in the waves and so it was difficult for Hera to detect the location to which Leto had taken refuge.

Later, Zeus stabilized the island in order for Apollo to be born. The labor pains lasted for nine days and nine nights. Artemis was born first and then Apollo followed. According to other theories, the birthplace of Apollo was not Delos, but Crete. 

Artemis

ArtemisArtemis - credits: learnreligions.com

Artemis is one of the oldest and most interesting gods of the Greek pantheon. Daughter of Zeus and Leto, twin sister of Apollo, queen of mountains and forests, goddess of hunting, protector of small children and animals. Hestia, Athena, and Artemis were the only goddesses over whom Aphrodite had no power. The birth of the idiosyncratic goddess is placed on the island of Ortygia as mentioned above.

From the very first hours of her birth, Artemis started to take initiative. Although a newborn baby, she helped her exhausted mother to give birth to her second child, Apollo, and thus became the goddess of childbirth. Beautiful and brilliant, Artemis had won the appreciation of the other gods from a very early age.

From the age of three, she had specific requirements regarding her clothing, equipment, and following in her favorite pastime, hunting.

Private Mythology Tour of Acropolis and Acropolis Museum
LEARN MORE

She was a child who knew what she wanted and was very adamant. Zeus admired her for her perseverance and, due to her ingenuity, he nurtured a great deal of love for her, catering to all her desires. One of the first things that Artemis asked for as a gift from her father was eternal purity and virginity. Faithful and steadfast in everything she asked for and committed to, the virgin goddess never tarnished either her morals or her character. Dedicated to hunting and nature, she was indifferent to the joys of marriage and the pleasures of love. Artemis was a ruthless goddess who almost never forgave.

Her deadly arrows constantly targeted mortals, gods, and heroes who overlooked her existence or neglected her principles and worship. One of the main features of Artemis was her universal dominance in nature. symbols of Artemis were many and varied; from animals and plants to weapons.

Aphrodite

Aphrodite markara shutterstock copy copyAphrodite - credits: markara/Shutterstock.com

According to ancient Greek mythology and religion, Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty, sexuality, pleasure, and procreation. As with many ancient Greek deities, there is more than one myth about her origin. According to Hesiod's Theogony, she was born when Saturn cut off the genitals of his father, Uranus, and threw them into the sea.

From the foam came the goddess. According to Homer’s Iliad, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dionysus. Although extradited women considered Aphrodite their patron saint, her public worship was serious, solemn, and unpretentious. Because of her beauty, the other gods feared that competing with each other to win her favor would lead to war. Zeus, therefore, arranged her marriage to Hephaestus, who, because of his ugliness and deformity, was not perceived as a threat. Aphrodite, however, had many lovers, both gods, and mortals.

She played an important role in the myth of Eros and Psyche, while she caused the birth of Adonis, who later became her lover. She is considered the mother of many even smaller deities and entities. In the Trojan War, which she largely ignited helping Paris kidnap Helen of Troy, the goddess sided with the Trojans. Sacred beings of the goddess were myrtle, pigeons, sparrows, horses, and swans. Aphrodite is also known as Kythera and Kyprida from her two main places of worship, Kythera and Cyprus, which claimed to be her birthplace.

Thanks to the legend of her emergence from the sea, Aphrodite was widely worshiped as the protector of sailors. Due to her connection with the god Ares, she was paradoxically worshiped as a war deity in Sparta.

Athena

athena goddess yiannisscheidt shutterstock copyAthena - credits: yiannisscheidt/Shutterstock.com

Athena was the goddess of wisdom, strategy, and war. Athena often helped heroes. She was always presented armed, never as a child, always a virgin. The Parthenon in Athens is the most famous temple dedicated to her. She never had a partner or lover, although once, Hephaestus tried unsuccessfully. Athena was the most beloved daughter of Zeus.

Her mother was Metis, the first wife of Zeus. Zeus after a prophecy learned that Metis would give birth to a child who would overthrow their father from power, so he swallowed her while she was pregnant in Athena. Later, Zeus began to suffer from headaches and called on Hephaestus to help him.

Then Hephaestus with a big hammer hit the head of Zeus and Athena was thrown in armor, wearing helmets and holding a shield. Seeing Zeus, she threw them at his feet, a sign of his recognition as the supreme god. Once, Athena and Poseidon claimed the same city. They climbed the rock of the Acropolis of Athens and before the Athenians decided that whoever offered the inhabitants the most beautiful gift, would get the city. Poseidon struck on one side of the hill with his trident and immediately gushed forth a spring of water.

The people marveled, but the water was as salty as the water of the sea, which was the kingdom of Poseidon, so it was not very useful. Athena's gift was an olive tree, something that was better since it provided the city with food, oil, and timber. Thus, Athena won the duel and named the city Athens.

Hermes

hermesHermes - credits: thoughtco.com

Hermes was the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology. He also served as a psychotransmitter, that is, he led the souls of the dead to Hades, but he was also a protector of thieves, gambling, and trade. According to the prevailing myth, Herme's father was Zeus and his mother was Maya, one of the Pleiades, the daughters of Atlas, the giant who held the sky on his back.

He is perhaps the most likable god of the Olympians, as he initially combined very strongly the human with the divine elements, but also because he was considered essentially the first teacher of the human race. He taught the letters and sciences to humanity, taught the use of the intellect, and in fact, there are myths that attribute to him the transmission of the knowledge of fire to people.

At the same time, he is the protector of trade, sacrificial ceremonies, and magic. He represents in an almost archetypal way the speed, the flexibility, the variability, but also the deceptive paths that the mind sometimes follows, as it is easily deceived and makes mistakes. He also has a shady and more human side to him, as he is exceptional in fraud, lying, and stealing. 

Other Olympian Gods

nemesis thecharnelhouse.orgNemesis - credits: thecharnelhouse.org

Apart from the famous 12, there were other gods in Greek mythology that used to frequent mount Olympus.

Hecate: Goddess of magic. He helped Dimitra find her daughter. The ancient Greeks believed that when dogs suddenly barked at night, Hecate passed between them.

Aeolus: God of the winds.

Themis: Goddess of justice. She was the daughter of Gaia and Uranus. She had married Zeus and acquired from the Moirai -Klotho, Lachesis, and Atropos- and the Horae. She is always depicted blindfolded, holding a sword in her left hand and a scale in her right.

Kyveli: Goddess of fertility.

Eris: Goddess of jealousy and discord. She threw the golden apple at the wedding of Thetis and Peleus because they did not invite her.

Nemesis: Goddess of Justice, the Divine Judgment. She kept human affairs in balance by setting limits, regulating their selfishness, and imposing punishments.

Nyx: goddess of the night. Nyx was a sovereign, primordial and cosmogenic entity, respected and feared even by the god Zeus himself. 

Other deities and nymphs

Nymphs en.wikipedia.orgNymphs - credits: en.wikipedia.org

In addition to the twelve gods, Greek mythology included many other deities, while other forms of divine origin were worshiped such as the Nymphs, the Nereids, the Satyrs, and the Erinyes. 

The Nymphs were female figures of divine origin, young in age, living in the wild, wandering in the mountains, accompanying Artemis playing with her. They were all beautiful.

According to the Ancient Greek tradition, there were 3 types of Nymphs:

1) Naiades, ie Nymphs of rivers, springs, and fountains, which are the most famous and from which, the stories about the Fairies have derived.

2) Orestiades, who lived in the mountains around the springs.

3) Dryades or Amadryades, ie Nymphs of solitary trees and meadows, which were identified with Melies. Melies were the first Nymphs created from the blood of Uranus when his son Chronos cut off his genitals and it dripped on the earth. The Naiads lived in caves. Inside their caves, they flirted with Hermes or the Silinos. The trees that were dedicated to Nymphs and were considered their home, mortals were forbidden to touch them with an ax.

Here are some of the most important Nymphs.

Ivi: the deity of youth and vitality. Daughter of Hera and Zeus. She supplied Nectar and Ambrosia at the banquets of the Olympian gods. When Hercules performed his twelve deeds and was accepted on Olympus as an equal god, Zeus and Hera married him to Ivi, so that they could live and rejoice together forever, aged and untouched by all evil. Her symbol is the apple.

Maia: Mother of the god Hermes. One of the seven daughters of Atlanta and Oceanida-Nymph Pleion. From her came the name of the month of May. 

Filyra: the deity of recovery, beautiful perfumes, writing, and elegance. Mother of the wise Centaur Chiron. Uranus fell in love with FiFilyralira for her beauty and met her in the form of a horse to avoid the attention of his wife Rhea. She gave her name to the plant of the same name. 

Where did the olympian gods live?

As their name suggests, the Olympian gods used to live in the gorges of Mount Olympus, where their palaces are located. The Pantheon -today's Mytikas- was their meeting point, while the throne of Zeus -today's Stefani-, used to host exclusively the leader of the gods, Zeus.

Olympus is the second highest mountain in the Balkans and dominates the borders of Macedonia and Thessaly with high peaks and deep ravines, while in 1938 it was declared a National Park. 

The role of mount Olympus in the Titanomachy

mount olympus S F shutterstockMount Olympus - credits: S-F/Shutterstock.com

Gaia -Earth- was born from chaos and from the Gaia the mountains, the sea, and then Uranus with the sun, the moon, and the stars. Then, Uranus and the Gaia came together and gave birth to the Titans.

But Uranus was afraid that one of his children would take his throne. That is why he encaptured everyone in the depths of the Earth. However, his son, Saturn, the strongest of the Titans, defeated him and he became the ruler of the whole world. He married Rhea and they gave birth to three goddesses and three goddesses: Hera, Hestia, and Demeter, Pluto, Poseidon, and Zeus.

But Saturn was also afraid that one of his children would take his throne. That's why when they were born, he swallowed them. Desperate, Rhea went and gave birth to her sixth child, Zeus, in a cave on a mountain in Crete. He hid the child there and gave Saturn to swallow a disguised stone.

When Zeus grew up, he fought Saturn and forced him to take out his five swallowed brothers. A war began between the Titans and the gods. The war lasted 10 years. Zeus with the help of three giants who each had 100 hands, won and became the ruler of the world. This battle is known as the Battle of the Titans.

After the Battle of Titans, the world was divided into three parts, between the three brothers, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades or Pluto. Zeus took the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld. The  Land and Mount Olympus were not given to anyone. Zeus was the most powerful of the gods, and so his brothers, sisters, and children took different positions on Olympus. 

Who is the strongest Greek god?

The most powerful of all, Zeus was the god of the sky and the king of Mount Olympus. 

Who was the most famous Greek god?

All of the Olympian gods were extremely famous amongst ancient Greeks, however, Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, and Poseidon were the ones that were the most popular ones. They were respected and feared the most, and can be found in most Greek myths. 

How did the Olympians die?

The OlympiansThe Olympian gods - credits: drivethruhistoryadventures.com

Oh, but they never did! With the advent of Christianity, the twelve Olympian gods lost their power. Through the preaching of Apostle Paul in Pnyx, the erroneous conception of the ancient Greeks about their relationship with God got reconstructed, since now something extremely important was "reported", which impressed the Athenians: God was not an image of man, but, on the contrary, the man was an image of God.

Regardless of the modern religions around the world, all you have to do to bring the Olympian gods back to life is close your eyes and imagine them standing on the top of mount Olympus.

Ancient Greek Religion played a major role in ancient Greece and continues to be important today in the cultural heritage of the Greeks as it shaped their mythology and the view and approach of their world. Ancient civilizations developed greatly because of the Olympian gods. People began to build temples, statues, murals in honor of the gods, some of which survive to this day. All these compose the Greek identity that has become famous across the world.