Characters Of Greek Mythology Essay, Research Paper
Fates (fat), in Greek mythology, three goddesses who controlled human life; also
called the Moerae or Moirai. They were: Clotho, who spun the web of life;
Lachesis, who measured its length; and Atropos, who cut it. The Roman Fates
were the Parcae; the Germanic Fates were the NORNS.
Adonis, in Greek mythology, beautiful youth loved by APHRODITE and
PERSEPHONE. When he was killed by a boar, both goddesses claimed him.
ZEUS decreed that he spend half the year above the ground with Aphrodite, the
other half in the underworld with Persephone. His death and resurrection,
symbolic of the seasonal cycle, were celebrated at the festival Adonia.
Andromeda, in Greek myth, princess of Ethiopia; daughter of Cepheus and
Cassiopeia. POSEIDON, angered by her mother’s claim that her beauty outshone
that of the nereids, sent a sea monster that could be appeased only by her
sacrifice. She was rescued by PERSEUS, who slew the monster and married her.
Andromeda and her parents became constellations.
Apollo, in Greek mythology, one of the most important OLYMPIAN gods; son of
ZEUS and Leto, twin brother of ARTEMIS. He was concerned with prophecy,
medicine (he was the father of ASCLEPIUS), music and poetry (he was also the
father of ORPHEUS and the patron of the MUSES), and the pastoral arts. A moral
god of high civilization, he was associated with law, philosophy, and the arts. He
was widely known as a god of light, Phoebus Apollo; after the 5th cent. B.C. he
was often identified with the sun god HELIOS. Apollo’s oracles had great authority;
his chief shrine was at DELPHI, where he was primarily a god of purification. In art
he was portrayed as the perfection of youth and beauty. The most celebrated
statue of him is the Apollo Belvedere, a marble copy of the original Greek bronze,
now in the Vatican in Rome.
Ares (ar?ez?) (ar?ez), in Greek mythology, OLYMPIAN god of war; son of ZEUS
and HERA. The Romans identified him with MARS.
Ariadne (ar?e-ad?ne), in Greek mythology, Cretan princess; daughter of MINOS
and Pasiphae. With her help THESEUS killed the MINOTAUR and escaped from
the Labyrinth. He left with her but deserted her at Naxos. There she married
DIONYSUS, who is said to have set her bridal crown among the stars.
Artemis (ar?te-mis), in Greek mythology, goddess of the hunt. She was the
daughter of ZEUS and Leto and the twin sister of APOLLO. Artemis is associated
with chastity, marriage, children, wildlife, and, as a complement to the sun god
Apollo, with the moon. The Romans identified her with DIANA.
Atalanta (at?e-lan?te), in Greek mythology, fleet huntress who joined the
Calydonian boar hunt (see MELEAGER). She demanded that each of her suitors
race her, the winner to be rewarded with marriage, the losers to die. Hippomenes
finally won her by dropping three golden apples that she stopped to retrieve.
Athena (e-the?ne) or Pallas Athena, in Greek mythology, one of the most important
OLYMPIAN deities, sprung from the forehead of ZEUS. She was the goddess of
war and peace, a patron of arts and crafts, a guardian of cities (notably Athens),
and the goddess of wisdom. Her most important temple was the PARTHENON and
her primary festival the Panathenaea. A virgin goddess, Athena is represented in
art as a stately figure, armored, and wielding her breastplate, the aegis. The
Romans identified her with MINERVA.
Atlas (at?les), in Greek mythology, a TITAN. After the defeat of the Titans by the
OLYMPIANS, he was condemned to hold the sky upon his shoulders for all
Cerberus (s?r?beres), in Greek mythology, many-headed dog with a mane and a
tail of snakes; guardian of HADES. One of the 12 labors of HERCULES was to
Chaos (ka?os?), in Greek mythology, the vacant, unfathomable space from which
everything arose. In the OLYMPIAN myth GAEA sprang from Chaos and became
the mother of all things.
Cronus (kro?nes) or Kronos, in Greek myth, the youngest TITAN; son of URANUS
and GAEA. He led the Titans in a revolt against Uranus and ruled the world. By his
sister RHEA, he fathered the great gods?ZEUS, POSEIDON, DEMETER, HERA,
HADES, and HESTIA. Fated to be overthrown by one of his children, he tried
unsuccessfully to destroy them. Zeus later led the OLYMPIAN gods in defeating
him in a battle, described by HESIOD, called the Titanomachy. Cronus is equated
with the Roman god SATURN.
Cybele (sib?e-le), in ancient Asiatic religion, GREAT MOTHER OF THE GODS.
The chief centers of her early worship were Phrygia and Lydia. In the 5th cent.
B.C. her cult spread to Greece and later to Rome. She was primarily a nature
goddess, responsible for maintaining and reproducing the wild things of the earth.
Her annual spring festival celebrated the death and resurrection of her beloved
Attis, a vegetation god.
Cyclops plural of Cyclopes (siklo?pez), in Greek mythology, immense one-eyed
beings. According to HESIOD, they were smiths, sons of URANUS and GAEA,
who gave ZEUS the lightning bolts that helped him defeat CRONUS. In HOMER,
they were a barbarous people, one of whom (POLYPHEMUS) was encountered by
ODYSSEUS in his wanderings.
Daphne (daf?ne), in Greek mythology, a nymph loved by APOLLO. When she was
pursued by him, she prayed for rescue and was transformed by GAEA into a laurel
Delphi (d?l?f y) (del?fy), town in Phocis, GREECE, near the foot of Mt. Parnassus.
It was the seat of the Delphic ORACLE, the most famous and powerful oracle of
ancient Greece. The oracle, which originated in the worship of an earth-goddess,
possibly GAEA, was the principal shrine of APOLLO. It was housed in a temple
built in the 6th cent. B.C. The oracular messages were spoken by a priestess in a
frenzied trance and interpreted by a priest, who usually spoke in verse. The
oracle’s influence prevailed throughout Greece until Hellenistic times. Delphi was
the meeting place of the Amphictyonic League and the site of the PYTHIAN
GAMES. It was later pillaged by the Romans, and the sanctuary fell into decay.
Demeter (dime?ter), in Greek mythology, goddess of harvest and fertility; daughter
of CRONUS and RHEA; mother of PERSEPHONE by ZEUS. She and her
daughter were the chief figures in the ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES, and her primary
festival was the Athenian Thesmophoria. The Romans identified her with CERES.
Dionysus (di?e-ni?ses) (dieni?ses), in Greek mythology, god of fertility and wine,
later considered a patron of the arts. Probably of Thracian origin, Dionysus was
one of the most important Greek gods and the subject of profuse and contradictory
legends. He was thought to be the son of either ZEUS and PERSEPHONE or of
Zeus and Semele. Dionysus was attended by a carousing band of SATYRS,
MAENADS, and NYMPHS. He taught humans viticulture but was capable of
dreadful revenge upon those (e.g., ORPHEUS and Pentheus) who denied his
divinity. His worship was characteristically drunken and orgiastic. The chief figure
in the ORPHIC MYSTERIES and other cults, Dionysus had many festivals in his
honor. From the music, singing, and dancing of the Greater Dionysia in Athens
developed the dithyramb and, ultimately, Greek drama. The Romans identified him
with Liber and BACCHUS, who was more properly the wine god.
Echo, in Greek mythology, mountain NYMPH. She incurred HERA’s wrath with her
chatter and, as punishment, could only repeat the last words said by others. In
unrequited love for NARCISSUS, she pined away until her voice alone remained.
Eos (e?os?), in Greek mythology, goddess of dawn. Daughter of Hyperion and
Theia, she was the sister of the sun god HELIOS, and the mother of the winds.
The Romans called her Aurora.
Eros (er?os?), in Greek mythology, god of love in all its manifestations. According
to some legends, he was one of the oldest of the gods, born from CHAOS but
personifying harmony. In most stories he was the son of APHRODITE and ARES
and was represented as a winged youth armed with bow and arrows. In Roman
myth, under the name Cupid or Amor, he was the naked infant son and companion
Furies (fy?r?e) or Erinyes (erin?e-ez), in Greek mythology, goddesses of
vengeance. Born from the blood of URANUS, they punished wrongs committed
against blood relatives regardless of the motivation, as in the case of ORESTES.
Named Megaera, Tisiphone, and Alecto, they were usually represented as crones
with bats’ wings, dogs’ heads, and snakes for hair.
Gaea (je?e), in Greek mythology, the earth; daughter of CHAOS, mother and wife
of both URANUS (the sky) and Pontus (the sea). She was mother, by Uranus, of
the CYCLOPES, the TITANS, and others, and, by Pontus, of five sea deities. She
helped cause the overthrow of Uranus by the Titans and was worshiped as the
primal goddess, the mother of all things.
giant (ji?ent), in mythology, manlike being of great size and strength; a brutish
power of nature, lacking the stature of gods and the civilization of humanity. In
many cultures, e.g., Greek, Scandinavian, and Native American, giants were
believed to be the first race of people that inhabited the earth.
Great Mother of the Gods
Great Mother of the Gods, in ancient Middle Eastern religion (and later in Greece,
Rome, and W Asia), mother goddess, the great symbol of the earth’s fertility. As
the creative force in nature she was worshiped under many names, including
ASTARTE (Syria), CERES (Rome), CYBELE (Phrygia), DEMETER (Greece),
ISHTAR (Babylon), and ISIS (Egypt). The later forms of her cult involved the
worship of a male deity (her son or lover, e.g., ADONIS, OSIRIS), whose death
and resurrection symbolized the regenerative power of the earth.
Hades (ha?dez), in Greek mythology. 1 The ruler of the underworld, commonly
called PLUTO. 2 The world of the dead, ruled by Pluto and PERSEPHONE.
Guarded by CERBERUS, it was either underground or in the far west, and was
separated from the land of the living by five rivers. One of these was the STYX,
across which the dead were ferried. Three judges decided the fate of souls;
heroes went to the ELYSIAN FIELDS, evildoers to TARTARUS.
Hecate (hek?e-te), in Greek mythology, goddess of ghosts and witchcraft. An
attendant of PERSEPHONE, she was a spirit of black magic, able to conjure up
dreams and the spirits of the dead. She haunted graveyards and crossroads.
Helios (he?le-os?) (he?leos), in Greek mythology, the sun god; son of the TITANS
Hyperion and Theia; father of PHAETHON. Each morning he left a palace in the
east and crossed the sky in a golden chariot, then returned along the river
Oceanus. He was a national god in Rhodes, where a COLOSSUS represented
him. In Rome, he was known as Sol and was an important god.
Hera (hir?e), in Greek mythology, queen of OLYMPIAN gods; daughters of
CRONUS and RHEA; wife and sister of ZEUS; mother of ARES and
HEPHAESTUS. A jealous wife, she plagued Zeus, his mistresses, and his
progeny, e.g., HERCULES. Hera was powerful and widely worshiped as the
protectress of women, marriage, and childbirth. The Romans identified her with
Hercules, Heracles or Herakles, most popular Greek hero, famous for strength and
courage. The son of Alcmene and ZEUS, he was hated by HERA, who sent
serpents to his cradle; he strangled them. Later Hera drove Hercules mad and he
slew his wife and children. He sought purification at the court of King Eurystheus,
who set him 12 mighty labors: killing the Nemean lion and HYDRA; driving off the
Stymphalian birds; cleaning the Augean stables; capturing the Cerynean hind,
Cretan bull, mares of Diomed, Erymanthian boar, cattle of Geryon, and
CERBERUS; and procuring the girdle of Hippolyte and the golden apples of the
Hesperides. He was later involved in the Calydonian hunt (see MELEAGER) and
the Argonaut expedition (see JASON). At his death he rose to OLYMPUS, where
he was reconciled with Hera and married HEBE. Represented as a powerful man
with lion’s skin and club, he was widely worshiped. He is the hero of plays by
SOPHOCLES, EURIPIDES, and SENECA.
Hermes (hur?mez), in Greek mythology, son of ZEUS and Maia; messenger of the
gods and conductor of souls to HADES. He was also the god of travelers, of luck,
music, eloquence, commerce, young men, cheats, and thieves. He was said to
have invented the lyre and flute. The riotous Hermaea festival was celebrated in
his honor. Hermes was represented with winged hat and sandals, carrying the
CADUCEUS. He is equated with the Roman MERCURY.
Hestia (hes?te-e), in Greek mythology, goddess of the hearth; daughter of
CRONUS and RHEA. Widely worshiped, she was a kind deity who represented
personal and communal security and happiness. The Romans identified her with
Meleager (melea?jer), hero of Greek mythology. At his birth a prophecy said that
he would die when a certain log in the fire burned. His mother hid the log, and
Meleager grew to be a famous warrior. When ARTEMIS sent a huge boar to
ravage his land, Meleager led a band of heroes, including CASTOR AND
POLLUX, THESEUS, and JASON, in the Calydonian hunt, and killed the boar.
Meleager gave its pelt to the huntress ATALANTA, and when his uncles tried to
take it he killed them. In revenge his mother burned the hidden log, and Meleager
Midas (mi?des), in Greek mythology, king of Phrygia. Because he befriended
SILENUS, DIONYSUS granted him the power to turn everything he touched into
gold. When even his food became gold, he washed away his power in the
Minos (mi?nes) (mi?nos, ?nes), in Greek mythology, king of CRETE, son of ZEUS
and Europa. The wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean area, he was presumably
an actual ancient Cretan king for whom the MINOAN CIVILIZATION is named. In
legend, he was the husband of Pasiphae and the father of Androgeus, Glaucus,
ARIADNE, and PHAEDRA.
Narcissus, in Greek mythology, beautiful youth who refused all love, including
ECHO’s. As punishment for his indifference, he was made to fall in love with his
own image in a pool, whereupon he pined away, and turned into a flower.
nymph (nimf), in Greek mythology, female divinity, immortal or long-lived,
associated with various natural objects or places. Some represented specific
localities, e.g., the acheloids of the River Achelous; others were identified with
more general physiographic features, e.g., oreads with mountains, naiads with
bodies of fresh water, nereids with the Mediterranean, oceanids with the ocean,
dryads with trees; and some were associated with a function of nature, e.g.,
hamadryads, who lived and died with a particular tree. Nymphs were regarded as
young, beautiful, musical, and amorous.
Olympian (o-lim?pe-en), in Greek myth, one of the 12 gods who ruled the universe
from their home on Mt. Olympus. Led by ZEUS, they were: HERA, his sister and
wife; POSEIDON and PLUTO (HADES), his brothers; HESTIA, his sister; and his
children, ARES, HERMES, APOLLO, HEPHAESTUS, ATHENA, APHRODITE, and
ARTEMIS. Similar to humans in appearance and character, the Olympians are
known to us mainly from the works of HOMER and HESIOD.
oracle (?r?e-kel), in Greek religion, priest or priestess who imparted a god’s
response to a human questioner; also the response itself and the shrine. Methods
of divination included interpretation of dreams, observation of signs, and
interpretation of the actions of entranced persons. Among the famous oracles were
those of ZEUS at Dodona and of APOLLO at DELPHI.
Orpheus (or?fees, or?fy?s) (or?fe-es) (or?fees, or?fy?s), in Greek mythology,
Thracian musician; son of the MUSE Calliope by APOLLO or by Oeagrus, a king
of Thrace. He is said to have played the lyre so beautifully that he charmed the
beasts, trees, and rivers. He married the nymph Eurydice, and when she died he
descended to HADES to search for her. He was allowed to return with her on
condition that he not look back at her, but he disobeyed and lost her forever. Grief-
stricken, he wandered for years. In one legend, he worshiped Apollo above
DIONYSUS, who caused the Thracians to tear him to pieces. Orpheus was
celebrated in the ORPHIC MYSTERIES.
Pan (pan), in Greek mythology, pastoral god of fertility; worshiped principally in
ARCADIA. He was depicted as a merry, ugly man with a goat’s horns, ears, and
legs. All his myths deal with his amorous affairs. He came to be associated with
the Greek DIONYSUS and the Roman FAUNUS, both fertility gods.
Pandora, in Greek mythology, first woman on earth. ZEUS ordered her creation as
vengeance on man and his benefactor, PROMETHEUS, to whose brother
Epimetheus he sent her. Zeus gave her a box that he forbade her to open. She
disobeyed and let out all the world’s evils. Only hope remained in the box.
Persephone (persef?ene) or Proserpine (prosur?pene), in Greek and Roman
mythology, goddess of fertility, queen of the underworld; daughter of ZEUS and
DEMETER. She was abducted by PLUTO, who held her captive in HADES.
Demeter persuaded the gods to let her return to earth for eight months a year. Her
story, celebrated in the ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES, symbolized the vegetative
cycle. When she left the earth, life withered; when she returned, it blossomed
Perseus (pur?se-es), in Greek mythology, son of ZEUS and Danae. Told by an
oracle that Perseus would kill him, his grandfather Acrisius set him and Danae
afloat in a chest, from which they were rescued by King Polydectes. Later, seeing
Perseus as an obstacle to his love for Danae, the king sent him to fetch the head
of the GORGON Medusa. The gods aided Perseus, and he slew Medusa. Fleeing
from the other Gorgons, Perseus was refused aid by ATLAS, who was turned into
a stone mountain by Medusa’s head. On his way home, Perseus rescued
ANDROMEDA and married her. Later, while competing in a discus contest,
Perseus accidentally killed Acrisius, thus fulfilling the prophecy.
Phaedra (fU?dre), in Greek mythology, daughter of MINOS and PasiphaU, wife of
THESEUS. When her stepson, Hippolytus, rejected her love, she accused him of
rape, then hanged herself. The legend was dramatized by EURIPIDES, SENECA,
Phaethon (fa?e-thon?) (fa?ethen) or Phaeton (fa?eten), in Greek myth, son of
HELIOS. He lost control of his father’s golden chariot, which in falling dried the
Libyan Desert. ZEUS avoided the universe’s destruction only by killing Phaethon.
Phrygia, ancient region, central Asia Minor (now central Turkey). The Phrygians,
apparently Indo-Europeans, entered (c.1200 B.C.) the area from the Balkans. The
kingdom of Phrygia (fl. 8th?6th cent. B.C.) is associated in Greek legend with
MIDAS and GORDIUS. Phrygia was later dominated in turn by Lydia, the Gauls,
Pergamum, and Rome.
Poseidon (po-sid?n) (posi?den), in Greek religion, god of the sea, protector of all
waters. Powerful, violent, and vengeful, he carried the trident, with which he
caused earthquakes. He was the husband of Amphitrite and the father of many
sons, most either brutal men (e.g., ORION) or monsters (e.g., POLYPHEMUS). He
was also important as Hippios, god of horses, and was the father of PEGASUS.
The Romans identified him with NEPTUNE.
Pygmalion (pig-mal?yen), in Greek mythology, king of Cyprus, sculptor of a
beautiful statue of a woman. When he prayed to APHRODITE for a wife like it, she
brought the statue (Galatea) to life, and Pygmalion married her.
Rhea (re?e), in Greek mythology, a TITAN; wife and sister of CRONUS; mother of
ZEUS, POSEIDON, PLUTO, HESTIA, HERA, and DEMETER. She aided Zeus in
the overthrow of Cronus. Associated with fertility, her worship was prominent in
CRETE. In Rome Rhea was worshiped as Magna Mater and identified with Ops.
silenus, in Greek mythology, part bestial, part human creature of forests and
mountains. Followers of DIONYSUS, the sileni are usually represented as aged
SATYRS. In some legends Silenus is the oldest satyr, the son of HERMES or
PAN, and the companion, adviser, or tutor of Dionysus.
Styx (st?ks), in Greek mythology, sacred river in HADES crossed by the souls of
the dead, who were ferried by Charon.
Tartarus (tar?ter-es), in Greek mythology, lowest region of HADES, where the
wicked, e.g., SISYPHUS, TANTALUS, were punished.
Theseus, Athenian hero; son of King Aegeus. Of his many adventures the most
famous was the slaying of the MINOTAUR, which he accomplished with the help of
ARIADNE, daughter of King MINOS of Crete. As king of Athens he instituted
several reforms, notably the federalization of the Attic communities. In the land of
the AMAZONS he abducted Antiope, who bore him Hippolytus. When a vengeful
Amazon army invaded Athens Theseus defeated it. Antiope was killed, and
Theseus later married PHAEDRA. When he and his friend Piritho?s attempted to
take PERSEPHONE from HADES, they were imprisoned there until HERCULES
rescued Theseus. When Theseus returned to Athens he found it corrupt and
rebellious. He sailed to Skyros, where he was murdered by King Lycomedes.
Uranus (y?r?e-nes), in Greek mythology, the heavens, first ruler of the universe;
son and husband of GAEA; father of TITANS, CYCLOPS, and Hundred-handed
Ones. Uranus was castrated and dethroned by CRONUS. His blood, falling onto
Earth, produced the vengeful FURIES; from his discarded flesh and the sea
Zeus (z?s), in Greek religion, supreme god; son of CRONUS, whom he succeeded,
and RHEA; brother and husband of HERA. After the overthrow of the TITANS,
when lots were cast to divide the universe, the underworld went to HADES, the
sea to POSEIDON, and the heavens and earth to Zeus. An amorous god, he loved
goddesses, nymphs, and mortals, and fathered many children. Ruling from his
court on Mt. Olympus, Zeus was the symbol of power, rule, and law; the rewarder
of good; and the punisher of evil. Also the god of weather (his most famous
weapon was the thunderbolt) and fertility, he was worshiped in connection with
almost every aspect of life. The Romans equated Zeus with their own supreme