Greek Mythology Simplified

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

The original deity in Greek Mythology was the Mother Goddess or Earth Goddess, who, by at least Homeric times, is named Gaea. (Pronounced "gee-ah". Also as Gaia, pronounced "guy-ah".) Gaea's first born was Uranus, God of the Heavens. (The combination of an Earth God and a Sky God is a common element in early Indo-European countries, and many others.) Uranus and Gaea combined to produce the race of the Titans (6 males, 6 females, chief of which was Cronus) and the race of Cyclops. Cronus killed his father Uranus, whose dripping blood formed the Furies, the Giants, and a young goddess, Aphrodite. Cronus mated with his sister Rhea, producing 3 daughters (Hestia, Demeter, Hera) and 3 sons (Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus).

Zeus contested his father Cronus for preeminence, defeated him, and became the root of the Olympian mythology most familiar to modern times, since earlier deities would eventually fade. The remaining Titans, from their stronghold on Mt. Othrys, challenged the Olympians, and after a mighty battle, lost to Zeus. One Titan, Atlas, was condemned to eternity to support either the Earth or the Heavens. Another, Prometheus, stayed neutral, and was awarded admittance to Olympus. Then the Giants revolted, but prophecy had been that only a mortal could defeat them, and this mortal was Hercules, acting in league with Zeus. Thus, in this sequence, the supreme deity of Greek mythology moved from a female to a male.

Previous mortals having all been destroyed in a deluge, Prometheus, with clay, formed mankind, and Athena breathed life into it. Zeus, unhappy with this insubordination by Prometheus, ordered the creation of a female of dazzling beauty, and her name was Pandora. Beautiful, but treacherous. Sent into the human race with a Great Vase (incorrectly called "Pandora's Box"), it contained, when opened, all the human afflictions, which spread over all the earth. (There is also another Flood legend in here in which Zeus elects to eliminate the human race with torrential rains, but humankind survives by floating in an ark for 9 days and 9 nights. How about that?) Meanwhile, Zeus ordered Prometheus bound by chains to Mt. Caucasus, there to be tortured by a devouring eagle for either 30 or 30,000 years, after which he was rescued by Hercules.

The pantheon on Olympus thus contains 12 major Gods. Six are male: Zeus, Poseidon, Hephaestus, Hermes, Ares, and Apollo (the latter 3 being Zeus' offspring). Six are female: Hera, Hestia, Aphrodite, Demeter, Athena, and Artemis (the latter two being Zeus' offspring). Hades, although a brother of Zeus, did not frequent Olympus, remaining in the subterranean empire. Beneath the 12 were a variety of (immortal) subalterns, with familiar names such as Persephone, Ganymede, Helios, Eos, plus the Muses, the Graces, nymphs, and assorted others.

On Olympus, Zeus had three wives and numerous consorts, but he also took humans to bed. From these unions came semi-mortals named Minos, Perseus, Dionysus, Pan, and others.

The Other Major Players

Athena - Goddess of Battle, Arts, Peace, and Intelligence. Often scuplted with helmet, spear and shield. Daughter of Zeus with Metis. Completely chaste - never mated. Roman name = Minerva

Apollo - God of Light, Music, and Prophecy. Son of Zeus with Leto; Artemis is his twin sister. Typically sculpted as a beardless youth, nude. Founder of the Oracle of Delphi. Roman name = also Apollo

Artemis - Goddess of the Hunt. At Ephesus, a separate cult made her Goddess of Fertility. Roman name = Diana

Hermes - God of Twilight, Wind, Travellers, and Commerce. Typically sculpted with a round hat and winged sandals, a serpent-entwined winged staff in the hand called a caduceus. Son of Zeus with Maia. Roman name = Mercury

Ares - God of War and Courage. Sculpted in heavy armor. Had a daughter, Harmonia, with Aphrodite, the wife of Hephaestus. Roman name = Mars

Hephaestus - God of Fire and Blacksmiths. Sculpted as a robust smith, beared, hairy chested, a large hammer in his hand. Son of Zeus with Hera. Lame in both legs from birth. Roman name = Vulcan

Aphrodite - Goddess of Love. Sculpted as a voluptuous nude. When the blood of Cronus was cast into the sea, it caused a white foam from which Aphrodite appeared. She was seductive and unfaithful. Married Ares, the ugliest of the Gods. Zeus demanded that Paris of Troy give a Golden Apple to the most beautiful of females, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite being the contestants. Paris elected Aphrodite, and received Helen as prize. Roman name = Venus

Poseidon - God of the Sea. Scuplted nude with a trident. Married Amphitrite. Innumerable mistresses. Roman name = Neptune.

Hestia - Goddess of the Hearth. The first born of Cronus and Rhea, she was thus the oldest of the Olympians. A chaste goddess, she spurned all proposals. Roman name = Vesta (she of the Vestal Virgins)

That is as concise as I can make it and keep in all the familiar players.

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