Class Set. Do Not Write on This!
The Creation of Zeus
In the beginning, Chaos, a gaping void encompassing the entire universe, and surrounded by an unending stream of water. Born out of Chaos were Gaia, called Earth, or Mother Earth, and Uranus, the embodiment of the Sky and the Heavens, as well as Tartarus, god of the sunless and terrible region beneath Gaia, the Earth.
Gaia and Uranus married and gave birth to the Titans, a race of formidable giants, which included a particularly wily giant named Cronus.
In what has become one of the recurrent themes of Greek Mythology, Gaia and Uranus warned Cronus that a son of his would one day overpower him. Cronus therefore swallowed his numerous children by his wife Rhea, to keep that forecast from taking place.
This angered Rhea greatly, so when the youngest son, Zeus, was born, Rhea took a stone, wrapped it in swaddling clothes and offered it to Cronus to swallow. This satisfied Cronus, and Rhea was able to whisk the baby Zeus away to be raised in Crete, far from his father.
In due course, Zeus grew up, came homeward, and got into immediate conflict with the tyrant Cronus, who did not know that this newcomer was his own son. Zeus needed his brothers and sisters help in slaying the tyrant, and Metis, Zeus's first wife, found a way of administering a medicine to Cronus which caused him to throw up his five previous children, Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. Together they went to battle against their father. The results were that all of his children, led by Zeus, vanquished Cronus forever into Tartarus' domain, the Dark World under the Earth.
Thus, Zeus triumphed over not only his father, and his father's family of Giants, he triumphed over his brothers and sisters as well, dividing up the universe as he fancied, in short, bringing order out of Chaos.
He made himself Supreme God over all, creating a great and beautiful place for his favored gods to live, on Mount Olympus, in Thessaly. All the others were left to fend for themselves in lands below Mount Olympus.
Zeus made himself God of the Sky and all its phenomena, including the clouds as well as the thunderbolts. Hestia became goddess of the Hearth. To his brother Poseidon, he gave the rule of the Sea. Demeter became a goddess of Fertility, Hera (before she married Zeus and became a jealous wife), was goddess of Marriage and Childbirth, while Hades, one of his other brothers, was made god of the Underworld.
Zeus did indeed bring order out of Chaos, but one of his failings was that he did not look kindly upon the people, those creatures that populated the lands over which he reigned. Many were not beautiful, and Zeus had contempt for anyone who was not beautiful. And of course they were not immortal, as the Olympian gods were, and they complained about the lack of good food and the everlasting cold nights. Zeus ignored their complaints, while he and the other gods feasted endlessly on steaming hot game from the surrounding forests, and had great crackling fires in every room of their palaces where they lived in the cold winter.
Enter Prometheus, one of the Titans not vanquished in the war between Zeus and the giants. It is said in many myths that Prometheus had created d a race of people from clay, or that he had combined specks of every living creature, molded them together, and produced a new race, The Common Man. At the very least he was their champion before Zeus.
Fire for cooking and heating was reserved only for the gods to enjoy. Prometheus stole some of the sparks of a glowing fire from the Olympians, so that the people below Olympus could have fire for cooking and warmth in the winter, thus greatly improving their lot in life.
Zeus was furious at this insult to his absolute power, and had Prometheus bound and chained to a mountain, sending an eagle to attack him daily. At night he healed and then every day the eagle was sent again to eat away at him.
Zeus eventually married Hera, his sister, and had many children with her. He was also known for having many affairs with mortal women and other immortal goddesses.
Athena, Greek Goddess
of Wisdom and Craftsmanship
The Greek goddess Athena is usually portrayed as one of the most benevolent goddesses . . .strong, fair, and merciful.
Athena is known as one of the three virgin goddesses, referred to as virgin because they were able to remain independent, unswayed by the spells of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and the consequent pull of marriage and motherhood. Romance and marriage did not feature in Athena's mythology. In Greek mythology Athena was, in essence, the prototype of the contemporary "career woman".
The birth of the Greek goddess Athena was more than unusual, it was truly amazing!
It was the headache to end all headaches! Zeus, the mighty king of the Olympian deities, regretted having swallowed his first wife, Metis. When Zeus had learned that she was pregnant, he feared that she was carrying the son that had been prophesied to supplant him on the throne.
Though swallowing Metis had seemed a good idea at the time, it was now causing him great suffering which eventually proved to be totally unnecessary.
Ready to risk anything to get rid of the pain that tormented him, he allowed one of the other gods to split open his head, and . . . Voila! Out came, not the son he feared, but a beautiful full-grown daughter, dressed in golden battle armor, who instantly became the "apple of her father's eye".
A motherless child, the goddess Athena quickly became his favorite. Athena was the only one of his children that Zeus ever entrusted with his magic shield and the secret of where his lightening bolts were stored. The goddess Athena remained his constant ally and fierce protector, promoting his interests, serving as his advisor.
Although usually depicted holding a spear, her golden helmet pushed back to reveal her elegant beauty, the Greek goddess Athena was known more for her role as judge, diplomat, and mediator than for actually fighting in battle. Her decisions were renowned for their fairness and compassion.
The goddess Athena was a superb strategist and many of the Greek myths recount tales of her help given to various gods, goddesses, and heroes as they went into battle or faced seemingly impossible tests.
Although she was widely known in one of her roles as "Athena Goddess of War", it was as a mediator and a planner that she excelled. She always worked to prevent war, but once war had been joined the goddess Athena fought efficiently for her side.
POSEIDON (puh-SYE-dun or poh-SYE-dun; Roman name Neptune) was the god of the sea, earthquakes and horses. Although he was officially one of the supreme gods of Mount Olympus, he spent most of his time in his watery domain.
Poseidon was brother to Zeus and Hades. These three gods divided up creation. Zeus was ruler of the sky, Hades had dominion of the Underworld and Poseidon was given all water, both fresh and salt.
Although there were various rivers personified as gods, these would have been technically under Poseidon's sway. Similarly, Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea, wasn't really considered on a par with Poseidon, who was known to drive his chariot through the waves in unquestioned dominance. Poseidon had married Nereus's daughter, the sea-nymph Amphitrite.
In dividing heaven, the watery realm and the subterranean land of the dead, the Olympians agreed that the earth itself would be ruled jointly, with Zeus as king. This led to a number of territorial disputes among the gods. Poseidon vied with Athena to be patron deity of Athens. The god demonstrated his power and benevolence by striking the Acropolis with his three-pronged spear, which caused a spring of salt water to emerge.
Athena, however, planted an olive tree, which was seen as a more useful favor. Her paramount importance to the Athenians is seen in her magnificent temple, the Parthenon, which still crowns the Acropolis. The people of Athens were careful, all the same, to honor Poseidon as well (as soon as his anger calmed down and he withdrew the flood of seawater with which he ravaged the land after his loss in the contest with Athena).
Poseidon was father of the hero Theseus, although the mortal Aegeus also claimed this distinction. Theseus was happy to have two fathers, enjoying the lineage of each when it suited him. Thus he became king of Athens by virtue of being Aegeus's son, but availed himself of Poseidon's parentage in facing a challenge handed him by King Minos of Crete. This monarch threw his signet ring into the depths of the sea and dared Theseus to retrieve it. The hero dove beneath the waves and not only found the ring but was given a crown by Poseidon's wife, Amphitrite.
Poseidon was not so well-disposed toward another famous hero. Because Odysseus blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus, who was Poseidon's son, the god not only delayed the hero's homeward return from the Trojan War but caused him to face enormous perils. At one point he whipped up the sea with his trident and caused a storm so severe that Odysseus was shipwrecked.
Poseidon similarly cursed the wife of King Minos. Minos had proved his divine right to rule Crete by calling on Poseidon to send a bull from the sea, which the king promised to sacrifice. Poseidon sent the bull, but Minos liked it too much to sacrifice it. So Poseidon asked Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to make Minos's queen, Pasiphae, fall in love with the bull. The result was the monstrous Minotaur, half-man, half-bull.
As god of horses, Poseidon often adopted the shape of a steed. It is not certain that he was in this form when he wooed Medusa. But when Perseus later killed the Gorgon, the winged horse Pegasus sprang from her severed neck.
Poseidon sometimes granted the shape-shifting power to others. And he ceded to the request of the maiden Caenis that she be transformed into the invulnerable, male warrior Caeneus.
HERMES (HUR-meez; Roman name Mercury) was the messenger of the gods and guide of dead souls to the Underworld. A prankster and inventive genius from birth, Hermes aided the heroes Odysseus and Perseus in their quests.
Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. As a newborn he was remarkably precocious. On his very first day of life, he found the empty shell of a tortoise and perceived its utility as a sounding chamber. Stringing sinews across it, he created the first lyre.
Hermes was known for his helpfulness to mankind, both in his capacity as immortal herald and on his own initiative. When Perseus set out to face the Gorgon Medusa, Hermes aided him in the quest. According to one version of the myth, he loaned the hero his own magic sandals, which conferred upon the wearer the ability to fly.
Some say that Hermes loaned Perseus a helmet of invisibility as well. Also known as the helmet of darkness, this was the same headgear that Hermes himself had worn when he vanquished the giant Hippolytus. This was on the occasion when the gargantuan sons of Earth rose up in revolt against the gods of Olympus.
Hermes' symbol of office as divine messenger was his staff, or caduceus. This was originally a willow wand with entwined ribbons, traditional badge of the herald. But the ribbons were eventually depicted as snakes. To support this mythologically, a story evolved that Hermes used the caduceus to separate two fighting snakes which forthwith twined themselves together in peace.
It was Hermes' job to convey dead souls to the Underworld. And as patron of travelers, he was often shown in a wide-brimmed sun hat of straw. Hermes was known to the Romans as Mercury. His most famous depiction, a statue by Bellini, shows him alight on one foot, wings at his heels, the snaky caduceus in hand and, on his head, a rather stylized combination helmet-of-darkness and sun hat.
The Judgement of Paris
The story is almost formulaic, and reminds me strongly of the story of Sleeping Beauty - but instead of an evil fairy named Maleficent, the main character is the sinister Goddess of Discord and Strife: Eris.
Thetis, basically the most eligible bachelorette of the Gods (until it was prophesied that her son would be far greater than his father, and then kill his father), was marrying Peleus. Everyone who was ANYONE was invited, but Eris, Ares' annoying and dangerous sidekick, was left off the guest list. It wasn't any kind of accident - the Gods knew that Eris' love of mischief would totally ruin the wedding reception. But Eris showed up anyway, and she was mad!! She had brought with her one of her beautiful and shiny Golden Apples. The shiny Apple of Discord. This was no wedding gift to the bride or groom.
Eris threw the apple into the room, between the three Goddesses Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena. On the beautiful apple was inscribed the simple words "to the fairest." All three fell to the charm of the apple's beauty and her own divine vanity - they all demanded the apple. When they couldn't reach a consensus (shocker!), they went to Zeus. Wow. Sucks to be him. He decided to delegate that question to someone else, because he knew that whichever Goddess was chosen, the other two were going to inflict some serious revenge.
The poor kid who was chosen for answering the question was Paris (also called Alexander). Sweet little Paris was just chilling on Mt. Ida, shepherding, because it had been prophesied that he would cause the Trojan War and Troy's downfall. Zeus descended and explained the situation, and then the three Goddesses came down in all their beauty and glory, and demanded the apple. Paris made a little choking noise and almost started crying. How could he, a mere mortal, decide which of the most beautiful women he would EVER see were the most gorgeous? He couldn't decide.
But he knew he had to make a decision. The goddesses pretty much decided that for him. Each one offered him a gift, letting him give the apple to the one with the best gift.
Hera, the queen of the Gods, offered Paris power. She filled his head with images of thrones and conquering, and promised him that he should have all of Asia at his feet. Now, that sounded pretty good to Paris, but being a reasonably intelligent mortal - and very capitalistic - he decided to hear the others out and go with the highest bid. But he wasn't to get any more offers of power. Each of the Goddesses had her own domain, and her gifts corresponded appropriately. Athena went next. She offered him great wisdom, almost equaling her own, and promised him great luck in battle. She swore to make him the best strategist ever. Again, Paris was ALL about the idea, but he decided to wait and hear what Aphrodite had to say. That was the problem. Paris may have been smart, but he was a guy with normal hormones. Waiting to hear what the Goddess of Lust and Beauty had to say pretty much ruined his life. Aphrodite told him that he could have the most beautiful woman in the world as his mate if he chose her. Paris thought for about 2 seconds and decided to go with Aphrodite.
Here his wit failed him in more than one way. At that time, Helen of Troy was the most beautiful woman in the world - but she was already married, and married to an important king, no less. Her husband’s name was Menelaus and he was the King of the Sparta. In fact, Paris was married as well to a nymph named Oenone. Paris whisked Helen away from Sparta, and made her his queen in Troy. This did not go over well. In addition to angering the King of Sparta and his wife, Paris had angered the Goddess of War and Wisdom (Athena) and the Queen of the Gods (Hera) who commanded power. He had no idea what he'd gotten himself into.
Paris did indeed steal Helen away - but not without cost. The theft/kidnapping began the Trojan War - just as the prophesy at his birth had proclaimed. With Athena and Hera deadset against Troy, the odds were stacked against the Trojans. Troy eventually fell after 10 years, and Paris was mortally wounded. His wife, Oenone, could have saved him - but she was so bitter from his betrayal that she refused. A few days later she changed her mind, but by then, it was too late, and when she found Paris dead, she hung herself.