Mount Olympus in Greek Mythology

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Mount Olympus is one of the most important locations in Greek mythology. In this lesson we will explore its significance to the Greeks and see how it impacted their beliefs.

Mount Olympus

How often have you wished you could visit one of the famous places of ancient mythology? Well, good news: you can! Mount Olympus was one of the most important locations in ancient Greek mythology, the formal home of all the gods. It's also an actual mountain, the tallest in Greece in fact. So, you can visit it, climb it, and take in one heck of a view. But before you go, let's brush up on the importance of Mount Olympus in Greek mythology. Then maybe you'll understand why the view from the top can really only be described as divine.

Mount Olympus
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Origins

The origins of Greek mythology start not with the gods, but with their powerful cosmic rivals, the Titans. Eventually, Zeus led the gods in a great battle to overthrow the Titans, remembered in Greek mythology as the Titanomachy. After the gods defeated the Titans and claimed dominion over all of existence, they created for themselves a fantastic home from which they could survey all of the land. That home was Mount Olympus.

Home of the Gods

Officially, Mount Olympus was the formal residence of essentially all of the gods, although this was meant more in a symbolic than literal sense. In actuality, there were only 12 gods who maintained a permanent residence on Mount Olympus. These gods were called the Twelve Olympians. They were Zeus (god of the sky), Hera (wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage), Poseidon (god of the sea), Athena (goddess of reason), Apollo (god of music), Artemis (goddess of the hunt), Hestia (goddess of the hearth), Demeter (goddess of the harvest), Hermes (god of commerce), Aphrodite (goddess of love), Ares (god of war), and Hephaestus (god of the forge). These twelve Olympians were the most important of the Greek gods, and lived in the gorges at the top of the mountain, where each had their own palace. Hades, god of the underworld, was also extremely important, but is not generally counted as an Olympian since he preferred his home in the underworld and rarely visited the mountain.

Greek vase showing a meeting of the gods
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The division between physical space and magical space is very blurry in Greek literature, so we must remember that to the ancient Greeks the top of this mountain would have been a place of great power. Climbing the tallest peaks of the mountain was likely strictly forbidden. There is archaeological evidence of offering sites where ancient Greeks would climb and leave tributes for the gods, but no such sites have ever been found in the peaks or gorges believed to house the actual gods. Attempting to do so would likely have been seen as an act of extreme arrogance and hubris, vices which many Greek myths warn will provoke the gods. In fact, at the top of the second highest peak, today called Stefani, the Greeks believed sat the throne of Zeus. From here, the supreme god could watch over humanity and hurl lightning bolts at those who incurred his wrath. Besides these gods, the mountain was also home to the nine Muses, divine patrons of the arts and daughters of Zeus. They lived at the foot of the mountain.

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