Twelve Olympians

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In the ancient Greek religion, the Twelve Olympians are the major deities of the Greek pantheon, commonly considered to be Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes and either Hestia, or Dionysus.[1] Hades and Persephone were sometimes included as part of the twelve Olympians (primarily due to the influence of the Eleusinian Mysteries), although in general Hades was excluded, because he resided permanently in the underworld and never visited Mount Olympus. Heracles and Asclepius were sometimes included as well.

The Twelve Olympians[edit]

Fragment of a Hellenistic relief (1st century BC – 1st century AD) depicting the Twelve Olympians carrying their attributes in procession; from left to right, Hestia (scepter), Hermes (winged cap and staff), Aphrodite (veiled), Ares (helmet and spear), Demeter (scepter and wheat sheaf), Hephaestus (staff), Hera (scepter), Poseidon (trident), Athena (owl and helmet), Zeus (thunderbolt and staff), Artemis (bow and quiver), Apollo (lyre), from the Walters Art Museum.[2]

The Twelve Olympians, also known as the Dodekatheon (Greek: Δωδεκάθεον,δώδεκα,[3][4] dōdeka, "twelve" and θεοί, theoi, "gods"), were the principal deities of the Greek pantheon, residing atop a mythical Mount Olympus. The Olympians gained their supremacy in a war of gods in which Zeus led his siblings to victory over the Titans.

The concept of the "Twelve Gods" is older than any extant Greek or Roman sources.[5] The gods meet in council in the Homeric epics, but the first ancient reference to religious ceremonies for the Olympians collectively is found in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. The Greek cult of the Twelve Olympians can be traced to 6th-century BC Athens and probably has no precedent in the Mycenaean period. The altar to the Twelve Olympians at Athens is usually dated to the archonship of the younger Pesistratos, in 522/521 BC.

While the number was fixed at twelve,[6] there was considerable variation as to which deities were included.[7] However, the twelve as most commonly portrayed in art and poetry were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes and either Hestia, or Dionysus.

Hades, known in the Eleusinian tradition as Pluto, was not usually included among the Olympians because his realm was the underworld. Plato connected the Twelve Olympians with the twelve months, and implies that he considered Pluto one of the twelve in proposing that the final month be devoted to him and the spirits of the dead.[8][9] In Phaedrus Plato aligns the Twelve with the Zodiac and would exclude Hestia from their rank.[10] But Eudoxus of Cnidus was the first to relate gods and signs.[citation needed]

In ancient Greek religion, the "Olympian Gods" and the "Cults of Twelve Gods" were often relatively distinct concepts.[11] The Dodekatheon of Herodorus of Heraclea included Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hermes, Athena, Apollo, Alpheus, Cronus, Rhea and the Charites.[4][12] The historian Herodotus states that Heracles was included as one of the Twelve by some.[13] At Kos, Heracles and Dionysus are added to the Twelve, and Ares and Hephaestus are not.[14] For Pindar,[15] the Bibliotheca, and Herodorus, Heracles is not one of the Twelve Gods, but the one who established their cult.[4] Lucian (2nd century AD) includes Heracles and Asclepius as members of the Twelve, without explaining which two had to give way for them.

Hebe, Helios, Selene, Eos, Eros and Persephone are other important gods and goddesses who are sometimes included in a group of twelve.[citation needed] Eros is often depicted alongside the other twelve, especially his mother Aphrodite, but not usually counted in their number.

The Roman poet Ennius gives the Roman equivalents (the Dii Consentes) as six male-female complements,[9] preserving the place of Vesta (Greek Hestia), who played a crucial role in Roman religion as a state goddess maintained by the Vestals.

List of the Olympians[edit]

The major Olympians[edit]

Greek nameRoman nameImageFunctions and attributes
ZeusJupiterJupiter Smyrna Louvre Ma13.jpgKing of the gods and ruler of Mount Olympus; god of the sky, and thunder. Youngest child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. Symbols include the thunderbolt, eagle, oak tree, scepter, and scales. Brother and husband of Hera, although he had many lovers. Brother of Poseidon and Hades.
HeraJunoHera Campana Louvre Ma2283.jpgQueen of the gods and the goddess of marriage and family. Symbols include the peacock, pomegranate, crown, cuckoo, lion, and cow. Youngest daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Wife and sister of Zeus. Being the goddess of marriage, she frequently tried to get revenge on Zeus' lovers and their children.
PoseidonNeptunePoseidon sculpture Copenhagen 2005.jpgGod of the seas, earthquakes, and tidal wave. Symbols include the horse, bull, dolphin, and trident. Middle son of Cronus and Rhea. Brother of Zeus and Hades. Married to the Nereid Amphitrite, although, like most male Greek Gods, he had many lovers.
DemeterCeresHera Barberini Pio-Clementino Inv254.jpgGoddess of fertility, agriculture, nature, and the seasons. Symbols include the poppy, wheat, torch, and pig. Middle daughter of Cronus and Rhea.
AthenaMinervaMattei Athena Louvre Ma530 n2.jpgGoddess of wisdom, handicrafts, defense, and strategic warfare. Symbols include the owl and the olive tree. Daughter of Zeus and the Oceanid Metis, she rose from her father's head fully grown and in full battle armor after he swallowed her mother.
ApolloApollo [A]Apollo, lira, dan angsa.jpgGod of light, knowledge, healing, plague and darkness, the arts, music, poetry, prophecy, archery, the sun, manly youth, and beauty. Son of Zeus and Leto. Symbols include the sun, lyre, bow and arrow, raven, dolphin, wolf, swan, and mouse. Twin brother of Artemis.
ArtemisDianaDiane de Versailles Leochares.jpgGoddess of the hunt, virginity, childbirth, archery, the moon, and all animals. Symbols include the moon, deer, hound, she-bear, snake, cypress tree, and bow and arrow. Daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo.
AresMarsAres villa Hadriana.jpgGod of war, violence, and bloodshed. Symbols include the boar, serpent, dog, vulture, spear, and shield. Son of Zeus and Hera, all the other gods (except Aphrodite) despised him. His Latin name, Mars, gave us the word "martial."
AphroditeVenusNAMA Aphrodite Syracuse.jpgGoddess of love, beauty, and desire. Symbols include the dove, bird, apple, bee, swan, myrtle, and rose. Daughter of Zeus and the Oceanid Dione, or perhaps born from the sea foam after Uranus' semen dripped into the sea after being castrated by his youngest son, Cronus, who then threw his father's genitals into the sea. Married to Hephaestus, although she had many adulterous affairs, most notably with Ares. Her name gave us the word "aphrodisiac", while her Latin name, Venus, gave us the word "venereal".[B]
HephaestusVulcanVulcan Coustou Louvre MR1814.jpgMaster blacksmith and craftsman of the gods; god of fire and the forge. Symbols include fire, anvil, axe, donkey, hammer, tongs, and quail. Son of Hera, either by Zeus or alone. Married to Aphrodite, though unlike most divine husbands, he was rarely ever licentious. His Latin name, Vulcan, gave us the word "volcano."
HermesMercuryHermes Ingenui Pio-Clementino Inv544.jpgMessenger of the gods; god of commerce, thieves, and games. Symbols include the caduceus (staff entwined with two snakes), winged sandals and cap, stork, and tortoise (whose shell he used to invent the lyre). Son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. The second-youngest Olympian, just older than Dionysus.
HestiaVestaHestia - Wellesley College - DSC09634.JPGGoddess of the hearth and of the right ordering of domesticity and the family; she was born into the first Olympian generation and was one of the original twelve Olympians. Some lists of the Twelve Olympians omit her in favor of Dionysus, but the speculation that she gave her throne to him in order to keep the peace seems to be modern invention. She is the first child of Cronus and Rhea, eldest sister of Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hera, and Zeus. Also the eldest of the Olympians.
DionysusBacchusDionysos Louvre Ma87 n2.jpgGod of wine, celebrations, and ecstasy. Patron god of the art of theatre. Symbols include the grapevine, ivy, cup, tiger, panther, leopard, dolphin, goat and pinecone. Son of Zeus and the mortal Theban princess Semele. Married to the Cretan princess Ariadne. The youngest Olympian, as well as the only one to have a mortal mother.
  1. Notes
  2. ^ Romans also associated Phoebus with Helios and the sun itself,[16][17] however, they also used the Greek name: Apollo.[18]
  3. ^ According to an alternate version of her birth, Aphrodite was born of Uranus, Zeus' grandfather, after Cronus threw his castrated genitals into the sea. This supports the etymology of her name, "foam-born". As such, Aphrodite would belong to the same generation as Cronus, Zeus' father, and would technically be Zeus' aunt. See the birth of Aphrodite

Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek mythology[edit]

Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek mythology
Uranus
Gaia
Oceanus
Hyperion
Coeus
Crius
Iapetus
Mnemosyne
Cronus
Rhea
Tethys
Theia
Phoebe
Themis
Zeus
Hera
Hestia
Demeter
Hades
Poseidon
Ares
Hephaestus
Hebe
Eileithyia
Enyo
Eris
Metis
Maia
Leto
Semele
Aphrodite
Athena
Hermes
Apollo
Artemis
Dionysus

Other Olympians[edit]

The following gods and goddess are sometimes included as one of the twelve Olympians.

Greek NameRoman NamesImageFunctions and Attributes
Hades (or
Plouton)
Pluto (sometimes Orcus or
Dis Pater)
Hades-et-Cerberus-III.jpgGod of the Underworld, dead and the riches under the Earth ("Pluto" translates to "The Rich One"); he was born into the first Olympian generation, the elder brother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and Demeter, and younger brother of Hestia, but as he lives in the Underworld rather than on Mount Olympus, he is typically not included amongst the twelve Olympians.
HeraclesHerculesHercules Farnese 3637104088 9c95d7fe3c b.jpgA divine hero, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson (and half-brother) of Perseus (Περσεύς). He was the greatest of the Greek heroes, a paragon of masculinity and a champion of the Olympian order against chthonic monsters.
PersephoneProserpinaAMI - Isis-Persephone.jpgQueen of the Underworld and a daughter of Demeter and Zeus. Also goddess of spring time. She became the consort of Hades, the god of the underworld, when he kidnapped her. Demeter, driven to distraction by the disappearance of her daughter, neglected the earth so that nothing would grow. Zeus eventually ordered Hades to allow Persephone to leave the underworld and rejoin her mother. Hades did this, but because Persephone had eaten six of the twelve pomegranate seeds in the underworld when Hades first kidnapped her, she had to spend six months in the underworld each year. This created the seasons when for six months everything grows and flourishes then for the other six months everything wilts and dies.
AsclepiusVejovisAsklepios - Epidauros.jpgThe god of medicine and healing. He represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia ("Health"), Iaso ("Medicine"), Aceso ("Healing"), Aglæa/Ægle ("Healthy Glow"), and Panacea ("Universal Remedy"). He is the son of Apollo and Coronis.
ErosCupidEros Farnese MAN Napoli 6353.jpgThe god of sexual love and beauty. He was also worshipped as a fertility deity, son of Aphrodite and Ares. He was depicted often as carrying a lyre or bow and arrow. He is often accompanied by dolphins, roses, and torches.
HebeJuventasCanova-Hebe 30 degree view.jpgShe is the daughter of Zeus and Hera. Hebe was the cupbearer for the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, serving their nectar and ambrosia, until she was married to Heracles.
PanFaunus or
Silvanus
PanandDaphnis.jpgThe god of nature, the wild, shepherds and flocks, mountains, hunting, the forest, and rustic music, as well as the companion of the nymphs. The root of the word 'panic' comes from the god Pan.

Minor residents of Mount Olympus[edit]

Assembly of twenty gods, predominantly the Twelve Olympians, as they receive Psyche (Loggia di Psiche, 1518–19, by Raphael and his school, at the Villa Farnesina)

The following gods, goddesses, and demigods were not usually counted as Olympians, although they had close ties to them.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hansen, p. 250; Burkert, pp. 125 ff.; Dowden, p. 43; Chadwick, p. 85; Müller, pp. 419 ff.; Pache, pp. 308 ff.; Thomas, p. 12; Smith, p. 362.
  2. ^ Walters Art Museum, accession number 23.40.
  3. ^ Used rarely, in Byzantine Greek, e.g. by Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos, Athanasius of Alexandria or Ducas.
  4. ^ a b c "Dodekatheon". Papyros-Larousse-Britanicca (in Greek). 2007. 
  5. ^ Burkert, p. 125.
  6. ^ Rutherford, p. 47; Burkert, p. 125; Ogden, pp. 2–3.
  7. ^ According to Stoll, Heinrich Wilhelm (translated by R. B. Paul) (1852). Handbook of the religion and mythology of the Greeks. Francis and John Rivington. p. 8. "The limitation of their number [of the Olympians] to twelve seems to have been a comparatively modern idea" 
  8. ^ Plato, The Laws, 828 d-e
  9. ^ a b "Greek mythology". Encyclopedia Americana 13. 1993. p. 431. 
  10. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg, Plato: Phaedrus, 246 e-f
  11. ^ C.R. Long, The Twelve Gods of Greece and Rome
  12. ^ Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Ulrich von (1931–1932). Der Glaube der Hellenen (Volume 1) (in German). Berlin: Weidmansche Buchhandlung. p. 329. 
  13. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, 2.43–44
  14. ^ Berger-Doer, Gratia (1986). "Dodekatheoi". Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 3. pp. 646–658. 
  15. ^ Pindar, Olympian 10.49
  16. ^ North John A., Beard Mary, Price Simon R.F. "The Religions of Imperial Rome". Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology. (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p.259. ISBN 0-521-31682-0.
  17. ^ Hacklin, Joseph. "The Mythology of Persia". Asiatic Mythology (Asian Educational Services, 1994), p.38. ISBN 81-206-0920-4.
  18. ^ See, for example, Ovid's Met. I 441, 473, II 454, 543, 598, 612, 641, XII 585, XVIII 174, 715, 631, and others.

References[edit]