Modern science today tells us why the sun rises each morning and sets each night or why the different seasons occur when they do. Three thousand years ago, people did not have the knowledge we do now to tell the reasons why things happen, but they knew they were caused by something. Their gods filled the void in knowledge. There were many gods in the world, and each had there own responsibilities in keeping the world running. The most famous of these gods today are the Olympian Gods of Greece. The Olympian Gods derive their name from Mt Olympus, where they were said to reside.
They were the third dynasty of gods in ancient Greece. The first dynasty came from Time, which always existed, and its offspring Chaos, the dark black void. The first dynasty was the heavens and earth or Uranus and Gaea. Their children became the second dynasty also known as the Titans. The Titans ruler was Cronus, who was eventually overthrown by his own children, the third dynasty. Among this third dynasty, there are considered to be twelve main gods of Olympus and two who did not live in Olympus but were part of the same group.
The king of the Olympians was Zeus. He came to power when he and his siblings defeated their father Cronus. Zeus and his two brothers divided up the world amongst each other. Zeus, claiming the sky as his own, became the most powerful of the gods and thus their king.
Zeus sister and queen was Hera, the god of women, marriage, and maternity. Much of Greek mythology deals with their relationship and Zeus constant infidelity. Zeus had three more siblings that made up the gods of Olympus. The other two siblings who received a piece of the world were Poseidon and Hades. Poseidon was the god of the sea and second most powerful in Olympus. Hades became the ruler of the underworld where he lived and thus was not in Olympus but still played an important part in Greek mythology.
The fina sibling was Demeter. She was the god of agriculture and grain, and the cause for the different seasons. According to myth, Hades kidnapped her daughter and took her to the underworld. Demeter s sadness caused the plants to stop growing. Zeus stepped in and got her daughter back, but Hades made her daughter eat some seeds that forced her to come back to the underworld for four months of the year, creating autumn.
The remainder of the Olympian gods, with one exception, were the children of Zeus and / or Hera. Zeus and Hera had two children together, Ares the god of war and He bes the goddess of youth. Oddly enough Zeus and Hera each had a child by themselves. Athena the goddess strategy and wisdom came full-grown from the forehead of Zeus and Hephaestus the god of fire and blacksmiths was born to Hera by herself.
There is even one goddess who wasn t born to anyone. Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty came from sea foam. The last four of the Olympian gods were Zeus children from affairs with other goddesses. With the goddess Leto, Zeus had Apollo the god of the sun and music and his twin sister Artemis the goddess of the moon, hunting, and childbirth. With the goddess Maia, Zeus had Hermes the messenger of the gods. Dionysus, the son of Zeus and the goddess Semele, was the god of wine and merrymaking.
There are many places in our society where these ancient gods can still be seen today. First and foremost would be in our educational system. Students are usually first exposed to the Greek gods in their English and literature classes, where they read books such as The Odyssey and The Iliad by Homer. In ancient history classes, students are given a more factual approach to the life of the ancient Greeks and who their gods were.
Another example of the visibility of the Pantheon of Gods is in art classes, where students are taught how the Greek people s belief in their gods influenced their sculptures, paintings, and architecture. Today s entertainment industry is another place the Greek gods are still visible, albeit not entirely historically accurate. There are many movies documenting the adventures of Hercules, the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, and his battles against the gods and their creations to save mankind. One of the more popular television series of the day is Xena the Warrior Princess. Xena is a female version of Hercules who runs around helping the good gods and fighting the evil ones. The gods are also symbolically represented throughout our culture.
Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest athlete of our time, can be seen endorsing the sports equipment manufacturer Nike, derived from the Greek goddess of victory. The state of Tennessee has a professional football team called the Titans, whose name instills in us a picture of warriors defeating their enemies. Many people who keep big strong dogs as their pets choose the name of Zeus, telling us their dog is the most powerful. Even though the world today does not believe in the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, there presence in today s society can still be felt.
To the ancient Greeks they represented an answer to why things happened; to us their names bring education, entertainment, and meaning.