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Greek Mythology Gods & Goddesses | What is Greek Mythology?

Janelle Barowski, Christopher Muscato, Sasha Blakeley
  • Author
    Janelle Barowski

    Janelle is a tutor for Nursing and Health Administration. She has an Associate's degree in Nursing from Middlesex College. She also has a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Nursing Administration and Leadership from Western Governors University. She currently is a practicing pediatric and geriatric nurse.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

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

  • Expert Contributor
    Sasha Blakeley

    Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

Who and what are the Greek gods? See why Greek mythology is important, and discover the history and background of Greek gods & goddesses Updated: 08/23/2021

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What is Greek Mythology?

Greek mythology was an integral part of the everyday life of the ancient people. These stories were the basis for their culture and rituals. Mythology is a collection of stories belonging to a particular culture or religion. It helps form the morals and ideals that religion and society focus on.

The ancient Greeks used mythology to help them understand the natural world around them, as well as the characteristics and plights of humankind. Holidays, months, and celestial bodies were named and associated with deities in mind.

Ancient Greek mythology made up the basis for the widespread polytheistic religion at that time, and the gods were featured prominently in the fables. The Greek pantheon is the collection of important gods that ancient Greek mythology portrayed. These stories had clear themes of right and wrong, and moral conundrums were common. The gods helped the Greek people understand human nature.

Myths helped people better understand their past, their surroundings, and how to navigate their world morally.

Why is Greek Mythology Important?

Greek mythology is a snapshot in time of the ideals, religion, and fantasies of the ancient Greek people. Due to their alphabet and emphasis on myths, researchers can understand their society with depth and breadth that other past civilizations are not afforded.

Greek mythology is important today because the modern world is still influenced by the deities of the past. Mars and March are both named after the ancient Greek god Mars, the powerful protector of Rome. It is estimated that over 150,000 modern-day words come from ancient Greek, including Greek mythology.

Greek mythology also rendered their magical versions of real events, blending fiction and history. During the heroic age of Greek mythology, great mortal heroes were based on historical events with a supernatural twist. The Trojan war is an excellent example.

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Greek Mythology: Gods & Goddesses

Who are the Greek gods? The ancient Greeks believed in a polytheistic religion- meaning that there was more than one god that they worshiped. Each god was given a specific area of life or idea to represent. The gods were considered personifications of their concepts.

There were major deities that were more powerful than other gods. The Titans and the Olympians were impressive gods who ruled over their less powerful peers. The Titans were the children of Gaia. They ruled the Universe until they were overthrown by the Olympians.

A number of the myths the Greek people wrote focussed on the gods, their conflicts, and moral dilemmas.

Greek Gods Definition

Greek mythology portrayed gods as immortal people who influenced a certain area of life and usually had powers associated with their represented area. For example, Oceanus was a water god who had control over the Oceanus river, an ancient river that encircled the world. Gods were not the only main characters in ancient myths.

In addition to gods, Greek mythology showcased a variety of supernatural creatures. Cerberus, or the hound of Hades, was a fearsome three-headed monster who prevented the damned from leaving the Underworld. The Chimera, a three-headed hybrid of a goat, lion, and snake, terrorized the countryside of ancient Anatolia. Satyr was a fertility spirit of the wild and was a mix of beast and man. It was common for nymphs, spirits, monsters, and mortals to be featured as prominent figures in ancient Greek mythology.

Are Greek Gods Real?

The Greek gods are a part of a polytheistic religion and the people at the time believed their gods to be real. They incorporated their beliefs of the gods into everyday life with festivals, rituals, and sacrifices to gain their favor. Temples were built to honor them, some of which still stand. Greek gods were believed in by the ancient Greeks in the same way that modern humans believe in deities from present day religions.

In modern times, the Greek myths read more like cautionary tales. However, the Hellenism religion is a small group of people who still believe in the ancient Greek polytheistic religion.

Major Greek Mythology Gods & Goddesses

In Greek mythology, there are around 360 gods, including minor deities. This section will delve into some minor gods and some Olympians, the most powerful gods who lived on Mount Olympian.

Zeus is the most powerful Olympian

Zeus

Zeus

Zeus was the king of the cosmos and ruled from Mount Olympus with his queen, Hera. He was born to Cronus, the king of the sky, and Gaia, the goddess of the Earth. Cronus usurped his father, Uranus, and Zeus would do the same to him. The Olympians overthrew the Titans in the Titanomachy War.

He is often associated with lightning bolts. The god of the sky and law and order, Zeus was a fair ruler.

Hera

Hera was the queen of the cosmos and the protective wife of Zeus. She was renowned for her fiery temper and was the goddess of marriage, women, and childbirth.

Hera was a lead figure in Greek mythology, in particular with stories about Zeus' infidelity. This can be seen with the 12 Labors of Hercules. She was also a protagonist in the Trojan War.

Hades

Hades was the ruler of the Underworld, the realm of the dead, and Tartarus. Hades was the only Olympian god that did not live on Mount Olympia. After the Titanomachy War, Zeus ruled the sky, Poseidon ruled the ocean, and Hades ruled the Underworld.

His wife was Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the Olympian goddess of agriculture. When Hades abducted Persephone to become his wife in the Underworld, Demeter caused a famine that lasted until her return. This is how the ancient Greeks explained winter.

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Additional Activities

Present Your Version of a Greek Myth

Choose a God, Goddess, or Titan

Choose a Greek god, goddess, or titan that you think is interesting. You can choose one of the ones from this lesson, or do your own research to learn more! There are dozens to choose from. Write down the most important elements of your character's story, like:

  • What powers did they have?
  • What stories do people tell about their accomplishments?
  • What other gods, heroes, or monsters are part of their story?
  • How did people worship them?

Some gods have many stories associated with them. It's okay to choose just one, as long as you can touch on the main aspects of what makes that god important in Greek Mythology.

Create Your Story

The Ancient Greeks were known for their storytelling. They even invented theatre and acting! Greek plays usually only featured two or three actors who might each play more than one character. Ancient Greeks were also great oral storytellers. Epic poems like The Iliad and The Odyssey were performed by a single person who could remember every detail of the story.

For this assignment, you can choose to work individually or in groups of two or three. Write your god's tale as a short play with multiple roles, or as a story for one narrator. You will be bringing ancient myths back to life and deepening your understanding of Greek Mythology.

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