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Mythology and Folklore

Greek Gods, Titans, and Mythologic Creatures

Roman goddess Diana, mother of Ares, daughter of Cadmus, followers of Dionysus, Roman goddess Juno

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Ares, in Greek mythology, god of war and son of Zeus, king of the gods, and his wife, Hera. The Romans identified him with Mars, also a god of war. Aggressive and sanguinary, Ares personified the brutal nature of war. He was unpopular with both gods and humans. Among the deities associated with Ares were his consort, Aphrodite, goddess of love, and such minor deities as Deimos (Panic) and Phobos (Fear), who accompanied him in battle. Although fierce and warlike, Ares was not invincible, even against mortals.

The worship of Ares, believed to have originated in Thrace, was not extensive in ancient Greece, and where it existed, it lacked social or moral significance. Ares was an ancestral deity of Thebes and had a temple at Athens, at the foot of the Areopagus, or Hill of Ares.


Artemis, in Greek mythology, one of the principal goddesses, counterpart of the Roman goddess Diana. She was the daughter of the god Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of the god Apollo. She was chief hunter to the gods and goddess of hunting and of wild animals, especially bears. Artemis was also the goddess of childbirth, of nature, and of the harvest. As the moon goddess, she was sometimes identified with the goddesses Selene and Hecate.

Although traditionally the friend and protector of youth, especially young women, Artemis prevented the Greeks from sailing to Troy during the Trojan War until they sacrificed a maiden to her. According to some accounts, just before the sacrifice, she rescued the victim, Iphigenia. Like Apollo, Artemis was armed with a bow and arrows, which she often used to punish mortals who angered her. In other legends, she is praised for giving young women who died in childbirth a swift and painless death.


Gaea or Ge (mythology), in Greek mythology, the personification of Mother Earth, and the daughter of Chaos. She was the mother and wife of Father Heaven, who was personified as Uranus. They were the parents of the earliest living creatures: the Titans; the Cyclopes; and the Giants, or Hecatoncheires (Hundred-Handed Ones). Fearing and hating the Giants, despite the fact that they were his sons, Uranus imprisoned them in a secret place on earth, leaving the Cyclopes and Titans at large. Gaea, enraged at this favoritism, persuaded her son, the Titan Cronus, to overthrow his father. He emasculated Uranus, and from his blood Gaea brought forth the Giants and the three avenging goddesses the Erinyes. Her last and most terrifying offspring was Typhon, a 100-headed monster, who, although conquered by the god Zeus, was believed to spew forth the molten lava flows of Mount Etna.


Hephaestus, in Greek mythology, god of fire and metalwork, the son of the god Zeus and the goddess Hera, or sometimes the son of Hera alone. In contrast to the other gods, Hephaestus was lame and awkward. Shortly after his birth, he was cast out of Olympus, either by Hera, who was repelled by his deformity, or by Zeus, because Hephaestus had sided with Hera against him. In most legends, however, he was soon honored again on Olympus and was married to Aphrodite, goddess of love, or to Aglaia, one of the three Graces. As the artisan among the gods, Hephaestus made their armor, weapons, and jewelry. His workshop was believed to lie under Mount Etna, a volcano in Sicily. Hephaestus is often identified with the Roman god of fire, Vulcan.


Hera, in Greek mythology, queen of the gods, the daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, and the sister and wife of the god Zeus. Hera was the goddess of marriage and the protector of married women. She was the mother of Ares, god of war; Hephaestus, god of fire; Hebe, goddess of youth; and Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth. Hera was a jealous wife, who often persecuted Zeus's mistresses and children. She never forgot an injury and was known for her vindictive nature. Angry with the Trojan prince Paris for preferring Aphrodite, goddess of love, to herself, Hera aided the Greeks in the Trojan War and was not appeased until Troy was finally destroyed. Hera is often identified with the Roman goddess Juno.


Hestia, in Greek mythology, virgin goddess of the hearth, the eldest daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. She was believed to preside at all sacrificial altar fires, and prayers were offered to her before and after meals. Although she appears in very few myths, most cities had a common hearth where her sacred fire burned. In Rome, Hestia was worshiped as Vesta, and her fire was attended by six virgin priestesses known as vestal virgins.


Horae, in Greek mythology, the three or four goddesses of the seasons. The Horae were daughters of Zeus and Themis, and were sometimes personified.


Hylas, in Greek mythology, handsome youth, the inseparable companion of the hero Hercules. Hylas accompanied Hercules as his armor bearer during the voyage of the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece. When they stopped on the coast of Mysia in Asia Minor, Hylas was drawn by a sea nymph into the spring from which he was drawing water. He never appeared again. Hercules abandoned the expedition in order to look for Hylas, and afterward, the Mysians conducted a search for Hylas one day of each year.


Leto, in Greek mythology, daughter of the Titans Phoebe and Coeus. Leto was the mother of divine twins: Artemis, goddess of the bow and of hunting, and Apollo, god of prophecy, medicine, and archery. Zeus was their father. When Leto was about to give birth to the twins, Zeus banished her because he feared the jealousy of his wife Hera. All countries and islands were also afraid of Hera's wrath and refused the desperate Leto a home where her children could be born. Finally, in her wanderings, she set foot on a small island floating in the Aegean Sea. The island, which was called Delos, was a rocky, barren place, but when Leto reached it and asked for refuge, it welcomed her hospitably. At that moment four great pillars rose from the bottom of the sea to hold the island firmly moored forever after.


Maia, in Greek mythology, the eldest of the seven Pleiades, the children of Atlas and Pleione. A lover of Zeus, ruler of the Olympian gods, Maia gave birth to Hermes. In ancient Rome, she was often confused with the obscure cult deity Maia, from whom the month name Maius (May) is derived.


Mnemosyne, in Greek mythology, the goddess of memory. She and Zeus, father of the gods, were the parents of the nine Muses. Mnemosyne was one of the pre-Olympian Titans, who were the children of the god of the heavens, Uranus, and the goddess of the earth, Gaea.


Oceanus, in Greek mythology, one of the Titans, the son of Uranus and Gaea. With his wife, the Titan Tethys, he ruled over Ocean, a great river encircling the earth, which was believed to be a flat circle. The nymphs of this great river, the Oceanids, were their daughters, and the gods of all the streams on earth were their sons. In later legends, when Zeus, chief of the Olympian gods, and his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, overthrew the Titans and assumed their power, Poseidon and his wife, Amphitrite, succeeded Oceanus and Tethys as rulers of the waters.


Semele, in Greek mythology, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, who were the king and queen of Thebes, and the mother of the god Dionysus. Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus, realizing that Semele had conceived a child by her husband, tricked Semele into asking to see Zeus in his majesty. Bound by an oath, Zeus appeared before Semele in all his divine glory. As she gazed at him, she was consumed by the lightning bolts that radiated from him. Zeus was nevertheless able to rescue her unborn child, Dionysus, from the ashes, and he hid the fetus in his thigh until it was time for the child to be born. Later the young Dionysus rescued his mother from the underworld and brought her to Olympus.


Themis, in Greek mythology, one of the Titans, the daughter of Uranus and Gaea, Heaven and Earth, and the mother of the three Fates and the Seasons. The goddess of divine justice and law, Themis was the constant companion of the god Zeus and sat beside him on Olympus. In ancient art she is represented holding aloft a pair of scales on which she weighs the claims of opposing parties.

The Centaurs

Centaurs, in Greek mythology, a race of monsters believed to have inhabited the mountain regions of Thessaly (Thessalia) and Arcadia. They were usually represented as human down to the waist, with the lower torso and legs of a horse. The centaurs were characterized by savageness and violence; they were known for their drunkenness and lust and were often portrayed as followers of Dionysus, the god of wine. The centaurs were driven from Thessaly when, in a drunken frenzy, they attempted to abduct the bride of the king of the Lapiths from her wedding feast. An exception to their bestial behavior was the centaur Chiron, who was noted for his goodness and wisdom. Several Greek heroes, including Achilles and Jason, were educated by him.

The Fates

Fates, in Greek mythology, the three goddesses who determined human life and destiny. Known as Moirai in Greek and Parcae in Latin, the Fates apportioned to each person at birth a share of good and evil, although one might increase the evil by one's own folly. Portrayed in art and poetry as stern old women or as somber maidens, the goddesses were often thought of as weavers. Clotho, the Spinner, spun the thread of life; Lachesis, the Dispenser of Lots, decided its span and assigned a destiny to each person; and Atropos, the Inexorable, carried the dread shears that cut the thread of life at the appointed time. The decisions of the Fates could not be altered, even by the gods.

The Lapiths

Lapiths, in Greek mythology, a people of Thessaly (Thessalia) in northern Greece. They are often represented in Greek art in a battle with their neighbors the centaurs (half man, half horse) at the wedding of their king, Pirithous.

The Nymphs

Nymphs, in Greek and Roman mythology, lesser divinities or spirits of nature, dwelling in groves and fountains, forests, meadows, streams, and the sea, represented as young and beautiful maidens, fond of music and dancing. The nymphs were distinguished according to the part of nature they personified, and included the Oceanids, or daughters of Oceanus, the ocean that flows around the earth; the Nereids, or daughters of the sea god Nereus, nymphs of the Mediterranean Sea; the Potameides, river nymphs; the Naiads, nymphs of springs and freshwater streams; the Oreads, nymphs of mountains and grottoes; and the Dryads, nymphs of the forests.

The Satyrs

Satyrs, in Greek mythology, deities of the woods and mountains, with horns and tails and sometimes with the legs of a goat. The satyrs were the companions of Dionysus, god of wine, and spent their time pursuing nymphs, drinking wine, dancing, and playing the syrinx, flute, or bagpipes.


Uranus (mythology), in Greek mythology, the god of the heavens and husband of Gaea, who personified the earth. Uranus was the father of the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the 100-handed giants. The Titans, led by their ruler, Cronus, dethroned and castrated Uranus. From the blood that fell upon the earth sprang the three Erinyes, or Furies, who avenge crimes of patricide and perjury. The severed genitals of Uranus fell into the sea, and from them emerged the goddess Aphrodite. Although Uranus may have been worshiped as a god by earlier inhabitants of Greece, he was never an object of worship for the Greeks of the historical period.

Article key phrases:

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