Greek Mythology played a very key role in the lives of the Greeks. Through the many legends about the gods, the Greeks were able to find reasons for all the laws of nature in a supernatural form. These legends were passed down from generation to generation until the spread of Christianity. On top of giving the Greeks reasons for natures action, their religion also gave them a faith that thing were going to be okay, which is something that all humans crave.
The Greeks had 13 major gods. They often used these gods in their myths and prayed to them for particular needs. The head of the gods was Zeus who was also the god of the sky. Whenever Zeus spoke, he was listened to and his word was always final. Zeus had two brothers, Poseidon and Hades. The three brothers drew straws to decide who would control the skies, who would control the seas, and who would control the underworld. Zeus gained control over the skies and became king of the gods. Zeus used his mighty thunderbolts to punish all those who disobeyed him. Zeus married Hera, making her the queen of the gods. The sky god was extremely unfaithful to his wife and slept with women from queens all the way down to peasants. Since Zeus was king of the gods Hera could rarely force Zeus to do any penance, so she took out her wrath on the women Zeus slept with. Zeuss symbols were thunderbolts and eagles.
When the three brothers drew straws to determine what area they would control Poseidon got the sea. His wife was Amphritrite who was a Nereid. Like Zeus, Poseidon was not very faithful to his spouse and had many affairs with the nymphs. Poseidon fathered several children who were extremely cruel and wild. Among his children were Orion the giant and the Polyphemus Cyclops. In art, Poseidon is generally featured holding a trident and accompanied by a dolphin. Also, Poseidon was said to have created many animals. He accidentally created such animals as the zebras while perfecting the horse.
Hades was the god of the dead. When he and his three brothers divided up the universe, he ended up with the underworld. Hades rarely came out of the underworld to Mount Olympus, the place where the gods resided, because he was not welcome there. Persephone, whom Hades had abducted in order to get her to the underworld, was Hades queen. Hades was a pitiless god who never paid attention to prayer or sacrifice. But Hades was not an evil god. He was often referred to as the Lord of the riches because his kingdom was believed to be the reason for precious metals and crops. Hades wore a helmet and a cape that made him invisible.
Hera was the queen of the gods. She was both the wife and sister of Zeus. Hera was a jealous goddess who never forgot an injury and always remembered to retaliate at the source of the injury with vengeance. She was the mother of Ares, Hebe, and Hephaestus. Hera was extremely displeased at the way that Zeus often treated children. Hera was the protector of marriage, married women, and children. Many people think that Hera was an ugly god that had no life outside of harassing here husband about his other relationships, because she was always after Zeuss mortal partners, but this is not true for she was thought to be one of the most beautiful gods, and many god were attracted to her.
Demeter was the goddess of harvest. When her daughter, Persephone, was abducted to the underworld, Demeter became depressed. As a result Demeter produced no harvest and caused a famine. Zeus had to step in to correct the situation. Zeus ordered Hades to allow Persephone to be released. Hades obeyed his brother but before he let Persephone go, he forced her to eat pomegranate seeds that would cause her to come back to him for four months each year. So during the months Demeter was with her daughter she produced great crops; during the months Hades was with Persephone there was only death among the crops.
Hestia was the goddess of the hearth and everyday life. She was also Zeuss sister. Most Greek people prayed to Hestia each day. In most homes there was a hearth that was not ever allowed to be put out because the fire was devoted to Hestia. These fires that burned in everyones home created a unity between the people.
Ares was the son of Zeus through Hera and was perhaps the only son they had together. Both Zeus and Hera hated their son. Ares was the combat part of war. Ares is often looked on as an inspiration for people fighting for their life with odds heavily against them. The vulture and dog were the two animals associated with Ares. Both describe his character extremely well.
Athena or Athene was the goddess of wisdom and the other god of war. Role as a war god was to give strategies guidance and wisdom to the warriors. She was Zeuss daughter and had no mother because Zeus had created her from the earth. Athena is often called gray-eyed because of her deep colored eyes. She was by far the favorite child of. Zeus even let her carry his aegis and use his thunderbolts. She created the olive tree, which became known as her tree. The owl was her bird because they both were thought to have great wisdom.
Cecrops was the king of Attica and had plans to build a magnificent city. The gods saw the plans for the building of this city and were greatly interested. The gods foresaw that this city would become a great city, so they had a dispute over which god should be the citys patron. After a many long arguments, it became obvious that either Athena or Poseidon would be the citys patron. A contest was held to end the dispute in which both Athena and Poseidon would give a gift to the city. Whoevers gift was greater would become the patron of the city. Poseidon created a four-mile salt spring that extended to the city and promised a might navy and great trading vessels. Then gray-eyed Athena planted a small bush that was laughed at by many. She said that it was the olive bush and poor men could flavor their bread and milk, and rich men could feast on oil created from these olives bushes. Many gifts of this oil would be used as a sacrifice to the gods. The judges were so pleased with the olive that they declared the city Athens and built a huge temple in honor of the citys new patron Athena.
Apollo was the son of Zeus through Leto. Many of the gods loved Apollo because he displayed his great musical talents before them. He was the god of healing and archery. It was said that when a mortal got sick it was because Apollo had shot him with one of his arrows. When a mortal healed it was credited to Apollo because he had first taught man how to heal. Apollo was also the god of light (not sun) and truth since he never told a lie. The animals sacred to him were the crow and dolphin.
Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and daughter of Zeus. She was like an untamed animal that loved to hunt. Artemis was the goddess of wild women, the moon, and untamed animals. Artemis was the protector (along with Hera) and the hunter of the gods. She seemed to almost have a split personality because at times she could be the most gentle and loving of the gods, usually when she was around children, and at other times she was the most ferocious and angry of all the gods, often when someone killed an animal on her sacred grounds. The deer was the animal most loved by Artemis.
It is unsure whether Aphrodite is another daughter of Zeus or born from the sea. Most stories state that she was born from the sea. Aphrodite was the goddess of beauty and love because she was by far the most beautiful of all the gods. She was in the love triangle between her lame husband Hephaestus and Ares the god of war. The swan and dove were two of the birds sacred to her.
Maia was the son of Atlas and a nymph. The son of Zeus and Maia was Hermes. Hermes was the messenger god and ended up in most all tales of mythology. Hermes ran messages for all the gods, but mainly for Zeus. Hermes was the god of trade and commerce. He was also a master thief and protector of traders. Hermes stole Apollos herds when he was a day old, but earned his forgiveness by giving Apollo the lyre he had just made. During Hermes last message he was led to the underworld by Hades where he had to stay for eternity much to most of the gods displeasure.
Through these gods and the legends surrounding the gods, the Greeks found reasons for everything they did. They were also always able to find a god to motivate them to continue through the day and to use as inspiration. Even though the gods would eventually be nearly forgotten after the spread of Christianity, they would be studied for generations to follow.