In general, the Olympians are the gods who live on Mount Olympus, all of them somehow related to the supreme god Zeus. More specifically, the Twelve Olympians are the major deities of the Greek pantheon: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hestia, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Hermes. Hestia was often replaced by Dionysus. Hades and Persephone were sometimes included as part of the twelve Olympians (primarily due to the influence of the Eleusinian Mysteries), although in general Hades was excluded, because he resided permanently in the underworld and never visited Mount Olympus. Other gods, like Heracles or Asclepius, could also be included.
The Twelve Olympians
In Greek mythology, the Twelve Olympians, also known as the Dodekatheon (Greek: Δωδεκάθεον < δώδεκα, dōdeka, "twelve"+ θεοί, theoi, "gods"), were the principal deities of the Greek pantheon, residing atop a mythical Mount Olympus. The Olympians gained their supremacy in a war of gods in which Zeus led his siblings to victory over the Titans.
The concept of the "Twelve Gods" is older than any extant Greek or Roman sources, and is likely of Anatolian origin. 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 cult of the Twelve Olympians can be traced to 6th-century BC Athens and probably has no precedent in the Mycenaean period. The altar to the Twelve Olympians at Athens is usually dated to the archonship of the younger Pesistratos, in 522/521 BC.
There was some variation as to which deities were included, but the canonical twelve as commonly portrayed in art and poetry were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hestia, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus and Hermes.
Hades, known in the Eleusinian tradition as Pluto, was not usually included among the Olympians because his realm was the underworld. Plato connected the Twelve Olympians with the twelve months, and implies that he considered Pluto one of the twelve in proposing that the final month be devoted to him and the spirits of the dead. In Phaedrus Plato aligns the Twelve with the Zodiac and would exclude Hestia from their rank. But Eudoxus of Cnidus was the first to relate gods and signs.
In ancient Greek religion, the "Olympian Gods" and the "Cults of Twelve Gods" were often relatively distinct concepts. The Dodekatheon of Herodotus included Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hermes, Athena, Apollo, Alpheus, Cronus, Rhea and the Charites. Herodotus also mentions that Heracles was included as one of the Twelve by some. At Kos, Heracles and Dionysus are added to the Twelve, and Ares and Hephaestus are not. For Pindar, the Bibliotheca, and Herodorus, Heracles is not one of the Twelve Gods, but the one who established their cult.Lucian (2nd century AD) includes Heracles and Asclepius as members of the Twelve, without explaining which two had to give way for them.
Hebe, Helios, Eros, Selene and Persephone are other important gods and goddesses who are sometimes included in a group of twelve. Eros is often depicted alongside the other twelve, especially his mother Aphrodite, but not usually counted in their number.
The Roman poet Ennius gives the Roman equivalents (the Dii Consentes) as six male-female complements, preserving the place of Vesta (Greek Hestia), who played a crucial role in Roman religion as a state goddess maintained by the Vestals.
List of the Olympians
The twelve major gods
|Greek name||Roman name||Image||Functions and attributes|
|Zeus||Jupiter||King of the gods and ruler of Mount Olympus; god of the sky, and thunder. Youngest child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. Symbols include the thunderbolt, eagle, oak tree, scepter, and scales. Brother and husband of Hera, although he had many lovers. Brother of Poseidon and Hades.|
|Hera||Juno||Queen of the gods and the goddess of marriage and family. Symbols include the peacock, pomegranate, crown, cuckoo, lion, and cow. Youngest daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Wife and sister of Zeus. Being the goddess of marriage, she frequently tried to get revenge on Zeus' lovers and their children.|
|Poseidon||Neptune||God of the seas, earthquakes, and tidal wave. Symbols include the horse, bull, dolphin, and trident. Middle son of Cronus and Rhea. Brother of Zeus and Hades. Married to the Nereid Amphitrite, although, like most male Greek Gods, he had many lovers.|
|Demeter||Ceres||Goddess of fertility, agriculture, nature, and the seasons. Symbols include the poppy, wheat, torch, and pig. Middle daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Her Latin name, Ceres, gave us the word "cereal".|
|Dionysus||Bacchus||God of wine, celebrations, and ecstasy. Patron god of the art of theatre. Symbols include the grapevine, ivy, cup, tiger, panther, leopard, dolphin, and goat. Son of Zeus and the mortal Theban princess Semele. Married to the Cretan princess Ariadne. The youngest Olympian, as well as the only one to have a mortal mother.|
|Apollo||Apollo (or Phoebus)[A]||God of light, knowledge, healing, plague and darkness, the arts, music, poetry, prophecy, archery, the sun, manly youth, and beauty. Son of Zeus and Leto. Symbols include the sun, lyre, bow and arrow, raven, dolphin, wolf, swan, and mouse. Twin brother of Artemis.|
|Artemis||Diana||Goddess of the hunt, virginity, childbirth, archery, the moon, and all animals. Symbols include the moon, deer, hound, she-bear, snake, cypress tree, and bow and arrow. Daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo.|
|Hermes||Mercury||Messenger of the gods; god of commerce, thieves, and games. Symbols include the caduceus (staff entwined with two snakes), winged sandals and cap, stork, and tortoise (whose shell he used to invent the lyre). Son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. The second-youngest Olympian, just older than Dionysus.|
|Athena||Minerva||Virgin goddess of wisdom, handicrafts, defense, and strategic warfare. Symbols include the owl and the olive tree. Daughter of Zeus and the Oceanid Metis, she rose from her father's head fully grown and in full battle armor after he swallowed her mother.|
|Ares||Mars||God of war, violence, and bloodshed. Symbols include the boar, serpent, dog, vulture, spear, and shield. Son of Zeus and Hera, all the other gods (except Aphrodite) despised him. His Latin name, Mars, gave us the word "martial."|
|Aphrodite||Venus||Goddess of love, beauty, and desire. Symbols include the dove, bird, apple, bee, swan, myrtle, and rose. Daughter of Zeus and the Oceanid Dione, or 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. Married to Hephaestus, although she had many adulterous affairs, most notably with Ares. Her name gave us the word "aphrodisiac", while her Latin name, Venus, gave us the word "venereal".[B]|
|Hephaestus||Vulcan||Master blacksmith and craftsman of the gods; god of fire and the forge. Symbols include fire, anvil, axe, donkey, hammer, tongs, and quail. Son of Hera, either by Zeus or alone. Married to Aphrodite, though unlike most divine husbands, he was rarely ever licentious. His Latin name, Vulcan, gave us the word "volcano."|
- ^ Romans also associated Phoebus with Helios and the sun itself, however, they also used the Greek name: Apollo.
- ^ According to an alternate version of her birth, Aphrodite was born of Uranus, Zeus' grandfather, after Cronus threw his castrated genitals into the sea. This supports the etymology of her name, "foam-born". As such, Aphrodite would belong to the same generation as Cronus, Zeus' father, and would technically be Zeus' aunt. See the birth of Aphrodite
Other Olympian gods
The following gods and goddess are sometimes mentioned amongst the twelve Olympians.
|Greek Name||Roman Names||Image||Functions and Attributes|
|Hestia||Vesta||Goddess of the hearth and of the right ordering of domesticity and the family; she was born into the first Olympian generation and was one of the original twelve Olympians, until she gave her throne to Dionysus in order to keep the peace, making her the most generous and gentlest of the gods. She is the first child of Cronus and Rhea, eldest sister of Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hera, and Zeus. Also the eldest of the Olympians.|
|Persephone||Proserpina||Queen of the Underworld and a daughter of Demeter and Zeus. Also goddess of spring time. She became the consort of Hades, the god of the underworld, when he kidnapped her. Demeter, driven to distraction by the disappearance of her daughter, neglected the earth so that nothing would grow. Zeus eventually ordered Hades to allow Persephone to leave the underworld and rejoin her mother. Hades did this, but because Persephone had eaten six of the twelve pomegranate seeds in the underworld when Hades first kidnapped her, she had to spend six months in the underworld each year. This created the seasons when for six months everything grows and flourishes then for the other six months everything wilts and dies.|
|Hades||Pluto (sometimes Orcus or
|God of the Underworld, dead and the riches under the Earth ("Pluto" translates to "The Rich One"); he was born into the first Olympian generation, the elder brother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and Demeter, and younger brother of Hestia, but as he lives in the Underworld rather than on Mount Olympus, he is typically not included amongst the twelve Olympians.|
|Asclepius||Vejovis||The god of medicine and healing. He represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia ("Health"), Iaso ("Medicine"), Aceso ("Healing"), Aglæa/Ægle ("Healthy Glow"), and Panacea ("Universal Remedy"). He is the son of Apollo and Coronis.|
|Eros||Cupid||The god of sexual love and beauty. He was also worshipped as a fertility deity, son of Aphrodite and Ares. He was depicted often as carrying a lyre or bow and arrow. He is often accompanied by dolphins, roses, and torches.|
|Hebe||Juventas||She is the daughter of Zeus and Hera. Hebe was the cupbearer for the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, serving their nectar and ambrosia, until she was married to Heracles.|
|Heracles||Hercules||A divine hero, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson (and half-brother) of Perseus (Περσεύς). He was the greatest of the Greek heroes, a paragon of masculinity and a champion of the Olympian order against chthonic monsters.|
|The god of nature, the wild, shepherds and flocks, mountains, hunting, the forest, and rustic music, as well as the companion of the nymphs. The root of the word 'panic' comes from the god Pan.|
Minor residents of Mount Olympus
The following gods, goddesses, and demigods were not usually counted as Olympians, although they had close ties to them.
- Aeolus - King of the winds, keeper of the Anemoi, master of the seasonal winds.
- Amphitrite - Queen of the Sea, wife of Poseidon.
- Anemoi – Wind gods consisting of Boreas (north), Notus (south), Zephyrus (west), and Eurus (east).
- Aura - Goddess of cool breezes and fresh air.
- Bia – Personification of force.
- Circe - minor goddess of magic, not to be confused with Hecate.
- Deimos - God of terror, brother of Phobos.
- Dione – Oceanid; Mother of Aphrodite by Zeus in Homer's version.
- Eileithyia – Goddess of childbirth; daughter of Hera and Zeus.
- Enyo - A goddess of warfare, companion of Ares. She was also the sister of Ares in some cases. In those cases, her parents are Zeus and Hera.
- Eos – Personification of dawn.
- Eris – Goddess of discord and strife.
- Ganymede – Cupbearer of the gods' palace at Olympus.
- Graces - Goddesses of beauty and attendants of Aphrodite and Hera.
- Harmonia - Goddess of concord and harmony, opposite of Eris, daughter of Aphrodite.
- Hecate - Goddess associated with magic, witches and crossroads.
- Helios - Titan; personification of the sun.
- Horae – Wardens of Olympus.
- Hypnos - God of sleep, father of Morpheus and son of Nyx.
- Iris – Personification of the Rainbow, also the messenger of Olympus along with Hermes.
- Kratos – Personification of power.
- Leto – Titaness of the unseen; the mother of Apollo and Artemis.
- Moirai - Goddesses of destiny and alotters of fate.
- Momus - God of satire, mockery, satires, and poets.
- Morpheus – God of dreams.
- Muses – Nine goddesses of science and arts. Their names are Calliope, Urania, Clio, Polyhymnia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Thalia, Euterpe, and Erato.
- Nemesis – Greek goddess of retribution and revenge.
- Nike – Goddess of victory.
- Nyx - Goddess of night.
- Paean – Physician of the gods.
- Perseus – Son of Zeus, slayer of Medusa, the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty.
- Phobos - God of fear, brother of Deimos.
- Selene – Titaness; personification of the moon.
- Styx - Goddess of the River Styx, the river where gods swear oaths on.
- Thanatos - God of Death, sometimes a personification of Death.
- Theseus - Son of Poseidon, first Hero of Athens and slayer of the Minotaur.
- Triton - Messenger of the Seas, son of Poseidon and Amphitrite. He holds a twisted conch shell.
- Tyche - Goddess of Luck.
- Zelus – Personification of Emulation.
- Used rarely, in Byzantine Greek, e.g. by Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos, Athanasius of Alexandria or Ducas.
- "Dodekatheon". Papyros-Larousse-Britanicca (in Greek). 2007.
- Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, 1991. ISBN 978-0-631-15624-6. p. 125.
- According to Stoll, Heinrich Wilhelm (translated by R. B. Paul) (1852). Handbook of the religion and mythology of the Greeks. Francis and John Rivington. p. 8. "The limitation of their number [of the Olympians] to twelve seems to have been a comparatively modern idea"
- Plato, The Laws, 828 d-e
- "Greek mythology". Encyclopedia Americana 13. 1993. p. 431.
- , Plato: Phaedrus, 246 e-f
- C.R. Long, The Twelve Gods of Greece and Rome
- Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Ulrich von (1931–1932). Der Glaube der Hellenen (Volume 1) (in German). Berlin: Weidmansche Buchhandlung. p. 329.
- Herodotus, The Histories, 2.43–44
- Berger-Doer, Gratia (1986). "Dodekatheoi". Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 3. pp. 646–658.
- Pindar, Olympian Odes, 10.49
- North John A., Beard Mary, Price Simon R.F. "The Religions of Imperial Rome". Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology. (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p.259. ISBN 0-521-31682-0.
- Hacklin, Joseph. "The Mythology of Persia". Asiatic Mythology (Asian Educational Services, 1994), p.38. ISBN 81-206-0920-4.
- See, for example, Ovid's Met. I 441, 473, II 454, 543, 598, 612, 641, XII 585, XVIII 174, 715, 631, and others.
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