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The Olympians

HeliosThe ruling gods of the Greek Pantheon were the twelve Olympians: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hephaistos, Ares, Aphrodite, Apollon, Artemis, Hermes and Dionysos.

These twelve gods demanded worship from all believers. Those who failed to honor any one of the twelve with sacrifices and libations, were duly punished. Artemis, Aphrodite and Dionysos, the gods with the least privileges (spheres of power), were especially vigilant in this regard.

The twelve gods governed all aspects of human lives. Their privileges included, amongst other things

fate, kingship, weather
women, marriage, childbirth
the sea, horses, earthquakes, rivers
agriculture, the afterlife
crafts, counsel
metalworking, fire
love, sex
music, prophecy, healing & disease
hunting, wilderness, children
travel, trade, livestock
wine, madness, the afterlife

The numerous other gods and daimones of the Pantheon fell within the spheres of one or more of the Olympians.

The Twelve Olympians

Zeus: This was the greatest of the gods. He followed in the place of Uranos and Kronos. Zeus was the master of the earth and the skies. His home was on the top of Mount Olympos or in the sky. The high soaring eagle was sacred to him as were cloud-topped mountains. Although Zeus was the ruler and preserver of the world he had many human weaknesses. He could be jealous and he was a notorious womanizer whose wives included Metis, Themis and Hera. To the Romans he was known as Jupiter.
Hera: Hera was the goddess of storms because of the turbulent relationship she had with her husband, Zeus. She had female qualities of fertility combined with fickleness. She was honored as Queen of the gods and she punished immoral behavior by mortals - especially Zeus' lovers. For this reason, she was the goddess of marriage. The Romans called her Juno.
Poseidon: Poseidon, the god of the seas, was also associated with water in other forms such as clouds which were essential to agriculture. He could create springs but he could also cause floods and tidal waves when angered. The Romans called him Neptune.
Demeter: Demeter was the goddess of the earth who watched over the growth of grain and cereals. While searching for her daughter, who had been taken by Hades, she taught her hosts the art of agriculture. She was known to the Romans as Ceres.
Athena: Athena was born wearing armour, from the head of Zeus, her father. There were two sides to her character. She could be mighty and terrible or open gentle and pure. She was a virgin goddess, pure in her dedication to wisdom and artistic beauty. In addition to teaching men the art of war, she is also credited with inventing spinning, weaving and the flute. To the Romans she was known as Minerva.
Hephaistos: Hephaestos was the blacksmith of the gods. He personifies the fire in the earth that emerges from volcanoes. He is portrayed as being deformed. The son of Zeus and Hera, he was sometimes caught in the middle of their fights. Dionysus was his good friend. To the Romans he was known as Vulcan.
Ares: Ares, the god of war, was thought of as enjoying slaughter and massacre. A son of Zeus and Hera, he was a god of storms, especially hurricanes. The dog and the vulture are his animal symbols. To the Romans, who held him in higher regard than the Greeks, he was known as Mars.
Apollo(n): He is the sun god and also the god of music and song which are heard during times when light triumphs over darkness. He is associated with youth and strength. The physical aspect of Apollo is also known as Helios or Hyperion.
Artemis: She was a virgin goddess of fertility. She was also the protector of flocks of sheep and goddess of the hunt and the forest. When Actaeon saw her bathing she turned him into a stag. She killed Orion for attempting to violate her chastity. She was identified with the moon and Apollo was her twin brother. To the Romans she was known as Diana.
Hermes: Hermes is the patron god of traders and commerce but also of thieves and rogues. He is credited with great powers of oratory. His job was to be the messenger of the gods, particularly Zeus. He was known to the Romans as Mercury.
Dionysos: Dionysos, or Bacchus, was the god of wine and of the theatre. He was associated with joyous celebrations. His father Zeus revived him after Hera, in jealousy, killed his mother, Semele before Dionysos' birth. As an adult, Dionysos travelled the world teaching men how to tend vineyards.
Aphrodite: Aphrodite is the goddess of love. She is the patroness of prostitutes. Some accounts identify Zeus and Dione as her parents while other say she is the daughter of Uranus born from the foam of the sea. After refusing to marry Zeus, she was forced to marry Hephaestus who was lame and unattractive. She quarrelled with Persephone for custody of the handsome Adonis. He was later killed in a hunting accident by either Hephaestes or Ares (Aphrodite's lover) disguised as a wild boar. Aphrodite's son, Eros, is also known as Cupid. The Romans called her Venus
The other major god Hades was often incorrectly numbered among the Olympians. As the ruler of the dead he had no role in the lives of the living and was not usually worshipped. Indeed it was Demeter (with her daughter Persephone) and Dionysos who were worshipped through their mysteries as the gods of the afterlife.



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