Athena, goddess of wisdom, was one of the only three goddesses who would remain a virgin goddess, never marrying, nor falling to prey to love or the spells of Aphrodite, goddess of love. Romance is never featured in Athena’s mythology, and one could she say she’s the archetypal business woman.
The way it all started for Athena was truly amazing. Zeus once laid with the woman Metis. However, there was a prophecy that a child born from Metis would surpass Zeus and even usurp him. Zeus, fearful of the prophecy, swallowed Metis whole trying to prevent the birth of a child. However, Metis was already pregnant at the time, and while she was inside the stomach of Zeus, her child grew.
Eventually, Zeus was hit with an enormous headache. His headache became unbearable and he could no longer take the pain he was in. He asked for the help of Hermes, messenger of the gods, who struck his forehead the Labrys, a double-headed Minoan axe. When Hermes split open Zeus’s head, Athena sprung forth from his forehead fully grown and fully clothed and armed.
Zeus loved Athena dearly. Not only was he glad that Athena was not the prophesized son that would lead to his demise, but Athena was also the Goddess of Wisdom. Subsequently Zeus shared with Athena many of his secrets and even sought her advice frequently. She served as Zeus’s prime advisor. Zeus even let her use his lightning bolt and the Aegis, a magical sheepskin that endowed the wearer with invincibility.
As mentioned before, Athena was a virgin goddess. She never married, and she never had a lover, and subsequently she had no blood children. However, she did have a child she treated as her own. Once Hephaestus, god of smithing, attempted to rape Athena; he was unsuccessful because she was able to evade him. Instead, his seed fell upon the Earth and impregnated Gaea. From the impregnation was born Erichthonius. Athena found Erichtonius and treated him as her own child, nurturing him. Eventually he would grow to become king of Athens, where he was frequently advised and protected by Athena.
One of Athena’s many roles was Goddess of War. She was opposite her brother, Ares, who was also a deity of war. Her war was the war of strategy and cool logic, must different from Ares’ war of bloodlust and violence.
As a wise advisor, many gods, goddesses, and heroes sought Athena’s advice, and many times she even sought and helped others with her advice, giving them not only advice but also protection, and the ability to win seemingly impossible tasks.
She championed heroes such as Odysseus, Heracles, etc.
Not only was Athena wise beyond any other god or goddess known. Her decisions were also considered highly fair, and she was known for her great compassion in her decision making. In the case of the man called Tiresias, Tiresias accidentally fell upon a lake where he saw a woman bathing. In most cases he would’ve been thanking the gods and goddesses for his bountiful luck, however in this case he found extremely bad luck, because the woman he found bathing was the Goddess Athena. Most goddesses would have instinctively cast death upon the individual, for such an offense the punishment was death. However, Athena was compassionate and spared him from death. Rather she blinded him and simultaneously gave him the power of prophecy. Tiresias, because of Athena’s help, became one of the most renowned prophets in all of Greece.
More than any other of the Greek goddesses, Athena is the embodiment of modernism and civilization, with her reasoning, logic, applicable knowledge, and bountiful wisdom. Athena is the reminder to people that wit, intellect, and creativity can be used to solve and problem and achieve any goal.
Apollo, Greek god of the Sun, was the original overachiever. At the tender age of 4 days, showing an incredible talent for archery, Apollo killed the gigantic serpent named Python (in some myths she was a dragon) who had been harassing his mother.
The Greek god Apollo and his twin sister Artemis were born to Leto (a Titan who was impregnated by Zeus during one of his numerous affairs). The birth of the twins was not an easy one, for their poor mother Leto had been pursued throughout her pregnancy by a gigantic serpent named Python and had never been allowed a moment’s rest. Going into labor, she finally found a safe, secluded spot where she could deliver. But after the birth of the first twin, Artemis, was born, Leto was too exhausted to continue. Artemis, born just minutes earlier, had to take control of the situation and become Leto’s midwife, helping her mother safely deliver the infant Apollo.
Zeus welcomed the twins by giving them both silver bows and arrows, promising Artemis she would never have to marry unless she wanted to, and giving Apollo a magnificent golden chariot that was pulled by swans.
Following his dramatic debut with the Python, Apollo went on to become, not only an unerring archer, but the best musician (playing a lyre given to him by his half-brother Hermes), poet, philosopher, law maker and creator of legal institutions, a masterful physician, the god of prophecy, and a great scholar who always spoke the truth.
Zeus, even though he favored this child, felt Apollo should still be punished for killing the Python, who was discovered to have been a valuable oracle, just to teach him a lesson. So he exiled him to live and work on earth as a mortal for one year. His assignment was to assist King Admetus, a kind and pious man who treated Apollo well. At the end of his year of servitude, to repay the king’s kindness, he looked into the future and told the king his fate, warning him that he could reverse it if he could find someone willing to die in his place. Only his wife was willing, and the king regretted allowing her to sacrifice her life for him.
Arrows featured largely in the story of Apollo’s first love. He caught the somewhat bratty young Eros (Cupid) playing with his silver bow and arrows. He chastised Eros, telling him to put them down that they were not toys. Offended, Eros cheerfully responded “OK, you can have some of mine then - they’re not toys either!” and shot Apollo with one of his golden arrows that had been dipped in an aphrodisiac that made the victim fall madly in love with the first person they saw.
At that very moment, Daphne, the lovely daughter of a river god, came walking by. Apollo was instantly smitten. With a wicked smile on his lips, the mischievous Eros drew a second arrow from his quiver. This one was made of lead and tipped with a potion that would make love seem repulsive. He took aim and shot Daphne with it.
Daphne ran home and begged her father to swear an oath that she would never have to marry, so repugnant was the very idea of love. Apollo, his heart inflamed with love, pursued Daphne, calling out his pledges of undying love - but she continued to run from him. Horrified when he finally caught up with her, Daphne cried for Mother Earth to strike her dead or change her form so that she would not be appealing and would not have to endure his love. Instantly she turned into laurel tree.
Like several of the Greek gods of his generation, Apollo never married, but seduced many young goddesses and mortal women. In the hopes of winning her love, Apollo gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy. She proved an able student and, like him, learned to see the future and always told the truth. Shocked when he suddenly turned amorous, ready to be repaid for his favor, Cassandra rejected him. Angered by this, Apollo gave her another “gift” - this one a curse that even though she always told the truth no one would ever believe her.
For all his bright and shining qualities, Apollo could also be quite vindictive. Always close to his twin sister, both were known for their skill as archers, their energetic pursuit of their goals, and their swift and merciless punishment of those whose behavior they found insulting or offensive.
When Niobe boasted that she was a better mother than Leto since she had produced six sons and six daughters instead of just a measly set of twins, Apollo and Artemis took offense. Taking their bows and arrows with them, they found Niobe’s children and Apollo killed the sons while Artemis dispatched the daughters. Niobe’s grief was so great that her tears caused the rivers to overflow their banks.
Apollo also had a jealous streak. When Artemis fell in love with the hunter Orion, Apollo missed her company and affection. Aware that Orion was swimming in the ocean, Apollo ran to find Artemis and gathering up their bows and arrows, rushed down to the beach with her. Pointing to Orion’s head, barely visible on the horizon, Apollo said, “See that shiny thing bobbing in the waves? Bet you can’t hit that!” Artemis, a fierce competitor and exceptional archer accepted the wager. With her unerring aim, she unknowingly killed the man she loved. She never loved again.
Apollo is usually depicted as a handsome, beardless youth wearing a wreath of laurel leaves and holding his bow, or a lyre, his favorite musical instrument.
Although most of the myths of Apollo feature him “in action”, he was actually known more for his achievements than his acts and was seldom embroiled in the continuous quarrels and unfolding dramas that constituted life on Mount Olympus. Somewhat detached from the others, Apollo was often “away” when things were happening, of simply uninvolved.
Apollo was a god who had a clear idea of what was right and what was wrong. He believed strongly in law and order. He interpreted the law for mortals and gave the cities their legal institutions, including civic courts so that disputes could be settled without bloodshed.
It is from the Greek god Apollo that we get the sayings "Know thyself" and the call to moderation in all things, the Golden Mean, reminding us to do "nothing in excess".
Driving his golden chariot to pull the sun across the sky each day, Apollo’s most important role was that of Helios, Greek god of the sun, his golden light brightening the lives of all it touched.
In Greek mythology Artemis (also known as the Roman goddess Diana) was the daughter of Zeus. After an affair and secretly impregnating Leto, Leto had to give birth to Artemis while being chased by the Python sent by Hera. Fortunately for Leto, her first child, Artemis, was birthed without any pain. However Leto had twins so her labor continued, and as weak as she was the newborn Artemis quickly took the roll as midwife and helped birth her twin brother Apollo. You could say that, of all the Greek goddesses, the goddess Artemis was literally born to serve as a nurturer and protector.
On her birthday, Artemis asked for six wishes from Zeus, her father. These wishes were:
1. To be able to live life chaste.
2. To never marry.
3. A bow and arrow like that of Apollo’s
4. Hunting dogs to assist her hunting.
5. Stags to lead her chariot.
6. 80 virgin nymphs to be her hunting companions.
Zeus was amused by wishes and being the good father granted her each wish she asked for. Artemis would never marry, and would be chaste for all eternity. She roamed with her hunting dogs, nymphs, and her stags, hunting all throughout the mountains where she resided.
Artemis was very protective of the chastity of her nymphs and was angered when they didn’t keep their purity. In the case of Callisto, Zeus had disguised himself as Artemis and took advantage and impregnated Callisto, Artemis was furious that she was no longer chaste and blamed her loss of purity on her. Artemis then immediately irrevocably turned her into a bear. However before Artemis killed Callisto in bear form Zeus intervened turning Callisto into constellation in the stars, as Callisto the Bear, also known as Ursa Major.
Artemis was also very protective of the animals in her domain. Once the King Agamemnon slaughtered one of Artemis’s sacred stags and boasted that he was a superior hunter to Artemis. In vengeance while Agamemnon and his forces were sailing to Troy for the Trojan War Artemis becalmed the ships so they were stuck in the middle of the sea with no wind. Artemis then demanded Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter and then Artemis would restore the wind. In the end Artemis herself swaps the sacrifice of
Artemis was a goddess very comfortable with her female companions and rarely ever had male companions excepting her twin brother. She often bathed and danced with her nymphs and womanly companions. Once the hunter Actaeon saw Artemis bathing with her nymphs and was paralyzed in wonderment staring at all the women bathing in the river. Artemis, was none too pleased at the peeping tom and so she turned him into a stag and made his own dogs attack and kill him.
Artemis never had any love affairs, but one. That was with the mortal Orion. Artemis was in love with Orion. However, upset that his sister's time and attentions had been diverted away from him, the God Apollo, her twin, became very jealous. So when Orion was swimming far into the ocean Apollo made a wager with Artemis that she couldn’t hit the floating object on the horizon. Artemis being the prideful archer she was took the wager gladly and proudly drew her bow and shot the object on the horizon winning the wager. However once she won she realized that the “floating object” was actually her only lover Orion. In her great grief the Goddess Artemis turned Orion into various stars and shot him into the night sky, making him a constellation in the night sky forevermore.
In Greek mythology Artemis, despite her "wildness" and her fierce independence, was depicted as one of the compassionate, healing goddesses.
Ares was the child of Hera and Zeus, born of an immaculate conception. Hera was jealous of Zeus who was able to conceive a child, Dionysus, by putting the child into his thigh after the mother died. Hera took a magical herb that allowed her to have a child immaculately, this child was Ares.
Zeus, because he was not actually the father of Ares (no one was really), was not one to excessively dote upon infant Ares. He was rather negligent. Once during infancy Ares had been abducted by two giants, known as the Aloadai, and they had trapped him in a gigantic bronze jar, to never release him. Zeus however paid little attention. It was in the end the Aloadai mother who discovered the truth and told Hermes who assisted releasing Ares from the bronze jar.
Ares the God of War had one main adversary, his sister Athena, who was also a deity of warfare. Though they were both deities of warfare they represented different aspects of war itself. Ares was the God of war and bloodlust, he represented the primal nature of war, its brutality, and its violence. He fought just on instinct and his own rage and personal fury he had, and fought primarily for the sake of fighting. However, on the opposite spectrum was Athena the Goddess of Wisdom and Warfare. Her warfare was the tactical warfare that calculated each move carefully with strategic strikes in order to get the job done. As can be seen brother and sister were very different, and from this vast difference many conflicts arose.
Ares among the Greek peoples was least favored because of his brutal nature. He was seen as a mercenary of sorts, filled with rage and lust for blood. He was seen as unappeasable and fickle, supporting one side at one time, but changing sides at another time, just so he could shed blood and cause war.
Ares most famous and most long-term love affair was with the goddess of beauty Aphrodite. Even though Aphrodite was already married to Hepheastus, she saw much of the handsome Ares. From their relationship they had several children, including Harmonia who would grow up to become the fearless leader and mother of a tribe of fearsome warrior women, the Amazonians.
Never had there been such sensual beauty and impeccable taste, born of the sea foam created by the mutilation of Uranus by his son Kronos adorned in birth with pearls scallop shells and clams. A goddess so beautiful and divine, flowers sprang upon her every footstep. The Horae (Hours) welcomed her to step ashore and adorned her with the finest gold ornaments and cloth, then brought Aphrodite to Mount Olympus to present her to Zeus and the other gods and goddesses.
Zeus, in his infinite wisdom, instantly recognized the threat this beautiful goddess to the welfare of all of Olympus, with her extreme beauty that captivated any eye that saw it, she caused many fights in order to gain her much wanted attention. Zeus mandated she must be married at once (in an attempt to quell any conflicts over her) and awarded the goddess to his son, Hephaestus, god of the forge. Aphrodite was not instantly pleased with the arrangement, but Hephaestus was reliable and hardworking, and worked tediously to make his wife beautiful jewelry, including Aphrodite’s famous girdle. The Greek goddess Aphrodite, however, did not want to be stuck with plain Hephaestus all her life. Aphrodite was well renowned for her numerous love affairs she’s had which resulted in many offspring by her various lovers. Her most notable lovers were the gods Ares, Dionysius, Hermes, Poseidon, and the mortal, Adonis. Except for a few occasions when he was overwhelmed with jealousy or resentment, Hephaestus seemed to accept this arrangement. Indeed, their marriage seemed companionable, with little passion perhaps, but little conflict as well.
Aphrodite was seen as a Goddess who had but one purpose and her purpose was to create love. Her purpose was also her gift and was so special that no one seemed to resent it. While many other gods and goddesses were busy with their numerous divine duties, the goddess Aphrodite’s only duty was to bring love into the world!
One of Aphrodite’s closest lovers was Ares, and it was known to almost all of Olympia their adulterous affair. Though usually very even-headed, Hepheastus was furious. Thus using his wit and his crafting skills he fashioned an unbreakable net and trapped the two lovers while they were in bed and dragged them to Olympia. Hepheastus demanded punishment but the Gods’ laughed and thought him foolish. In the end nothing was done and things went back to as they were before, and Hepheastus learned to accept Aphrodite’s adultery. Although Aphrodite was detached to many of her love affairs, one serious affairs with the mortal Adonis caused great suffering on her part (mortality and immortality never mix well). When Adonis was killed by a wild boar (Adonis was a big hunting enthusiast), his cries were heard by Aphrodite and joined him at this side at his dying moments. She grieved deeply and cursed the Fates ordained his demise. In memorial to his love Aphrodite turned Adonis’ dripping blood into wildflowers.
Aphrodite's most famous son was Eros (also known as Cupid), the god of love, who helped her with her work. An archer, his job was to shoot arrows dipped in Aphrodite's love potion, hitting her unwitting victims, causing them to fall madly in love with the next person they saw, which in many cases created some of the greatest love stories in Greek mythology, however more often than not it caused great mischief and had broken up many respectable homes. The influence of the Greek goddess Aphrodite can be seen as generative, far beyond that of romance, love, or desire alone. She is associated with the life-giving sea. Just as the waves lapping on the shore refresh and renew the beach, Aphrodite brings us hope and the awareness of the transforming power of love and beauty.
Dionysus was one of those gods whose birth was a mix of both good and bad luck. Dionysus first bit of good luck was that his mother was the beautiful and gentle mortal Semele, who was a princess, and that his father was none other than the mighty Zeus, ruler of Olympus. The two had been having a love affair, however Semele had not even the faintest idea that her lover was in fact Zeus himself, since Zeus transformed himself before going to her. Hera found out about the affair and as in many other cases she tried to make things difficult for Zeus’s mistress. Hera disguised herself as a nurse and befriended Semele. After finally gaining her trust Hera convinced Semele to make her lover swear an oath to give her a single wish, which Zeus complied with. When Semele asked him to reveal his true identity he pleaded and pleaded for her to reconsider, however since he was under oath and she wasn’t budging he did. Unfortunately the simple sight of him caused Semele, the mortal, to die.
Zeus, saddened by Semele’s death, acquired the help of Hermes and with his help
they rescued the unborn son from Semele’s womb as she was dying. They then proceeded to stitch the premature baby into Zeus’s thigh where Zeus held him until he was ready to be born, and upon birth he named him Dionysus. Though Hera was angry now that Zeus conceived his own child (through his thigh no less), and so it was said that Dionysus was born twice (once in Semele and once in Zeus).
Hera, still extremely angry that Dionysus was even alive hired Titan assassins who came and attacked Dionysus. After they viciously killed him and left his pieces lying upon the floor it was said that Rhea brought him back to life once more. Subsequently Zeus entrusted Dionysus to Hermes who then gave Dionysus to King Athamas and Queen Io. To try and trick Hera they raised Dionysus as a girl, dressing him up as a woman and raising him even in the women’s quarters.
Hera soon found out that Dionysus was still alive, seeing through the tricks and, not content with killing him once, tried to kill him again. This time she made Dionysus’ foster parents go crazy, so in their madness they subsequently killed their own child thinking he was a deer. Hermes came just in time and snuck Dionysus out of the insane King and Queen’s place by turning him into a baby goat. Afterwards Hermes sent Dionysus into the mountains and had the mountain nymphs, known as the Hyades, raise him. To say the least the nymphs being ever so lovely creatures doted on him to an excessive amount, feeding him honey and practically spoiling him. During his stay on the mountains Dionysus invented the process of growing grapes and making wine, a drink much needed after all the stuff he’d been through by then. When he grew to manhood Hera found him again (can you see where this is going?), and drove him to madness, which cause Dionysus to wander the Greek countryside raving mad. However much to Dionysus fortune and Hera’s chagrin Rhea found him and cured him of his madness, making him perfectly sane again.
Eventually he would wander the countryside of his own accord and in the process he gathered a following of men and women who worshipped him. They traveled in the mountains and the forests having amazing celebrations where they became ecstatic, dancing to frenzied music behaving like crazed followers.
Finally after returning home Dionysus demanded his divinity be acknowledged and join the Gods on Mount Olympus. The Gods’ finally agreed, even Hera, seeing as his actions had made him unignorable.
The themes of life and death are a pivotal part of the story of Dionysus. They show us that many times in our journey, we must “die” giving up our old selves and being reborn as a new more mature from ready to take on the tasks before us. Dionysus also reminds of the possibility of intense, sensual, and ecstatic experiences with dancing, wine, singing, and a frenzied fervor. These celebrations have their dark side where they can potentially hurt us, but also provides the possibility to communicate and become closer to our fellow person.
Greeks did not always think of their gods as grown-up people. Sometimes they told stories of their youth and even of their babyhood. According to these stories the god Hermes, who was the son of Zeus, must have been a very wonderful child. They said that when he was but a day old his nurses left him asleep, as they supposed, in his cradle. But the moment that their backs were turned, he climbed out and ran away.
For quite a while he wandered about over the fields and hills, until, by and by, he came upon a herd of cattle that belonged to his elder brother Apollo. These he drove off, and hid in a cave in the mountains. Then, as he thought that by this time his nurses would be expecting him to wake up, he started for home. On the way he came upon a tortoise-shell in the road, and from this he made a harp or lyre by stretching strings tightly across it. He amused himself by playing upon this until he reached home, where he crept back into his cradle again.
Apollo soon discovered the loss of his fine cattle, and was told by an old man that the baby Hermes had driven them away. He went to the mother of Hermes in great anger, and told her that her baby had stolen his cattle. She was astonished, of course, that any one should say such a thing of a baby only a day old, and showed Apollo the child lying in his cradle, fast asleep as it seemed. But Apollo was not deceived by the child’s innocent look. He insisted upon taking him to Mount Olympus; and there before his father Zeus, and the other gods, he accused Hermes of having stolen the herd of oxen.
At first Hermes denied that he had done anything of the kind; and he talked so fast and so well, in defending himself, that all the gods were amused and delighted. Zeus, however, was the most pleased of all; for he was proud of a son who could do such wonderful things while he was so young. But for all his cleverness, Hermes at last had to confess that he had driven the cattle off, and had to go with Apollo, and show him where he had hidden them.
All this time Hermes had with him the lyre which he had made from the tortoise-shell, and as they went along he began to play upon this for Apollo. As you know, Apollo was very fond of music, so he was greatly delighted with this new instrument which Hermes had invented. When Hermes saw how pleased Apollo was he gave him the lyre Apollo was so charmed with the gift, that he quite forgave Hermes for the trick he played him, and, indeed, gave him the whole herd of cattle for his own, in return for the little lyre.
As soon as he was grown, Hermes was made the messenger, or herald, of the gods. He was chosen for this position because he had shown so early that he was a good talkers, and so would be able to deliver the messages well. In order that he might be able to do his errands quickly, he wore a pair of winged sandals on his feet, which carried him through the air as swiftly as a flash of lightning.
He was especially the herald of Zeus. The Greeks though that their dreams came from Zeus himself, and that is was Hermes who brought them, flying swiftly downward through the darkness of the night. But besides this, Hermes served as messenger for all the gods, even for Hades in the under-world. When people died, the Greeks thought that it was Hermes who guided their shades to their dark home underneath the ground
Because he traveled so much himself, Hermes was supposed to take care of all men who traveled upon the earth. In those days it was a far more dangerous thing to make a journey than it is now. Then men had to walk nearly always when they wished to go from one place to another. The roads were bad, and often were only narrow paths that one could scarcely follow. In some places, too, there were robbers who would lie in wait for travelers coming along that way. So, before starting, travelers would offer sacrifices to Hermes, and pray to him to protect them, and grant them a safe journey. All along the roads, were posts of wood, upon which the head of Hermes was carved. These usually stood at the meeting of two roads, and were guideposts, to tell the travelers which way to take.