Olympians: Greek Mythological Gods
Olympians: Greek Mythological Gods
|The Olympians (´Ολυμπιαδεσσιν) were a group of twelve gods that ruled the world after the Titans. They lived in a palace on Mount Olympus (´Ολυμπου), built by the Cyclopes or possibly by Hephaestus. Six of them were children of Cronus and Rhea. The rest of the Olympians were mostly offspring of Zeus. (See genealogy of the Greek Deities.)|
|The Olympian gods (names in brackets are Roman equivalents) are listed below:|
Children of Cronus & Rhea
|You will find some Roman equivalents of the Olympians listed in the page called Roman Deities.
Fact and Figures:
|In Greek mythology, there are twelve chief gods, known as Olympians. Olympians referred to the gods who resided in Olympus. The names within the Olympian pantheon varied from writer to writer.
One pantheon has Hades, god of the dead, in the list, but the most common tradition has Demeter, goddess of corn, as the Olympian deity. In my view, Hades was an Olympian when he fought alongside his brothers during the war against the Titans. The reason he wasn’t seen as an Olympian was that Hades seldom left his Underworld domain, so his sister, Demeter, was Olympian instead of him.
Of all the gods in the list, Hestia, goddess of the hearth, was the least known and the least active in mythology. According to the myth of Dionysus, Hestia stepped down in favour of the young god of wine.
Below, I have several lists of possible pantheon of Olympus.
The following deities were children of the Titans Cronus and Rhea: Hestia (eldest child), Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera and Zeus (youngest). It is more than likely that these children of Cronus were the original Olympians.
As to the younger deities, most or all of them were children of Zeus. Only Ares is his son by his consort, Hera, which we know with certainty. There is uncertainty over who was the father of the smith god, Hephaestus, that is, if he had any.
Hephaestus was sometimes said to be the son of Zeus and Hera, while others argued that Hephaestus had no father. The myth goes that Hera was jealous that Zeus had produced a child (Athena) without a mother, which is not exactly true.
From his first wife, the Oceanid Metis, Zeus was the father of Athena. Zeus had swallowed the pregnant Oceanid, when he heard from the prophecy that Metis could one day bear a son who would be mightier than the father. So Athena did have a mother; it was just that no mother gave birth to this goddess. Athena was born from Zeus’ head. The point is that Hephaestus was thought to have no father by some writers, because Hera tried to emulate Athena’s extraordinary birth.
There is uncertainty of parentage for the love goddess Aphrodite. Some authors, like Homer and Apollodorus, say that Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and the obscure goddess Dione. While others, like Hesiod, say that Aphrodite was born from the sea foams, formed by the severed genitals of the deposed Uranus. The second view is more interesting, for why else would part of her name aphros mean “foam”? (See the Creation about Uranus’ castration and losing his power as supreme ruler of the gods to his son, Cronus, and Aphrodite’s wondrous birth.)
Dionysus was the only one of the twelve Olympians to be born from a mortal woman, Semele, daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia (though she was later transformed into a goddess in the Dionysus myth). Dionysus was a god, who was born twice. According to the myth about Dionysus, Hestia was an Olympian, but she stepped down in favour of Dionysus, when the young god came to live in Olympus. Several authors have also mentioned that Dionysus was a son of Zeus and Persephone (see the Orphic Creation).
(Please note that I had previously posted Demeter and Dionysus in the Minor Greek Deities page, but I have now moved them to this page. I have moved Hades to a new page called the House of Hades, mainly so that I can group the important Underworld deities together.)
|Supreme ruler of the gods and lord of the sky. The son of the titans, Cronus and Rhea, he was known to the Romans as Jupiter or Jove.
Zeus’ brothers and sisters were devoured by their father, because of the prophecy that Cronus would lose his power from one of his sons. Zeus was either born either in Arcadia or Crete. He escaped from being swallowed by his father, because his mother Rhea gave Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling cloth to devour. The infant Zeus was hidden in a cave at either Mount Dicte or Mount Ida in Crete, where he was brought up by the mountain nymphs and fed by a goat named Amalthea. To drown out the infant’s crying, the Curetes danced about, clashing loudly their spears against their shields. When he reached adulthood, Zeus freed his siblings, when he caused Cronus to disgorge his children, after drinking emetic.
Aided by his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, he overthrew his father Cronus as king of the gods, and imprisoned him and the other male Titans who opposed him in Tartarus. When they decided to divide the world between themselves to rule, Zeus received the sky, controlling the clouds, rain and storm. The three ruled the earth and Olympus together, but Zeus was soon acknowledged as the supreme lord of gods and men. He was also the most powerful of the gods, because he wielded the thunderbolts, which the Cyclopes had created for him in the war against the Titans. (See Creation.)
Zeus had three wives. After hearing Gaea’s warning about having a son would one day displace him, Zeus swallowed his first wife, Metis, to prevent this prophecy from happening. Metis was already pregnant at that time, so when it was time for Metis to deliver a child, Athena sprang out of his split open head, fully armed.
By his sister and consort Hera, he was the father of Ares, Hebe and Eileithyia. Some say he was father of Hephaestus, though most people accepted the stories that Hera bore Hephaestus by herself, without a father. The other possible children were Eris, goddess of discord and strife, and Enyo, the goddess of war; mainly because both goddesses were often called Ares’ sisters.
He had numerous affairs with goddesses, nymphs and mortal women. By the Titaness Leto he became father of Apollo and Artemis. The Pleiad, named Maia, bored him a son called Hermes. According to some writers, he was the father of Aphrodite by Dione, who was possibly daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. He was therefore possibly the father of all the younger Olympian gods.
Through his other sister Demeter, he was the father of Persephone. Another important god was Dionysus or Bacchus, conceived when he seduced the Theban princess, named Semele, daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia.
According to the Orphic myth, after he was born, Rhea changed her name to Demeter. Zeus raped his mother (Rhea/Demeter), and she gave birth to Persephone. Later, Zeus would raped his own daughter, so that Persephone gave birth to the elder Dionysus, otherwise known as Zagreus, but the Titans killed the infant (Dionysus). Zeus seduced Semele, and he became father of a second Dionysus (Bacchus). See Orphic Creation.
Zeus had many affairs with mortal women, and he was the father of many children. Some of these children became rulers of powerful kingdoms, while others were great heroes. There are too many to list here, but here are a few famous names.
Zeus had an affair with Io, daughter of the river god Inachus. In a form of a bull, he carried Europa away to the island of Crete, where he became father of Minos, Rhadamanthys (Rhadamanthus) and Sarpedon. Zeus transformed himself into a shower of gold to seduce Danaë (Danae), while her father imprisoned her in a tower. Danaë bore him the hero, Perseus. Zeus also seduced Alcmene in her husband’s form, and became father of Heracles.
While in Sparta, he ravished Leda in the form of a swan, and became father of Polydeuces and Helen. (Another version says that it was Nemesis who was the mother of Helen. Zeus had ravished the goddess Nemesis in the form of a swan. Nemesis laid an egg, that Leda would find, and Leda raised Helen as if she was her own daughter.)
He had many epithets: Basileus (king), Mechaneus (manager and contriver), Moiragete (guide of the Moirae), Meilichios, Panhellenius, Soter (saviour), and Terminalis (protector of boundaries). Places of worship were Arcadia, Crete, Dodona, and Rhodes. His favourite animal was the eagle, symbolising kingly power; his favourite tree was the oak, symbol of strength. Olive trees were also sacred to him. He has a chariot that were pulled by winged horses, which had used to pursue the monstrous sprawn of Gaea, Typhon.
In Athens, the Diasia was a festival sacred to Zeus, which was held in late February or early March. The Olympic Games were held in his honour every four years at Olympia, in Elis. The first Olympiad was traditionally dated in 776 BC. The games involved athletic contests and chariot races.
|Lord of the sea and also god of earthquakes and of horses. A son of the titans, Cronus and Rhea, he was known as the Roman god of the sea, Neptune.
After aiding his brother Zeus, when they overthrew Cronus, and sent the other Titans to Tartarus, he received the sea as his domain. When he was not residing in Olympus, he lived with his Oceanid wife and queen, Amphitrite, in his underwater palace at Aegae. Poseidon was the father of the sea god Triton, and two daughters – Rhodes and Benthesicyme.
Poseidon was always depicted as a powerfully muscular, bearded-man, carrying the mighty trident. One blow from trident could split a rock open. He drove a two-horse chariot over the waves. In Hesiod’s Theogony, Poseidon was called the Dark-haired One.
Like many sea deities, he had the ability to change shape, but unlike some of them, he doesn’t have oracular power. Poseidon amorously pursued his sister Demeter. When she changed her shape into a mare to hide from him, Poseidon changed himself into a stallion and mounted her. He became father of the immortal horse, Arion, and a daughter, Despoina (goddess of horses). Poseidon was also called a god of horses, known by his epithet as Hippios (or Consus).
His best known epithet was Enosichthon (Ἐνοσέχθων, “Earth-shaker”), which is also found on the Linear B tablets in Knossos: E-NE-SI-DA-O-NE (Enosidas). His other epithet was Gaieochus (Γεήοχος, “earthguarder”).
Poseidon was also a father of another famous horse, Pegasus. When Poseidon seduced Medusa at Athena’s shrine, the goddess transformed the unfortunate girl into a monster known as the Gorgon. Pegasus and the giant Chrysaor sprung out of the sea from the blood that fell from Medusa’s severed head. (See Perseus.)
Like his brother Zeus, he had numerous affairs with nymphs and mortals. He also had many children by them. Some of his sons were gigantic in stature, like Antaeus, Otus and Ephialtes, the Cyclops Polyphemus, and possibly the great hunter Orion.
Poseidon had two important sons who sailed with Jason. One of them was the Miletian pilot, Ancaeus, whose mother was Astypalea. Erginus was also his son, and brother of Ancaeus, but Erginus played no important role. The other important Argonaut was Euphemus, whose mother was Europa, the daughter of Tityus. Euphemus was a great runner, who could run on top of the waves, without getting his feet wet. Euphemus played an important role in the Clashing Rocks episode and later on when their ship was stranded in Libya. See the Argonauts.
His most famous son was the Athenian hero Theseus, by Aethra, though some say Aegeus was Theseus’ father.
There was enmity between Poseidon and the Trojans which dated back to the time of Laomedon, father of Priam. Zeus had punished Poseidon and Apollo by making the two gods work as builders of the walls of Troy. Laomedon had promised to pay the gods with vines of gold. When the walls were completed, Laomedon refused to pay, breaking their contract. At first, Poseidon sent a sea monster to punish Troy, but the hero Heracles killed the monster. So during the Trojan War, Poseidon sided with the Greeks, though he saved a Trojan hero, Aeneas, son of the goddess Aphrodite and Anchises. He spirited Aeneas away from Achilles because Aeneas must survive to rule the Trojans one day.
His favourite animals were the horse and bull, and the dolphin, while pine was his sacred tree. His places of worship were Corinth, Argos, Troezen and Athens, where he vied for recognition against the other deities.
In Argos, when he lost to Hera, Poseidon would sometimes dry up the rivers in Argos, while at other times he would flood the city.
In Athens, Poseidon vied against Athena. Poseidon demonstrated his power by striking a rock with his trident, causing sea water to gush from the spring in the Acropolis. Athena caused an olive tree to grow beside the spring. It was decided that the entire citizenship would vote. All the men had voted for the sea god, while all the women voted for the goddess. Since there was one more woman, Athena won the contest by one vote. The angry sea-god flooded the region of Attica. The Athenians, however, wisely continued to worship Poseidon, and Athena decreed that women were not allowed to vote in future elections, thereby appeasing the angry sea god.
Poseidon also contested against Helius, god of the sun, for the city of Corinth. The Corinthians, afraid to offend either god, decided to award the Isthmus to Poseidon, while Helius received the heights of the Acrocorinth (the citadel of Corinth). The Isthmian Games were held in his honour.
Clearly, Poseidon was an important god during pre-Hellenic Mycenaean civilisation since his name, PO-SE-DA-O-NE, appeared frequently in the Linear B tablets. Poseidon also has a feminine name in the Linear B tablets, PO-SI-DA-E-JA. The centre of his worship appeared to be at Pylos, during the Bronze Age. Poseidon was the father of the twins, Pelias and Neleus, by Tyro. While Pelias ruled in Iolcus, Neleus migrated to Pylos and became father of Nestor.
|Queen of heaven. Daughter of the titans, Cronus and Rhea, she was known as the Roman goddess, Juno. She was the goddess of women, marriage and childbirth.
She was sister of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Demeter and Hestia. She was one of the children swallowed by her father Cronus, to prevent the younger gods from overthrowing him. During the war between the Titans and her brothers, Hera stayed with her uncle, Oceanus, who took no part in the war.
After Zeus’ marriages with Metis and Themis, he decided to marry his sister, but Hera repulsed him. Zeus finally deceived her by changing himself into a cuckoo. When she allowed the bird to nest between her bosoms, Zeus returned to his own form and ravished her. Later she agreed to marry her brother. She bore Zeus three children, Ares, Hebe and Eileithyia.
Some say that Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera. But usually the tradition says that when Zeus fathered Athena without a mother, the angry goddess decided to have a child of her own without a husband. She bore Hephaestus. However, Hephaestus was ugly and crippled. Some say that Hera threw her son out of Olympus, while others say that it was Zeus who threw Hephaestus out of heaven, when Hephaestus tried to protect Hera from Zeus’ attack. Hephaestus, who was an artisan of the gods and master craftsman, got his revenge by binding his mother to a golden throne. He only released her when the gods promised to marry him to the love goddess, Aphrodite.
Other possible children of Zeus and Hera were Tyche and Enyo, since Enyo often accompanied “her brother” Ares to war.
Hera’s marriage was never a happy one, because of Zeus’ numerous love affairs with both immortal goddesses and mortal women. Hera was renowned for her jealousy and temper. She persecuted Zeus’ many offspring as well as his mistresses. Some of her famous victims included the goddess and Titaness, Leto; Callisto, whom she changed into a bear, and her son; Io, daughter of the river-god, Inachus; Semele and her son Dionysus, god of wine.
Hera also persecuted Heracles throughout his life, afflicting him with madness. One of the most devastating events in Heracles’ life was when she had driven him mad to the point where Heracles had murdered his own sons. But her persecution also set Heracles on the path of glory and everlasting fame. In the end, she not only reconciled with Heracles, when the hero became a god and lived in Olympus; Hera also allowed Heracles to marry her own daughter, Hebe, goddess of youth.
According to the Greek geographer Pausanias, Hera had at one time stormed out of her marriage to Zeus, and stayed on the island of Euboea. Zeus failed to win her back with persuasion, so he resorted to trickery. Zeus gained advice from a wise king in Plataea. At Mount Cithaeron, Zeus created a wooden statue of woman, which he clothed with the richest gown. Zeus placed the statue in his ox-wagon, pretending that this woman would be his new bride and consort. Hera thought that her new rival was the daughter of Asopus, named Plataea. Outraged that her husband would remarry, she raced onto the scene and ripped the veil off the statue. Instead of being angry about this ruse, Hera was actually delighted with her husband’s ingenuity in winning her back, so the great goddess was reconciled with Zeus.
A festival of reconciliation was held in honour of Hera, at Plataea, every seven years. This involved a procession with a wagon that bore a wooden image of a woman (daidala) from Cithaeron to Plataea, where the image was later burned in a fire.
The Heraean Games were established in honour of Hera, and were held every four years in Olympia. Historically, the Heraean Games were actually the oldest Panhellenic Games, even older than the Olympaid, which was also held in Olympia. Here, girls and young women participated, and each victor was awarded with a crown of olive.
She played a vital role in the downfall of Pelias. Pelias had defiled her temple, when the king had murdered his stepmother Sidero before her altar. She supported Jason and the Argonauts in their quest. After their adventure, Jason brought back Medea, a sorceress, who tricked Pelias’ daughters into killing their own father. The whole reason behind the quest was for the goddess to exact her revenge.
Throughout the Trojan War, she sided with Greeks against Paris, a Trojan prince. Paris had awarded the golden apple, inscribed with “To the Fairest”, to Aphrodite, instead of herself. Even after the fall of Troy, she persecuted Aeneas and the Trojan followers, as they searched for a new home in Italy. She stirred up a war between Aeneas and the Latin tribes.
The Judgement of Paris was not the only time that she was angry with a mortal, because of her looks. The great hunter Orion was first married to Side. Side had boasted that her beauty surpassed Hera, so the goddess threw the foolish woman into Hades.
Her epithet was Argeia – “Argive Hera”. Her places of worship were Argos, Euboea, Samos and Stymphalus. In Argos, she contested against Poseidon for recognition as a patron deity of Argos. The contest was judged and decided by three river-gods of Argolis. They awarded Argos to Hera. Angry that he lost the city to his sister, Poseidon caused the water to dry up in one season, and to flood Argos in another.
The peacock was her sacred bird, and she also seemed partial to the cuckoo. Her sacred fruits were apples and pomegranates.
|Goddess of corn or of the earth and fertility. Demeter was also known as Deo, while the Romans called her Ceres. Demeter was a daughter of Cronus and Rhea.
Demeter was often seen as one of the Olympians, replacing Hades, since the Underworld god was rarely seen outside of his domain.
One day, while Persephone was playing with her companions, Hades came and abducted her. Hades had fallen in love with Persephone’s great beauty. Hades wanted to marry her and make her his queen in the Underworld.
When she discovered that Hades abducted Persephone, she refused to allow plants and crops to grow. The entire world was facing starvation. Finally Zeus ruled that Persephone would spend two-thirds of a year with her mother on earth, while the rest in the Underworld with her husband.
It was during her search for her daughter that her other brother, Poseidon, tried to seduce her. She changed into a mare to hide from the sea-god, but Poseidon changed himself into a stallion and mounted her. According to the Arcadian legend, her ravishment happened in Arcadia, where she was known as Demeter Erinys (Demeter the Fury) and the Black Demeter. She gave birth to a daughter Desponia, goddess of the horses, as well as the immortal horse, Arion.
She had a liaison with a mortal, Iasion, and became mother of Plutus and Philomelus. Plutus was one of the triad of deities worshipped in the Eleusinian Mystery of Demeter and Kore (Persephone).
Demeter was not always a kindly goddess. When she was searching for her daughter, wandering the earth as an old woman, she did cause crops to fail, particularly among those people who were inhospitable toward her.
Perhaps the most frightening of all was the story of Erysichthon. Demeter inflicted Erysichthon with unceasing hunger, which he can never satisfy. The agony of hunger caused Erysichthon, in the end, eat himself to death, quite literally – Erysichthon started eating his own flesh. See Erysichthon in the Wrath of Heaven.
Eleusis was the centre of her cult, but Athens took over the Eleusinian Mysteries. Demeter was usually depicted in arts, holding ears of corn, sometimes she is holding a sceptre or torch.
Other important sites were Thelpousa and Phigaleia in Arcadia. The sea-god, Poseidon, had raped the goddess while he was in the form of stallion and she was in the shape of mare. She gave birth to a goddess, known only as Desponia, the Mistress; only the initiated of her mystery in Arcadia knew the true name of the goddess’ daughter.
In Thelpousa, she was known as Demeter Eriyns, or “Demeter the Fury”. A sanctuary in Oncion, there is a wooden image of her, depicted her, holding basket in her left hand and torch in her right. She was also given the title of the Washing Demeter, because the goddess would walked to the Ladon river, where she bathed when Poseidon lust after her. There was a six-foot wooden statue of her as the Washing Goddess, but it was sometimes mistaken for the Titaness Themis.
At Phigaleia, there was a cave sacred to her. It was where she stayed, after her rape, causing famine in Arcadia and elsewhere in Greece. Crops could not be grown, and mankind was facing extinction. In this cave, she wore only black, which was why she was known as the Black Demeter. In this cave, it became her sanctuary, and there was a wooden image of her that showed her sitting on the rock. She may have a body of a woman, her head was that of horse. She held a dolphin in one hand and dove in the other.
According to the Orphic myth, her real name is Rhea, daughter of Uranus and Gaea. She was a Titaness, who became the consort of her brother Cronus. After Zeus was born, her name changed to Demeter. When Zeus raped his mother Rhea/Demeter, she gave birth to Persephone. Her daughter was also raped by Zeus, so that Persephone was the mother of Zagreus or Dionysus.
|Hestia was the virgin goddess of the hearth. Hestia was the eldest child of the Titans, Cronus and Rhea. The Romans called her Vesta.
Hestia was one of the children to be swallowed by her father. Later, Cronus was tricked into drinking emetic, and vomited her and her siblings out. She was the last to leave her father’s belly. So, in a way, she was both first-born (from Rhea) and last-born (disgorged from Cronus).
After the war against the Titans, Hestia managed to persuade her brothers, Poseidon and Hades, and her nephew, Apollo, of her wish to remain a virgin. According to the Hymn of Aphrodite, she sworn an oath upon the head of Zeus of not wedding to anyone and remain forever chaste and untouched by sexual love; such oath forced Poseidon and Apollo to find wives among other goddesses, or else they risk confrontation with Zeus.
According to the Fasti, the Roman poet Ovid wrote that Priapus, son of Dionysus and Aphrodite, had almost raped Hestia, when she and the other gods had fallen into a slumber after a feast. Hestia (Vesta) only woke up when she heard an ass braying as the god was on the point of mounting her. The goddess’ scream frightened off Priapus.
Although, there is very little information about Hestia in myths and literature, Hestia was nevertheless an important goddess in both Greek and Roman religions.
In the Homeric Hymns To Hestia, she attends the house of Apollo (temple) in Delphi. She was held in the highest honour, both among the gods and among mortals. She was worshipped everywhere, because there are hearths in every home and temple. Each city kept a hearth that had a consecrated fire burning perpetually in a chief public building. Fire from this hearth was taken whenever they sought a new colony.
Mortals, when holding banquets, would pour wine in offerings to the goddess, both first and last: one to open the banquet, and the other to close it (possibly referring that she was first-born and last-born status, as mentioned earlier). At the beginning of every meal at home, a small offering was thrown into the hearth flame. A song was sung in her praise, welcoming the goddess to the home.
After a newborn baby was given a name, the infant was carried to the hearth, where someone prayed for a blessing upon the child.
For the Romans, she was the all-important household goddess, the goddess of the hearth and the hearth fire. Her temple was situated within the Palatine in Rome, where the Vestal Virgins maintained the burning of the sacred fire. See Vesta in the Roman Deities for more information.
|Athena was the virgin goddess of arts, craft and war. Also known as Athene, she was also identified as the Roman goddess, Minerva. Athena was daughter of Zeus and his first wife Metis (wisdom), who was the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys.
After Zeus had overthrown his father Cronus and became supreme ruler of heaven, Gaea warned her grandson that if Metis has a second child, it would be a son. Zeus was told that this son would one day overthrow him, as he had done to his own father (Cronus). Not wanting to suffer the same fate as his father, he swallowed Metis, while she was still pregnant.
Months later, Zeus suffered from a great headache. Either Prometheus or Hephaestus used an axe to split open Zeus’ head. Athena leaped out of Zeus’ head, wearing full armour and uttering a war cry. The gods were astonished and profoundly alarmed at this prodigy. It was only when she removed her helm, that Athena revealed herself to be less formidable in aspect. Athena became Zeus’ favourite child.
Triton, son of Poseidon, raised Athena as she was growing up. Athena was sometimes known by her epithet, Tritogeneia – “thrice born”, either because of Triton or because she grew up at Lake Tritonis, in Libya.
Triton had a daughter named Pallas, who became a playmate for Athena. The young goddess was playing with her friend, when Athena accidentally killed her. In memory of her childhood playmate, she put her friend’s name before her own. Thereafter, she was called Pallas Athene (Παλλάς Ἀθήνη). She also created a wooden image of her friend, which was called the Palladium (Παλλάδιομ). However, her father (Zeus) thrown the statue out of heaven and it landed in the tent of Ilus, the son of King Tros of Dardania.
There is some confusion over the origin and meaning of the name Pallas. Pallas is a name that can be applied to either male or female character. In the case of Athena, when it was used as a name for a girl, the name Pallas probably means “girl” or “maiden”. However, some modern scholars dispute this meaning, because Pallas could also mean “brandisher”.
As to the name of Athena, the meaning is lost. Athena could be a pre-Hellenic name, either of Minoan or Mycenaean origin. Athena may be the equivalent with the Minoan or Mycenaean mother goddess Atana Potnia (A-TA-NA PO-TI-NI-JA). See Mother Goddesses.
There is a theory that Athena seems to be a pre-Hellenic goddess (ie, before the arrival of Dorians, Ionians and Aeolians), existing originally as a Minoan or Mycenaean goddess of crafts, homes, hearth and communities. When the Hellenic people migrated to Greece, they brought with them Pallas, the virgin war goddess. The two goddesses fused into a single goddess, known as Pallas Athene, which we know of today, retaining the attributes and functions of both goddesses. However, this is merely modern speculation than a fact.
As a virgin goddess, she was known by her epithet, Parthenos. The Greeks saw her as goddess of severe beauty, with the bluest eyes, sometimes with gray flashing eyes, which earned her the epithet, Glaukopis (Γλαυκύπις), meaning “Flashing Eye” or “Bright Eye”.
In art she was normally depicted as wearing the terror-inducing aegis, symbolising the dark storm clouds, and was armed with the resistless spear (shaft of lightning). In the poem the Shield of Heracles, ascribed to Hesiod:
Since her mother (Metis) was the goddess of wisdom, Athena inherited her mother’s intellectual abilities, and one of her epithets was Polymetis (Πολυμήτις). She personified the clear upper air as well as mental clearness and acuteness, embodying the spirit of truth and divine wisdom.
But Athena was also the goddess of war. She participated with skill and wisdom in wars to defend the state, but she did not fight, like Ares, with uncontrolled ferocity, or for the sheer love of strife and mindless slaughter. She did not participate in war for the love of killing, but rather, her activities in war were intended to restore order, and thus she was ultimately the goddess of peace. Athena represented the more noble aspects of war such as courage and self-control, whereas Ares symbolised the more brutal aspects of war.
As the goddess of war, she also became patron goddess of many of the heroes, acting more like an ideal elder sister, providing guidance. She aided Bellerophon in taming the winged horse, Pegasus, by providing the bridle. According to some sources, Athena, not Poseidon, taught mankind the art of horsemanship, though Poseidon was a god of horses.
In the war of the Seven against Thebes, Athena would have saved her favourite warrior, Tydeus, and would have made him immortal, had Tydeus not been duped into swallowing his killer’s brains. The sight of cannibalism revolted her that she left Tydeus to die from his mortal wound.
Athena had also helped several of her mortal half-brothers, such as Perseus and Heracles. She provided Perseus with information on how to kill the Gorgon Medusa. Athena accompanied and advised Heracles in various adventures. It was Athena who brought Heracles to aid the gods in a war against the giants (Gigantes), known as Gigantomachia. In this war, she killed a giant named Pallas by crushing him under a huge boulder. She used Pallas’ skin as her garment, the aegis. It was said that this was the reason why used the name in front of Athena’s name instead of the daughter of Pallas. She was popular among the heroes, because she was the goddess of victory, and one of her epithets was Athena Nike.
Athena was one of the goddesses who wanted the golden apple during the Judgement of Paris. She promised Paris to make him a great hero, winning all his wars. Her enmity was incurred against the Trojans when Paris awarded the apple to Aphrodite. She sided with the Greeks, often aiding her favourites, particularly Achilles, Diomedes and Odysseus. With Athena’s encouragement, Diomedes not only wounded Aeneas, but also the two gods, Aphrodite and Ares.
When Ares confronted her, she easily bested him. As Ares charged her, with his sword brandishing, Athena calmly hurled a large rock at Ares, knocking the war god unconscious. She had also struck Aphrodite in the breasts with her two fists, when the love goddess ran to her lover’s side. Perhaps it was revenge for losing the golden apple to Aphrodite in the Judgement of Paris.
This was not the only confrontation she had with Ares. According to the Epic Cycle, Telegony, Odysseus was involved in a war between the Thesprotians and the Brygi. Odysseus was on the Thesprotian side because he had married Callidice, the Queen of the Thesprotians. Ares routed Odysseus’ army of Thesprotis, and Athena engaged in Ares in combat. No detail was given, except that Apollo separated the quarreling deities.
Athena was responsible for causing Hector to fight Achilles without divine aid: Achilles killed Hector in single combat. Athena inflicted madness on Ajax, when he lost the armour of Achilles to Odysseus.
It was a sacred statuette of Athena or that of her childhood friend Pallas, called the Palladium, which made Troy invulnerable to attack, during the Trojan War.
Originally, the Palladium was kept in Olympus, but when the Pleiad Electra sought protection against Zeus who was determined to rape her, Zeus angrily threw it out of heaven, landing near the tent of Ilus.(If this legend is true, then the Palladium took a long time to fall from heaven to earth (4 generations to be precise), because Dardanus, son of Electra, was Ilus’ great grandfather.)
Upon the advice of the Trojan seer Helenus, Odysseus and Diomedes stole the Palladium from its altar. (According to Vergil in the Aeneid, the Palladium that Diomedes and Odysseus had stolen was a fake, and Aeneas took the real Palladium with him to Italy.) It was Athena who inspired Odysseus to design the Wooden Horse (Trojan Horse) that would bring about the fall of Troy.
However, her enmity was turned towards most of the Greek leaders, when they failed to punish Ajax the Lesser for raping Cassandra in her temple. Athena asked Poseidon to destroy most of the Greek fleet in a violent storm.
However, she continued to aid Odysseus, and was the main patron of his family, during the hero’s absence. She appeared in various guises, offering advice to Penelope and Telemachus. She had even accompanied Telemachus in the journey to Pylos and Sparta, in the guise of Mentor, Odysseus’ old friend. She inspired Odysseus and Telemachus in the battle against Penelope’s suitors, and forced the dead suitors’ family to make peace with Odysseus. See the Odyssey.
Athena was probably also the goddess of justice. When the Erinyes (Furies) persecuted Orestes and afflicted him with madness, Athena acted as judge in Orestes’ trial in Athens. When the Athenian jury were tied in their verdict on Orestes’ innocent and guilt, she cast her verdict in favour of Orestes. She thereby acquitted Orestes of murdering his mother.
Cecrops was king of Attica (at the time, the region was known as Cecropia), when she and her uncle Poseidon sought to claim Athens by becoming a patron deity of the city. The citizens awarded the city to Athena, because she caused an olive tree to spring out of the rock on the Acropolis. The city was then named after her. See Cecrops in the House of Athens.
It was during this time that Hephaestus tried to ravish the virgin war-goddess. Athena easily repulsed his amorous advance upon her. The semen from Hephaestus fell on the ground of the Acropolis, impregnating the Earth (Gaea), so Erichthonius was conceived. Some people suggested that Athena was really the mother of Erichthonius, without losing her virginity; the semen sprayed on her thigh, which she wiped off her leg and threw it on the ground; this could have easily given it life is one possibility that could be considered. Erichthonius was an infant with a tail and legs of a serpent. Athena hid the child in a chest. She gave the chest to Herse and Agraulus, daughters of Cecrops, warning them not to open the chest. However, the two sisters could not resist the temptation, and opened the box. Either Athena inflicted madness upon the girls for disobedience, or the deformity of Erichthonius drove them insane. Whichever was the case, the two sisters leaped off the Acropolis to their death. See Erichthonius in the House of Athens.
As goddess of craft, she invented the flute, but discarded it when Hera and Aphrodite laughed at her whenever she blew it. She cursed anyone who picked up the musical instrument that she had discarded. A satyr named Marsyas picked up the flute and dared to challenge Apollo in a musical contest, but he lost and was flayed alive by the god.
She helped Argus to build the Argo for Jason and his crew. Surprisingly, her role in the Quest was relatively small.
Her epithets were Mechanitis (patroness of undertakings), Nike (Νίκη, victory), Pallas (girl?), Parthenia, Parthenos (Παρθένος, virgin goddess), Polymetis (Πολυμήτις, resourceful), Promachus (Πρόμχος, protectress), Soteira (savior), and Tritogeneia (Τριτογένεια, Triton-born or thrice born).
Her place of worship was not only in Athens, but also in Argos, Sparta and Troy as well. The olive tree was sacred to her, and her sacred animals were horses, sea eagles, cocks and serpents, but her favourite bird was the owl.
|A god of youth, music, prophecy, archery and healing. Twin brother of the goddess Artemis (Diana), Apollo was the son of Zeus and the Titaness, Leto, daughter of the titans, Coeüs (Coeus) and Phoebe.
He was popularly known as Phoebus Apollo, and therefore known as the god of light and the sun. Apollo was depicted with a perfect male body: muscular but youthful. He had always appeared beardless on statues.
Apollo was the god of archery, and he carried a silver bow like his sister. Apollo often enjoyed hunting with his sister, and sometimes with his mother. He also possessed a golden sword.
Apollo was the god of music. Hermes gave him the lyre that he invented, making the instrument with a tortoise shell and sheep guts for strings. No one, god or mortal, could play the lyre better than Apollo could.
Some say that Apollo was the father of the greatest mortal musician, Orpheus, by Calliope, one of the Muses, while other writers say that Orpheus’ father was the Thracian king, Oeagrus. Nevertheless, Orpheus also played the lyre. Another son of Apollo, named Linus, was also a great musician, but was killed by his pupil Heracles.
Several times mortals and lesser divinities did challenge Apollo in music contests, and were punished for it. Apollo often punished those who dared to compete against him. A satyr named Marsyas, who played a flute invented by the goddess Athena, had challenged Apollo. Marsyas was flayed alive when the satyr lost the contest.
Another time, Apollo competed against the god Pan, in a music contest. Three judges were to decide the winner. Two judges voted in favour of Apollo, but King Midas thought that Pan’s reed pipe had produced better music. Instead of turning against the musician, Apollo punished the judge. He transformed Midas’ ears to those of the ears of a jackass. Midas had to hide his ears in a cap, in shame.
Apollo was the god of prophecy and oracle. The oracle in Delphi was the main seat of his power, though it originally belonged to Gaea, then Themis and Phoebe, before the oracle was given to him. Delphi was only a small settlement during the Mycenaean period. It wasn’t until the 8th century BC, that they rebuilt the area, and it became the centre of his worship.
Apollo was also god of medicine and healing. Though, in earlier accounts, Paeëon (Paeeon) may have been a god of healing; but the name may also have been one of Apollo’s epithets.
Perhaps the most famous of his children was Asclepius, by Coronis, daughter of Phlegyas. While she was still pregnant, she took a mortal lover, Ischys. When Apollo heard about this, he killed Coronis, but saved the unborn baby. Asclepius became the greatest physician, with the ability to restore life to the dead. Some would even call Asclepius a god of healing.
However, his gift of restoring life proved to be his undoing. Zeus killed him with his thunderbolt, because he feared that he would change the fates of men. Angry that his father had killed his favourite son, Apollo slew a Cyclops, who make Zeus’ deadly weapon – the thunderbolts. Zeus would have thrown his own son to Tartarus, had Leto not pleaded for their son’s life.
Zeus punished Apollo, where he was to work for one-year for a mortal, named Admetus, king of Pherae. Admetus was a pious man and treated the god well, during Apollo’s service. After one year, Apollo repaid Admetus’ kindness by warning him of his fate. Admetus could escape his fate if he found someone willing to die in his place. No one but his wife Alcestis was willing to sacrifice her own life for his. Admetus immediately regretted allowing his wife to take his place. Only through the intervention of Heracles was Alcestis’ life restored for the king.
Apollo and Poseidon were also punished by Zeus, by having to serve Laomedon, king of Troy, for one year. With the help of the mortal Aeacus, king of Aegina, they built the wall of Troy. Both gods had asked for payment at the completion of the wall construction. However, Laomedon refused to pay the gods so Poseidon sent a sea monster. Though Apollo was regarded as god of healing, he punished Laomedon by sending an outbreak of pestilence in Troy.
During the Trojan War, however, he favoured the Trojans, particularly the Trojan hero Hector and to some extent, Aeneas. Again, he was associated as the god of pestilence (for the second time in Troy. See the Iliad). This time he sent the pestilence to the Greeks in Troy, because Agamemnon’s refusals (Summary) to return one of his captives and concubines, Chryseïs (Chryseis), to her father, Chryses, who was a priest of Apollo. Apollo punished Agamemnon by raining his deadly arrows from heaven, causing an epidemic within the Greek camp.
In the myth about Niobe, Apollo killed Niobe’s sons while Artemis killed Niobe’s daughters with arrows. Niobe had foolishly boasted that she had bore seven sons and seven daughters, while Leto had only bore twins.
Because Achilles had killed his son Tenes, king of Tenedos, in the first year of the war, Apollo would be responsible for Achilles’ death in the last year of the war. When Achilles pursued the retreating Trojans, Paris shot an arrow at Achilles; Apollo guided the arrow to Achilles’ weakness, his heel.
Like many of the younger gods, Apollo never married, but seduced many girls and women. Among the girls he ravished were Creüsa (Creusa), daughter of Erechtheus, who became the mother of Ion. Apollo and Hermes both fell in love with Chione, daughter of Daedalion. On the same day, Hermes raped Chione during the day, while Apollo ravished her at night. She bore twins, a son to each god: Autolycus (thief) to Hermes and Philammon (bard) to Apollo.
The best known affair of them all was also his most unsuccessful. Apollo told Eros (Cupid) to leave archery to him. Angry at the reproach, Eros used one of his gold-tipped arrows and made Apollo fall in love with a nymph named Daphne, daughter of the river-god Peneius. But Eros shot Daphne with a leaden arrow-point, which would cause Daphne to reject any love. Apollo pursued the unfortunate girl. Praying to the earth-goddess Gaea, she was transformed into the laurel tree. Apollo broke off a laurel branch, and wore it on his head. In Greek, Daphne means “laurel”. A festival, held in his honour every nine years in Thebes, commemorated this event. There was a small procession where a boy walked with a priest and one of his nearest relatives, who carried an olive branch, bearing laurel flowers and bronze balls.
Another girl who escaped the god was Marpessa, whom the hero Idas wanted to marry. When Apollo took the girl, Idas, undaunted by the god, pursued the fleeing god and his betrothed. Zeus prevented the two rivals from fighting, and asked the girl to choose between them. She chose Idas.
In Troy, he gave the gift of prophecy to Cassandra, daughter of Priam and Hecuba, in the hope he could win her favour. When Cassandra rejected him, Apollo made her gift to foresee always true, but no one would take heed of her prophecy.
Apollo wasn’t only attracted to maidens. He was also lover of the Spartan youth, named Hyacinthus, son of Amyclas and Diomede. Apollo accidentally killed him with a miscast discus. The flower Hyacinth grew where his blood fell. Each year, the festival Hyacinthia was held in honour of both Hyacinthus and Apollo at Amyclas.
Ida was not the only time a mortal hero confronted Apollo, and still lived. Diomedes was divinely inspired, by Athena, when he wounded Aeneas, and then Aphrodite and later Ares. When Diomedes tried to finish Aeneas off, Apollo had to rescue the fallen Trojan hero. Diomedes wasn’t discouraged by the god’s presence. Three times he tried to deliver a death blow, and three times Apollo had to shield Aeneas. Diomedes only retreated when Apollo rebuffed him with his shield, and gave him a warning.
When Heracles asked the oracle at Delphi for a cure for his skin disease, the prophetess refused to answered, so the hero seized the tripod, and told the prophetess and priestesses that he would set up his own oracle. Apollo would have confronted and perhaps fought the hero, but Zeus intervened, separating his two sons with a thunderbolt. Heracles didn’t want to fight Apollo, he only wanted a cure. On the other side Apollo admired the hero’s boldness and conceded to order the prophetess to deliver the oracle to Heracles.
When Heracles took part in the Olympic Games and won all the events, each of the powerful gods awarded the hero a gift. Apollo gave a bow to Heracles, but the hero preferred to use his own bow that he had made.
In one myth, the Olympic Games were actually first established in Olympus, by Zeus. When Apollo took part in such events, he defeated Hermes in a footrace and Ares in boxing.
Apollo was introduced to Rome, from the Greek cities in central and southern Italy, as well as from the Etruscans, where he was known as Apulu. Apollo had probably started out as the god of healing, but as time passed, he inherited many of the attributes of the Greek god, such as the god of oracles and prophecy, of light and music. Apollo appeared in many myths that were probably derived from Greek sources. His temple in Rome was first erected in 432 BC.
Apollo had many epithets: Acersecomes (unshorn) Acesius (healer), Cynthius, Delius, Loxias, Lycius (wolf-god), Moiragetes (guide of the moirae), Musagetes (patron of the muses), Paean (healing-god), Phoebus (shining), Smintheus (mouse-god).
His sacred places of worship were Delphi, Delos and Tenedos. His sacred tree was the laurel, while the animals were wolf, raven, swan, hawk, snake, mouse and grasshopper.
|Virgin goddess of childbirth and of wild animals. Artemis was daughter of Zeus and the Titaness, Leto, offspring of the Titans, Coeüs (Coeus) and Phoebe. Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo.
Artemis was the goddess of hunting and the chase. Artemis often hunts with her brother. She carried a silver bow made by the Cyclopes. But her arrow shafts were made out of gold. Maidens and woodland nymphs often accompanied her during her hunt.
These mortal huntresses tried to remain virgin like the goddess they worshipped. However, many of the gods, particularly her father (Zeus), often ravished her beautiful companions.
Strangely enough, Artemis was also the protectress of young animals. She was like a game warden; she would kill any hunter who kills pregnant animals or their young.
Artemis drives her golden chariot from Smyrna to Claros, to meet her brother before hunting, while her horses were usually watered at Meles. Artemis was also the guardian of all wild animals of the forest, but the hind, bear, dog and boar were favourites. Artemis was often called the Lady of the Beasts. Her sacred tree was the laurel, like her brother.
Artemis was also the goddess of childbirth. When Leto was pregnant with the twins, Eileithyia refused to help Leto with labour, suffered greatly from the pain, since Eileithyia was the daughter of Hera. Artemis was born first on the island of Ortygia. Leto suffered from the pang for nine days on the island of Delos, before Artemis helped her mother with the delivery of her twin Apollo.
Her arrows brought swift but violent death to young women. Apollo’s arrows also do the same thing to young men. When Niobe boasted that she had given birth to seven strong sons and seven beautiful daughters more than Leto, Artemis killed all of Niobe’s daughters, while Apollo kill her sons.
Artemis protects her virginity with sudden violence. Artemis can be a vengeful goddess. When Actaeon, a grandson of Cadmus, probably accidentally, saw her bathing, she transformed him into a stag. Actaeon’s hounds did not recognise their master, so the hounds tore him apart.
She caused the death of the giants Otus and Ephialtes, when they pursuit her through the woods. She tricked them into killing one another with their spears.
When Oeneus, king of Calydon, forgot to sacrifice to her, Artemis punished the king by sending a giant wild boar to ravage the countryside. The Calydonian Boar was hunted by many Greek heroes. See Atalanta for the story of the Calydonian Boar Hunt.
Sometimes these punishments are not enough, so the goddess demand an even greater sacrifice. She was sometimes not satisfy unless it human blood was shed to her.
So when Agamemnon forgot to sacrifice to her, Artemis send a strong wind that prevent the Greek fleet from embarking at Aulis, to Troy, unless Agamemnon sacrifice one of his daughters (Iphigenia). In some accounts, Artemis spirited Iphigeneia away to the land of the Taurians, and replaced the sacrifice with a deer. In probably the original story, Iphigeneia died in Aulis. In whatever version, Agamemnon lost his daughter to the goddess and the Greeks were able to sail to Troy. According to Euripides, Iphigeneia served as high priestess of Artemis’ Tauric temple, where she had to perform human sacrifice of strangers who set foot on their land. This practice continued until her brother came, helping her to escape.
As it can be seen by the references to the cult of Artemis with human sacrifices, she was a bloodthirsty goddess. Of all the gods in Olympus, only one other god demand human sacrifice – Ares.
Artemis seemed to be the goddess of nymphs, since many of her followers join the chase with her, particularly the woodland nymphs and the mountain nymphs. They were often their companions, whenever the goddess desired to go hunting. According to Callimachus’ Hymn To Artemis, young Artemis gathered 60 daughters of Oceanus and Tethys, and 20 nymphs of Amnisus, a river in Crete, as her companions and handmaidens. The Oceanids were all nine years old and ungirdled.
These nymphs often tried to emulate Artemis – enjoying the hunt with their mistress and tried to remain chaste virgins.
However many of the nymphs were unsuccessful in remaining virgin, like their goddess, because the gods often amorously pursue these unwilling nymphs. Most of the nymphs couldn’t avoid the lust of these powerful gods, yet Artemis was hardly sympathetic to their troubles. The Callisto was once her favourite companion, until the goddess’ father Zeus raped poor Callisto. According to a couple of sources, the ruthless goddess had either drove Callisto away or had killed her former companion.
When Artemis was still young, she had found mighty herd of deer at the Parrhasian hills, near the bank of black-pebbled Anaurus. There were five of these deer, larger than bulls and horns of gold. Artemis managed to capture four of these deer, which drew her golden chariot. The fifth deer escaped to the Ceryneian hill, and became known as the Cerynitian Hind, sacred to the goddess. Heracles would later capture the Cerynitian Hind in his third labour for King Eurystheus in Tiryns.
According to another writer, Artemis received the hind from the Pleiad nymph, Taÿgete, because the goddess had aided her.
Artemis was also confused with the Cretan goddess Britomartis (“Sweet Maiden”), who was one of Artemis’ favourites, whenever the goddess went out hunting in Crete. Minos, king of Crete, lusted and after the nymph. Britomartis leaped off into the sea, where fishermen discovered and saved her in their net. Britomartis was transformed into a goddess by Artemis, and her name was changed to Dictynna, which means the “Lady of the Nets”. The confusion comes from the result that Artemis was sometimes named Artemis Diktynna, which she used in her many cults at Crete. Maybe Dictynna is just another name for Artemis, since they almost have identical attributes.
In fact, Artemis had absorbed aspects or attributes of several Minoan goddesses. I had already mentioned Britomartis/Dictynna, but there was also the Cretan goddess of childbirth, Eleuthia or Eileithyia.
Artemis was also known as the Roman goddess, Diana. Artemis’ name may have originated during the late Bronze Age, where the name, A-TI-MI-TE, was found in Linear B tablets in Pylos. Her epithets included Auge, Caryatis, Lucina (childbirth, Roman) and Phoebe (moon-goddess).
According to many non-Greek traditions, she was not a virgin goddess. Rather, she was the mother goddess. Some statues depicted her with more than two breasts, suggesting that she was goddess of fertility and sexuality, like at Ephesus (see Artemis of Ephesus). She was probably Asiatic origin, and she was sometimes identified with Cybele, a Phrgyian mother-goddess.
Artemis is sometimes depicted with a bow in hand, flanked by wild animal. Artemis was the mistress of animal kingdom. In some other image, like the one on the right, Artemis appeared to have a pair of large wings. These images of the winged goddess are quite common in archaic arts.
The image showed Cretan influence of the Mistress of Wild Animals, a Bronze Age goddess of wild beasts. This Mistress of Wild Animals or Potnia theron was probably originally derived from the kingdoms of Near East. Potnia was usually seen nude. Often she is depicted standing, flanked with wild animals, and at other times, the goddess is holding an animal in each hand, though the Asiatic goddess is usually depicted nude. The animals she sometimes holds range from stag, lion, or sometimes even the mythical griffin.
Looking at Artemis as a whole, we find many of her functions and roles, often conflicting and contradictory. We have the goddess seen as a virgin, yet she was the goddess of childbirth and fertility. She was the huntress, yet she was protectress of wild animals.
According to some authors, Artemis was the goddess of the Amazons. They worshipped her in a dance. It was said that it was the Amazons who had erected the image of the goddess in the temple at Ephesus. Her temple at Ephesus was said to be the largest of its kind, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
She preferred the wild mountains and forests, but there are many cities which she was patroness, and Callimachus had named her the Watchers of Streets and Watcher of Harbours. Other places sacred to the goddess, include the island of Delos worshipped with her brother; the city of Gortyn, where she was possibly worshipped since the Middle Bronze Age Crete; Munychia, the harbour of Athens.
|Herald and messenger of the gods. Hermes was son of Zeus and Maia (a Pleiad, see the Pleiades), a daughter of Atlas and Pleïone (Pleione). He was identified as the Roman god, Mercury. Hermes was born in a cave within the forest near the mountain of Cyllene.
Hermes was a god known for his invention and for theft. Before the end of his first day after his birth, he had invented the lyre made of a tortoise’s shell, and he had also stolen Apollo’s cattle from the mountains of Pieria. Hermes was ever resourceful and knew that someone would pursue him, possibly even Apollo himself. So the young god forced the herd of cattle to walk backward. He also walked in reverse, hoping to confuse the tracker. Only one old farmer had seen Hermes and the cattle. When Hermes reached home, the twelve bulls were sacrificed to the Twelve Gods, and Hermes ate the meat of the last bull. Hermes then cleverly hid the other cattle in Pylos.
Then Hermes sneaked back to his cradle before his mother returned. Yet Maia suspected that her son was up to no good, and called him “rogue”, despite him feigning innocence. Hermes claimed that he was only an infant.
That night, Apollo discovered the missing cows among his cattle, so he followed the tracks. Although the tracks had been meant to confuse him, Apollo met the old man who told him what he had seen, so the god easily managed to follow the tracks of the thief and his cattle back to the mountain of Cyllene.
When Apollo entered the cave, Hermes pretended that he was only an infant sleeping in the cradle. Apollo was however not fooled by the feigned innocence of Hermes, and demanded the whereabouts of his cattle, threatening to throw the infant god into the fathomless depth of Tartarus. Hermes answered with crafty words that he doesn’t know what Apollo was talking about, like “what is this cattle?” suggesting he didn’t know what Apollo was talking about.
Apollo took the infant with him to Olympus, before their father, the mighty ruler of gods and men. Zeus was delighted as he listened to his two sons arguing – the eldest accusing the rogue, while the other defending himself. Zeus was quite amused by Hermes’ feigned innocence and cleverness, but he finally ordered his youngest son to return the cattle to Apollo.
So Hermes took Apollo to Pylos where the cattle were hidden, but the sun god saw that twelve of his finest bulls were missing. Hermes explained to the sun god that he had sacrificed the bulls to the twelve great gods of Olympus. Apollo told him there were only eleven gods, but Hermes told his elder half-brother that he himself was to be the twelfth Olympian.
As Apollo was deciding on Hermes’ punishment, he heard Hermes play the lyre. Apollo liked the music coming from the instrument so much, that he decided to give Hermes his cattle and his shepherd staff in exchanged for the lyre. The two half-brothers were finally reconciled. Apollo even taught Hermes the art of divining using pebbles.
Hermes had many skills and attributes, but his primary duty was to act as a messenger or herald for the gods. Hermes was frequently on an errand for his father (Zeus). His feminine opposite was the goddess Iris, who also often served as messenger for Zeus. Hermes often communicated to the mortals for the gods, so he was a guide. Hermes was the patron god of heralds and messengers.
Hermes had the badges of his office as a herald, especially the herald staff, known as Caduceus. According to one myth, two snakes were attacking one another, but when Hermes separated the snakes with his staff, they made peace. The snakes attached themselves to the staff and became permanently entwined around the Caduceus. Hermes can also be recognised by his winged helmet, called a Petasus, and more importantly a pair of winged sandals, called Talaria. The sandals, and possibly the helmet, allowed Hermes to fly. The main difference between Hermes and Iris (apart from their genders), was that Iris didn’t need sandals to fly, because she had wings.
Hermes often helped and guided humans in their activities. He gave a “Sickle of Adamant” to Perseus, which the hero used to sever Medusa’s head. He killed Argus Panoptes, who was guarding the Argive heroine Io, while in the form of a heifer.
After the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Zeus ordered Hermes to take the three powerful goddesses to Paris. Paris was asked to judge who of the three goddesses was the fairest. See Judgement of Paris.
Hermes even rescued Zeus and restored his sinews, when Zeus encountered the monster Typhon. Similarly, he rescued Ares, who was confined in a bronze storage jar for thirteen months, when the god of war was captured by Otus and Ephialtes.
Hermes was also the guide and patron of travellers. Hermes was a guide to Perseus as the hero journeyed to find the Gorgons. Probably because Odysseus was his great-grandson, Hermes gave a plant known as moly, which made the hero immune to the magic of Circe.
Hermes also had the strange duty of guiding departed souls to the Underworld. The shades of the dead followed Hermes’ Caduceus through the passages of Hades. It was through this duty that Hermes earned the epithet, Psychopompus – conductor of souls to the Underworld. In the Odyssey, Hermes guided the souls of Penelope’s suitors that Odysseus had killed, to Hades’ domain, where they encountered Agamemnon.
As can be seen after his birth, Hermes was quite inventive, so it was natural that he was the god of inventions and science, and possibly of astronomy.
As mentioned before, Hermes shared some of the attributes of Apollo. He was god of the flocks and patron of the shepherds. Hermes also was god of divining using pebbles. With Apollo, Hermes was the god of athletic contests and patron of athletes.
Hermes was god of commerce and the market, which made him the patron of merchants, but at the same time, he was also the patron of thieves and rogues.
Like the other younger Olympian gods, Hermes had many children from many mistresses. Like Apollo, Hermes never married. However he had many famous liaisons and children.
The only notable affair with a goddess was with Aphrodite. She was, however, not interested in Hermes. Zeus, taking pity on his son, he had his eagle steals Aphrodite’s favourite sandal. She gave in to Hermes’ lust in return for her sandal. Hermes became the father of Hermaphroditus. Obviously, Hermaphroditus was named after his parents, Hermes and Aphrodite.
Hermes raped Chione, daughter of Daedalion. From this union, Hermes was the father of Autolycus, who followed one of his father’s occupations as a thief. Autolycus was a master thief, inheriting his father’s cunning and resourcefulness. Autolycus was the father of Anticleia and grandfather of Odysseus. Apollo had raped Chione on the same day (well, at night), so she was mother of twins: her other son, by Apollo, was named Philammon the Bard.
Hermes was the father of the Argonaut Aethalides, by Eupolemeia. Aethalides was notable because he served as the herald or messenger for the Argonauts. Hermes had two other sons, Echion and Erytus, who sailed with Jason and the Argonauts.
Hermes had a number of epithets: Argiphontes (slayer of Argus Panoptes), Cylleneius, Epimelios (guardian of flocks), Hodios (patron of traveller and wayfarers), Nomios, Oneiropompus (conductor of dreams), Psychopompus (conductor of souls to the Underworld).
|God of war. Ares was a son of Zeus and Hera, and was known as the Roman god, Mars. Ares was the brother of Hebe, Eileithyia and possibly of Hephaestus, though most writers say that Hephaestus was son of Hera, alone.
Ares may possibly appear in the Linear B tablets. In Knossos, Crete, his name was AR-E, but in Mycenaean Pylos, he name was spelt A-RE-JA. Enyalius (E-NU-WA-RI-JO, also found in the Linear B tablet in Knossos), Greek god of war, was probably an epithet of Ares. Otherwise, Enyalius was a personification of war, and brother of Enyo. Ares was also said to be brother of Eris (Discord) and was father of a son named Strife. In the battlefield, he was accompanied by Enyo (called Bellona by the Romans), goddess of war. Enyo (Ἐνυω) was either his sister or his daughter, by Aphrodite.
Though Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, she had a long term affair with Ares (see Hephaestus about Hephaestus capturing his wife and Ares in bed). Through Aphrodite, Ares was the father of Anteros (Passion), Eros, Deimus (Fear), Phobus (Panic), and a daughter named Harmonia, wife of Cadmus of Thebes.
Cadmus had only married Harmonia, after he was to serve the war god for 8 years, because Cadmus had killed the dragon, which guarded the spring dedicated to Ares, at Thebes.
As a god of war, many Greek kingdoms did not worship him, because Ares personified uncontrolled and murderous killing in war, and he engaged in bloody strife for the sheer love of combat itself. Many Greeks preferred Athena, the goddess of war, whose judgment is not clouded by the passion of fighting. She represented disciplined and cool purpose.
Even though he was god of war, Athena always seemed to be a better fighter, whenever there was a confrontation between the two. During the Trojan War, when Ares charged at Athena, brandishing his sword, the goddess coolly hurled a stone at the god of war. She left him crumbled to the ground.
This was not the only time, he engaged in combat with Athena. According to the Epic Cycle, Telegony, Ares was on the side of the Brygi against the Thesprotians, led by the hero Odysseus. Ares routed Odysseus’ army, so Athena being a patron of Odysseus, decided to engage Ares in another combat. Neither side gain the other hand, because Apollo intervened.
Despite being a god of war, Ares was not a great fighter. He even lost to mortals in several encounters. Twice, Heracles had defeated him; he also lost to Diomedes, hero in the Trojan War. Both heroes seriously wounded the war god. When Ares was wounded by Diomedes, his scream was louder than thousands of men shouting.
Ares fought against Heracles, when the hero killed Cyncus at Itonus, in southern Thessaly. Cyncus was the son of Ares and Pelopia or Pyrene. Cyncus had the habit of challenging travellers to fight with him. Ares was actually fighting beside his son, when Heracles wounded the war god. Heracles would have done more harm to Ares, had not Zeus intervened by hurling a thunderbolt.
The two giant sons (Aloidae) of Poseidon (?) and Iphimedia – Otus and Ephialtes – once captured Ares and put him in a bronze vessel. He was held there for 13 months, until Hermes eventually rescued him.
In Athens, there was a hill near the Acropolis, called Areopagus (Areiopagos), which means the “Hill of Ares”. The Areopagus was used by the Athenians to try a person for murder. According to Apollodorus, Ares had seduced Agraulus (Agraulos), daughter of Actaius and wife of Cecrops. So Ares became the father of a daughter named Alcippe. When Alcippe was raped by Halirrhothius (Halirrhothios, or Seafoam according to Pausanias), son of Poseidon and the nymph Euryte, Ares came to his daughter’s aid and killed Halirrhothius.
Ares was the first being to be tried for murder on this hill. Poseidon was the one who brought charges against him, while the other ten gods were his judges. Ares was acquitted. The hill was named after him, after the trial. According to Aeschylus’ Eumenides, Orestes would also be tried at Areopagus, for murdering his mother, Clytemnestra. Orestes was brought before twelve jurors, but Athena herself acted as the judge, who tried Orestes. Orestes was similarly acquitted.
Ares had many epithets; among them were Enyalius (god of war), Gradivus (leader of armies), Alloprosallos and Aphneius (bountiful). His main places of worship were possibly Sparta and Thebes (otherwise he had no cities in Greece), and Thrace. He was also said to be worshipped in Scythia where they sacrificed men and animals to a sword.
Ares’ favourite animals were the dog and the vulture. Ares had a chariot pulled by his horses: Aithon (“Red Fire”), Conabos (“Tumult”), Phlogios (“Flame”) and Phobos (“Terror”).
According to the early Roman accounts, Mars was known more as a god of agriculture than that of war. However, his aspect became more warlike as the Romans became more powerful. Mars became the second most important god in the Roman pantheon, after his father Jupiter (Zeus).
|The goddess of love and beauty. She was identified with the Roman goddess, Venus. There are two versions of her birth.
According to Homer, Aphrodite was known as the daughter of Zeus and Dione. Dione was either a Titaness, daughter of Uranus and Gaea, or an Oceanid, daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. But according to Hesiod, she was earlier deity than the Olympians.
When the Titan Cronus castrated his father (Uranus) and flung his genitals into the sea near the island of Cythera, the blood and semen caused foam to gather and float across the sea to the island of Cyprus. For this reason, Aphrodite was often called Cythereia, and Cyprian or Cypris, after her two holy islands. There, Aphrodite rose out of the sea from the foam (hence her name came from the word aphros, which means “foam”). She had experienced no infancy or childhood. She was born a grown, young woman. See Creation about Aphrodite’s birth.
To Ares, she was said to have become the mother of Anteros (Passion), Eros (Love), Deimus (Fear), Phobus (Panic) and Harmonia, wife of Cadmus of Thebes. Only later myths say that Eros was her son. According to Hesiod, Eros came to existence, with Gaea and Tartarus, from the void known as Chaos.
Hephaestus knew that Aphrodite was having a long term affair with Ares, so he decided to punish them. During his apparent absence, Hephaestus trapped the guilty pair in the bedchamber that he shared with the love goddess. Ares and Aphrodite hanged suspended in a golden net, without a stitch of clothes upon them. Hephaestus invited the other Olympians to witness the humiliated adulterers. They were the source of amusement and ridicules. Hephaestus wanted to leave them trapped in his net but he reluctantly released them on the insistence of Poseidon who admired the beauty of Aphrodite and paid reparations in return for her and her lover’s freedom. Aphrodite rewarded Poseidon, by sleeping with the sea god, whence she became mother of Eryx. See Love and War Bound.
However, in Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica, Eryx’s father was Butes, an Argonaut. Butes was the hero who jumped overboard from the Argo, when he heard the song of the Sirens. Aphrodite saved him, by spiriting the hero away to Sicily, where Butes founded the city of Lilybaeum, on the west coast. There, Butes became her lover, and she bore Eryx. Eryx was the boxer who later challenged strangers to fight with him, until Heracles killed him.
Hermes also admired Aphrodite’s beauty but she wasn’t interested in a sexual relationship with the herald god. Hermes was so depressed with longing that Zeus decided to intervene on behalf of his son. Zeus sent an eagle that stole Aphrodite’s favourite pair of sandals. Aphrodite had to retrieve the sandals from Hermes. So Aphrodite surrendered to Hermes’ lust and became mother of a son, named Hermaphroditus.
She had several mortal lovers. The most famous was Adonis, son of Cinyras and his own daughter Myrrha (Smyrna), according to Ovid. However, according to Apollodorus, Adonis was the son of King Theias of Assyria and his own daughter Smyrna. Whichever parents Adonis belonged to, he was conceived through incest, caused by Aphrodite. Hesiod says that Adonis was the son of Phoenix and Alphesiboia.
According to Apollodorus, Aphrodite punished Smyrna (Myrrha) for failing to honour her. The goddess made Smyrna fall in love with her own father. She secretly shared her father’s bed for twelve nights, before Theias discovered the forbidden sin he had unwittingly committed.
Now in Ovid’s tale, it was Cinyras who refused to worship Aphrodite and the goddess made his own daughter fall madly in love with him. Myrrha (Smyrna) got her father drunk for twelve nights and slept with him. Upon discovering that Myrrha was pregnant with their incestuous child, Cinyras tried to kill her.
In either version, the father chased his daughter with a sword, intending to kill her. The daughter prayed to the gods to save her. The gods turned her into a myrrha tree (smyrna). The father killed himself in shame.
Some months later, Adonis was born when the tree split open. Aphrodite found the infant so beautiful that she had Persephone bring the child up for her. The child grew so beautiful that both goddesses fell in love him. Aphrodite had no choice but to share Adonis’ love with Persephone. So a third of a year was spent on the surface with Aphrodite and a third in the Underworld with Persephone. The other third, Adonis was free to spend how he wished.
Adonis became a great hunter, and spent much of his free time with Aphrodite. Adonis was killed by a wild boar. According to Apollodorus, Artemis sent the boar. Some say that the wild boar was Ares himself. Aphrodite’s immortal paramour became jealous of the youth. Aphrodite’s grieving for Adonis caused flowers to bloom from his blood.
One of her mortal sons was the Dardanian hero Aeneas, by her lover Anchises, king of Dardania. Her affair with Anchises was recorded in one of the Homeric Hymns. Anchises was crippled by a thunderbolt from Zeus, when he boasted and revealed that he made love to the goddess. Aphrodite supported the Trojans during the war, not only because Paris had awarded the golden apple to her as the fairest, but also because Aeneas was ally of the Trojans. When she tried to rescue her wounded son, Diomedes wounded her and drove Aphrodite off the battlefield; the rash hero harshly rebuked the goddess that the battlefield was no place for her. Apollo had to save Aeneas. Aphrodite would later punished Diomedes, when he returned home. He would find that his wife had taken a lover, who banished him from Argos.
Aphrodite would punish anyone who spurned her or refuse to recognise her. Hippolytus, son of the hero Theseus worshipped Artemis, but refused to have anything to do with Aphrodite. Aphrodite caused his stepmother, Phaedra, daughter of King Minos, to fall in love with him. Phaedra committed suicide, writing a false letter to say that Hippolytus had raped her. Theseus cursed and banished his son. Because of the curse, Hippolytus was mortally wounded when his chariot crashed. Athena revealed the remorseful father that Hippolytus was innocence.
She was also jealous of anyone who may surpass her in beauty. In the Roman tale, as Venus, Aphrodite wanted to make Psyche married a monster, but her own son, Cupid (Eros) fell in love with her. See Cupid and Psyche in the Tales of Lovers.
Love can be kind as it can be cruel. There can be great rewards for being her followers. She rewarded one faithful worshipper, Pygmalion who fell in love with a statue he created. Aphrodite gave the statue life, with living flesh and blood. Pygmalion married this woman, Galatea.
Her epithets were Acidalia, Anadyomene (“born to the sea”), Cyprian, Cypris, Cythereia, Eriboea (Periboea), Erycina, Euploios (“fair voyage”), Paphia (sexual love), Pelagia, and Pontia.
Her favourite haunts were Cyprus and Cythera. Aphrodite’s favourite animals were the dove, sparrow, swallow, swan and turtle. Her attendants were Eros, the Graces, and Peitho, goddess of persuasion.
The Greeks identified her with the Middle Eastern Astarte and the Egyptian Hathor. She may also be identified with the Sumerian Inanna or the Babylonian Ishtar.
|A god of fire and metalworking. Hephaestus was known to the Romans as the fire-god, Vulcan, as well as Mulciber (Gentle Touch).
Some say that Hephaestus was son of Zeus and Hera, but a more popular myth says that he was the son of Hera alone. When Zeus gave birth to Athena without a mother, Hera was jealous and decided to give birth to a child without a father.
There are several accounts as to how he became lame:
Homer tells an amusing story about how Hephaestus set a trap for his wife and her lover. During Hephaestus’ apparent absence, he captured Aphrodite with the war god in a golden net, when they were on the bed, naked. Hephaestus then called upon the other gods to witness their embarrassing affair, while they were naked and helpless. Many of the Olympians were amused by the adulterers’ embarrassment.
Hephaestus refused to release them, until Poseidon persuaded him that he himself would pay for their bond and indemnity. Poseidon had a hidden motive for having Aphrodite released, because the Lord of the Sea found himself attracted to the nude Aphrodite. See Love and War Bound.
Hephaestus had once tried to ravish the virgin goddess Athena. His attempt failed, and his semen fell on the ground (Gaea) at the Acropolis. From the earth, an earth-born creature was born, named Erichthonius. Erichthonius was a half-man and half-serpent, who would later become one of the earliest kings of Athens. See Athena or the House of Athens for more detail.
Hephaestus may have had another son, named Palaemon of Aetolia, who was one of the Argonauts. Others say that Palaemon was the son of Lernus.
As the metal-smith of the gods, he made many pieces of armour and weapons for the gods as well as building their beautiful palaces in Olympus. He also made armour for mortals, such as Heracles, Peleus, husband of Thetis, and Achilles, the son of Peleus and Thetis. He made the armour for Achilles, at Thetis’ request, because she had rescued him when he fell from heaven. Some say that the Cyclops worked under Hephaestus’ supervision.
During the Trojan War, he favoured the Greeks. When the river god Scamander tried to drown Achilles, Hephaestus used his fire to dry the river. Scamander quickly submitted to Hephaestus, and never helped the Trojans again.
|God of wine and ecstasy. Dionysus (Διόνυσος) was a son of Zeus and Semele (Σεμέλη), daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia. He was also known as Bacchus (Βάκχος) and identified by the Romans as Liber.
Semele was still pregnant with Dionysus when she was killed. Zeus rescued the unborn Dionysus from the dead mother’s womb, and sewed the premature baby into his thigh, until the baby was ready to be born. The name Dionysus means “born twice”.
Some say that Dionysus’ aunt Ino brought him up in Orchomenus, with her husband, Athamas. Ino disguised Dionysus as a girl, but Hera recognised the infant, and drove Athamas and Ino mad. They ended up killing their own sons. To hide Dionysus, Zeus changed him into a kid (goat) and Hermes left him in the care of Nysa, a nymph. Silenus taught him the secrets of nature and together they discovered how to make wine.
When Dionysus grew into a young man, Hera recognised him. She immediately afflicted him with madness. Dionysus wandered the world, going as far as India. When he came upon one river, Zeus sent a tiger, upon whose back Dionysus crossed the river. So this river was named Tigris, one of 2 major rivers of the Mesopotamia. As he travelled he taught people how to cultivate vine as well as how to make wine. Satyrs and nymphs accompanied him. His followers were known as Bacchants. His female followers were frequently known as Maenads.
When pirates captured Dionysus, they wanted to sell him into slavery. Only the helmsman recognised Dionysus as a god, when the pirates could not bind him with ropes. They ridiculed the helmsman, when he tried to warn them that they were offending the god.
Soon they would witness the power of the god. Vines began to appear out of nowhere and grow all over the ship, while the deck was awash with a stream of wine. Dionysus inflicted madness upon the pirates and they began to hallucinate. The pirates thought they saw wild beasts surrounding them on board the ship. They jumped overboard to escape from the phantom creatures. The pirates were changed into dolphins once they were in the water. Only the helmsman was spared.
Dionysus married Ariadne. According to Hesiod, Zeus made Ariadne immortal for the sake of his son.
Dionysus often punished those who resisted his worship. His aunts, Agave, Autonoë (Autonoe) and Ino had spread a rumour that his mother’s lover was mortal. He punished them by causing them to go mad and join the Bacchants in their rites, some sort of drunken revelry and orgy. When his cousin Pentheus, king of Thebes, refused to allow him to establish worship in the city, Dionysus caused the king’s mother and aunts to tear the limbs and head from Pentheus, thinking he was a lion or a boar. See Wrath of Heaven about the death of Pentheus.
In Thrace, he also punished Orpheus, a mythical musician and one of the Argonauts. Orpheus was torn to pieces by Dionysus’ worshippers. However, in the Orphic myths, Orpheus was actually the chief priest of Dionysus.
Lycurgus, king of Thrace, chased Dionysus with an ox goad and had his followers imprisoned. His father, Zeus, punished the Thracian king by causing him to go mad and kill his own son, Dryas. Lycurgus himself was torn to pieces by his own wild horses, which the king kept for his chariot racing.
In this episode, King Midas had rescued Silenus, a companion of Dionysus, from Lycurgus. It was Dionysus who gave Midas the ability to turn everything he touched, into gold, as a reward. But this gift turned out to be a curse, because he not touch food or drink without turning them into gold. Midas would have died from starvation, but Dionysus told the king how to remove his gift. (See Midas.)
Dionysus descended down to the Underworld, freeing his mother, Semele (Thyone). Either Dionysus or Zeus made her into an immortal goddess, and her name was changed to Thyone. Thyone or Semele became a mother goddess. Dionysus ascended up to Olympus where he was given a place among the gods, taking his mother with him. Some believed that Dionysus was one of the twelve great Olympians.
Hera had reluctantly become resigned to Dionysus being one of them, but was more accepting of her stepson later, when she was in trouble. When Hephaestus had confined his mother to a golden throne, it was Dionysus who came to her aid. The other gods failed to persuade Hephaestus to free his own mother, so Dionysus got Hephaestus drunk, and was able to persuade the smith god to release Dionysus’ archenemy.
Vines and ivy were sacred to Dionysus. His sacred animals were fish, dolphin and goat, because he had been transformed into a kid, to hide the young god from Hera. In art, he sometimes appeared with a beard and sometimes beardless. Dionysus was sometimes portrayed as effeminate youth, because he wore women’s clothes, to hide from Hera, but was struck mad, because she had recognised him; this happened at the time he reached manhood, and he began his epic journey to the east. He was recognised, wearing an ivy wreath on his head and wearing animal-hide clothes. Normally he is shown holding a drinking vessel, but he sometimes also carried a thyrsus.
His epithets include Bacchus, Bromius (thunderer), Dendriltes (he of the trees), Iacchus (in Eleusis, perhaps identical to Bacchus), Lenaeus (he of the wine press), and Lyaeus (he who frees).
There were many Dionysian cults and festivals established throughout the Greek world, as well as in Rome. These festivals were called Bacchanalia or Dionysia, held on various dates. There are several different types of Dionysian festivals, such as the Great Dionysia, Little Dionysia, Anthesteria and Oschophoria. Many of his festivals and cults involved drinking wines, drunken revelries and sexual orgies.
In Rome, where he was honoured by his names as Liber or Bacchus, his festival was held on March 17.
We should distinguish Dionysus or Bacchus with another Dionysus. So far, in my account about Dionysus, there was only one Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele, but there are some writers who say that there is not a single Dionysus, but several. The Sicilian historian Diodorus (1st century BC) reported as many as three. The oldest Dionysus, Diodorus said, had come from India. The second Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone; clearly Diodorus had got this Dionysus from the Orphic myth, where the god was also known by another name, Zagreus. The third Dionysus is the commonly known wine god with the name Bacchus, who was the son of Zeus and Semele, a Theban princess and daughter of Cadmus.
Bacchus Dionysus should be distinguished from Dionysus son of Zeus and Persephone. According to the Orphic myth, Dionysus, son of Persephone, otherwise known as Zagreus, the Titans murdered and devoured the infant Dionysus-Zagreus, but his heart was saved. Zeus swallowed his son’s heart and Dionysus was reborn as the son of Semele, where he was known as Bacchus Dionysus. Bacchus was the reincarnation of Dionysus-Zagreus.
See the Orphic Creation.
The Orphic mystery religion was austere in comparison to the other Dionysian cults, where sexual orgies and drunken revelries were part of the customs. With the Orphic cult, the emphasis was placed upon abstinence. The mythical musician and poet Orpheus, was said to have founded this Orphic movement. Orpheus was said to have written a number of poems and songs that formed the basis of Orphic religion. However, most of these early works had not survived, they were mostly in fragments. And the Orphic Creation was written quite late, during the time of the Neoplatonic writers.
The central belief in the Orphic movement is that of reaching Elysium, the Isle of the Blessed. When the soul departed, only those who had lived a righteous life could enjoy their final resting place in Elysium as their reward. It might take several lifetimes to come to dwell in Elysium. The Orphic religion had adopted a belief in reincarnation. The Orphic myth clearly showed that Dionysus was reincarnated, before he reached godhood. For everyone else, Elysium can only be achieved through initiation to the Orphic mysteries and by living in an austere life: abstaining from eating meat or drinking wine, and avoidance of sexual intercourse. Those who lived a wicked life would be punished in Hell or in Tartarus, or would continue to through the cycle of reincarnation.
To the Orphics, Dionysus was not only the god of wine and ecstasy but also a chthonic god of fertility and, in addition, a god of reincarnation and the last supreme ruler of the world, after Zeus.
See Mysteries page on the background about the Orphic mysteries.