In the ancient Greek religionthe Twelve Olympian Gods, also known as the Dodekatheon, are the major deities of the Greekpantheon, believed to reside atop Mt. Olympus. The Olympians gained their supremacy in a war of gods in which Zeus led his siblings to victory over the Titans. They are commonly considered to be Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes and either Hestia, or Dionyssos. The concept of the "Twelve Gods" is older than any extant Greek or Roman sources. The gods meet in council in the Homeric epics, but the first ancient reference to religious ceremonies for the Olympians collectively is found in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. The Greek religion of the Twelve Olympians can be traced to 6th-c. BC Athens and probably has no precedent in the Mycenaean period. The Altar of the Twelve Gods at Athens is usually dated to the rule (archonship) of the younger Pesistratos, in 522/521 BC.
Genealogical Tree of the ancient Greek Gods.
Zeus or Jupiter
Zeus, the Cloud-Gatherer, renamed by the Romans as Jupiter, is the father of gods and men, supreme ruler of Mt. Olympus, and lord of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order, justice. Youngest child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. His symbols include the thunderbolt, eagle, oak tree, scepter, and scales. He is as unpredictable in his wrath as he is in his storms on earth. Brother and husband of Hera, although he had many lovers, he is also brother of Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, and Hestia.
Hera is the Queen of the gods, and the goddess of marriage and family. Hera is Zeus' wife, but also his sister, the youngest daughter of Cronus and Rhea. She was raised by the Titans Ocean and Tethys. Her marriage with Zeus was founded in strife and continued in strife. Zeus courted her unsuccessfully, and then he turned to trickery, changing himself into a disheveled cuckoo. Hera feeling sorry for the bird held it to her breast to warm it. Zeus then resumed his normal form and taking advantage of the surprise he gained, raped her. She then married him to cover her shame. Once, when Zeus was being particularly overbearing to the other gods, Hera convinced them to join in a revolt. She drugged Zeus, and the gods then bound the sleeping Zeus to a couch with many knots. This done, they began to quarrel over the next step. Briareus overheard the arguments. He slipped in and was able to quickly untie the many knots. Zeus sprang from the couch and grabbed up his thunderbolt. The gods fell to their knees begging and pleading for mercy. Zeus seized Hera and hung her from the sky with gold chains. She wept in pain all night but, none of the others dared to interfere. The next morning Zeus agreed to release her if she would swear never to rebel again. She had little choice but, to agree. While she never again rebelled, she often intrigued against Zeus' plans and she was often able to outwit him. Most stories concerning Hera have to do with her jealous revenge for Zeus's infidelities. Hera's symbols include the peacock, the cuckoo, and the cow.
Head of Poseidon, from a bronze statuette at the National Archaeological Museum.
Poseidon, or Neptune by the Romans, is a brother of Zeus and Hades, the middle son of Cronus and Rhea. After the overthrow of their father, he drew lots with Zeus and Hades, for shares of the world. Poseidon's prize was to become the lord of the seas. Poseidon is God of the seas, earthquakes, and tidal waves. He married the Nereid Amphitrite, a granddaughter of the Titan Oceanos, although, like most male Greek Gods, he had many lovers. At one point he desired Demeter. To put him off Demeter asked him to make the most beautiful animal that the world had ever seen. So, to impress her, Poseidon created the first horse. In some accounts his first attempts were unsuccessful and created a variety of other animals in his quest. By the time the horse was created his passion for Demeter had cooled. Poseidon has a difficult, quarrelsome personality. He was greedy. He had a series of disputes with other gods when he tried to take over their cities. His weapon is a trident, which can shake the earth, and shatter any object. Poseidon's symbols include the horse, bull, and the dolphin.
Demeter or Ceres
Demeter, or Ceres is the Goddess of fertility, agriculture, nature, and the seasons. Symbols include the poppy, wheat, torch, cornucopia, and pig. Middle daughter of Cronus and Rhea.
The Goddess Athena.
Athena, or Minerva is the daughter ofZeus and the Oceanid Metis. She sprang full grown in armor from Zeus' forehead, after he swallowed her mother. She is fierce and brave in battle but, only wars to defined the state and home from outside enemies. She is the protector of Athens, the goddess of handicrafts, and agriculture. She invented the bridle, which permitted man to tame horses, the trumpet, the flute, the pot, the rake, the plow, the yoke, the ship, and the chariot. Athena is the embodiment of wisdom, reason, and purity. She was Zeus's favorite child and was allowed to use his weapons including his thunderbolt. Her favorite city is Athens, which was named after her, and she is the protector of the city. Symbols include the owl and the olive tree.
Apollo, isthe son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother of Artemis. He is the god of light and therefore of inspiration, which does for the soul what light does for the world. Swift and fierce as the light, he is the master of music, often depicted as playing a golden lyre. He is also the god of prophecy, who raises men above their common level by the sudden accesses of power -or enlightenment- which he gives to them. He is famous for his oracle at Delphi. People traveled to it from all over the then known world to divine the future. One of Apollo's more important daily tasks is to harness his chariot with four horses and drive the Sun across the sky. He also is the god of truth, who can not speak a lie. He is the god of medicine and healing. He is the Archer, far shooting with a silver bow. Symbols include the sun, lyre, swan, and mouse. His plant was the laurel. The crow is his bird and the dolphin is his animal.
Artemis or Diana
Artemis, or Diana, is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin of Apollo. She is the goddess of hunting. She is the protector of the young. Like Apollo she hunts with silver arrows. She became associated with the moon. She is a virgin goddess, and the goddess of chastity. She also presides over childbirth, which may seem odd for a virgin, but goes back to causing her mother Leto no pain when she was born. She is the lady of the wild things. Symbols include the moon, deer, hound, she-bear, snake, and bow and arrow. The cypress is her tree.
Ares or Mars
Ares, or Mars is the son of Zeus and Hera. All the other gods, with the exception of Aphrodite, despised him. He is considered murderous and bloodstained but, also a coward. When caught in an act of adultery with Aphrodite, her husband Hephaestus publicly ridiculed him. He is the God of war. Symbols include the boar, serpent, dog, vulture, spear, and shield. His Latin name, Mars, gave us the word "martial."
Aphrodite or Venus
Aphrodite, or Venus, is the Goddess of love, beauty, and desire. In addition to her natural gifts she has a magical girdle that compels anyone she wishes to desire her. Daughter of Zeus and the Oceanid Dione, or, according to a legend, perhaps born from the sea foam after Uranus' semen dripped into the sea after being castrated by his youngest son, Cronus, who then threw his father's genitals into the sea. Aphrodite then arose from the sea foam on a giant scallop and walked to shore in Cyprus. Married to Hephaestus, she had many adulterous affairs, most notably with Ares. The myrtle is her tree, and the rose her flower. Symbols include the dove, bird, swan, apple, bee, myrtle, and rose.
Hephaestos or Vulcan
Hephaestos, or Vulcan, is the son of Zeus and Hera, or Zeus alone. He is the Master blacksmith, the armorer and craftsman of the gods; the god of fire and the forge. He is the only god portrayed to be physically ugly. He is also lame and accounts as to how he became lame vary. Some say that Hera, upset by having an ugly child, flung him from Mt. Olympus into the sea, breaking his legs. Others that he took Hera's side in an argument with Zeus, and Zeus flung him off Mt. Olympus. He is the patron god of both smiths and weavers. He is kind and peace loving. His wife is Aphrodite. Unlike most divine husbands, he was rarely ever licentious. Symbols include fire, anvil, ax, donkey, hammer, tongs, and quail. His Latin name, Vulcan, gave us the word "volcano," since Hephaestos used a volcano as his forge.
Hermes or Mercury
Hermes, or Mercury, is son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. He is the Messenger of the gods; the fastest of the gods, portrayed wearing winged sandals, a winged hat and carrying the caduceus (a wand entwined with two snakes). Hermes is the god of commerce, and, surprisingly also the protector of thieves. He is the guide for the dead in their final journey to the underworld. He invented the lyre, the pipes, the musical scale, astronomy, weights and measures, boxing, gymnastics, and the care of olive trees. Hermes is the second-youngest Olympian, just older than Dionyssos.
Hestia or Vesta
Hestia, or Vesta, is the first child of Cronus and Rhea, eldest sister of Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hera, and Zeus. She is a virgin goddess. She does not have a distinct personality. She plays no part in myths. She is the Goddess of the Hearth, the symbol of the house around which a new born child is carried before it is received into the family. Each city had a public hearth sacred to Hestia, where the fire was never allowed to go out.
Dionyssos, Dionyssus or Bacchus
Dionyssos, or Bacchus, is the God of wine, celebrations, and ecstasy. Patron god of the art of theater. Symbols include the grapevine, ivy, cup, tiger, panther, leopard, dolphin, goat, and pine cone. Son of Zeus and the mortal princess Semele from the city of Thebes. Married to the Cretan princess Ariadne. The youngest Olympian god, as well as the only one to have a mortal mother.
Hades is a brother of Zeus. Following the overthrow of their father Cronus he drew lots with brothers Zeus and Poseidon, to share the world. Hades had the worst draw and was made lord of the underworld, ruling over the dead. He is a greedy god who is greatly concerned with increasing his subjects. Those whose calling increase the number of dead are seen favorably. The Erinnyes are welcomed guests. He is exceedingly disinclined to allow any of his subjects leave. He is also the god of wealth, due to the precious metals mined from the earth. His helmet makes him invisible. He rarely leaves the underworld. His wife is Persephone whom Hades abducted. He is the King of the dead but, death itself is another god, Thanatos.