Greek Gods: The 7 Core Males Exposed
The ancient Greeks were a polytheistic people and worshiped a multitude of gods. The most important gods of the Greek pantheon were the Twelve Olympians, so-called due to the belief that they resided on the peak of Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece.
This group of deities consisted of Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Poseidon, and Zeus. This article will look at the male Olympians, i.e. Apollo, Ares, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Hermes, Poseidon, and Zeus.
Zeus – King of the Gods
The leader of the Twelve Olympians and the king of the gods was Zeus. He was also worshipped by the ancient Greeks as the father of gods and men, and the god of the sky. According to Greek mythology, Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans Cronus and Rheia. His father, who feared that one of his children would overthrow him to become the new king of the gods, ate his children as soon as they were born.
When it came to Zeus’ turn, however, Rheia decided not to give him up to Cronus. Instead, she wrapped a stone in a blanket and gave it to her husband to devour. The baby Zeus was sent to Mount Dikte in Crete where he was raised in secret.
When he reached manhood, Zeus, through trickery, got his father to regurgitate his siblings, and they challenged the Titans. The resulting war is known as the Titanomachy, during which the Olympians triumphed over the older generation of gods. Thus, Zeus became the new king of the gods.
Zeus, king of gods. Source: BlackMac / Adobe Stock.
As the most important Olympian, Zeus is commonly represented in Classical Greek art. He is normally portrayed as a bearded man with long hair. Befitting his status as king of the gods, Zeus is usually depicted with a regal, sturdy, and mature comportment. Additionally, Zeus’ attributes include the lightning bolt, which is a symbol his power, the royal scepter, signifying his status as king, the eagle, and the cornucopia, or horn of plenty.
In Greek mythology, Zeus is also notorious for having affairs with various goddesses and mortal women, resulting in many offspring. Some of his best-known lovers and children include Alcmene, the human mother of Heracles, Europa, whose union with Zeus resulted in the birth of Minos, the legendary king of Crete, and the Titaness Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis.
In many cases, Zeus does not appear to his lovers in his actual form but takes on a disguise. In the famous case of Europa, for instance, he appeared as a bull, while he impregnated Danae, the mother of Perseus, by turning himself into a shower of gold.
Poseidon – Ruler of the Sea
One of Zeus’ brothers was Poseidon, who was given dominion over sea after the defeat of the Titans. As an older sibling of Zeus, Poseidon was swallowed by his father as soon as he was born and was only freed when Zeus challenged the Titans for supremacy.
In one version, however, Poseidon was not eaten by his father, but, like Zeus, was raised in secret. Rhea pretended that she had given birth to a foal and gave the animal to Cronus to swallow.
Apart from being the ruler of the sea and all that live in it, Poseidon was also believed to be the god of earthquakes, floods, droughts, and horses. The last association is somewhat bizarre due to the fact that Poseidon is not a terrestrial god. Nevertheless, the Greeks credit Poseidon with the creation of the first horse and the introduction of horse riding and chariot racing to mankind.
Like his brother Zeus, Poseidon is also depicted as a bearded man with long hair. While Zeus is armed with a lightning bolt, Poseidon’s weapon is the trident, which is a three-pronged spear used by fishermen.
Poseidon - god of the sea. (intrographics / Public Domain)
According to Greek mythology, Poseidon’s trident, like Zeus’ lightning bolt, was forged by the Cyclops. While Poseidon is most famous for his connection to horses, the god of the sea is naturally associated with fish, marine creatures, and dolphins.
As the Greeks were closely linked to the sea, it is only natural that Poseidon was chosen as the patron god of a number of cities. In Athens, the foremost maritime power in the Mediterranean during the 5th century BC, Poseidon was the most important god after Athena.
In one myth, the two Olympians were vying to be the patron deity of Athens. In order to win the Athenians to their side each deity presented a gift to the people.
Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, bringing forth a spring of salty water, which was deemed by the people to be not of much use. Athena then offered them an olive tree, which was accepted by the Athenians. There was no bad blood between the between the two deities, as the two later co-operated to aid the Greeks during the Trojan War.
Hades – King of the Underworld
Another brother of Zeus was Hades. Although he is technically not considered to be an Olympian, Hades was an important god in the Greek pantheon, on par with Zeus and Poseidon. After the Titanomachy, Hades was given kingship of the underworld, and it was there, rather than on Mount Olympus, that Hades resided.
As the god of the dead, Hades ruled the underworld. Apart from that, Hades presided over the proper burial of the dead and funerary rites. Additionally, Hades was regarded to be a god of wealth, being the guardian of the treasures hidden in the earth, including precious metals and fertile soil for agriculture.
Like his two brothers, Hades is depicted as a bearded man with long hair. He is normally depicted in art with a staff, his symbol of power. This was used to bring the shades of the dead to the underworld.
His kingship over the underworld is represented by his crown and keys. On top of that, Hades is often accompanied by Cerberus, the legendary three-headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld.
Hades - god of the underworld with Cerberus. (DIEGO73 / CC BY-SA 3.0)
One of the best-known myths about Hades is his abduction of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. In this myth, Hades desires a queen and abducts Persephone during one of his rare trips above the underworld. Hades brings the goddess back with him to the underworld and keeps her hidden there.
In the meantime, Persephone’s mother, Demeter, who is the goddess of harvest and agriculture, mourns the loss of her daughter and causes failure to mankind’s crops. When Demeter learned that the it was Zeus’ idea she went to him to complain.
Zeus had no choice but to command Hades to surrender Persephone, which he did. During her stay in the underworld, however, Persephone had eaten a few pomegranate seeds and therefore was forced to return to Hades for part of the year.
The remaining Olympian gods are considered to be the second generation of deities and are all the sons of Zeus, though by different mothers. The two sons of Zeus by his wife, Hera, were Ares and Hephaestus. With the Titaness Leto, Zeus fathered Apollo, while his union with the nymph Maia resulted in Hermes. Finally, Dionysus was the offspring of Zeus and Semele, a mortal princess of Thebes.
Ares - The God of War
The Greeks worshipped Ares as the god of war, though he was neither a very well-liked nor a trusted god. Compared to other Greek deities associated with war, Ares is depicted as a rather negative figure. For instance, Athena, though a war goddess, represents wisdom and thoughtfulness during war, while Ares represents brute force, destruction, and the horrors of war.
Moreover, Ares is a rather fickle god, as he may support one side today and the opposing side the next day. Despite his great physical strength and power, Ares did not always emerge victorious. In a number of Greek myths, Ares was overpowered by more resourceful opponents.
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Ares the Greek god of war. (Mary Harrsch / CC BY-SA 2.0)
His most humiliating defeat was at the hands of his lame brother, Hephaestus. In this myth, Ares and Aphrodite, Hephaestus’ wife, were having an affair. When Hephaestus found out he decided to catch them in the act and forged an unbreakable net.
He caught the adulterous couple and drug them before the other gods to be shamed. As the god of war, Ares is commonly depicted in his war gear, i.e. helmet, armor, and shield.
Hephaestus – God of Smiths
Unlike his handsome brother Ares, Hephaestus is described as being extremely ugly and lame. In one version of the myth of Hephaestus’ birth, Hera, disgusted by Hephaestus’ lameness, threw the baby down from Mount Olympus. Beneath this deity’s unattractive appearance, however, is a brilliant mind and Hephaestus was regarded to be the god of smiths, and the smith of the gods.
Hephaestus was the god of smiths and smith of the gods. (Shuishouyue / Public Domain)
The Greeks also believed that Hephaestus had his workshops in volcanoes, and therefore was also the god of volcanoes. Hephaestus’ frailty and physical imperfections, as well as abuse at the hands of the other gods, sets him apart from his fellow Olympians and makes him one of the most human Greek deities.
In Classical art, Hephaestus is normally shown holding a pair of tongs and a hammer, the tools of the trade. At times, he is also shown riding a donkey, an animal sacred to the god.
Apollo - God of Prophecy
Apollo was another son of Zeus and worshipped as the god of prophecy, knowledge, music and poetry, healing, and plagues. In later times, he was also considered to be a solar deity. As the god of prophecy, he was the patron of Delphi, where the Oracle of Delphi resided.
According to one Greek myth, Apollo became the site’s patron deity after slaying Python, the giant serpent that guarded the mysterious chasm from which the oracle obtained Apollo’s prophecies.
The Greeks also credited Apollo with the invention of the lyre, a musical instrument that looks like a small harp. Some, however, attribute this invention to Hermes. In art, Apollo is commonly depicted as a good-looking youth.
Apollo and the Muses on Parnassus. (Kameraad Pjotr / Public Domain)
In some instances, he is shown with a lyre, in order to emphasize his role as the god of music. In others he is depicted with a bow and a quiver of arrows.
This is in line with his status as an excellent marksman who never missed his target. During the Trojan War, Apollo was a supporter of the Trojans and sent a plague into the Greek camp with his arrows.
Hermes - Messenger of the Gods
Hermes was born after Maia, a nymph, and one of the seven Pleiades, was raped by Zeus in a cave on Mount Cyllene, Arcadia. Hermes is best known for his role as the messenger of the gods and thus was the patron god of heralds, messengers, and diplomacy. Hermes was also in charge of those aspects of human life that involved movement, including travelers, hospitality, trade, and roads.
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Hermes – messenger of the gods - with his mother Maia. (Bibi Saint-Pol / Public Domain)
Other areas under Hermes’ jurisdiction were astronomy and astrology, language and writing, and athletic contests and gymnasiums. Lastly, Hermes was also the patron god of thieves. This is due to the fact that while still an infant, Hermes had successfully stolen Apollo’s cattle.
Hermes is sometimes credited with the invention of the first lyre, which was made out of a tortoise shell. The prodigious acts of the infant Hermes caught the attention of Zeus, who made him one of the Olympians. In art, Hermes is normally depicted with a herald’s wand, winged sandals, a hat, and a short cloak, all of which reflect his role as a messenger.
Dionysus - God of Wine and Revelry
Arguably the most bizarre member of the Twelve Olympians is Dionysus. He is the only one of them who had a mortal mother. Dionysus’ mother was Semele, who was the daughter of Cadmus, the king of Thebes, and his wife Harmonia. In one myth, Hera, jealous of Semele, tricked the pregnant princess into asking Zeus to appear to her in his full glory.
Zeus was forced to oblige and the unfortunate princess was burned to ashes by the heat of his lightning bolts. Zeus recovered the unborn Dionysus from his mother’s ashes, sewed him into his thigh, and carried him until he was ready to be born. The baby Dionysus was first entrusted to the care of Silenus, a minor rustic god, and later to his aunt, Ino, Semele’s sister.
When he came of age, Dionysus traveled all over the land and even led a military expedition against the Indians. Finally, Dionysus descended to the underworld, retrieved his mother, and brought her to Mount Olympus, where she was transformed into the goddess Thyone.
As the god of wine and revelry, Dionysus' attributes include a staff tipped with a pine-cone (known as a thrysos), a crown of ivy, and a drinking cup. In Classical art, he is either depicted as a bearded old man, or as an effeminate youth with flowing hair. He is also commonly shown accompanied by a retinue of satyrs and maenads.
Dionysus – god of wine. (Derek Key / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Top image: The Battle between the Gods and the Titans by Joachim Wtewael. The beginning of the Greek Gods Source: Public Domain
By Wu Mingren
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