Greek Gods

There are three generations of Greek gods: Primordial, Titan, and Olympian.

The ancient Greeks believed the gods were involved in all aspects of human life—work, theater, justice, politics, marriage, battle.

Greek gods - Gaia
Gaia (bottom-right) rises out of the ground, detail of the Gigantomachy frieze, Pergamon Altar, Pergamon museum, Berlin.

Primordial Gods

The primordial gods or “Protogenoi” of Greek mythology were the most basic components of the universe which emerged fully-formed at creation. They included Earth, Air, Sea, Sky, Fresh Water, Underworld, Darkness, Night, Light, Day, Procreation and Time.

The attributes of the central figure on this panel of the Ara Pacis mark her as an earth and mother goddess, often identified as Tellus.

Gaia was the Greek goddess of Earth, mother of all life, from her the world was born, and her creation brought calm to an otherwise chaotic universe. Tellus Mater, the Roman goddess of earth, agriculture and fertility whose Greek counterpart was Gaia.

Uranos - primordial greek god
A Roman mosaic depicting the Greek primordial gods Uranus (in the guise of the later Aion) and Gaia. Uranos stands on the Zodiac-Wheel, 3rd century CE. (Glyptothek, Munich)

“At the beginning there was only Khaos (Air), Nyx (Night), dark Erebos (Darkness), and deep Tartaros (Hell’s Pit). Ge (Earth), Aer (Air) and Ouranos (Heaven) had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Nyx (Night) laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebos (Darkness), and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros (Love) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in deep Tartaros (Hell-Pit) with dark Khaos (Air), winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race [the birds], which was the first to see the light. That of the Immortals did not exist until Eros had brought together all the ingredients of the world, and from their marriage Ouranos (Heaven), Okeanos (Ocean), Ge (Earth) and the imperishable race of blessed gods (Theoi) sprang into being.”

– Aristophanes, Birds 685

Ouranos, the sky, and Gaia, the earth, had twelve sons and six daughters. He locked the eldest of these, the giant Kyklopes (Cyclopes) and Hekatonkheires (Hecatoncheires), deep inside the belly of Earth. Gaia suffered immense pain and persuaded her Titan sons to rebel.


Cronus, King of the Titans and the god of time, in particular time when viewed as a destructive, all-devouring force.

The Titans were six brothers the first was Kronos (Cronus), Koios (Coeus), Krios (Crius), Iapetos (Iapetus), Hyperion and Okeanos (Oceanus), and six sisters Titanes–Rhea, Theia, Phoibe (Phoebe), Mnemosyne, Themis and Tethys. Cronus, their king ruled the cosmos before the Olympians came to power, this period is known as the Golden Age.

Their sons and daughters were also called titans, though sometimes called second generation Titan including Atlas, Prometheus and Helios.

Lady Justice is based on the Greek goddess Themis − honored as clear-sighted − and the Roman goddess Justicia − honored as representing the virtue of justice.

Statue of Lady Justice in front of the Romer in Frankfurt - Germany
Statue of Lady Justice in front of the Romer in Frankfurt – Germany

Hyperion, Krios, Koios and Iapetos positioned themselves at the corners of the world, ready to grasp their father as he descended to lie with Earth, while Kronos (Cronus), took his place in the center and there he castrated Ouranos with an adamantine sickle. Cronus cast them from the land into the surging sea. The water swept away over the main a long time: and a white foam spread around them from the immortal flesh, and in it there grew a maiden. Gods and man call her Aphrodite.

The sky-god’s blood fell upon the earth, producing the avenging Erinyes and the Gigantes (Giants).

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The twelve Olympians are the major deities of the Greek pantheon, commonly considered to be Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter, Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, Apollo, Ares, Hephaestus, Hermes, and either Hestia or Dionysus.

Hades lives in the underworld and not in mount Olympus so he is not considered one of the twelve. They also called him the God of Wealth or “the rich one” because he possessed the precious metals of the earth. Hades had a cap or helmet that made its wearer invisible. His wife was Persephone, Demeter’s only daughter, whom he kidnapped and made his queen.

Related: The myth of Sisyphus

This is how the Olympians rose to power and brief introduction of what they represent:

Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own children, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to prevent the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born, Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children.

Zeus, king of the greek gods
Zeus, King of the Gods
God of the sky, lightning, thunder, law and order

Rhea kept Zeus hidden in a cave on Mount Ida, Crete. According to some versions of the story, he was then raised by a goat named Amalthea. While a company of Kouretes, armored male dancers, shouted and clapped their hands to make enough noise to mask the baby’s cries from Cronus.

Zeus grew up, forced Cronus to disgorge his swallowed offspring, and led the Olympians in a ten year war against the Titans, driving them in defeat into the pit of Tartarus.

After the fall of the Titan-gods, Zeus and his brothers drew lots to divide rule of the cosmos – Zeus won the heavens, Poseidon the sea and Hades the underworld.


Hera was Queen of the Olympian gods. In the story of the Quest of the Golden Fleece, Hera was a gracious protector of the heroes. Hera had few, if any, redeeming qualities. She never forgot an injury.


the Greek sea god, but he was also the god of horses and of earthquakes. (Thus, many of his temples were inland.) And he had some seriously strange children. Though humanoid, he fathered both the winged horse Pegasus (by Medusa, no less) and the Cyclops Polyphemus, who Odysseus and his crew blinds in the Odyssey. His Roman equivalent was Neptune.


The Herald of the Gods, Hermes was a pastoral figure, responsible for protecting livestock. He symbolized fertility, music, luck, and deception. The Odyssey depicts him as a messenger god. His Roman equivalent was Mercury.


Although Hestia appeared in a few stories, she was not overly significant in Greek mythology. She was a sibling to Demeter, Hades, Poseidon, Hera, and Zeus.


Demeter was the daughter of Cronos and Rhea. She was the goddess of harvest and fertility.Only women attended the Thesmophoria, a fertility festival held in honor of Demeter.


Ares was the god of war. He was depicted as both cruel and a coward, but greatly feared among the Greek populace for his battle lust and violence. Despite his reputation for violence, Ares was not always respected by the other gods and was often the subject of ridicule and scorn. Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera, but neither of his parents liked him which often made him feel outcast by the Olympians, apart from Aphrodite, with whom he carried on a lengthy affair. His symbols include the vulture and the dog, and he often carried a bloody spear.


Aphrodite was a protector of sailors and the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality. According to mythology, she was born from the sea foam that formed after the god Uranus was castrated and his genitals were thrown into the sea by his son Cronus. Although Aphrodite married the god Hephaestus, she had many affairs with other gods and mortals, including Ares, the god of war. Artist often portray her as a beautiful woman, and her symbols included roses, myrtle trees, doves, and seashells.


Apollo was the god of music and poetry, as well as healing and plague — he could both cure epidemics and cause sickness to spread with his arrows of plague. He was often depicted as a skilled archer, lyre player, and associated with light and truth. Apollo was also known for his beauty and was often portrayed as youthful and handsome, and was seen as a benevolent and inspiring deity. His symbols include the lyre, laurel tree, crow, and dolphin. Apollo was famously the patron of the oracle at Delphi, and his influence can be seen in many aspects of ancient Greek culture, along with his twin sister, Artemis.


Artemis was daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo. She was primarily a virgin huntress, goddess of wildlife and patroness of hunters. She was an important goddess in the lives of women, especially when it came to marriage and young creatures.


Pallas Athena was a major figure in Greek mythology, known not only for her wisdom, war prowess, and skill in crafts but also for her role as a protector of the people of Athens. Numerous works of art throughout history immortalized her iconic image, with helmet, shield, and spear. But Athena was not just a warrior goddess; she represented intelligence and strategic thinking, which often allowed her to outmaneuver her opponents. She was skilled in the art of war and battle strategy, differentiating her from Ares and his bloodlust for combat. And she often helped heroes such as Odysseus, and Heracles. According to myth, Athena sprang full-grown from the forehead of Zeus and became his favorite child. Her symbols include the owl and the olive tree, and she is also the namesake of the city of Athens.


Hephaestus was known for his exceptional skill as a blacksmith. He was responsible for creating many of the weapons and tools used by the gods. Despite being physically weak and unattractive, the other gods respected Hephaestus for his talents and often relied on him to create intricate and complex works of art. He symbolizes volcanoes and legends say his forge located underneath a volcano. Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera, and he married Aphrodite the goddess of love and peace. Though his union with that goddess, which was against her will, was fraught with scandal due to her ongoing affair with Ares. His symbols include the anvil and the forge.


Dionysus was the god of wine, which he invented. In ancient Greece, Dionysus was honored with springtime festivals that centered on theater called the Dionysia. They held the festivals every March in Athens, and playwrights showcased new tragic, comedic, and satyrical dramas in the deity’s honor. Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Semele, a mortal. His symbols include ivy, the snake, and grapes — particularly if they could be used to make wine. He is commonly depicted in the company of satyrs.

Dionysus represents fertility, theater, and religious ecstasy. Artists often depicted Dionysus holding a thyrsus, a type of staff topped with a pine cone. And sometimes accompanied by wild animals such as panthers and tigers. He was wild and chaotic behavior, and had the power to drive people to madness or ecstasy. Dionysus also represented rebirth and transformation, and they often invoked him during rites of passage and initiation ceremonies.

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