Zeus, known as Jupiter
or Jove in Roman mythology, was the king of the gods. He was known as the
All-Highest Thunderer and was the personification of the sky and all that came from it. As
the ruler the gods he was the guardian of political order and peace. Out of all the higher
powers, only the Fates and Destiny were able to oppose him. Zeus was attended by Nike
(Victoria), the goddess of victory. As Jupiter he was often shown attended by Fama,
goddess of fame or by Fortuna, goddess of fortune.
Zeus was married to Hera, but was prone to affairs with mortals. These affairs often
produced children, the most famous being Herakles (Hercules).
Hera (Juno in to the Romans) was not only Zeuss wife, but also his sister.
She was very beautiful and, when Zeus became king of the gods, he decided to marry her. In
honour of her wedding to Zeus a wondrous tree, with apples of gold, grew form the earth.
These apples were known as the apples of the Hesperides. Hera was the Queen of Heaven, as
well as the patroness of all marriages. She held the cow, the peacock and the cuckoo
sacred and her chariot, sandals and throne were all gold. Hera was a proud goddess who was
revengeful and jealous of Zeuss many affairs. She often tried to hurt anyone, mortal
or divine, who attracted too much of his attention. The Greeks at Argos, Sparta, and
Mycenae especially honoured her. She had three children: Ares (Mars), Hebe and
Poseidon (Neptune) was Zeus brother, sole ruler of the oceans and governor of
all waters. Poseidon was also the personification of the sea. Dissatisfied with his
position, he once conspired to dethrone Zeus, but his plot was discovered and he was
temporarily exiled to earth. Poseidon usually lived in the coral caves of his kingdom
rather than on Olympus. He had loved the Gorgon Medusa and, when drops of blood form her
severed head fell into the sea, he created from them the winged horses Pegasus and
Chrysaor. The most famous Poseidons children was Triton, whose body was half man and
half fish, and who gave his name to all his male descendants. Poseidon was principally
worshipped by seamen and horse-trainers.
Pluto (Hades) was also Zeus brother and ruler of the Infernal Regions, found
beneath earth. He was also the god of the dead and of riches, because all precious metals
are found beneath the earth. All men were afraid of him, sacrificing black sheep to gain
his favour. No temples were dedicated to him and statues of him were rare. His kingdom,
called Hades, was very difficult to access. According to the Romans there was an entrance
at Avernus, a volcanic lake not far from Cumae in Southern Italy. The Greeks believed that
there was an entrance near the Promontory of Taernarum, in Laconia. Both people believed
that once someone entered Hades, it was almost impossible for them to escape. A
three-headed dog, called Cerberus, guarded the gate to Hades. Pluto was married to
Demeter and Persephone:
Demeter (Ceres) was Zeuss sister as well as one of his numerous consorts.
She was the goddess of agriculture and civilization. Her daughter, Persephone (Kore),
shared her duties. One day, Persephone was relaxing on the island of Sicily when she
attracted the attention of Pluto. Entranced by her beauty, he stole her away to be his
One day Zeus complained of a headache. Nothing the other gods did eased him of the
intense pain, so he asked his son, Hephaestus (Vulcan), to cut his head open with
an axe. Once Zeuss head was split open, a fully armored woman bearing a spear
appeared. This was Athene (Pallas, Minerva) to the Romans. She was the patroness of
needlework, peace and defensive war. Athene was also the incarnation of wisdom and in this
from held the owl sacred. Athene was a virgin goddess, which means that like her
half-sister Artemis (Diana) she would not take a lover, remaining chaste and pure.
Apollo was the son of Zeus and Latona. He was known as the most handsome of the gods.
Apollo was god of the sun, as well as being the patron of music, medicine, poetry and all
the other fine arts. As the patron of all the fine arts he commanded the nine muses, who
were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory.
Artemis (Diana, Phoebe, Selene and Cynthia) was the daughter of Zeus and Latona
and was thus Apollos twin sister. She was goddess of the moon and the chase.
Aphrodite (Venus) was the goddess of love and beauty. She is said to have sprung from
the sea, giving her the name of Aphrodite- Greek for foam-born. She was the
patroness of lovers, gardeners and gardens. The rose, lily, hyacinth, crocus and narcissus
were sacred to her, as was the dove, the sparrow, the dolphin and the swan. She was
attended by the Hours and the three Graces: Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia. Flora, goddess
of flowers and Zephyrus, god of the west wind, obeyed her. Aphrodite was very proud and,
as punishment, Zeus ordered her to marry Hephaestus, who was not only unhandsome, but lame
as well. This marriage was very hard on him, as Aphrodite was not known for her fidelity.
She had many affairs, the most notable of which was with Ares (Mars), the god of
war. Ares and Aphrodite had several children: Hermione (Harmonia) and Cupid, who
became known as the god of love.
Hermes (Mercury) was the son of Zeus and Maia. He was represented in both Greek
and Roman art and legend as wearing winged sandals and a winged cap and holding a winged
wand. Hermes was the messenger of the gods. He was the patron of travelers, merchants and
thieves. In Greek myths he escorted souls of the dead to Hades, using the name of
Psychopompus and, as Oneicopompus he was seen as the lord of dreams and visions. He is
credited with inventing the flute and the lyre. He later traded the lyre to Apollo for his
Ares (Mars), the son of Zeus and Hera, was the god of war, and the
personification of the angry clouded sky. He was more honoured among the Romans under the
name of Mars, than he was among the Greeks under the name of Ares. He delighted in
bloodshed and strife, preferring the sounds of battle to any other music. The ancients did
not love him, but rather were terrified by him, worshipping him because they were afraid.
His attendants or children were: Eris (Discord), Phobos (Alarm), Metus (Fear),
Demios (Dread) and Pallor (Terror). He was also accompanied by his sister,
Enyo (Bellona), the goddess of war. The Romans worshipped Mars and Bellona in the
same temple, frequently sacrificing humans on their altars. In Roman myth, Ares was the
father of Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome.
Hephaestus (Vulcan) was the son Zeus and Hera, god of fire and forge. Unlike the
other gods, he avoided Olympus, preferring to remain in his forge. He had once adored his
mother, even trying to console her when Zeus ignored her. One day Zeus, to punish Hera for
her fits of jealousy, hung her out of heaven, bound by a golden chain. Hephaestus tried to
help her by drawing her up and freeing her, but Zeus interrupted him. Angry at his
sons interference, Zeus threw Hephaestus out of heaven. Even though the long fall to
earth was not fatal, it injured one of his legs and Hephaestus was lame and slightly
deformed for the rest of his life. Even though he had risked himself for her, Hera never
tried to help him or find out if he was safe. Hurt by her indifference, Hephaestus vowed
never to return to Olympus. Instead he lived and worked at his forge in the depths of Mt
Bacchus (Dionysus) was the son of Zeus and Semele, whose father was the king of
Thebes. He was the patron of vine-growers, wine-distillers and anyone who makes or drinks
wine. The Romans regarded him as a merry god, while the Greeks considered him to be the
more solemn and serious god of fertility and vegetation.
Hestia (Vesta) was the goddess of fire, especially fire kindled in a hearth.
Both the Greeks and the Romans held her in high honour. The Roman temples of Vesta were
circular and served by virgin priestesses, called the Vestal Virgins.