Having traveled through Italy, Greece, and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.
The Twelve Olympians
The stories of Greek mythology evolved and were brought together over a period of hundreds if not thousands of years. This evolution has resulted in a complex intertwining of gods, goddesses and mortal heroes, with the Greek pantheon comprising hundreds of deities. Some Greek god names are well known, but today the most famous of the Greek pantheon tend to be the gods of Mount Olympus, the Twelve Olympians, who were led by Zeus.
The story of the Olympian gods starts in the “Golden Age” of Greek mythology when the cosmos was ruled by the twelve Titans under the leadership of Cronus.
A prophecy was made that Cronus would be overthrown by his offspring, just as he had overthrown his own father Ouranos. Fearful of his position, Cronus would imprison each of his offspring, born to his wife Rhea, upon their birth. It was a unique prison though, as the prison was inside Cronus’ stomach, and a prison which became home to Hestia, Poseidon, Hades, Hera and Demeter.
A sixth child, Zeus, would have followed, but Rhea, with the assistance of Gaia, smuggled the newborn god away to a cave on Crete. Rhea substituted a wrapped stone in the place of her son, which, an unknowing Cronus swallowed. Hidden away on Crete, Zeus matured and became evermore powerful.
The Olympians Come to Power
Eventually Zeus was strong enough to lead a rebellion against his father. Zeus would gather allies to him. The first step was to release his siblings from their prison, this Zeus achieved by getting his father to take a poison which caused Cronus to regurgitate his prisoners. Zeus then descended to Tartarus and released the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes from their incarceration.
The Hecatonchires would fight alongside Zeus, with Zeus having made his base upon Mount Olympus, and the Cyclopes started crafting weapons for the new Olympian gods.
A war lasting ten years would then be fought between the Olympians and the Titans. There are few stories about the Titanomachy that have survived the passage of time, but one version tells of how Hades, making use of his newly crafted helmet of invisibility, destroyed the armaments of the Titans bringing the war to an end; the Olympians, of course, prevailing in the war.
The First Five Olympians
With the victor comes the spoils, and the male Olympians, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon, according to Homer, drew lots to divide the world amongst themselves. The result was that Zeus was given dominion over land and sky, Poseidon became ruler of the earth’s waters, and Hades’ realm became the Underworld.
A ruling council would then sit upon Mount Olympus, although Zeus would ultimately be the supreme deity. Zeus of course would be one Olympian, and he was joined by his brother Poseidon, and his sisters, Hestia, Demeter and Hera.
- Zeus - God of Heaven and Earth, Law and Order
- Poseidon - God of Water, Earthquake and Horses
- Hestia - Goddess of Hearth and Home
- Demeter - Goddess of Agriculture and Grain
- Hera - Goddess of Women and Marriage, and third wife of Zeus
Hades was not named as one of the Olympians as his realm and throne were deep inside the Underworld.
Five Becomes Twelve
Other Greek gods and goddesses were then added to the five to make the traditional Twelve Olympians.
- Aphrodite – Goddess of Love, Beauty and Sex. Aphrodite predated Zeus, having come into existence when Uranus was castrated.
- Hermes – Messenger God. Hermes was the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia, and was considered most loyal to Zeus of all Olympians.
- Apollo – God of Light and Prophecy. Apollo was son of Zeus and the Titan Leto, and was one of the most worshipped of all Olympian gods.
- Artemis – Goddess of the Hunt and the Moon. Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo, and was one of the goddesses who was quick to anger.
- Ares – God of War. Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera, and the most bloodthirsty of all deities. Ares was often in conflict with the other gods.
- Athena – Goddess of Wisdom and Strategic Warfare. Athena was daughter to Zeus and the Titan Metis, alongside Hermes she was considered a helpful god.
- Hephaestus – God of Fire and Metalworking. Hephaestus was the son of Hera, and whilst the other gods were considered beautiful, Hephaestus was normally portrayed as being ugly.
Fluidity on Mount Olympus
The twelve gods previously mentioned are traditionally seen as the twelve gods of Mount Olympus, but there was a certain fluidity in the make up of the twelve.
An argument occurred when Dionysus, God of the Vine, and son of Zeus and Semele, believed that his powers and deeds were such that he should be made one of the Olympians. It had been decreed though that there would be no more than 12 seats on Mount Olympus. To placate the arguments going on around her, Hestia willingly gave up her position, and subsequently was content to tend the hearth of Mount Olympus. Dionysus would take her position and become the first son of a mortal to be classed as an Olympian.
It is also commonly said that Heracles, the great Greek hero, became an Olympian, brought to Mount Olympus by Zeus as Heracles’ funeral pyre still burnt. Heracles would become the physical protector of Mount Olympus, but it is not stated who he replaced amongst the original twelve.
Legacy of the Olympians
With the usurpation of the Titans the control of every element of the world passed to the Olympians. The Olympians were widely worshipped, but some gods were more important in certain areas of Ancient Greece than in others. The favour of the gods though was important in all elements of daily life.
DabbleYou on June 08, 2014:
Nice story. Mythology is a very interesting subject to read.
Debra Allen from West Virginia on June 08, 2014:
I had read the book about Greek Mythology way long ago and had forgotten some of these. Thank you for bringing them into the light again. I voted up and will share for you.