Greek and Roman gods

To the left, Ares, the Greek god of war. Not a very nice guy, all things considering. That's an awefully short (cough) "sword" he's got there, don't you think? But I wouldn't tell him so to his face: I might end up in the Elysium Fields or Hades pushing a stone around for eternity. Ares is the son of Zeus (king of the gods) and Hera. The Romans identified him with Mars, also a god of war. Aggressive and sanguinary, Ares personified the brutal nature of war. He was unpopular with both gods and humans. Among the deities associated with Ares were his consort, Aphrodite, goddess of love (see her below somewhere), and such minor deities as Deimos (Fear) and Phobos (Rout), who accompanied him in battle. Although fierce and warlike, Ares was not invincible, even against mortals. The worship of Ares, believed to have originated in Thrace, was not extensive in ancient Greece, and where it existed, it lacked social or moral significance. Ares was an ancestral deity of Thebes and had a temple at Athens, at the foot of the Areopagus, or "Hill of Ares." He's also the handsom chap giving Hercules a hard time in the TV series.

Aphrodite, to the right and left here, is, of course, the Goddess of Love and sexual desire, though there is an aspect of her called "She who turns herself away" that is less than pleasant. Aphrodite was often seen on battle fields, fighting along side humans at the Battle for Troy. In Homer's Iliad she is said to be the daughter of Zeus and Dione, one of his consorts, but in later legends she is described as having sprung from the foam of the sea and her name may be translated "foam-risen." In Homeric legend Aphrodite is the wife of the lame and ugly god of fire, Hephaestus. Among her lovers was Ares, god of war, who in later mythology became her husband. She was the rival of Persephone, queen of the underworld, for the love of the beautiful Greek youth Adonis. Perhaps the most famous legend about Aphrodite concerns the cause of the Trojan War. Eris, the goddess of discord, the only goddess not invited to the wedding of King Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis, resentfully tossed into the banquet hall a golden apple, marked "for the fairest." When Zeus refused to judge between the three goddesses who claimed the apple, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, they asked Paris, prince of Troy, to make the award. Each offered him a bribe: Hera, that he would be a powerful ruler; Athena, that he would achieve great military fame; and Aphrodite, that he should have the fairest woman in the world. Paris selected Aphrodite as the fairest and chose as his prize Helen of Troy, the wife of the Greek king Menelaus. Paris's abduction of Helen led to the Trojan War. Probably Oriental in origin, Aphrodite was identified in early Greek religious beliefs with the Phoenician Astarte and was known as Aphrodite Urania, queen of the heavens, and as Aphrodite Pandemos, goddess of the people.

Artemis, in Greek mythology, one of the principal goddesses, counterpart of the Roman goddess Diana. She was the daughter of the god Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of the god Apollo. She was chief hunter to the gods and goddess of hunting and of wild animals, especially bears. Artemis was also the goddess of childbirth, of nature, and of the harvest. As the moon goddess, she was sometimes identified with the goddess Selene and Hecate. Although traditionally the friend and protector of youth, especially young women, Artemis prevented the Greeks from sailing to Troy during the Trojan war until they sacrificed a maiden to her. According to some accounts, just before the sacrifice, she rescued the victim, Iphigenia. Like Apollo, Artemis was armed with a bow and arrows, which she often used to punish mortals who angered her. In other legends, she is praised for giving young women who died in childbirth a swift and painless death.

Dionysus, in Greek mythology, god of wine and vegetation, who showed mortals how to cultivate grapevines and make wine. He was good and gentle to those who honored him, but he brought madness and destruction upon those who spurned him or the orgiastic rituals of his cult. According to tradition, Dionysus died each winter and was reborn in the spring. To his followers, this cyclical revival, accompanied by the seasonal renewal of the fruits of the earth, embodied the promise of the resurrection of the dead. The yearly rites in honor of the resurrection of Dionysus gradually evolved into the structured form of the Greek drama, and important festivals were held in honor of the god, during which great dramatic competitions were conducted. The most important festival, the Greater Dionysia, was held in Athens for five days each spring. It was for this celebration that the Greek dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides wrote their great tragedies. After the 5th century bc , Dionysus was known to the Greeks as Bacchus.

Bacchus, in Greek and Roman mythology, the god of wine, identified with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and Liber, the Roman god of wine. The son of Zeus (Jupiter), Bacchus is usually characterized in two ways. One is that of the god of vegetation, specifically of the fruit of the trees, who is often represented on Attic vases with a drinking horn and vine branches. As he came to be the popular national Greek god of wine and cheer, wine miracles were reputedly performed at certain of his festivals. The second characterization of the god, that of a deity whose mysteries inspired ecstatic, orgiastic worship, is exemplified by the Maenads, or Bacchantes. This group of female devotees left their homes to to roam the wilderness in ecstatic devotion to the god. They wore fawn skins and were believed to possess occult powers. The name Bacchus came into use in ancient Greece during the 5th century bc . It refers to the loud cries with which he was worshiped at the Bacchanalia, frenetic celebrations in his honor. These events, which supposedly originated in spring nature festivals, became occasions for licentiousness and intoxication, at which the celebrants danced, drank, and generally debauched themselves. The Bacchanalia became more and more extreme and were prohibited by the Roman Senate in 186 bc . In the first century ad , however, the Dionysiac mysteries were still popular, as evidenced by representations of them found on Greek sarcophagi.

Gorgon, in Greek mythology, one of three monstrous daughters of the sea god Phorcys and his wife, Ceto. The Gorgons were terrifying, dragonlike creatures, covered with golden scales and having snakes for hair. They lived on the farthest side of the western ocean, shunned because their glance turned people to stone. Two of the Gorgons, Stheno and Euryale, were immortal; Medusa alone could be killed. The hero Perseus killed Medusa and brought back her head, with the help of the deities Hermes and Athena. From her blood sprang the winged horse Pegasus, her son by the god Poseidon. Medusa used to be beautiful, or so I'm told.

Neptune, in Roman mythology, god of the sea, son of the god Saturn, and brother of Jupiter, king of the gods, and Pluto, god of the dead. Originally a god of springs and streams, he became identified with the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon. His festival was celebrated on July 23. Poseidon, in Greek mythology, god of the sea, the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, and the brother of Zeus and Hades. Poseidon was the husband of Amphitrite, one of the Nereids, by whom he had a son, Triton. Poseidon had numerous other love affairs, however, especially with nymphs of springs and fountains, and was the father of several children famed for their wildness and cruelty, among them the giant Orion and the Cyclops Polyphemus. Poseidon and the Gorgon Medusa were the parents of Pegasus, the famous winged horse. Poseidon plays a prominent part in numerous ancient myths and legends. He contended unsuccessfully with Athena, goddess of wisdom, for the control of Athens. When he and Apollo, god of the sun, were cheated of their promised wages after having helped Laomedon, king of Troy, build the walls of that city, Poseidon sent a terrible sea monster to ravage the land, and during the Trojan War he helped the Greeks. In art, Poseidon is represented as a bearded and majestic figure, holding a trident and often accompanied by a dolphin. Every two years the Isthmian Games, featuring horse and chariot racers, were held in his honor at Corinth. The Romans identified Poseidon with their god of the sea, Neptune.

Pan, in Greek mythology, god of woods, fields, and fertility, the son of Hermes, messenger of the gods, and a nymph. Part animal, with the horns, hoofs, and ears of a goat, he was a rollicking deity, the god of the shepherds and the goatherds. A wonderful musician, he accompanied, with his pipe of reeds, the woodland nymphs when they danced. He invented this pipe when the nymph Syrinx, whom he was pursuing, was transformed into a bed of reeds to escape him; Pan then took reeds of unequal length and played on them. The god was always wooing one of the nymphs by playing on his pipes, but was always rejected because of his ugliness. Pan's haunts were the mountains and caves and all wild places, but his favorite spot was Arcady, where he was born. The word panic is supposed to have been derived from the fears of travelers who heard the sound of his pipes at night in the wilderness.

Psyche, in Roman mythology, beautiful princess loved by Cupid, god of love. Jealous of Psyche's beauty, Venus, goddess of love, ordered her son, Cupid, to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest man in the world. Fortunately for Psyche, Cupid instead fell in love with her and carried her off to a secluded palace where he visited her only by night, unseen and unrecognized by her. Although Cupid had forbidden her ever to look upon his face, one night Psyche lit a lamp and looked upon him while he slept. Because she had disobeyed him, Cupid abandoned her, and Psyche was left to wander desolately throughout the world in search of him. Finally, after many trials she was reunited with Cupid and was made immortal by Jupiter / Zeus, the king of the gods.

Vulcan ( Lat. Volcanus), in Roman mythology, the god of fire. Originally an old Italian deity who seems to have been associated with volcanic fire, Vulcan was identified with the Greek god Hephaestus in classical times. At Rome his festival, the Volcanalia, was celebrated on August 23. He was particularly revered at Ostia, where his was the principal cult.

Zeus, in Greek mythology, the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. Zeus corresponds to the Roman god Jupiter (q.v.) Zeus was considered, according to Homer, the father of the gods and of mortals. He did not create either gods or mortals; he was their father in the sense of being the protector and ruler both of the Olympian family and of the human race. He was lord of the sky, the rain god, and the cloud gatherer, who wielded the terrible thunderbolt. His breastplate was the aegis, his bird the eagle, his tree the oak. Zeus presided over the gods on Mount Olympus in Thessaly. His principal shrines were at Dodona, in Epirus, the land of the oak trees and the most ancient shrine, famous for its oracle, and at Olympia, where the Olympian Games were celebrated in his honor every fourth year. The Nemean games, held at Nemea, northwest of Argos, were also dedicated to Zeus. Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans (q.v.) Cronus and Rhea (qq.v.) and the brother of the deities Poseidon , Hades , Hestia , Demeter , and Hera (qq.v.) . According to one of the ancient myths of the birth of Zeus, Cronus, fearing that he might be dethroned by one of his children, swallowed them as they were born. Upon the birth of Zeus, Rhea wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes for Cronus to swallow and concealed the infant god in Crete, where he was fed on the milk of the goat Amalthaea and reared by nymphs.

When Zeus grew to maturity, he forced Cronus to disgorge the other children, who were eager to take vengeance on their father. In the war that followed, the Titans fought on the side of Cronus, but Zeus and the other gods were successful, and the Titans were consigned to the abyss of Tartarus (q.v.) . Zeus henceforth ruled over the sky, and his brothers Poseidon and Hades were given power over the sea and the underworld, respectively. The earth was to be ruled in common by all three. Beginning with the writings of the Greek poet Homer, Zeus is pictured in two very different ways. He is represented as the god of justice and mercy, the protector of the weak, and the punisher of the wicked.

As husband to his sister Hera, he is the father of Ares, the god of war; Hebe, the goddess of youth; Hephaestus, the god of fire; and Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. At the same time, Zeus is described as falling in love with one woman after another and resorting to all kinds of tricks to hide his infidelity from his wife. Stories of his escapades were numerous in ancient mythology, and many of his offspring were a result of his love affairs with both goddesses and mortal women. It is believed that, with the development of a sense of ethics in Greek life, the idea of a lecherous, sometimes ridiculous father god became distasteful, so later legends present Zeus in a more exalted light. His many affairs with mortals are sometimes explained as the wish of the early Greeks to trace their lineage to him. Zeus' image was represented in sculptural works as a kingly, bearded figure. The most celebrated of all statues of Zeus was Phidias' gold and ivory colossus at Olympia.

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