Ancient Greek Gods
Welcome to our Greek Gods and Goddesses page here on History for Kids. We have some fun facts and pictures for you to color. You will learn some interesting facts about each God as you read down the page. Take your time there is a lot of information on this page, check out the quick facts also if you just need a quick understanding and characteristics of each one.
Athena was tall, strong, graceful, gray-eyed, and she liked owls. From the beginning, she was a pretty amazing goddess. In fact, even her birth was most unusual.
Zeus, the father of gods and goddesses, was also Athena’s father. Her mother was a mortal woman named Metis. Older gods had warned Zeus that he would be in trouble if Metis gave birth to a daughter. So he swallowed Metis whole.
When it came time for Athena to be born, she sprang full grown out of Zeus’s head. She was completely dressed in armor, as she always would be. She also carried a shield and a spear. As you might guess about a woman in armor, she was a great warrior.
Athena was also a goddess of wisdom. She taught people about arts and crafts. She also taught them how to think clearly and live well. She was often seen with an owl, so owls became a symbol of wisdom.
Athena didn’t get along with the sea god Poseidon. For one thing, they were often rivals over one thing or another. Once the people of a new city were looking for a god to watch over and protect them. Athena and Poseidon both wanted the job.
To impress the city’s citizens, the two gods gave them gifts. Poseidon struck the ground with his three-pointed spear, and water poured out. The water turned into a river that flowed into the sea. Poseidon told the people to build ships to sail to the sea. He said that they could travel everywhere. They could become the most powerful people on earth.
The citizens were indeed impressed. But then Athena told them to taste the water. It tasted awful. It was saltwater, which is impossible to drink.
Then Athena gave the citizens her gift. When she hit the ground with her spear, a tree magically grew up within seconds. She explained that it was a special tree—an olive tree. Its wood was good both for building houses and for heating those houses in winter. Better still, the tree’s little green fruits, called “olives,” were delicious. And oil made out of the olives was useful for cooking.
The citizens liked Athena’s gift better than Poseidon’s. Not only did they choose Athena to watch over them, they named the city after her. They called it Athens. Poseidon left in a huff, causing a serious flood on his way. But the Athenians weren’t bothered very much. With Athena’s help, their city grew to be strong and wealthy. Athens became one of the greatest cities of all time. Today it’s the capital and the largest city of Greece.
Here are some historical facts about the city of Athens:
•Athenians did their best to make their city live up to its name. Inspired by their tales about Athena’s wisdom, Athens became a center of civilization.
•Athenians turned their city into the world’s first democracy.
•Athenians wrote the world’s first plays, both comedies and tragedies. Those plays were performed in an open-air theater. They are still popular today.
•Some of history’s greatest thinkers were Athenian. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were the city’s most famous philosophers.
•The world’s first historians, Herodotus and Thucydides, lived in Athens.
•Athenians created some of the world’s most beautiful buildings. The ruins of its most famous temple, the Parthenon, are still standing today. The Parthenon once held a large statue of Athena.
•The Athenian Hippocrates is said to be the father of medicine. He wrote a famous oath that is still spoken by doctors today.
The brothers Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon were the most important gods of all. Zeus was the strongest and wisest of the three and ruled over the earth. Hades ruled the Underworld, the world of the dead. Poseidon ruled the seas. He was also the god of earthquakes and horses.
Poseidon had a beard and long blue hair. He drove a golden cart called a chariot.
It was pulled by strange beasts that were half-horse and half-snake. Fish and dolphins always swam along beside the sea god’s chariot.
Poseidon carried a three-pointed spear called a trident. He used this to start earthquakes or bring water out of the ground.
Like the sea he ruled, Poseidon could be either calm or stormy. As you might guess, the god of earthquakes had a short temper. He didn’t get along with other gods. He didn’t always get along with mortals, either.
The people of Troy once asked Poseidon to help build a wall around their city. He helped, but then he got angry when he didn’t get paid for his work. He was Troy’s enemy ever after that. When Troy fought a terrible war against Greece, Poseidon supported the Greeks.
Each god had a city to protect and watch over. The city showed its thanks by honoring that god especially. Maybe because he was ill-tempered, Poseidon had trouble finding a city to honor him. The people of Athens chose Athena instead of Poseidon as its protector. The people of Naxos chose Dionysus. The people of Aegina chose Zeus. Finally, all the gods had special cities except Poseidon. He was very unhappy and disappointed.
But at long last, the people of Atlantis chose Poseidon. Atlantis was a huge island, and its people loved and honored him. There he fell in love with a mortal princess named Clito. He built a palace for her, and they had ten sons. The sons grew up to be kings who ruled different parts of Atlantis. Those kings ruled wisely, and Atlantis became the greatest civilization in the world. Poseidon was proud and happy.
But bad times came. The first kings of Atlantis died, and their sons were bad rulers. And the sons who came after them were worse yet. Years passed, and Atlantis was no longer the world’s greatest civilization. It was actually the worst. It had become both wicked and foolish.
Finally, the people of Atlantis forgot to worship Poseidon. The sea god became angry and used his trident to start a terrible earthquake. Atlantis sank beneath the waves, never to be seen again.
Here are some historical facts about Poseidon’s story:
•Horses were very important in the ancient world. Poseidon’s earliest worshippers may have been the people who first brought horses to Greece.
•There are many earthquakes in Greece. Not surprisingly, a god of earthquakes was taken very seriously there.
•The sea was very important to the Ancient Greeks. They were great explorers whose ships sailed to distant places.
•Fishermen in the ancient world caught tuna with a trident.
•Atlantis was thought to have been in a faraway ocean. Today we call that ocean the Atlantic.
•Atlantis was probably imaginary. Even so, some people still believe that it once was real. And people keep looking for it.
•Atlantis may have been based on a real place. There once was a large island called Thera. It was destroyed by a huge volcano. Like Atlantis, it sank into the sea.
Hermes was the messenger god. He was young and intelligent-looking. He wore a winged hat and winged sandals, and he carried a magic wand. (We know what he looked like because so many sculptors made statues of him.)
Hermes was said to be the god of the marketplace. Oddly, he was also said to be the god of thieves. He himself was a clever thief. He started stealing early in life—actually on the day he was born.
His father was Zeus, the king of the gods. His mother was a young goddess named Maia. He was born in a mountain cave, and only a few minutes after his birth, Hermes decided to make himself a toy. He picked up a tortoise shell and tied strings across it, then plucked the strings. That was how Hermes invented the first musical instrument, which was called a lyre. And he invented music too!
His playing and singing put his mother to sleep. Then, when Hermes was still only an hour or two old, he left the cave and went out to look around at the world. He soon found a herd of cattle that belonged to the god Apollo. The baby Hermes liked the cattle and decided to steal them.
When Apollo wasn’t looking, Hermes tied branches to the cows’ tails. As he led them away, the branches dragged along and erased their hoof prints. Then he hid the cattle and went back to his cave. He climbed back up into his sleeping mother’s arms. When she woke up, she had no idea that he’d even been away.
When Apollo managed to track down Hermes, he was surprised to see that the thief was just a newborn baby. Even so, he demanded his cattle back. Then Hermes started playing the lyre. Apollo was so delighted by the music that he let Hermes keep the cattle in exchange for the lyre. After that, Apollo carried the lyre everywhere and became known as the god of music.
Hermes never stopped being full of mischief. But when he grew up, the gods learned that they could count on him for one important task. With his winged hat and sandals, he ran and flew as fast as the wind, so Zeus named him the messenger of the gods.
Whenever the gods wanted to send messages to mortals, they gave the job to Hermes. Although he didn’t always tell the truth himself, he always delivered those messages just the way he was supposed to.
Here are some interesting facts about Hermes’ story.
•Along with the lyre, Hermes was said to have invented another musical instrument called a panpipe. It’s a kind of flute that is still played today.
•Hermes was said to be the god of travelers. Statues of him could be found at crossroads throughout Ancient Greece. They were put there to bring travelers good luck.
•There were no telephones and no Internet in the ancient world. Messages were usually carried by runners on foot. So the god of messengers was considered a very important god.
•One of the most famous messengers of all time was a soldier named Pheidippides. Story has it that he ran from one city to another, carrying news that the Greeks had won the Battle of Marathon. He delivered the message and died. Today’s marathon races are held in his honor.
•Hermes’ magic wand was called a caduceus. It had wings, like his hat and sandals. It also had snakes wrapped around it. Today the caduceus is the symbol of the medical profession.
Ares was the god of war. He wore armor and a helmet, and he carried a shield, sword, and spear. He was big and strong and had a fierce war cry, but his war cry was mostly just a lot of noise. Ares didn’t fight at all well. The armored goddess Athena was a much better warrior.
The Ancient Greeks didn’t like war, and they didn’t like Ares, either. They considered him a troublemaker. And like many troublemakers, Ares was a coward and a bully.
In fact, Ares was never really of use to anybody in a war. One time a group of giants declared war on the gods. The giants wanted to rule the entire universe. To keep Ares out of the fighting, they sneaked up on him and knocked him out cold, then they stuffed him into a jar.
The other gods heard Ares screaming for somebody to let him out. They just ignored him because they figured they could fight better without him. They went on to defeat the giants, and then they let Ares out of the jar after the battle was over. Ares bragged about how he could have beaten the giants if he’d been free. The other gods only laughed.
Ares never stayed loyal to one side or the other in a war. He just enjoyed watching people fighting and dying. The war between Greece and Troy was one of the worst ever fought, and even the gods joined in the battle. When the war started, Ares promised his mother, Hera, to help the Greeks. But he was in love with the goddess Aphrodite, so she easily talked him into helping the Trojans.
The Trojans would have been just as happy without Ares’s help. Always the bully, he didn’t pick fights with other gods. Instead, he challenged a mortal Greek warrior named Diomedes, but Diomedes wounded Ares.
Ares liked to cause pain for others, but he whined and complained whenever he got hurt. This time was no different. The wound he got from Diomedes wasn’t very serious, but even so, Ares didn’t keep fighting. He went running back to Olympus, the home of the gods, and wept and wailed to his father Zeus. Even though Zeus bandaged up Ares’s wound, he was not at all proud of his warrior son.
That wasn’t the only time Ares was wounded. The great hero Heracles wounded him twice, and one of those times he took away Ares’s armor and weapons. Both times Ares ran away crying to Olympus.
Here are some interesting facts about Ares’s story:
•For a long time, historians thought that the city of Troy was just a legend. But the ruins of Troy have been found in modern-day Turkey.
•The Trojan War was also thought to be only a legend. But today some historians think that there really was such a war. It was fought between Greece and Troy.
•The Greeks had good reason to dislike war. The cities of Greece fought each other in a terrible war that lasted for 27 years. It’s called the Peloponnesian War.
•Although the Ancient Greeks didn’t like Ares, the Ancient Romans admired him. They called him Mars. They told stories that made Mars sound like a hero.
•The Romans liked Ares because they thought that war was noble. The Romans spoke Latin. The Latin words for “war” and “beauty” are very similar. The word for “war” is “bellum.” The word for “beauty” is “bellus.”
Zeus was the king of the gods. He and his brothers Hades and Poseidon were in charge of the whole universe. Hades ruled the Underworld, the world of the dead. Poseidon ruled the seas. Zeus, the greatest of the three, ruled the earth and the sky. He controlled the weather, causing wind and rain. He also caused thunder and lightning. He threw his thunderbolt like a spear.
Zeus was a good reminder that the gods were not perfect. For one thing, he was not all-powerful. His daughters, the three Fates, decided the futures of both gods and mortals. Zeus couldn’t overrule their decisions.
And although Zeus was often wise, he could also be foolish. He could be selfish and even cruel. He was not a good husband to Hera, the queen of the gods. And he was not a good father to many of his children. Not surprisingly, the other gods sometimes rebelled against his rule.
Still, Zeus most gods and mortals respected Zeus. He gave laws and justice to mortals. He taught them kindness and good manners. One story shows how much Zeus prized hospitality and kindness toward strangers.
Zeus liked to travel, sometimes in disguise. Once he was traveling with his son Hermes, the messenger god, in a land called Phrygia. They were both disguised as ordinary mortal men. They stopped at all the houses in Phrygia, asking for food and a place to stay the night. Time and time again, they were rudely turned away. Even rich people turned them away.
At last they arrived at the home of an elderly couple, a woman named Baucis and a man named Philemon. Baucis and Philemon were extremely poor. Even so, they treated the travelers kindly, inviting them into their home for food and drink. They allowed the disguised gods to spend the night.
The next day, Hermes and Zeus took off their disguises. Everyone could see that they were gods. Zeus punished the couple’s Phrygian neighbors with a terrible flood. All houses were destroyed, except the little hut of Baucis and Philemon. Zeus turned it into a beautiful temple.
As a reward for their kindness, Zeus offered the couple anything that they wanted. Because they had lived happily together all their lives, they asked never to be parted. Even in death they wanted to remain together. Baucis and Philemon spent the rest of their lives serving as the temple’s priestess and priest. When they died they turned into two trees growing out of the same trunk.
Here are some interesting facts about Zeus’s story:
•Weather seemed even more mysterious in ancient times than it does today. It’s no surprise that the god who controlled the weather was the most powerful god of all.
•Lightning and thunder were especially puzzling to ancient people. Many cultures have had gods of thunder and lightning. In Norse mythology, it was Thor. To the Finns, it was Ukko. To the Aztecs, it was Tlaloc.
•Lightning remained a mystery for thousands of years. During the 1700s, the American scientist and thinker Benjamin Franklin helped solve that mystery. He discovered the lightning was made up of electricity. Then he invented the lightning rods to protect houses and buildings. He was nicknamed “the Man Who Tamed the Lightning.”
•In ancient times, travel was difficult and dangerous. Travelers depended on the kindness of people they met along the way. The Greeks even had a word for kindness toward strangers and travelers. They called it xenios.
Aphrodite had an unusual birth. She rose up out of sea foam, beautiful and fully grown-up. She was the goddess of love, and she liked doves, sparrows, and swans. She was married to Hephaestus, the god of the forge, but not at all happily. She was really in love with Ares, the god of war.
Aphrodite and her son Eros were in charge of making people and gods fall in love. Eros used his magic bow and arrow to make that happen.
Oddly, this goddess of love helped start a terrible war. But she didn’t really mean to. Eris, the goddess of discord, liked to stir up trouble. So one day Eris made a golden apple. She wrote the words “For the Fairest” on it. Then she threw this apple where the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite would find it.
Each one of them thought she was “the Fairest”—the most beautiful goddess of all. They decided to hold a beauty contest. To judge the contest, they chose a mortal named Paris. He was a handsome Prince of Troy.
Each goddess took Paris aside and offered him a gift. If Paris chose Hera, she promised to make the ruler of the world. If he chose Athena, she promised to make him a victorious soldier. But Paris wasn’t very ambitious or brave. He wasn’t interested in either of those offers.
Then Aphrodite promised Paris the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. This appealed to Paris much more than the other offers did. So he judged Aphrodite “the Fairest” of the goddesses, and she got to keep the apple.
This was exactly what the troublemaking Eris had hoped for. The most beautiful woman in the world happened to be married already. Her name was Helen. She was the Queen of Sparta and the wife of King Menelaus.
When Helen and Paris ran away to Troy together, Menelaus was furious. He called all the great warriors of Greece together, and they declared war on Troy. Many thousands of warriors died in the Trojan War, which lasted ten years. It ended with the destruction of Troy.
Here are some interesting facts about Aphrodite’s story:
•Today some historians believe that there really was a Trojan war. It was fought between Greece and Troy.
•The Romans called Aphrodite by the name Venus. The planet Venus is named after her.
•Venus is the planet closest to Earth. It is also the nearest planet in size to Earth. Next to the moon, it is usually the brightest object in the nighttime sky. Venus is easiest to see in the morning and evening. That’s why it is called both the “Morning Star” and the “Evening Star.”
•The Greeks pictured Aphrodite’s son Eros as a handsome young man. The Romans called him Cupid. They came to picture him as a little boy with wings and a bow and arrow. Pictures of Cupid are very common on Valentine’s Day.
•The goddess Venus was said to be the mother of the hero Aeneas. According to legend, Aeneas helped found the city of Rome. The real-life Roman general and dictator Julius Caesar claimed to be a descendent of Venus.
Hera was the queen of the gods and the protector of women. Her husband Zeus ruled the earth and sky. She was the mother of the war god Ares and the forge god Hephaestus. Her daughter, Ilithyia, was the goddess of childbirth.
Hera was beautiful and graceful. But she was also stern and bossy. And she could be very vain about her good looks. Hera was furious when she lost a beauty contest with Athena and Aphrodite. Another time, a mortal queen claimed to be more beautiful than Hera. The goddess turned that queen into a crane.
Although Hera was the goddess of marriage, her own marriage wasn’t happy. For one thing, Zeus was always interested in other women. Hera had good reason to be jealous.
Once she sent a hundred-eyed monster named Argos to spy on Zeus. Even Zeus couldn’t get away with much with Argos watching him!
Annoyed, Zeus called upon his son Hermes, the messenger god. He ordered Hermes to kill Argos. This was hard to do, because some of Argos’s eyes were always awake and watching. But Hermes managed to put all those eyes to sleep. Then he killed Argos as Zeus had commanded.
Hera put Argos’s eyes in the peacock’s tail. The peacock was her favorite bird from that time on. Hera was also fond of cows, lions, and cuckoos.
Next, Zeus asked a young goddess named Echo for help. Echo was a wonderful storyteller. At Zeus’s orders, Echo told Hera stories. That kept Hera’s attention for hours and hours. Meanwhile, Zeus could sneak away and do whatever he wanted.
Hera figured out what was going on. She got very angry with Echo. This wasn’t fair, of course. Echo couldn’t help what she was doing. After all, she couldn’t very well disobey the king of the gods. But when Hera was angry, she could be most unfair.
Hera cursed Echo. She took away Echo’s power to tell stories. She even took away Echo’s power to speak normally. Instead, Echo could only repeat things said by others.
Echo became so sad that she disappeared completely. But it is said that you can still hear her voice. If you shout in a canyon or valley, Echo might repeat your words.
Here are some interesting facts about Hera’s story:
•Hera was the goddess of the calendar year. The ancient Athenians didn’t have just one calendar. Instead, they used a calendar for festivals, another for political matters, and another for the seasons.
•Today many cultures have different yearly calendars. The 12-month calendar mostly used in European and American countries is called the Julian calendar.
•Hera was a goddess who protected women. In Ancient Athens, women needed a protector. Even when Athens became a democracy, women had very few rights. An unmarried girl was ruled by her father; a married woman was ruled by her husband. Women could not become full citizens. Even male slaves had more rights than women did.
•Things were different in Sparta, Athens’s warlike neighbor. Spartan men were often away fighting. When the men were gone, women took charge in many important ways. Some of the wealthiest and most powerful Spartan citizens were women. Even so, Spartan women could not hold political positions.
Artemis was the god Apollo’s twin sister. She was goddess of the moon and of the hunt. She didn’t like cities very much, preferring to roam forests and mountainsides.
She hunted with a silver bow and silver arrows. Like all good hunters, Artemis liked to protect wildlife. She took special care to watch over small animals.
Artemis was a strong-willed goddess. She knew what she wanted from an early age. Once when she was three years old, she was sitting on her father Zeus’s knee. Zeus asked the little goddess what she most wanted in life.
First, she asked Zeus for three different names. These would fit her moods, which could be seen in the changing Moon. When she was cheerful and the moon was bright, she was called Selene. When she was in a bad mood and the moon was dark, she was called Hecate. The rest of the time she was called Artemis.
She also asked Zeus for loyal goddesses to hunt with. Zeus gave her lots of female followers called nymphs. Finally, she told Zeus that she never wanted to have much to do with men. So Zeus made sure that Artemis never fell in love with a man and never had a husband.
Although she wasn’t interested in much except hunting, Artemis could also be a good warrior. In fact, she was a much better fighter than Ares, the god of war. She was also more clever. One time some giants declared war on the gods. The giants trapped Ares in a jar, so he couldn’t do any fighting at all. Artemis tricked two of the giants by taking the shape of a deer and running between them. The giants both shot arrows at the deer, but killed each other instead.
Artemis was also clever about keeping men out of her life—both gods and mortals. The river god Alpheus fell in love with her and went chasing after her through the woods. Artemis smeared mud all over her own face, then told her nymphs to do the same. Alpheus couldn’t tell Artemis and the nymphs apart. The river god gave up and went home, sad and disappointed.
Artemis was especially honored by a legendary race of women called Amazons. They were all warrior women who never married.
Here are some interesting facts about Artemis’s story:
•The “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” was a list made by the Greeks of man-made marvels. A temple of Artemis was on that list. The Great Pyramids of Egypt are the only wonders on the list still standing today.
•Because she was the goddess of the Moon, Artemis has a crater on the Moon named after her. A crater is a hollow place that was formed by collision with an object from outer space.
•The moon has long been believed to affect human moods and actions. One Roman name for the goddess of the moon was “Luna.” The word “lunatic,” meaning insane person, came from that name.
•A lunar eclipse happens when the earth passes between the sun and the moon. On February 29, 1504, the explorer Christopher Columbus was on the island of Jamaica. He knew that a lunar eclipse was coming, and that the moon would seem to disappear. The islanders didn’t know what an eclipse was. Columbus used the eclipse to trick the islanders into doing whatever he wanted.
The brothers Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades were the most important gods of all. Zeus was the strongest and wisest of the three and ruled over the earth. Poseidon ruled the seas. Hades ruled the Underworld, the world of the dead. Hades had dark hair and a dark beard, and he drove a chariot drawn by four dark horses. He was married to Persephone, the queen of the dead.
Neither gods nor mortals liked Hades very much. This wasn’t really fair. Hades wasn’t mean or cruel. It just wasn’t his job to be kind or merciful. His duty was to make sure the dead stayed in the Underworld forever.
Few mortals ever went to the Underworld and made it back alive. One of these was the great singer Orpheus. When his wife, Eurydice, died, Orpheus went to the Underworld to bring her back.
Orpheus’s singing delighted Hades, so he agreed to let him take Eurydice back home. Hades made one rule, though. Orpheus wasn’t allowed to look at Eurydice as they fled the Underworld. But along the way, Orpheus turned to see if Eurydice was still following him. So she had to stay in the world of the dead forever.
There aren’t many stories about Hades. Because he rarely left the Underworld, he seldom had adventures. He just went about the unpleasant business of ruling the dead. When he did go out into the world of the living, it usually ended badly for him.
Once Hades left his realm in search of Sisyphus, the king of Corinth. Sisyphus was one of the cleverest mortals who ever lived. He managed to cheat death time and time again.
Hades planned to put Sisyphus in handcuffs and take him to the Underworld. Instead, the tricky king talked Hades into trying on the handcuffs himself. As long as Sisyphus held Hades hostage, nobody would ever die. The gods couldn’t allow that, so they pestered Sisyphus into letting Hades loose.
Sisyphus himself finally died and went to the Underworld. The gods knew that he might still be up to mischief even there. So they sentenced him to an impossible task.
Sisyphus had to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down again. Then he had to roll it back up the hill, only to have it roll down yet again. Poor Sisyphus had to do this again and again forever. At least it kept him from causing Hades any more trouble.
Eventually, the world of the dead itself came to be called Hades, after its king. A fierce three-headed dog named Cerberus guarded Hades. The river Styx flowed between Hades and the world of the living. A ferryman named Charon rowed dead souls across the Styx.
Here are some interesting facts about Hades’ story:
•The Ancient Greeks feared Hades so much that they avoided saying his name. Instead, they called him “Pluton,” which meant “the Rich.” This was because Hades’ realm was said to be the home of precious stones and metals. The Romans renamed Hades “Pluto.”
•Today, a plutocrat is someone who rules other people with wealth. A plutocracy is a government based on wealth.
•A small, distant object called Pluto was once thought to be the farthest planet from the sun. Today Pluto is no longer considered to be a planet at all. The farthest planet from the sun is called Neptune. This was the Roman name for Poseidon, the god of the sea.
•A task that seems pointless and endless is now sometimes called Sisyphean.
Apollo was the twin brother of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the Moon. Like his sister, Apollo loved hunting with a bow and arrow. He was the god of wisdom, poetry, and music.
Apollo was a handsome god, with long black hair. He drove a golden chariot drawn by swans. He was the leader of the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts.
This god liked lions, wolves, stags, crows, and dolphins. He also liked cattle, and once had a herd of his own. The baby Hermes stole that herd from him. But Apollo let Hermes keep the cattle in return for his lyre. The lyre was a kind of harp that Hermes had made out of a tortoise shell.
When Apollo was still a young god, he wanted to know his future. So he went to a town called Delphi, where a priestess was said to tell fortunes. She was called an “oracle.”
When Apollo arrived in Delphi, he found trouble awaiting him. A monster named Python was supposed to guard the oracle. But Python had turned cruel and was terrorizing the people of Delphi.
Apollo killed Python with his bare hands. Then the citizens of Delphi built a temple in his honor. The oracle kept telling people’s fortunes there.
After that, Apollo became known as the god of prophecy—which means the ability to foretell the future. He was believed to always tell the truth.
Apollo was also known as great healer. However, he sometimes caused disease as well. His son, Asclepius, was the god of medicine for a while. But Asclepius grew so powerful that he could raise the dead. The gods couldn’t allow that, so Zeus killed Asclepius with his thunderbolt.
Because Apollo was called the god of light, he was sometimes mistaken for the sun god. The real god of the sun was Helios, who drove a flaming chariot across the sky.
Helios once made a terrible mistake. He allowed his half-mortal son Phaeton to drive his chariot. But Phaeton couldn’t control Helios’s horses. He almost destroyed the world with that flaming chariot. Like Asclepius, Phaeton was killed by Zeus’s thunderbolt.
Here are some interesting facts about Apollo’s story:
•A huge snake called a python can be found in parts of Africa and Asia. It’s named after the monster that Apollo killed.
•In ancient times Delphi was said to be the center of the world. Its ruins are still visited today.
•The Pythian Games were an athletic event held every four years in Delphi. They were named after the monster slain by Apollo. Those games were something like today’s Olympics. The earliest Olympic games were also played in Ancient Greece.
•A priestess in Delphi really was believed to tell fortunes. Once she was asked about the Athenian philosopher Socrates. She said that no one in the world was wiser than he. Socrates was surprised, because he thought he knew nothing at all. He soon noticed that people who thought themselves wise knew no more than he did. So Socrates was truly wise in knowing himself to be ignorant.
•Today the word Apollonian means wise, prudent, and well thought-out. The god Dionysus was thought to be reckless and unruly, most unlike the calm and sensible Apollo. So the word Dionysian means wild, uncontrolled, and lacking reason.
Hephaestus was the god of fire. He was a blacksmith whose forge was in a volcano. His helpers were one-eyed giants called Cyclopes. He worked in bronze, iron, silver, and gold. He also made things out of clay, including living creatures. From clay he made Pandora, the first mortal woman in the world.
Hephaestus made many useful things for the gods. For the messenger god Hermes, he made a winged hat and winged sandals. For the sun god Helios, he made a golden chariot to ride across the sky. For the Eros, the god of love, he made a silver bow with silver arrows.
Hephaestus was a good-natured god who usually got along well with everybody. Even so, his mother, Hera, once got angry with him. She threw him off Olympus, the mountain where the gods lived. When he hit the ground, he broke his foot. A goddess named Thetis nursed him back to health. But he walked with a limp ever after that.
Good-natured though he was, Hephaestus didn’t forgive Hera. And he finally got even with her. He made a beautiful throne out of gold and offered it to her as a gift. When she sat on it, invisible chains wrapped around her wrists. She couldn’t get out of the throne, which rose up into the air.
All the gods tried to talk Hephaestus into letting Hera loose. Hephaestus finally did when the beautiful goddess Aphrodite agreed to marry him. Theirs wasn’t a happy marriage, though. Aphrodite was really in love with Ares, the god of war.
The goddess Thetis had a half-mortal son named Achilles. When Achilles was a baby, she bathed him in the river Styx. This was supposed to make him invulnerable, meaning impossible to hurt or kill. Even so, Thetis worried when Achilles got ready to go fight in the Trojan War.
Hephaestus made the best weapons and armor in the world. So Thetis asked Hephaestus to make a shield and armor for Achilles. Hephaestus was still grateful to Thetis for helping him after his fall from Olympus. So he was happy to do as she asked.
Hephaestus’s armor didn’t let Achilles down during the war. But Thetis had made one mistake. When she had dipped Achilles in the river Styx, she had held him by the heel. So his heel was not invulnerable. Achilles was killed by an arrow in his heel.
Here are some interesting facts about Hephaestus’s story:
•Pandora, the woman Hephaestus made from clay, was said to have had a box of evils. She opened the box, letting all those evils loose in the world. Today, to “open a Pandora’s box” means to cause a lot of trouble accidentally.
•The Romans gave Hephaestus the name Vulcan. That’s where the word “volcano” comes from.
•The word “vulcanization” also comes from the name Vulcan. Vulcanization is a process for hardening rubber, especially for tires. It uses extreme heat and sulfur.
•Today, a person’s weak spot is called an “Achilles’s heel,” after the story of how Achilles died.
•Human history is sometimes divided into three periods. These are named after the materials most used for tools in those times. The earliest was the Stone Age, followed by the Bronze Age, followed by the Iron Age. The stories about Hephaestus were told in the Iron Age, when blacksmithing was very important.
The beautiful Hestia was the oldest of the gods of Olympus. She disliked gossip, so hardly any stories were told about he. But it would be a mistake to think she wasn’t important. In some ways, she was the most important of all the gods.
From the earliest times, the other gods of Olympus all had duties. Hermes carried messages, Ares was in charge of war, Artemis watched over all hunters, and Zeus ruled over everybody. Other gods had other jobs. But for a time, no one seemed to know what Hestia was supposed to do.
One day the gods Poseidon and Apollo told Zeus that they both loved Hestia. Both of them wanted to marry her. They demanded that Zeus choose between them. Otherwise, war would break out among the gods. And such a war would have been terrible indeed.
But Hestia solved the whole problem very simply. She refused ever to have a husband. Zeus was relieved and grateful to avoid a war. As a reward, he gave Hestia the keys to Olympus. He put her in charge of the gods’ everyday business. Hestia made sure that the gods always had plenty of food, clothing, and money. After all, even gods have to worry about such things!
Zeus also made Hestia the goddess of homes everywhere. It was she who taught mortals how to build houses. And every house had a sacred spot for her. That was the hearth, the center of family life.
Mortals prayed to Hestia more than to any of the other gods. Every family meal began and ended with a prayer to Hestia. Whenever a baby was born, the parents carried it around the hearth and prayed to Hestia. Mortals had a saying: “Begin with Hestia.” In other words, when doing anything, always start out in the right way.
Hestia lived a quiet life, leaving fame and adventure to others. Zeus’s half-mortal son Dionysus showed up on Olympus one day. He wanted to have a throne like the other important gods. Hestia gladly gave up her own throne for him. After all, she was too busy to spend much time sitting there.
Here are some interesting facts about Hestia’s story:
•A hearth in an Ancient Greek home wasn’t like today’s fireplaces. It wasn’t placed in a wall at the end of a room.
Instead, it was in the middle of the central room. Its coals burned all the time, whether for warmth or for cooking. In honor of Hestia, Greeks made sure that the fire never went out.
•Every Ancient Greek city also had a public hearth for all citizens. Hestia was sacred there also. When the people of one city founded another city, they took coals with them to light the new city’s hearth. As in hearths in private houses, the fires in public hearths were never allowed to die out.
•In Ancient Rome, Hestia was called by the name of Vesta. The six priestesses in her temple were called Vestals. Like Vesta herself, they never married.
•An asteroid called Vesta is named after the goddess. An asteroid is a body that orbits the sun but is much smaller than a planet. Although Vesta is only the second largest asteroid, it is the one most visible from Earth. The largest asteroid is called Ceres, the Roman name for the goddess Demeter.