The stories of gods and goddess from the ancient Greek mythology are immensely popular in pop culture. Their characters were popularized and subsequently immortalized by some famous play writers in ancient Greece that included the likes of Homer and Hesiod. What makes the folklore behind these ancient Greek deities stand apart is the way their stories deviated from that of other contemporary ancient religions. The Greek gods resembled humans not only in their form but also in their nature and emotions. Many of us might remember how Theseus slayed the Minotaur, how Hades would rule the underworld, the wrath Zeus would bring upon others with his mighty thunder and many more – all those exciting stories we read when we were kids. Since the goddesses were such grand personas in themselves, it is only fair to list out them separately on our next post. As for the majestic Gods of ancient Greece, lets see how many of your favorites make it on our top 10 list.
Also known as the messenger among ancient Greek gods, Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maia. He has been depicted in rather noticeable contrasts in different poems, plays and myths. Popularly, he comes across as a handsome and athletic, beardless youth and sometimes as an older bearded man. Hermes was a quick thinker and even quicker in his movements, and was notorious among gods for his cunning. Since he could easily move in between the three main worlds in mythological paradigm of ancient Greece – heaven, seas and the underworld, he often acted as messenger for gods. Given the cunning tricks he would pull off on fellow gods for his own amusement, one could find stark similarities between him and the much popular Norse god Loki. Just to give a glimpse of how dubious his tricks could be, he jumped out of his crib when he was born, stole Apollo’s cattle and went back to his crib playing all innocent. No wonder he was also known as the god of cunning and thievery.
Popular in the Greek folklore by the name of God of fire, Hephaestus was associated with the realms of heaven. His origin has been given contradicting renditions by Homer and Hesiod. Homer narrates his story as the crippled son of Zeus and Hera. Hesiod takes a rather unconventional (and far more intriguing) route by stating that Hera bore him alone by herself. He was born a limp, which led his mother to throw him off Mount Olympus, though in a different account he once interceded a brawl between Zeus and Hera and ended up getting dragged off Olympus by the mighty Zeus. Once he fell on earth, he went on to become a prodigal craftsman, and was eventually reinstated in the heaven where he then built a number of marvelous for gods and goddesses. He also created those majestic god armors and shields – most famous of them being the one donned by Achilles in the battle of Troy.
Born of Zeus and Hera, Ares was also known as the god of war. But he reflected the violent and gore aspect of war far more than the justification and righteousness of violence for the greater good. He was always willing to wreak havoc just to display his might in the battle and rarely thought of fighting for justice and defense. His acts of imprudence led both his parents to despise him and look up to his sister Athena. Despite his personification of sheer ruthlessness in war, he also came across as a coward especially given how outrageously he would respond even to the slightest of injuries in battle. He was also blindly in love with Aphrodite, who was already married to Hephaestus. Their affair was not so secret among the Olympians and led to much disdain. As evident, Ares was never much popular among men or gods and was not much followed or worshiped by any larger mass.
One of the more widely known among the ancient titans, Cronos was the ruling god before the age of Olympian deities. The titans were known for their colossal bodies and equally massive brute strength – among whom Cronos proved himself to be the strongest when he became the ruler by castrating his own father Uranus. But once he came into power, much like his despised progenitor, Cronos became rather prudent towards his children – the most noticeable ones being Zeus, Poseidon and Aphrodite among others. In his utter paranoia, he swallowed them to keep them from ever surpassing him. But his mother Gaia and wife Rhea were able to rescue Zeus who fought him off and banished him to the dreaded Tartarus in the underworld once he had freed his siblings. The end of Cronos heralded the age of Olympian deities who would go on to be far more popular in Greek mythology than their predecessors ever were.
The twin brother of Artemis, Apollo was a god with many facets. His father was, again, Zeus and he was born off his mother Leto on the island of Delos – the only refuge they could find from an enraged Hera (no surprises there). Leto was so overwhelmed with the care she got at the hands of inhabitants of Delos; she promised that Apollo shall always favor their prosperity, which he did in the times to come. As stated earlier, Apollo has many facets which were rather opposing in themselves. He was the god of serenity and music and was often depicted with a lyre. And he also was a skilled archer who often wandered with a silver bow. He was considered the god of healing and medicine but when enraged, he would bring upon death and despair with his arrows. He would harness his four-horse chariot and move the sun across the sky every single day – providing the light and life to earth. Being a prophetic god, he was a celebrated figure among the oracles and they established Delphi as a site dedicated to worshiping him.
Being the god of festivity, pleasure and wine, he was quite a popular deity – both among gods and mortals. He is the only god who had a mortal parent in the form of his mother Semele, his father being the mighty Zeus. He was bought up under the protection of mountain nymphs since Hera was rather ferocious towards her husband’s romantic advances outside their marriage. Dionysus slowly built a cult of followers and wanderers who would accompany him in his journeys around the world. Unlike other gods, he was far more present among his followers – feasting, drinking and living his life to the fullest with them. And then he irrevocably fell in love with Ariadne, who was despicably abandoned by Theseus when she fell asleep on the islands of Naxos. The Greeks celebrated many festivals in his honor and it would not be an overstatement to say that he was far more popular than Zeus at many places of ancient Greece.
One of the most popular gods among the titans, Prometheus is held significantly higher among the great benefactors of mankind in the Greek mythology. His father Iapetus was also a titan but his mother was an oceanid. Being the god of forethought, he foresaw defeat of titans at the hands of new Olympian gods. So he cleverly sided with the Olympians through the battle and thus escaped from being imprisoned at Tartarus along with other titans.
Prometheus was then assigned the task to mold mankind out of clay. Once he was done creating mankind, he became rather attached with them, always worried for the betterment of their lives. This led him to cross paths with the mighty Zeus time and again since he did not care much about the humans. So when Zeus took away fire from mankind, he stole it from the heavens and gave it back to the humans. Zeus punished him for his treachery by chaining him to a rock where an eagle would eat his liver everyday – his liver regenerating every night for he was an immortal. Eventually, he was freed from his agony by the powerful demigod Hercules.
When Zeus and his brothers drew straws to decide who gets to be the lord of which realm, Poseidon drew the realm of seas. Thus he became the ruler of seas and, along with his wife Amphitrite, led a group of lesser gods that included the Triton and Nereid. Being the lord of seas, he was widely worshiped and followed by seamen and voyagers alike. But he also had a far reaching influence – historians state him as a major deity in several ancient Greek cities. In terms of sheer power, he came second only the mighty Zeus. Other than taming the enormous power of seas, he also carried a trident whose mere hit would cause massive earthquakes. At some point, he desperately fell for Demeter who asked him to create the most unique creature if he was to rouse her. It is said he made a number of animals in his quest and finally created the first majestic horse.
Following the advent of age of Olympian gods, Hades became the ruler of underworld – a place where only the dead could delve in (though there were quite a few exceptions to that). Naturally, ruling over such a gloomy and rather demented realm seldom makes a charming impression – making him lesser prominent in the Greek mythology. But many Greeks believed him to be the personification of death itself (which he was not) and paid him regular homage raised by their own superstition. But his evil image is a far cry from what he actually was – for he was not much of a bad guy as he is usually depicted to be. Contrary to the common belief, it Hades was not responsible for redemption of souls but rather the three demigods Minos, Aiakos and Rhadamanthys would carry out the judgment. He was also pretty fair in his actions when Hercules approached him with the motive to return with his three-headed dog as a part of his labors. Though that does not cut any slack off him when he tricked his love interest Persephone into the underworld to stay with him.
He was the god of all known universe that the Olympians won off the titans. After winning over the titans, Zeus also won the draw with his brothers Hades and Poseidon on who gets to be the ruler of throne after their father Kronos, and thus became the god of all skies and the acknowledged ruler of all remaining gods. He was married to Hera, the Queen of all gods, but he also was rather notorious for his romantic escapades outside his marriage. He was known as father of gods, and as you might have noticed by now, he fathered quite a many children with as many of his affairs. Being the grand personification of nature as it is, he constructed the order that became the basis for the different realms. He also embarked the age of regulated time in the form of changing seasons and repeating days and nights. He ruled with absolute authority and command over his universe. But he also had a bad temper and was very easy to provoke. He would respond by hurling thunderbolt at those who displeased him.
The ancient Greek gods listed here laid the very foundation of the Greek mythology that keeps on enchanting readers, writers and story tellers to this day. These gods were not only significant in their own realms and mythological paradigms, but they also had a noteworthy impact on the subsequent western civilization that succeeded the ancient Greeks. For all his power and might, Zeus remained the undisputed leader and ruler of all Olympian gods, ruling over the realms from his throne on mount Olympus. That their system was more biased towards a male dominant orientation is easily noticeable (only the brothers got to divide the realms among themselves). Nevertheless, the ensemble of these legendary gods from ancient Greece still holds a charm over historians and common people alike.