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Greek Myths & Legends 101 - The Olympian Gods and Goddesses, Zeus, Hera, Athena, Ares, Hephaestus, Hades, Aphrodite, Artemis, Poseidon, Hestia, Hermes

Greek mythology has fascinated people for a long time. Even the early Romans had stolen the Greek gods and goddesses and simply gave them other names (e.g. Ares turned into Mars, Aphrodite turned into Venus, Zeus became Jupiter and so on). Many movies, TV series, books and pieces of art are inspired by the heroes and gods of Greek legends. Here is an overview of the main gods and goddesses:

The Olympian Gods and Goddesses

There was a time, a long, long time ago, when the Titans ruled the world. Cronus, the leader of the titans, had a son called Zeus. Zeus, however, was not exactly the best son and soon the titans were overthrown and sent to Tartarus (the bad part of the mythological world of the dead). This started the reign of the Olympian gods and goddesses. Today, there are usually 12 gods and goddesses in that group though some scholars assume that the ancient Greeks did not see such a clear separation between the Olympian gods and the “other” gods. The 12 Olympian gods and goddesses are:

Zeus:

The king of the Olympian gods is not a very nice god, but very powerful. He is the god of the sky, a rain bringer and tends to be depicted throwing thunderbolts. He was always lusting after power (overthrowing his own father), lusting after women other than his wife (this is how Hercules came into this world) and trying to keep everything under his control.

Hera:

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Hera is the goddess of marriage and childbirth. She is also Zeus' sister AND wife. Their marriage did not start well as Hera only married Zeus to cover up her shame for the rape by Zeus (yes, not a nice god, is he?). They never really got along, and many stories tell of Hera's hate and jealousy, as Zeus was not happy with just one woman in his life. Some of you might have seen the TV series Hercules in which Hera always was an enemy of Hercules because he was an illegitimate son of Zeus and a moral woman.

Athena:

Athena is often only seen as the goddess of wisdom, but like her brother Ares she is also a goddess of war though her part is being a goddess of the art of war and war tactics. She is far less violent than Ares, and always has wisdom behind her choices. She is one of the most popular goddesses, and has gifted Athens with a grove of olive trees which turned her into the patron of Athens (hence the name of the city, too).

Ares:

Ares is the god of war, and even though he may not be the most popular god (even his parents Zeus and Hera did not like him very much), he is valued for his part in the balance of the world. Because without war, you would not know what peace is, and without hate, you would not know the value of love.

Hephaestus:

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This is the husband of Aphrodite, though the god of smiths and weaving is the ugliest of all gods and lame to top it all (stories vary, sometimes his mother threw him off the mountain because she did not like that she had an ugly child, and in other stories it was Zeus, his father, who threw him off because he had an argument with Hera – in both cases the poor son ended up with a lame leg).

Hades:

Hades is the god of the underworld. The underworld itself is called Hades, too, and is divided into two different regions: Tartarus, which can be compared to Hell, and the Elysian fields, which are like heaven. Note that Hades is not the god of death but merely the god of the place where the dead go. The god of dead himself is Thanatos though he is often overshadowed by Hades. Hades also has a special helmet that can make him invisible and can also make him fly!

Aphrodite:

Aphrodite is the most beautiful among the Olympian gods and goddesses. She is the goddess of war, and myths differ on how she came into this world. Some say she is the daughter of Zeus, other say that she was the result of the castration of Uranus by Cronus (we better not go into that). No matter how she came into being, she is the goddess of love, and though she had a husband, she also liked having affairs with Ares, the god of war, as the two opposite forces always seemed to be very attracted to each other.

Artemis:

Artemis is the patron of the Greek amazons and the goddess of the hunt, virginity, the moon (like her brother Apollo), chastity and everything living in the forests. There are many myths that tell of sacred groves in Greek forests that were off limits for all men and filled with mythological creatures like Satyrs and nymphs that were all under Artemis' protection.

Poseidon:

Poseidon is the God of the sea, and a protector of all waters and the creatures within it. He is the brother of Zeus and played a vital role in the overthrowing of the titans. He is very powerful, and the only god he would not have a chance against is his own brother Zeus. Fortunately they got along most of the time.

Hestia:

Though Hestia was important for Greek people, she is not part of many stories. She could be seen as a rather boring goddess as she is the goddess of home and hearth. She always was kind and calm, helpful and not as outstanding as other gods and goddesses when it comes to her deeds.

Apollo:

Apollo is connected to the moon like his twin sister Artemis. He is the god of music, healing, light and the truth. When you were in the presence of Apollo, you were not able to tell a lie. One of his well known contributions to Greek mythology and history is the famous oracle of Delphi.

Hermes:

No, not the parcel delivery. This is about Hermes, the god of travel, trade, and thievery (which makes you wonder about the Hermes parcel delivery, doesn't it?). He was the fastest of all gods and thus often used to deliver messages. But he was also cunning, and revered by thieves all over Greece.

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