LLT 121 CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY: Myths of the Olympian Gods I Copyright © 2001, Joseph J. Hughes Last reviewed: 13 August 2001
I. General Background on "Olympian" gods A. 12-14 major divinities who live on Mt. Olympus (except Hades) 1. anthropomorphic; humanistic a. eat ambrosia; drink nectar b. ichor instead of blood; can be wounded 2. Mt. Olympus = believed to be highest peak in Greece B. union between Hera and Zeus: "sacred marriage" of earth and sky 1. animistic principle all but forgotten (but see Homer) 2. completely anthropomorphic a. exaggerated strengths b. exaggerated weaknesses C. syncretism 1. means "growing together" 2. process by which one deity becomes associated with another 3. particularly important in classical mythology a. Romans looked on Greeks as more advanced in religious matters b. associated Greek deities with their own animistic deities.
II. The First Generation of Olympians A. ZEUS (Jupiter) 1. sky god: from Indo-European root di-, = "shine" or "sky" a. weather god: cf. epithet "cloud-gatherer" b. eagle is his animal; also bvll 2. more powerful than all others put together a. aegis, "goat skin," inspires terror; b. thunderbolts, the ultimate weapon 3. supreme ruler a. Zeus' ambiguous relation with Fate b. law/custom and justice; tradition; cf. Themis, c. civic and political concerns: civilization in general 4. father of gods and men a. rain/semen and earth/womb metaphor (hieros gamos) b. prime creator; many affairs 1) + Metis ("Wisdom") = Athena 2) + Themis ("Tradition") = Seasons and Fates 3) + Eurynome = Graces 4) + Mnemosyne ("Memory") = Muses 5) + Dione = Aphrodite 6) + Demeter = Persephone 5. Zeus and Ganymede (cf. the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite) a. prince of the Trojan royal house b. kidnaped by Zeus; given eternal life and youth c. made cupbearer to the gods B. HERA (Juno) 1. Aegean or near Eastern Earth-mother goddess a. fertility of cattle and crops b. her animal is the cow; cf. epithet "cow-eyed" 2. patron of women, especially married women a. family; orderly inheritance of property and rank b. management of extended household 3. queen and permanent wife of Zeus; children by him a. Ares: offensive war b. Eileithyia: childbirth c. Hebe: youth d. Hephaestus, possibly parthenogenetically 4. naturally at odds with Zeus, particularly as deceived wife a. (emotional) husband-wife bond vs. Zeus' will as creator b. natural evolution or development vs.controlled design c. once conspired unsuccessfully against Zeus C. DEMETER (Ceres) 1. Earth-mother or Grain-mother a. agriculture, especially grains and fruits b. close bond with daughter, 2. Eleusinian Mysteries: blessed afterlife D. POSEIDON (Neptune) 1. originally male fertility god, consort of an earth-mother a. association with horses b. affair with Demeter, which produces the horse, Arion c. affair with Medusa produces the winged horse, Pegasus 2. from Homer on, god of all waters on earth a. married to Amphitite, a Nereid b. son is Triton(s), a merman c. carries a trident, his weapon 3. similar to Zeus in character, but more savage a. loses contest with Athena for patronship of Athens b. reflection of the treacherous sea c. "earth-shaker": earthquake or stampeding horses E. HADES (Dis, Orcus) 1. "the Invisible" a. represents the underworld; Hades = Hades' House b. also called Pluto, the "Enricher," because of the c. hidden riches of the earth (e.g., gold) 2. merciless king over all the shades, the ghosts of all dead a. his queen and consort is Persephone b. commands the demons of the underworld F. HESTIA (Vesta) 1. = "Hearth"; first born of the Olympians 2. protectress of the house; centered on the fireplace and fire G. APHRODITE (Venus), Goddess of Sexual Love 1. embodies the power of sexual attraction 2. Eros (= "desire") her companion a. as Cupid, her son b. often represents desire of male for male 3. originally a Near-Eastern fertility "Great Goddess" a. possibly derived from Cybele, Ishtar, Astarte or Isis b. established her main temple on the island Cyprus; cf. epithet "Cyprian" c. prostitution as a religious service 4. "foam-born" (false etymology) a. associations with sailors b. came to land first at Cythera, hence "Cytherean" 5. husband and lovers; children a. married to Hephaestus 1) "beauty and the beast" motif 2) no children b. affair with Ares 6. affair with Hermes a. Hermaphroditus: episode with Salmacis b. bisexuality 7. affair with Dionysus (or Hermes) a. Priapus: garden-fertility god b. large phallus = animal lust (association with jackass) c. phallus = power; a weapon: 8. related myths a. Pygmalion story (from Ovid's Metamorphoses) b. Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite: Aphrodite and Anchises
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