The text on this page is used with permission from Oxford University Press from A Dictionary of World Mythology by Arthur Cotterell.
- The hero of the Illiad, by Homer. Son of the king of Thessaly and the
nymph Thetis, Achilles was an invincible warrior with inexplicable fits of
anger. Thetis sought to make Achilles immortal by dipping him in the river
Styx, which she succeeded in except for the heel of Achilles, his one
Aeneas - The famous Trojan-Roman hero; the son of Anchises and the goddess Venus (Aphrodite).
Aesir - In Germanic mythology the two races of gods were aesir and vanir. Aesir is thought to be derived from the word Asia.
Antichrist - In medieval Christian mythology, the prodigious tyrant of the last days, the arch-enemy of Christ. It was a notion that combined Persian dualism with Judeo-Christian apocalypse.
Aphodite - The Greek Goddess of love. Aphrodite was not only the goddess of sexual love but of all affection and impulses that underpin social life. She is associated with her Roman counterpart, Venus.
Ares - The Greek god of war, the son of Zeus and Hera. An unpopular deity, Ares received serious worship only in central and northern Greece. Ares appears to be an instigator of violence.
Artemis - The virgin huntress, goddess of wild places and wild things. Her cult was restricted to the surrounding countryside of Arcadia aher 'bear virgins' attended to her.
Arthur - Son of Uther Pendragon, King of Britain and Ingraine, wife of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall, Arthur was taken out of wedlock and raised by the wizard Merlin. By pulling a sword, Excalibur, out of a rock (a task theat no one else could accomplish) he revealed himself as the future king. He was the focus and inspiration of late Celtic mythology.
Asclepius - The greek patron of medicine and the son of Apollo and Coronis. He not only cured the sick, but brought the dead back to life. His authority ove Hades stemmed from the consequences of his own birth.
Athena - Or Athene, the daughter of Zeus and Metis 'counsel', Athena sprang into being fully formed and fully armed from the head of her father after he swallowed a pregnant Metis. A warlike virgin, Athena eschewed senseless violence and and relied on the boldness of wisdom. Athena was the patroness of craftsmen, particularly smiths.
Balder - The bleeding god of Germanic mythology. Known for his wisdom and good looks, Odin's second son was a northern Adonis, Attis, Tummuz, and Osiris. Balder was killed by a shaft of mistletoe, a sacred plant in Europe.
Bestiary - Collections of materials on animals, usually legendary; a vogue in the middle ages.
Bor - Literally: 'born'. According to Germanic legend the primeval cow Audumla, 'the Nourisher', licked icy rocks and by the end of the first day there appeared the hair of a man. The next day it was the head and after that the entire man. This man was Buri, who begat a son called Bor who took to the daughter of a frost giant. Bestla and Bor had 3 famous sons, namely, Odin, Villi and Ve.
Boreas - The name given to the Greek god of the north wind.
Bran - Son of Febal. He is the royal hero of the eighth-century Irish epic The Voyage of Bran and His Adventures. The Irish distinguished between Voyages and Adventure, the former being journey's to foreign lands. The tale of Bran combines both voyages and adventures.
Bres - Legendary Irish king. Son of Elatha, a prince of Fomoire, a race with single arms and legs and Eriu, a woman of Tuatha De Danann. Bres had another name, Gormac, 'dutiful son' but did not live up to it. The Tuatha gave the throne of Ireland to him in hope that it would be able to ensure a peace between themselves and the Fomoire.
Cadmus - the founder of Thebes. Cadmus founded the city in Boeitia on advise from the Oracle at Delphi.
Charon - The aged ferryman of the greek underworld. A coin was out into his mouth, his fee for conveying a shade across the rivers of Hades.
Circe - In Homer's Oddyssey, a goddess living on the fabulous island of Aeaea, later identified with Italy. Her maggical powers turned Odysseu's men into swine.
Cormac mac Airt - The Irish Solomon. The wisdom of Cormac was derived from a wonderful golden cup, which broke when three lies were told over it, but became whole when three truths were spoken over it. During the King's reign, Tara possessed an unprecedented reign of prosperity.
Coronation - The ancient West-Asian idea of the divinely appointed monarch took root in Europe at Charlemagne's coronation by the Pope on 25 December 800. The Christian rites for king always made it very clear that the temporal monarch was in some sense being ordained, for he was sacramentally anointed an had the hands of the Bishop laid upon him in the same manner as at the ordination of a priest.
Cuchulainn - Semi-legendary Irish hero, said to have lived in teh first century. His father was Lug, a Tuatha cheiftain. Cuchulainn was a youth of extrodinary beauty, stature and gaeity, the favorite of ladies and poets, yet he changed into a appaling spectacle when the battle frenzy was upon him.
Cupid - The Itlalian Cupid or Amor, the Greek Eros-god of love, son of Aphrodite. Cupid was thought of as a beautiful bu wanton boy, armed with a golden quiver full of "arrowed desires".
Cyclops - Literally 'circle eyed'. They were the one-eyed giants of Greek mythology.
Daedalus - Legendary Greek craftsman. He was reponsible for the building of the Labyrinth at the command of King Minos. The Labyrinth held the Minotaur, a monster half human and half bull.
Dagda - Literal meaning: 'the good god'. The ancient Irish deity of life and death; with one end of his staff he killed, with the other he restored. Dagda was the chief of the Tuatha De Danaan, and a mighty aid to the people at the Second Battle of Mag Tuired.He was fire, all-father and the lord of great knowledge and the god of druidism, magic. In his possession were two swine, one always roasting, the other always growning, an inexhaustible cauldron and ever-laden fruit trees.
Danaan - The mother of the ancient gods of Ireland and patroness of the Tuatha, the wizards. She may have had connections with the rivers.
Demeter - Demeter of Greece, Ceres of Italy, the goddess of vegetation and fruitfulness, especially corn, had several consorts including Zeus and Poseidon. The Athenians were worshippers of Demeter.
Dies Irae - Literally: day of wrath. This relates to the Christian oreoccupation with the end of the world, associated with the Millennium.
Dionysus - In Greek mythology the youthful deity of vegetation, wine and ecstatsy. The son of Zeus by Semele, a Theban Princess, Dionysus was 'the roaring one', a 'bull-horned god', because he often manifested himself as a bull rampant with fertility and power. Dionysus was a popular deity with a largely female following.
Dioscuri - The sons of Zeus, Castor and Polydeuces, to the Romans Pollux. They are called by Homer the brothers of Helen, whom they rescued from Attica after Theseus had carried he there. They were Argonauts. The cult of Dioscuri was very important to the Spartans, since they associated their worship with a tradition of dual kingship.
Dives - The medieval Christian personification of a rich man. Dives was doomed to hell-fire. Dives are the epitome of meanness, weighed down by his money bags and tormented by the devil.
Druidism - An ancient order of priests, teachers, diviners and magicians. The name itself is though to relate to the word drus, 'oak tree'. Caesar reported that the Druids met annualy at a site believed to be the center of Gaul.
Eileithyia - The Greek goddess of birth, whom romans identified with Lucina, one of Juno's attributes.
Empedocles - A native of Acargas, this Greek philosopher flourished during the 5th century BC. Apart from his writings and lectures, Empodecles was renowned for his success of curing diseases as well as his active support of democratic principles.
Eos - The winged Greek dawn Goddess. According to Hesiod, she was the daughter of Titan Hyperion and Thea. Like her Hindu counterpart , she was imagined as a charioteer riding across the sky just before sunrise. Her two horses were Shiner and Bright.
Erinyes - Literal meaning: 'the angry ones'. They were the avenging deities of Greek mythology, the Furies who pursued the outgoers of custom. These three chthonic goddesses, born of the blood of mutilated Ouranos in Gaia's womb were imagined as ugly women with serpents entwined in their hair.
Europa - The daughter of Agenor, King of Tyre. Her sons were Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon.
Fin MacCool - The Fianna was an old cycle of epic tales concerning Finn and his son Osin, celebrate the splendours of the Irish kings in the thrid century.
Fortuna - An Italian goddess associated with the Greek goddess of luck Tyche. She worked obscurely, lifting one man up, while simultaneously pushing another man down.
Frey - The most famous of the vanir were the twin deities Frey and Freya, the son and daughter of Njrod, the handsome sea god. The brother and sister were instrumental in bringing together the aesir and the frey.
Frigg - In Germanic mythology, she was the wife of Odin and the mother of the gods. A fertility goddess, Frigg must have come northj befre the vanir and in this movement lost the active aspects of her divinity.
Gawain - Gawain was the perfect knight, the strict upholder of chivalry and the enemy of sir Lancelot.
Gogmagog - The giant figure cut into the chalk hills near Cambridge. Gogmagog was connected to fertility rites of the pre-historic religion. Gogmagog was one of the many chalk cults that existed in the are. The age and identity of this pre-Celtic figure remains a mystery.
Gorgon - The three frightful sisters named Stentho, Eurayle and Medusa. Theyhad snakes for hair and to look n them turned people to stone.
Grail - Sangreal, the Holy Grail. One of the most widespread legends of the Middle Ages. The Grail was said to be the vessel of the last supper and, at Crucifixion, the one that received blood from the spear thrust in Christ's side.
Grendel - Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon epic poem, the most important work of Old English literature. The poem tells of a hero, a Scandinavian prince named Beowulf, who rids the Danes of the monster Grendel, half man and half fiend.
Hades - In Greek mythology, was one of the worldly sons of Kronos. He was Zeus's brother and was ruler of the underworld. He was extremely fierce, so fierce that people turned their eyes when making sacrifices to him.
Hecate, in Greek mythology, goddess of darkness, and the daughter of the Titans Perses and Asteria. Unlike Artemis, who represented the moonlight and splendor of the night, Hecate represented its darkness and its terrors. On moonless nights she was believed to roam the earth with a pack of ghostly, howling dogs. She was the goddess of sorcery and witchcraft and was especially worshiped by magicians and witches, who sacrificed black lambs and black dogs to her.
Hephaistos - The Greek smith god. He was lame as a result of having interfered in a quarrel between his parents, Zeus and Hera. Hephaistos was so ugly that Hera threw him into the deep, but he was rescued by sea nymphs.
Hera - The sister-wife of Zeus and the earth goddess of Argos, she was the protectress of marraige, childbirth and home. Often her jealousy led to disaster for gods, heroes, and men.
Heracles - The Roman Hercules. The greatest of heroes in Greek mythology. Son of Theban Alcmene and Zeus, Heracles's life was shaped by the animosity of Hera, who pursued him with relentless hostility. She drove him so mad that he killed his own family. To expiate this crime he was sentenced to the famous twelve labors. Heracles was a popular figure in Greek mythology.
Hermaphroditus - Son of Hermes and Aphrodite. He was a female boy.
Hermes - In Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. A popular deity, Hermes was the messenger of the gods who often led men astray. He was a popular trickster figure in Greek Mythology. He was the patron of good luck and fortune.
Hypnos - Literally: 'sleep'. According to Hesiod's Theogony, Hypnos dwelt in the underworld and never set his eyes out on the sun, but during the hours of the night, came softly out into the world and brought sweet rest to men.
Iphigenia - The daughter sacrificed by Agamemnon in order to gain a fair wind to troy. The Athenians combined her worship with the worship of Artemis.
Janus - An old Italian deity represented with two faces looking opposite ways. His double gated temple on the Forum in Rome had a symbolic significance: it was open in time of war and closed in time of peace. Janus must have represented fortunes as the army had to pass through a gateway in order to start a campaign. The gate could have represented the two possible outcomes, success or failure.
Jason - Legendary Greek hero and leader of the Argonauts, the stalwarts who sailed to Colchis in the Argo in order to find the Golden Fleece. Jason performed many seemingly impossible task and ultimately toppled a usurper. Jason accomplished these feats with the aid of Medea, a Colchian Princess. Jason was killed when a piece of the rotting Argo fell on his head.
Juno - The queen of heaven and the wife of Jupiter in Roman mythology. Her origin is obscure but she seems to be an Italian mother goddess . At Rome she was worshipped along with Jupiter and Minerva.
Jupiter - Also called Jove, he was the Latin version of the Indo-European sky god. Together with Juno and Minerva he formed the trinity of gods worshipped in Rome. He was originally a sky god connected to the elements and agricultural cycle, but later changed.
Kronos - In Greek mythology Kronos was the Titan son of Gaia, earth and Ouranos, sky. He emasculated his sky father and took control of the world and married Rhea, his sister. He followed the example of Ouranos and ate his sons as he was warned that he would be displaced by one of them.
Kul - The Syrian water spirit, an evil being living in deep waters. It had a human shape.
Lancelot - The most attractive and splendid of King Arthur's knights and his competitor for Guinevere's love. Arthur abandoned all sense of rightness, but was perfect from a woman's standpoint.
Leib-olmai - Meaning: alder man. The bear man, or bear god, honored by the Lapps. He was the god that gave luck to the hunter, preventing injury in the skirmish with the bear. At bear feists, the hunters faces were sprinkled with alder bark, in honor of Leib-olmai.
Lucretia - The rape of Lucretia toppled the Etruscan kings of Rome.
Limbo - The realm of the virtuous Pagan dead.
Loki - The mischief maker of the Germanic gods. Fickle and false, clever and cunning, the trickster god was the father of lies. Probably a personification of a forest fire, one of the most destructive agencies known to the ancient peoples, the sky god ultimately would hasten Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods.
Lucretia - The rape of Lucretia was the crime that toppled the semi-legendary Etruscan Kings of Rome.
Manannan mac Lir - The eponymus hero of the manxmen. He was the first king and a great magician/ medicine-man.
Mars - Next to Jupiter, Mars enjoyed highest honors in Rome. Exalting in military power and glory, this war god was raised above the status of his Greek counterpart, Ares. Mars also protected farmers and herdsmen and was also called Silvanus. He was father to Romulus, who built the walls of Rome.
Merlin - The Archetypical wizard of the Arthurian legends. He brought together the royal couple who were to become Arthur's parents and watched over Arthur's youth, preparing him in secret for the hour of his destiny.
Minerva - The Roman goddess of Wisdom and the arts, she was identified with the Greek Athena. Her name contains the root mens, meaning thought.
Midas - Legendary King of Phyrgia. Several stories have been collected about his name. The King received the ability to turn everything he touched into gold when he saved a satyr.
Minos - The Cretan king, he appears to be both a law-giver and an oppressor.
Moirai - In Greek mythology, the three goddesses who determined human life and destiny also known as the fates.
Naglfar - A ghostly ship made from the nail pairings of the dead. Hence the obligation among Germanic peoples ensure that none went to the graves with nails ushorn. At Ragnarok, the destruction of the gods, the Naglfar would slip its moorings in the violent seas whipped up by the monster Jormungandr.
Nemesis - A Greek goddess unsuccessfully pursued by Zeus.
Nestor - The elder statesman of the Greeks during the Trojan War. He was 'the master of the courteous word, the clear-voiced orator", who tried to reconcile the enraged Achilles to Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the Greek host, when they fell out of the plain of Troy.
Nike - The goddess of victory in Ancient Greece. She was honored by Zeus because she fought on the side of the gods against the Titans.
Num - The sky god of the Samoyeds. The heavens were supreme in Uralian cosmology, the Voguls even believed that their sky god Numitorem sent down animals to the forests and fishes to the rivers.
Oceanus - The river surrounding the earth and the source of all waters. The idea originated in the river civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Odin - In Germanic mythology, the one-eyed deity of battle, magic, inspiration and the dead. The elder son of Bor by the giant Bestla, Odin was supreme as well as being the oldest of the gods.
Odysseus - The Greek hero was the king of Ithaca, a small island in the Ionian Sea. He took part in the Trojan war and earned the name Sisyphides for his various schemes.
Oedipus - The King of Thebes, the son of Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes. He killed his father and married his mother.
Oisin - 'Little Deer'. The Irish Hero who spent 300 years as King of tir na n-Og. In a wood he encountered a creature with the body of a beautiful woman, but a pig's head. The creature said the haead would vanish when he married her, and this happened.
Ouranus - The god of the heavens and husband of Gaia, earth. Ouranos gave birth to Kronos, but was destroyed by him as well.
Pan - The Greek worshippers of this goat-horned, goat-legged god were not certain whether he was a single deity or a group of deities. Legend makes Pan the son of Hermes, and the favorite of the fertility god, Dionysus. His birthplace was arcadia.
Persephone - Peresphone of Greece and Prosperina of Italy - the queen of the underworld was abducted by Hades, the son of Kronos and Rhea. Peresphone could have been a pre-Greek goddess of the underworld.
Perseus - Perseus was the legendary Greek hero who killed the Gorgon Medusa, he was the son of Argive princess Danae and Zeus.
Perunu - The ancient Slavic thunder god. He was a pre-eminent deity, even a creator god, and at Kiev he had an important cult center till the tenth century. Perunu was portrayed as a man, usually carved out of wood with a silver head and a gold moustache.
Poseidon - A leading member of the Greek pantheon. The son of Kronos and Rhea, Poseidon was the ruler of the waves. His brothers were Zeus and Hades. Poseidon was a god liable to attacks of tempestuous rage. He rode deep in a chariot pulled by splendid golden sea horses.
Priam - The aged King of Troy at the time of its seige and destruction by the Greeks (circa 13th century B.C.)
Priapus - A god of fertility, originally worshipped by the Greek colonists at Lampascus in Asia Minor. He is usually portrayed as a humorous gnome-like figure with an enormous erect Phallus.
Prometheus - The Greek fire god and friend of mankind. His name means forethought. Prometheus stole the fire of the gods and gave it to man.
Purgatory - One of the most tenacious myths in the middle ages, whither prayer is supposed to send aid to its inhabitants, the moderately sinful Christian dead.
Pwyll - Welsh nobleman and hero of one of the parts of the medieval cycle of legends.
Quirinus - In Roman mythology, a war god associated with Jupiter and Mars. Quirnius was originally worshipped by the Sabines who occupied the highest part of the Central Apennines.
Relics - The preservation of objects, believed to contain virtue because of former associations, is very ancient.
Rhadamanthys - A pre-Greek name of unknown meaning. In Greek mythology he was the son of Zeus and Europa, the brother of Minos and Sarpedon. His obscure origin may account for his unusual end.
Romulus - Legendary founder and the first King of Rome.
Sarpedon - the cammander of the Lycian contingent of Priam's allies in Homer's Illiad. Sarpedon was also the brother of Minos. Sarpedon founded the famous city of Miletus.
Saturn - An ancient Italian corn god, identified with the Greek Kronos, but having more in common with Demeter, the goddess of vegetation. Saturn is said to have derived its name from sowing (the word satus meant sown).
Satyrs - Spirits of the wild in Greek and Roman mythology. Bestial in their desires and behaviors, they were either horses or goats and were usually associated with Dionysus.
Seide - The Sacred stone of the Lapps. They were natural stones, unfashioned by human hands. These stones were usually molded into an interesting or curious shape by water or some other form of erosion. These stones were often placed together in a sacred place to represent a family. Boons and predictions could be obtained from these stone gods.
Sermenys - The long funeral feasts of the Balts.
Sibyl - A prophetess. In Roman mythology, the best known was the Cumean Sibyl, who assisted Aeneas in his descent into the underworld.
Silvanus - The Roman god of untilled land, an uncertain force in daily life. He had to be carefully propitiated whenever inroads were made into his domain.
Sisyphus - The King of Cornith and the son of Aeolaus, the King of Thessaly. He was a trickster and was punished for his trickery by endless labor in the underworld.
Svantevit - The four-headed Slavic war god.
Svazoric - The Slavic fire god.
Taliesin - The Welsh Wizard bard. He may have lived in the sixth century. Taliesin's legend and poems survive in the Mabinogion.
Teutates - A Celtic war god worshipped with human sacrifices in Gaul. Julius Ceasar called Teutates the head of the Gallic pantheon. His name may derive from the word 'tribe' or 'people' in Gallic.
Theseus - Legendary Greek hero. The Athenians ascribed to this prince numerous aspects that were the beginning of democracy.
Thor - Thor was the Germanic version of the Indo-European thunder god. He was hot tempered and red headed. His contemporaries included Jupiter, Zeus and Indra.
Tinia - The Etruscan storm god, the equivalent of Zeus/Juopiter. Tinia held boundaries sacred, watched over the Etruscan monarchy, and insured their inviolability.
Tristan - For the troubadours of medieval France, Tristan was the ideal lover. They acquired the legend of the Tristan and Iseult from Britanny, but its ancestry reaches back through Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland to an unknown era.
Urdr - The Golden Age in Germanic mythology ended when the three giant maids from Giantland came to the area as they brought time with them. Their names were Urdr, past; Verdandi, present; Skuld, 'future'. The three sisters were known collectively as Nornir and dwelt around the well of Urdr.
Valkyries - In Germanic mythology, the personal attendants of Odin, father of the slain. The rode over the battlefields of the world to choose wo must die.
Venus - An Italian goddess, particularly worshippes in Rome, where Julius Caesar claimed to be her descendant through his ancestor Aeneas. Julius dedicated a temple to Venus Genetrix in gratitued for his military success in the Civil War.
Vesta - The Roman hearth goddess. She was the same as the Greek Hestia, daughter of Kronos and Rhea, and was associated with the fire burning on the hearth. Vesta received worship in every house.
Wayland - The smith god of the Anglo-Saxons.
Witch - The Scapegoats of late medieval Europe. A witch was commonly believed to be a female who practiced the art of doing harm through occult means. In the league with the Devil and associated with wild and desolate places, she was thought to turn into a vampire or a bird or possess the power of flight so as to attnd a coven of her ellows where the fed on the flesh of humans provided by one of them. Newborns were considered a delicacy.
Yambe-akka - Meaning 'old woman of the dead', in Lapp mythology she was in charge of the underworld, a place similar to the world only with the departed spirits walking on air.
Yggdrasil - The cosmic ash of German mythology. Its branches overhung all the world and stuck out above the heavens. It had mighty roots, one reached down to Giantland, the second ended in Niflheim and the other was embedded in heaven.
Zaltys - The Indo-European Balts revered a harmless green snake, the Lithuanina zaltys. A symbol of fertility, the snake had a place in every house, under the bed, in a corner even on the table.
Zeus - The supreme deity in Greek mythology - the usurping son of the Titans Kronos and Rhea. A composite figure, the sky god of the Greeks was active in daily affairs of the world, but was never looked upon as a creator deity. The origins of the world were far distant. Zeus even managed to subsume Cretan traditions in his personal myths.