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The Greek Gods Full List and Background

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The number of Greek Gods is huge since the ancient Greeks believed in many deities and spirits. Because knowledge of the world was limited in antiquity, the Ancients were attributing natural phenomena to higher powers. Gods and goddesses could be found everywhere and defined the lives of the people. The twelve gods of Olympus are the most famous ones and were indeed at the center of the ancient Greek religion. However, there were many more than the twelve, and many of them were rulers of the cosmos before the well-known Olympians. Let’s start from the beginning and break down the chaotic family tree of the Greek Gods!

The Primordial Greek Gods

Greek mythology starts at the beginning of the world! The Greek Gods that existed then were the Primordial Gods. The famous work of Hesiod, called Theogony (meaning “birth of the Gods” in Greek), presents a complete cosmogony. Natural forces are personified and the most basic components of the cosmos are Gods.

According to Hesiod, in the beginning there was Chaos. Chaos was the personification of the absolute nothingness – an immerse, dark void from which all of the existence sprang. Out of Chaos came Eros, the god of love and procreation. We can see that ancient Greeks considered love as one of the most fundamental powers in the world. Then Tartarus was born, a dark place like the abyss and the original god of the UnderworldGoddess Gaia then followed, the personification of EarthErebus, the god of darkness, and Nyx, the goddess of the night, were also born from Chaos. From Gaia came Ourea, the god of the mountainsPontus, the god of the sea, and Uranus, the god of the heavens.

The full list of the Primordial Greek Gods:

  • Achlys: the goddess of the eternal night. The first creature that some say existed even before Chaos himself. According to Hesiod, she is the demon of death.
  • Αether: the god of light. The spark of life for every creature. Etymologically, Aether means the highest and purest layer of air.
  • Αion: the god of eternity. He was a ghostly primordial deity who personified the meaning of time (sometimes he is confused with god Chronos). In Greek, Aion means “century”. Although incorporeal, he was also portrayed as a monster with a snake body and three heads: one human (male), one bull and one lion. According to a myth, Aion and his companion, Ananke (also with a snake body), wrapped themselves around the cosmic egg and broke it to form the “sorted” Universe (earth – sky – sea). 
  • Ananke: the goddess of inevitability, compulsion, and necessity. She was an inevitable divine force.
  • Chaos: the god of the void. He was the beginning of all life. According to most versions of Greek myths, Chaos pre-existed all.
  • Chronos: the god of time. Not to be confused with Aion (god of eternity) or Cronus (the Titan that we will meet later).
  • Erebus: the god of darkness and shadow. He symbolizes the silence and the depth of the night together with his sister, the goddess Nyx. He is usually represented as a winged, dark and huge being, a duo with Nyx.
  • Eros: the god of love and procreation. Not to be confused with Eros, the winged god of desire that we will meet later.
  • Gaia: the goddess of the earth (Mother Earth). She is the mother of all – the primeval mother. At a cosmogenic level, she symbolizes the material side of the Universe whereas Chaos symbolizes the space of the Universe. Eros symbolizes the driving force that unites everything, giving birth to the rest. 
  • Hemera: the goddess of day.
  • Hypnos: the god of sleep and father of Morpheus.
  • Nemesis: the goddess of retribution.
  • Nesoi: the goddesses of islands.
  • Nyx: the goddess of night. She was a sovereign, primordial and cosmogenic entity, respected and feared by most gods. She is the sister of Erebus, the god of darkness and shadow.
  • Ourea: the gods of mountains.
  • Pontus: the god of the sea and father of the sea creatures.
  • Tartarus: the god of the darkest and deepest part of the Underworld – the original god of the Underworld. The Underworld was the place where the wicked are imprisoned and tortured eternally after their death.
  • Thalassa: the goddess of the sea and consort of god Pontus.
  • Thanatos: the god of death. He is the twin brother of Hypnos (god of sleep) and lives in the dark Tartarus.
  • Uranus: the god of the heavens. He soon became ruler of the world and father of the Titans.

The Titan Gods

According to Greek mythology and the ancient Greek religion, the Titans were the pre-Olympian gods. Their parents were Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (god of heavens). They had two other species as siblings, born also from the union between Gaia and Uranus: the Hecatoncheires (meaning “hundred-handed ones”) and the Cyclops (meaning “circle-eyed”).

How did the Titans become rulers of the world

The first Titans were twelve; six male and six female. The youngest one was Cronus. At some point, Uranus decided that he did not like the Cyclops and the Hecatoncheires at all. He considered them too ugly and too powerful, so he imprisoned them in Tartarus, the depths of the Underworld. Gaia, the mother of the Cyclops and Hecatoncheires, did not like how Uranus treated her children. She became furious with Uranus and decided to take revenge. She asked her other children, the Titans, to cut Uranus’s genitals and overthrow him… The Titans were too afraid to do that, except one: the youngest of the twelve, Cronus. When Uranus approached Gaia, Cronus surprised Uranus and cut his genitals with a scythe. Cronus with his action had separated Uranus (the heavens) and Gaia (the Earth).

From the drops of Uranus’ blood that fell on Gaia, the Erinyes (Furies), the Meliai and the Giants were born. The Erinyes were deities of vengeance. If you broke an oath or wronged someone, they would hunt you forever. The Meliai were nymphs of the trees, beautiful and gentle deities. The Giants were creatures of immerse strength and very aggressive.

With Uranus defeated, Cronus freed his siblings from the dark Tartarus and the Titans became the new Greek gods. They immediately recognized Cronus as their leader and ruler of the cosmos and helped him consolidate his power. After becoming the undisputed ruler of the world, Cronus, fearing the power of the Hecatoncheires and the Cyclops like his father did before him, imprisoned them once again in Tartarus.

The full list of the Titans:

The first Titans, children of Uranus and Gaia, were twelve; six males and six females.

  • Cronus: the Titan god of the harvest. Cronus, although the youngest of the first twelve Titans, became the ruler of the world after overthrowing his father, Uranus. He then married his older sister, Rhea.
  • Rhea: the Titan goddess of fertility and generation. She determines the flow of things and her name literally means “the one that flows” in Greek.
  • Oceanus: the Titan god of the oceans. He was the eldest son of Uranus and Gaia. His dominion extended in every corner of the Earth and all parts of the horizon. Oceanus was the personification of water and he paired with his sister, the Titaness Tethys.  
  • Tethys: the Titan goddess of the rivers and fresh water. She was the wife of Oceanus and the mother of more than 3000 River gods (rivers personified by the Ancient Greeks), the Oceanids (nymphs of springs, streams and fountains) and the Nephelai (nymphs of clouds).
  • Hyperion: the Titan god of light. His dazzling light shone in all directions. His name means “the one who goes above the earth” in Greek. He symbolized eternal splendor. He fell in love with his sister, the Titan goddess Theia.
  • Theia: the Titan goddess of the aether. Theia bore the Titan Hyperion three shining children: Helios (the Sun), Eos (the Dawn), and Selene (the Moon).
  • Iapetus: the Titan god of mortal life. He was symbolizing mortality and the mortal life-span. He fathered the Titans Atlas (who was responsible for bearing the weight of the heavens on his shoulders), Prometheus (who gifted fire to men) and Epimetheus (who married Pandora, the first mortal woman). Iapetus was also considered the personification of one of the four pillars that hold the heavens and the earth apart. He represented the pillar of the west, the other three being represented by his brothers Crius, Coeus and Hyperion. The four brothers actively played a role in the dethroning of their father Uranus; as they were all in the four corners of the earth, they held Uranus firmly in place while their brother Cronus castrated him with a sickle.
  • Crius: the Titan god of constellations. His name in Greek means “ram” and it shows his connection with the constellation Aries.  
  • Coeus: the Titan god of intellect. He was also considered the embodiment of the celestial axis around which the heavens revolve. He married his sister, Phoebe.
  • Phoebe: the Titan goddess of prophecy and oracular intellect. Phoebe bore the Titan Coeus two children, Leto and Asteria. The Titaness Leto later copulated with the Olympian god Zeus and bore the Olympians Artemis and Apollo. Given that Phoebe symbolized prophetic wisdom just as Coeus represented rational intelligence, the couple may have possibly functioned together as the primal font of all knowledge in the cosmos.
  • Themis: the Titan goddess of divine law and order. She also had the ability to predict the future and thus, she later became one of the Oracles in Delphi.
  • Mnemosyne: the Titan goddess of memory. Mnemosyne was generally regarded as the personification of memory and remembrance. Later, Zeus slept with Mnemosyne for nine consecutive days, eventually leading to the birth of the nine Muses. In Hesiod’s Theogony, the kings and poets were inspired by Mnemosyne and the Muses, thus getting their extraordinary abilities in speech and using powerful words. All the ancient writers appeal to the Muses at the beginning of their work. Homer asks the Muses both in the Iliad and Odyssey to help him tell the story in the most proper way, and even until today the Muses are symbols of inspiration and artistic creation.

The Titans represented for the Ancients the forces of nature as well as natural phenomena. These forces ruled the world from the earliest times of creation. Only Themis and Mnemosyne represented more mental states, justice and memory. During the battle of the gods that followed (the so-called “Titanomachy”), Themis and Mnemosyne were the only two of the first Titans that did not side with their siblings in their war against the Olympians, and continued their course alongside the Olympian gods.

When Rhea became pregnant with the 1st child of Cronus, Uranus prophesized that Cronus’ children will overthrow him as he overthrew Uranus. When Rhea gave birth to their first child, Hestia, Cronus could not get Uranus’ prophecy out of his mind. Overcome with fear and madness, and trying to avoid the fate his father had, he swallowed the newborn! The same happened to their next four children; Cronus devoured all five of his newborns! The only one who survived was the sixth and youngest child, Zeus. Rhea tricked Cronus into eating a rock instead of the baby and left Zeus to the island of Crete, to be raised away from his mad father. Zeus grew older and stronger and eventually sought to free his siblings, leading to the epic battle between the Titans and the Olympians who the latter eventually won thus, overthrowing the previous generation of Greek gods.

It is worth noting that there were many more Titans than the aforementioned, descendants of the first twelve.

The Olympian Gods

The Gods of Olympus were the main Greek gods who lived on the top of mount Olympus. The Olympian gods rose to power by defeating the Titans in the War of the Titans (also called the Titanomachy). They were the children of Cronus and Rhea. Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia and Demeter, Hades, and later on Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Athena, Hephaestus, Aphrodite and Ares. Over the years, the Demi-god Dionysus became part of their group on Olympus.

It is very common to refer to the Greek pantheon as “the 12 Olympian Gods”. However, the ancient Greeks did not worship specific twelve gods. Instead, there were many more, major and lesser – but nonetheless important – gods and others that were worshiped locally.

The rule of Zeus was not absolute. To obtain it, Zeus and his kind had to wrestle with the Titans and then with the Giants. The Battle of the Giants was more formidable and lasted more years. The greatest Olympians took part in the battle. The Giants were not as immortal as the Titans. But they had tremendous power and a monstrous form. After a long and ferocious war, the Greek gods managed to defeat all Giants with the help of Zeus’ demi-god son, the hero Hercules.

The Olympian gods had the same inclinations and the same desires, the same flaws and strengths as the mortals, even sometimes living in similar conditions. They looked like humans, but they were, almost always, prettier and stronger than humans. The gods could be transformed as they wished or teleported to any place they wished to. This was also a motivation for the famous Greek hospitality, which was a very important institution in ancient Greece. The Greeks would always welcome with special joy any foreigner, who could, after all, be a god in disguise!

As can be seen from many myths, the gods of the Greeks were not indifferent to humans. On the contrary, they often came in contact with them, traveling secretly, transforming themselves into ordinary people, rewarding the good and punishing the unjust. The gods did not find a better way to be happy than to live as humans. But they were freed from two great sufferings of mankind: the fear of deprivation and the fear of death. Indeed, the privilege of the gods is carefree. They never think about illness, old age, death. The nectar, the wine of the gods, and the ambrosia, the divine food of Olympus, ensure beauty, health and happiness for the immortals.

The immortal Greek gods settled on the peak of Olympus. There, they built their divine palaces and from there they looked upon the whole world. The ancient Greek religion is based on wisdom. People admired the gods immensely, without envying them. Famous temples were built for them and famous works of art were inspired by them. The gods reflected the ideals of the ancient Greek people.

Source: Greek Travel Tellers

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