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The Twelve Olympians


In the ancient Greek world, the Twelve great gods and goddesses of the Greeks were referred to as the Olympian Gods, or the Twelve Olympians. The name of this powerful group of gods comes from Mount Olympus, where the council of 12 met to discuss matters.

All 12 Olympians had a home on Mount Olympus and that was where they were most commonly found. Hades, the god of the Underworld, preferred to live there, and Poseidon often chose to stay in his palace under the sea. Most of the other Olympians would be on Mount Olympus year round unless they were travelling.

The question of who the 12 Olympians are really depended on who is telling the story. Nobody is truly sure if Hades of Hephaestus can be classed as the Twelfth Olympian. So, because of the way Greek myths were told and retold in different ways, there are actually 14 gods and goddesses who can be considered as an Olympian god. Below is a list of all of the gods who have been considered an Olympian in one story or another.

Aphrodite was on the council but, in most Greek mythological stories, her husband Hephaestus was not. At the famous Parthenon temple in Greece, there is a statue of each of the 12 Olympian gods. Hades does not have a statue, but Hephaestus does.



Athena, Greek Goddess of Wisdom and War


Athena, also referred to as Athene, is a very important goddess of many things. She is goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, strategic warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill.

She is known most specifically for her strategic skill in warfare and is often portrayed as companion of heroes and is the patron goddess of heroic endeavour.

Athena was born from Zeus after he experienced an enormous headache and she sprang fully grown and in armour from his forehead. She has no mother but one of the most commonly cited stories is that Zeus lay with Metis, the goddess of crafty thought and wisdom, and then swallowed her whole as he feared she will give birth to a child more powerful than him because of a prophecy – but she had already conceived.


Facts about Athena


She was Zeus’s favorite child.

According to some sources, Athena was praised for her compassion and generosity.

Athena was a patron of the arts and crafts, especially when it came to spinning and weaving.



Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of Love, Beauty & Eternal Youth


Aphrodite is the Goddess of Love and Beauty and according to Hesiod’s Theogony, she was born from the foam in the waters of Paphos, on the island of Cyprus. She supposedly arose from the foam when the Titan Cronus slew his father Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea.

However, according to Homer, in Iliad, Aphrodite may instead be the daughter of Zeus and Dione. As with so many Greek deities, there are many stories about the origins of the gods.

Many gods believed that her beauty was such that their rivalry over her would spark a war of the gods. Because of this, Zeus married Aphrodite to Hephaestus – he wasn’t seen as a threat because of his ugliness and deformity.

Despite this marriage to Hephaestus, Aphrodite had many lovers. Her lovers include both gods and men – including the god Ares and the mortal Anchises. She also played a role in the story of Eros and Psyche in which admirers of Psyche neglected to worship Venus (Aphrodite) and instead worshipped her. For this, Aphrodite enlisted Eros (Cupid) to exact her revenge but the god of love instead falls in love with the girl.

Later, Aphrodite was both Adonis’s lover and his surrogate mother. This led to a feud with Persephone in which Zeus decreed Adonis should spend half of the year with Aphrodite and half of the year with Persephone.



Apollo, God of the Sun, the Light, the Music and Prophecy


Apollo is one of the most complex and important gods, and is the god of many things, including: music, poetry, art, oracles, archery, plague, medicine, sun, light and knowledge. He is the son of Zeus and the Titan Leto, and was born in the Greek island of Delos, along with his older twin sister Artemis – goddess of the hunt.

Apollo is the ideal of the kouros, which means he has a beardless, athletic and youthful appearance. He is also an oracular god as a patron of Delphi and could predict prophecy through the Delphic Oracle Pythia.

Both medicine and healing are associated with Apollo and were thought to sometimes be mediated through his son, Asclepius. However, Apollo could also bring ill-health and deadly plague.

Apollo also became associated with dominion over colonists, and as the patron defender of herds and flocks. He was the leader of the Muses (also known as Apollon Musegetes) and was director of their choir – functioning as the patron god of music and poetry.

The god Hermes create the lyre for Apollo and this instrument became a known attribute for him. When hymns were sung to Apollo they were called paeans

At the drinking parties held on Olympus, Apollo accompanied the Muses on his cithara, while the young goddesses led the dance. Both Leto and Zeus were proud of their son, who was radiant with grace and beauty.

Apollo was one of the few gods that the Romans kept the same name. In Greek mythology, he was most widely known as the god of light. Within Roman mythology, he wasn’t known as much as the god of light and was focused mainly as the god of healing and prophecy.



Ares, Greek God of War


Ares is the god of war, one of the Twelve Olympian gods and the son of Zeus and Hera. In literature Ares represents the violent and physical untamed aspect of war, which is in contrast to Athena who represents military strategy and generalship as the goddess of intelligence.

Although Ares embodied the physical aggression necessary for success in war, the Greeks were ambivalent toward him because he was a dangerous, overwhelming force that was insatiable in battle.

He is well known as the lover of Aphrodite, who was married to Hephaestus, and though Ares plays a limited role in literature, when he does appear in myths it is typically facing humiliation. For example, one famous story of Ares and Aphrodite exposes them to ridicule by the gods when her husband Hephaestus trapped them both naked in a bed using a clever device he made.

The Roman counterpart to Ares was Mars, who was known as a father to the Roman people. Because of this, he was a less aggressive and physical form, revealing a more calm and understanding demeanour.


Facts about Ares


Ares was most notably referred to as the God of War; he represented the unpleasant aspects of battle.

According to some sources, Ares was described as Aphrodite’s lover and was held in contempt by her husband, Hephaestus. The affair between them was not a secret among the Olympians.


Demeter, Greek Goddess of Agriculture, Fertility, Sacred Law and the Harvest


Demeter is the goddess of the harvest and presides over grains and the fertility of the earth. Although she was most often referred to as the goddess of the harvest, she was also goddess of sacred law and the cycle of life and death.

Her virgin daughter Persephone was abducted by the god of the underworld, Hades, and Demeter endlessly searched for her, preoccupied with loss and grief. The seasons halted and living things stopped growing and died. At this point, Zeus had to intervene and send his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back and prevent the extinction of all life on Earth.

Hades agreed to Persephone’s relief but gave her a pomegranate as she left. When she ate the pomegranate seeds, she was bound to him for one third of the year, either the dry Mediterranean summer, when plant life is threatened by drought, or the autumn and winter.

Demeter and Persephone were also the central figures to the Eleusinian Mysteries – a series of large and secretive concerts held every five years. These mysteries represented the abduction of Persephone by Hades in three phases. The “descent” (loss), the “search” and the “ascent”. The main theme is the “ascent” of Persephone and the reunion with her mother.



Hephaestus, Greek God of Fire and Metalworking


Hephaestus was the god of fire, metalworking, stone masonry, forges and the art of sculpture. He was the son of Zeus and Hera and married to Aphrodite by Zeus to prevent a war of the gods fighting for her hand. He was a smithing god, making all of the weapons for Olympus and acting as a blacksmith for the gods.

He had his own palace on Olympus where he made many clever inventions and automatons of metal to work for him. Hephaestus’s ugly appearance was the reason Zeus chose him to marry Aphrodite, but despite this she had many affairs with both gods and men.

In one story, Hephaestus builds a tricky invention which catches Aphrodite laying with the Ares, the god of war, trapping them both in the bed to be laughed at and ridiculed by the other gods.

He is similar to Athena in his giving skill and help to mortals – in his case artists. It was believed that Hephaestus taught men the arts alongside Athena. However, he was also considered far inferior to that of the goddess of wisdom.



Hera, Greek Goddess of Marriage and Queen of Olympus


Hera is the Queen of the Gods and is the wife and sister of Zeus in the Olympian pantheon. She is known for being the Goddess of Marriage & Birth. Despite being the Goddess of Marriage, she was known to be jealous and vengeful towards the many lovers and offspring of her husband Zeus.

She was also known to turn her anger towards mortals who crossed her as well – for example, Paris, who chose Aphrodite over Hera as the most beautiful goddess at the marriage of the sea-nymph Thetis to a mortal called Peleus.

In images and statues, Hera is portrayed as being majestic and solemn, crowned with the polos – a high cylindrical crown worn by many of the Great Goddesses.

Even before her marriage with Zeus, she ruled over the heavens and the Earth. This is one reason why she is referred to as ‘The Queen of Heaven’ – ruling over Mount Olympus where all the gods and goddesses live.

Even the great Zeus feared his wife Hera. Her never-ending hatred of Heracles, the illegitimate son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene stemmed from his continuous adultery and, amongst other things, Hera raised a storm at sea in order to drive Heracles out of his course to kill him.

Zeus became so angry that he hung her in the clouds by a golden chain, and attached heavy anvils to her feet. Her son Hephaestus tried to release his mother from her humiliating position, for which Zeus threw him out of heaven, and his leg was broken by the fall.



Hermes, Greek God of Trade, Eloquence and Messenger of the Gods


Hermes was one of the 12 Olympian Gods and was god of trade, thieves, travelers, sports, athletes, and border crossings, guide to the Underworld. He was the second youngest Olympian god and was the son of Zeus and Maia, one of the seven Pleiades and daughter of the Titan Atlas.

As the god of boundaries and transitions, Hermes was known to be quick and cunning and had the ability to freely move between the mortal and divine worlds. It is this skill that made him a luck-bringing messenger to the gods and intercessor between mortals and the divine.

He is also the patron and protector of travelers, herdsmen, thieves, orators and wit, literature and poets, athletics and sports, invention and trade. In some myths Hermes is also depicted as a trickster where he would outwit the gods either for the good of humankind or for his own personal amusement and satisfaction.

Both Homer and Hesiod portrayed Hermes as the author of skilled or deceptive acts, and also as a benefactor of mortals.



Zeus, Greek God of the Sky and King of the Gods


Zeus was the first of the gods and a very imposing figure. Often referred to as the “Father of Gods and men”, he is a sky god who controls lightning (often using it as a weapon) and thunder. Zeus is king of Mount Olympus, the home of Greek gods, where he rules the world and imposes his will onto gods and mortals alike.

Zeus was the last child of the titans Cronus and Rhea, and avoided being swallowed by his father (who had been told one of his children would overthrow him) when Rhea sought help from Uranus and Ge. Cronus had previously swallowed Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon.

Along with Hades and Poseidon, Zeus shared the rule of the world and became king of Olympus as the children of Cronus were filled with admiration for their noble brother and sided with him against their unjust father – even following Zeus into The Battle of the Titans.

Zeus mated with many goddesses and mortals (including Aegina, Alcmena, Calliope, Cassiopea, Demeter, Dione, Europa, Io, Leda, Leto, Mnemosyne, Niobe, Persephone and Semele) but was married to his sister Hera – goddess of marriage and monogamy.


Roles and responsibilities of Zeus


As the king of the gods and sitting atop the golden throne on Olympus, Zeus was revered by all. Mortal kings would boast that they were descendants of Zeus. With this supreme power came a number of roles and responsibilities. Hesiod described Zeus as a god who “brought peace in place of violence” and referred to him as the “lord of justice“.

Though he is most well known as god of the sky and thunder, Zeus was the supreme cultural embodiment of Greek religious beliefs. He had many epithets (titles) that emphasized different aspects of complete and wide ranging authority.


Hades, Greek God of the Dead and King of the Underworld


Hades was the god of the underworld and the name eventually came to also describe the home of the dead as well. He was the oldest male child of Cronus and Rhea.

Hades and his brothers Zeus and Poseidon defeated their father and the Titans to end their reign, claiming rulership over the cosmos. They agreed to split their rule with Zeus becoming god of the skies, Poseidon god of the sea and Hades god of the underworld.

He was later known to the Greeks as Plouton, which the Romans pluralized to Pluto. The god of the underworld was married to Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, whom he obtained through deception after abducting her to the underworld and giving her the forbidden fruit pomegranate, forcing her to remain in the underworld with him for one-third of each year.


Facts about Hades


Hades is best known as the ruler of the underworld. It became his dominion after he and his brothers drew lots for their share of the universe.

According to Iliad, Hades’ dominion lies between secret places of the earth. According to the Odyssey, one must cross Ocean to get there




Poseidon was god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses and is considered one of the most bad-tempered, moody and greedy Olympian gods. He was known to be vengeful when insulted.

He is the son of Cronus and Rhea and was swallowed by his father along with Hades, Demeter, Hestia and Hera. However, in some folklore stories it is believed that Poseidon, like Zeus, was not swallowed by Cronus because his mother Rhea who concealed him among a flock of lambs and pretended to have given birth to a colt, which was devoured by Cronus instead.

After the gods defeated the Titans, the world was divided into three and Zeus, Hades and Poseidon drew straws to decide which they would rule. Zeus drew the skies, Hades the underworld, and Poseidon the seas. There is only one reference to this divide, by Homer in the Iliad.


Facts about Poseidon


Poseidon was most notably the God of the sea and the protector of all waters; sailors relied upon him for safe passage.

Poseidon was allotted his dominion after the fall of the Titans.



Dionysus,Greek God of Wine & the Grape Harvest


Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theatre. He may have been worshipped as early as 1500-100BC by Mycenean Greeks according to very old scripts inscribed with his name.

Earlier images and descriptions of Dionysus depict him as a mature male, bearded and robed holding a fennel staff tipped with a pine-cone. However, in later images the god is show to be a beardless, sensuous, naked or semi-naked androgynous youth. He is described in literature as womanly or “man-womanish”.

He was the son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, making Dionysus semi-device or a hero.


Facts about Dionysus


Dionysus was primarily known as the God of the Vine.

He was also referred to as Bacchus.

Unlike the immortal gods, who were often hostile toward human beings, Dionysus and Demeter were benevolent toward mankind.

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