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CLA2323 A: Sept.

26 lecture notes

The class session overview


The 12 Olympian gods and goddesses
Their personalities and major tales in myth
Aspects of their real-life worship in ancient Greece: their individual functions or spheres of activity

The origin of humanity, according to Greek myth

The origin of the heroes, according to Greek myth

Buxton pages 6885, 4449, 5459, 94, 97 (chart)

The Olympian gods


See the table at Buxton page 69. Here again are the 12 Olympians

Greek name Roman name


ZeusJupiter
HeraJuno
Poseidon.Neptunus [Neptune]
Aphrodite...Venus
Demeter.Ceres
Artemis...Diana
Apollo....,Apollo
Athene [Athena].Minerva
Ares....Mars
Hephaistos [Hephaestus]...Volcanus or Vulcanus [Vulcan]
Hermes.Mercurius [Mercury]
Dionysos [Dionysus].Bacchus

In addition, the following are not counted as Olympians, in some cases because they are imagined as dwelling
elsewhere than on Mt. Olympos [Olympus]:

HadesPluto
PersephoneProserpina
HestiaVesta
PanFaunus
Priapos [Priapus]....Priapus
Eros...Cupido [Cupid]

The two compartments of a Greek god


Brief comment by Buxton at pp. 6970
In studying the mythology, you will observe that each Greek god/goddess generally comprises two
compartments. One compartment is the deitys place in the universe: his/her sphere of activity in the
world, as listed at Buxton page 69. The 2nd compartment is the gods personality, as though the god were a
human being. A god who has the most elevated or worthy spheres of activityfor example, Zeus as lord of
justice, Athena as mistress of technology and planning, Apollo as god of medicine and intellectmight also
behave (in the mythology) in ways that are arrogant, petulant, childish, bullying, mean, etc.

The contrast is the most striking with Zeus or Apollo, who combine difficult personalities with elevated
ethical spheres. (Apollos personality seems actually unpleasant, overall.)
However, as one student in class pointed out, the contrast is less stark with a lesser god like Hephaestus,
whose activity-sphere as god of metallurgy does not much contrast with his inoffensive and professional-
minded personality.

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

The lesson here is that generally, for any deity, the two compartments will not overlap or coincide: You
cannot reconcile the gods sometimes-peevish personality his/her lofty role in the universe and as protector
of certain human activity. So dont be puzzled or frustrated. Each god just = two parts.

The mythical origins of the gods


Main source: Hesiods poem Theogony (Birth of the Gods), from 700 B.C. See Buxton pp. 4448

Zeus is head of the family: He is the authority figure and the brother or father of all other Olympians (father,
too, to many demigods and heroes). Zeus brothers are Poseidon and Hades. His wife and sister is Hera;
their children include the Olympians Ares and Hephaestus. (In another version, Hera conceives Hephaestus
on her own, without Zeus or anyones help.) Zeus other sister is Demeter, by whom he has the daughter
Persephone. His third sister is the virgin Hestia.

Zeus sexual liaison with the demigoddess Leto produces the twins Artemis and Apollo. By the demigoddess
Maia, Zeus fathers Hermes. By the demigoddess Metis, he fathers Athena. (But see the bizarre details: pp.
4849 in Buxton.) By the human woman Semele, a princess of the city of Thebes, Zeus fathers the god
Dionysus.

Dionysus, being conceived by a mortal woman, would seem more likely to be humana hero maybe, like
Perseus etc., but not a god. (A hero would have extraordinary powers among humans yet would still be
vulnerable to injury etc. and would be doomed to die someday.) Yet the strange detail of his being born out
of Zeus thigh (Buxton p. 53) places Dionysus in an ambiguous category: god or mortal? One of Dionysus
cult titles was Dimtor, twice mothered, which might imply two different identities.

The majority of Dionysus myths show him visiting human communities, demanding that they worship him
as a god and punishing them grievously if they refuse.
Eventually Zeus acknowledges Dionysus divinity, and Dionysus is welcomed onto Mt. Olympus. By his
arrival, he displaces Hestia as the twelfth Olympian god.

The real-life origins of some of the gods


The mythologys straightforward narrative conceals the historical fact that different deities seem to have
entered Greek religion at different stages in prehistory.
For example, Dionysus in myth is treated as the latecomer to Mt. Olympus, but in fact we believe he was
part of the Greek pantheon fairly earlyby 1200 B.C. at latestsince we find his name written in extant
Mycenaean Greek writing tablets.
Conversely, Aphrodite in some versions is treated as the first-born of all reigning gods: born a generation
before Zeus, according to Hesiods Theogony (Buxton page 46). Born early, Aphrodite equates to a first
principle of sex and procreation at the beginning of the world.
But in historical fact, Aphrodite looks like a latecomer to Greek religion: maybe circa 900 B.C. See page
10, below.

One possible clue, but to be treated carefully, is that some of the Greek gods names clearly come from the
Greek language and some do not. Another clue is to look at what we know about the gods of other early-
recorded peoples of the Indo-European language family.

As weve already discussed, Zeus clearly is an original Greek god: a sky father in the prehistoric Indo-
European pattern of the Germanic god Tiu (Thor), the Roman god Jupiter, and the Indic god Dyaus Pitar.
See Sept. 12 lecture notes.

Hera on the other hand looks like originally a non-Greek goddess whom the earliest Greek-speaking Indo-
Europeans found after they arrived in Greece around 2100 B.C.

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

Although Heras name is Greek (the lady), modern scholars tend to believe that Hera represents a
vestige of a pre-Greek mother-goddesspossibly of Minoan Cretewhose worship the early Greeks
encountered on mainland Greece and/or on the island of Crete. See the Aegean mother goddess Virtual
Campus posting.
Even though the Greeks came as conquerors, they apparently embraced this non-Greek goddess into
their religionpartly perhaps as a political concession to the people whom theyd conquered but also surely
partly because the goddess seemed to the Greeks to be powerful and spiritually attractive.

Whatever her pre-Greek name had beenand could it possibly have been Rheia, the mysterious, not-
etymologically-Greek name that pops up in Hesiods Theogony for the wife of Kronos?this prehistoric
goddess eventually received a Greek name, The Lady, and in the mythology she was married off to the
Greeks supreme god, Zeus, to be subordinate to him.

In real-life ancient Greece, around 600400 B.C., Hera had high importance as protector of marriage, of
married women, and of childbirth, and she was the patron deity of certain cities like Argos and Samos. Yet in
the mythology, she oddly comes across as a real b--ch, with a sometimes tyrannical personality. She harbours
raging jealousy over her husbands love affairs and shows an irrational tendency to scapegoat the various
hapless females and their babies (rather than blame her all-powerful husband). Most of her myths involve her
persecuting or sabotaging these extramarital paramours or children of Zeus: for example, Leto, Semele, Io,
Dionysus, and Heracles. Hera has very few myths of positive accomplishment.
Hera supplies the best example of a Greek deity who was more important in real-life ancient Greek
worship than in the mythology.

Like Hera, the virgin goddesses Athena and Artemis seem originally to have been non-Greek, pre-Greek, in
real life. Their names etymologically are not Greek: The names meanings are lost to us. Obviously the name
Athena relates to the city name Athens, but we cannot further decipher it. In prehistory, circa 2000 B.C.,
could Athena and Artemis have come from a family of pre-Greek goddesses that included Hera?

Ditto for the goddess Persephone, queen of the Greek Underworld. Persephones name probably originally
is not Greek (even though it could mean destroyer in Greek). Probably it represents the sounds of some
pre-Greek goddess namePassiphassa or somethingwhich the early Greeks copied into their language and
religion.

Persephones mother in Greek myth is the grain-goddess Demeter. We are not sure whether Demeters
origins are (a) non-Greek or (b) Indo-Europeanthat is, Greek. Her name contains the solid Indo-
European word-root mtr (= mater = mother). The meaning of the prefix de- remains mysterious, however.
Your profs guess: Demeter was a primitive Greek goddess of grain agriculture whom the migrating early
Greeks brought with them into the land of Greece, circa 2100 B.C.

The sea god, Poseidon, is also the god of horses and of earthquakea not-obvious combination. Poseidon
is the brother of Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hestia, and Hades. When Hades abducts Demeters daughter
Persephone to be his wife (with Zeus tacit permission), he is abducting his own niece.
Mythologically, Poseidon is pictured in terms of physical power and perhaps turbulence. In Greek art
and statuary, he is shown as muscular to the extent of seeming brutal. Although he shares the strength of his
brother Zeus, he lacks Zeus wisdom.

Poseidon seems to be originally Greek, primordially Indo-European. The pos- part of his name means lord,
master, and his muscular male persona seems in keeping with primitive Indo-European values. One puzzle,
however: The arriving Greek-speaking Indo-Europeans of 2100 B.C. probably had had no prior sea exposure;
they had been landlocked nomads. So how could they bring with them a god of the sea?

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

A possible answer: Poseidon may originally have been an Indo-European god of lakes and running water,
also of horses and earthquake (four ideas loosely related to a concept of powerthink of a raging river).
After the Indo-Europeans had settled in seaside Greece, their god of lakes became their sea god.
However, at the same time, the early Greeks may have acknowledged several other, preexisting, pre-
Greek sea deities.
The above might explain why our Greek mythology oddly shows a number of different sea-deities,
including characters named Proteus and Nereus and the mermaid-like Nereids (daughters of Nereus).
Among the 50 Nereids is one named Amphitrit, who becomes Poseidons wife and the mother of their son,
Triton (= yet another sea god). Surely some of these minor deities were originally pre-Greek sea gods who
got subsumed into Greek belief. The word-root trit (shared by Triton and Amphitrit) is considered by
modern scholars to be not Indo-Europeanthat is, pre-Greek. Could it have meant sea?
Buxton page 46 mentions Nereus, the righteous Old Man of Sea, and his 50 sea-nymph daughters.

The other four Olympian godsApollo, Ares, Hermes, and Hephaestus [Hephaistos]all seem to be
Greek in origin.

The great god Zeus


Unlike the God of the Old Testament, Zeus does not create the world. Creation begins before Zeus is
born, according to Hesiods Theogony. See Buxton pp. 44 and following.
However, what Zeus does is to impose order on a world that, before Zeus, was chaotic and violent.
Zeus is the god of courtroom justice, of balance in Nature, of organization, of due measure, due sequence:
things like that. At the bottom of the pp. 4445 chart, you can see that Zeus is biologically the father to most
of the gods who will oversee civilized human activity on Earthfor example, Apollo, god of medicine;
Hermes, god of trade and travel; and the Muses, goddesses of the artsand father also to the Horai, who are
the four seasons, the natural progress of the year.
Similarly, Zeus is the god of protection: to the weak, to the travelling stranger, to the suppliant (= the
sanctuary-seeker). Among many roles, he is Zeus Horkios, the enforcer of oaths (as in a courtroom) and
Zeus Xenios, god of hospitality, the protector of strangers. Zeus = our social contract that tries to maintain
peace and healthy interaction among humans. He = the laws of physics etc. that order Nature.

In Sept. 26 class we looked at three mythical incidents where Zeus reacts when the natural order is
threatened. These arent the only examples, but are well known and are mentioned in the textbook. They
help illustrate Zeus relation to the world.
Page 93: The human boy Phaethon is driving the sun-chariot but inexpertly allows the sun to dive too
close to the Earth and start to scorch it. Zeus immediately hurls a thunderbolt to destroy Phaethon. The
suns natural course through the sky must be maintained.
Page 91: The hero Asklepios [Asclepius] is the son of Apollo and the worlds first physician. When
Askelpios uses his amazing skill in order to bring a dead man back to life, Zeus reacts with alarm: He hurls a
thunderbolt to kill both doctor and patient. Humans arent supposed to be brought back to life.
Page 70: A famous and poignant incident from Homers epic poem the Iliad, where Zeus in heaven
watches with sorrow as his beloved human son Sarpedon is about to be killed in combat on the battlefield of
Troy, below. Zeus has learned that Sarpedon is fated to die in this battle, and he considers saving Sarpedon.
But then Zeus decides to let him die, as fated, because even Zeus is not supposed to meddle with humans
fate. That is to say, Zeus job is to protect and preserve the natural order, not meddle with it.

Zeus creates order after the beginning of the world


In Zeus mythical biography, his early career as a young god amounts mainly to his repeated, violent
confrontations with primordial forces of tyranny and brutality, in the universes early days. In this phase,
Zeus is like the Clint Eastwood character in a 1970s Hollywood Western movie: riding into town and
confronting the bad guys with a violence that matches their own, for the sake of justice and order at the end.
Buxton pp. 4749.

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

See Buxton pp. 4449, 6870. As told by Hesiod, Zeus major myths can be divided into four stages

1) Zeus birth and his revolt against his father, Kronos [Cronus], and the other Titans. A new world
order arises.

2) Zeus creates a kingdom in heaven, with himself as king surrounded by family who are also his
subordinates, to whom he delegates the supervision of various aspects of life. This ordering includes
a younger generation of gods, all sired by Zeus on various female goddesses or demigoddesses (most
of them being not his wife, Hera). The new gods will be Zeus assistant managers who help
oversee the human world or the world of Nature. The universe is being organized as a well-run
family business.

3) Zeus and the gods defend their realm against three waves of violent, non-human challengers, who try
to take over the universe and revert it to brutality. These are (a) the monster Typhon or Typhoeus,
(b) the brutish race of Giants (Greek Gigantes), and (c) two semi-divine brothers called the Aloadai
(not mentioned in our textbook). The Aloadai episode looks like a storytelling-duplicate of the
Giants episode.

4) Earth already has a population of human beings, since the days before Zeus. Now Zeus descends
to Earth many times to have sex with mortal women. In one way, this is just an extension of his sex
with goddesses at #2, above. The sex is not consensual: Zeus normally rapes the woman. Invariably
the woman becomes pregnant, usually (not always) with a son. The son is born to become a hero
(Greek hrs, protector), with more-than-human powers of one kind or another. Although a hero
is mortal and will inevitably die, he meanwhile is capable of great feats, whether as a warrior or
inventor or statesman, etc. In the exciting tales of Greek mythology, various heroes will slay
monsters and villains, or will organize kingdoms, and or will introduce civilizing arts such as
agriculture and medicine to humankind.

As one student in class pointed out with her question, Zeus repeated impregnating of human
women has the purpose and effect of strengthening the human race. The human family is being
given a bit of divine helpin muscle strength and in bravery, or in mental power or technological
aptitudeso as to better battle villains and organize civilization on Earth.

Aside from Zeus, other gods, tooApollo, Poseidon, Hermesdescend to Earth for sex with
human women. These women too always become pregnant, usually with sons. Thus is created a
whole generation of heroes (Greek plural: hres).
In a variation on the above, the gods sometimes choose to couple with handsome young males:
for example, Zeus and Ganymede, Poseidon and Pelops, or Aphrodite and Anchises. From
Aphrodite and Anchises, the Trojan hero Aeneas [Aineias] is born.
The male-homosexual element in these tales will be discussed in Oct. 3 class: It reflects certain
social norms of real-life ancient Greece.

On the question of sexual violence in Greek myth, see page 11, below.

In real-life ancient Greece, Zeus most important sanctuary was the religious-and-sport complex at Olympia,
in the western Peloponnese. This Olympia was not the same place as Mt. Olympus [Olympos] but was
named for Zeus the Olympian (of Mt. Olympus): See the pp. 1213 map. It was at Olympia that the
Greeks held their Olympic Games every four years, which were the source of our modern Olympics.

Animals associated with the gods


Various animals were associated with specific gods. Where the animal is domesticated, that animal might
have been considered appropriate for religious sacrifice to the god. Where the animal is wild, perhaps the

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

beast was thought to be part of the gods function or to mimic the gods behavior in some wayor there may
have been some prehistoric totemic association that we cannot decipher: Among the prehistoric Greeks, did
the gods oversee different wild-animal tribes into which the people were divided? Also, the quirk of Apollo
having so many animals remains a puzzle.

Zeus was associated with the eagle and bull. Poseidon: the horse, secondarily with the bull. Hera: the cow
and peacock. Aphrodite: dove, sparrow. Demeter and Persephone: pig, especially baby pigs. Artemis: bear,
deer, boar, lion. Apollo: wolf, fox, swan, mouse, porpoise, and stag (the male deer). Athena: owl. Pan: goat.
Dionysus: panther, goat, donkey. See the page 69 chart for some of these listings.

Functions and personalities of some of the gods


Apollo is the god of music and poetry, also the god of medicine. Conversely, he is also the god who brings
disease. With his bow, he can shoot arrows that are solid or arrows that are gentlethat is, arrows of
disease.

In real-life ancient Greece, Apollo had two major sanctuaries: (a) the mountain shrine at Delphi, in the central
mainland, and (b) the island of Delos, in the Cyclades islands of the Aegean Sea. By about 500 B.C., both
places were elaborately adorned with temples and public buildings whose beautiful ruins remain today.

In statuary and painting, Apollo was often pictured as a young man about 17 or 20, existing forever at that
transition from youth to manhood which, to the Greeks, was the high point of male beauty. Today the name
Apollo is still associated with youthful male beauty.

In real-life ancient Greece, Apollo was the patron of citizen boys and of their transition to manhood.
Probably the name Apolln means god of the assemblyrelated to the noun apella, the assembly of (male)
citizens at Sparta. Apollo was imagined as watching over the transition as teenaged boys took their places
officially in the citys voting-assemblies and in the army.

Although supposedly only 17 years old, Apollo is wise beyond his years, partaking of his father Zeus wisdom.
In ancient Greece, the wisdom of Zeus or Apollo was reflected in their giving of prophecies, as delivered
through the human priests/priestesses at certain of their shrines.

Of all such shrines, the most famous, of course, was Apollos oracle at Delphi. By appointment, a priestess
of Apollo would receive a worshippers questions and give answers supposedly from the god. The answers
might be notoriously vague or ambiguous.
The best-remembered example of a double-edged answer from Delphi, as described by the Greek
historian Herodotus (circa 440 B.C.), involves a non-Greek king named Croesus in Asia Minor, planning to
attack his neighbours the Persians, whose empire ended at Croesus frontier. But first Croesus sent to the
Delphi oracle for advice, and received this answer: If Croesus attacks, he will destroy a mighty empire.
Delighted, Croesus did attackbut the empire in question turned out to be his own, as he was defeated and
his kingdom was overrun by Persia.

Inside the Delphi temple, in real life, two proverbs were displayed carved into the wall. Supposedly they were
the gods advice to humans: Nothing in excess and Know thyself (that is, Remember your puny human
limitations, as compared with the gods powers).

Both these proverbs accurately reflect Apollos mythical personality and real-life worship. Nothing in
excess reflects Apollos role as lord of intellectual, prudence, moderation, and musical harmony. Know
thyself reminds us that Apollo tends to put down us humans: Apollo embodies the gap between gods and
mortals that Buxton explores at pp. 8893 in our textbook.
While Athena, Hermes, Aphrodite, Dionysus, and Demeter are gods whose myths and cults emphasize
possible contact with their human worshippers, Apollo in myth and cult seems to stand apart from humans.

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

One example of this distance is his ambiguous answers at Delphi: Evidently we humans lack the needed
wisdom to always interpret correctly the gods words. See comment at Buxton page 75.

A second example: Apollos function as god of disease, which definitely gives him a sinister aspect. Humans
in their worship had to try to appease him: Please dont bring us disease.
In Homers Iliadin which Apollo fights on the side of the Trojans against the Greeksa famous
passage early in the poem describes the god shooting his arrows of disease into the Greeks army-camp
outside Troy. That is, harm, dealt from afar.
As Buxton (page 75) sums up, Whether he acts with benevolence or aggression, there is always
something distant about Apollo.

Artemis, twin sister of Apollo, is the virgin goddess of wilderness places, such as the forested upper
mountainsides of ancient Greece. Her virginity may refer in part to the sanctity of unspoiled Nature. She is
patron of wild animals andconverselyshe oversees the hunting of them, which supplies humans with
food. Like Apollo, she carries bow and arrows, the hunters tools.
Artemis special animals are the deer, bear, boar, and lion, as mentioned on page 6 above. Her relevant
cult title is Potnia Theron, the mistress of wild beasts. Some images of Artemis as Potnia Theron were shown
in Sept. 26 class and are included in the sub-module here.
Artemis is associated too with the numphai (young demigoddesses) who inhabit wilderness places. In
myth and art she is sometimes pictured leading a retinue of nymphs.

Corresponding to Apollos oversight of boys, Artemis in real-life ancient Greece was patron of young citizen-
class girls. Like Artemis, the girls would be virginsin their case until they married (probably during their
teen years). Artemis oversaw their approach to marriageable age, after which they would pass to the care of a
different goddess, Hera.
From Athens in the 400s B.C. we hear of a Girl Scouts-type program, where young girls would take
part in ritual dancing and singing, with probably also some home-economics lessons and some mythological
storytelling and supervised overnight camping. Charmingly, the girls in this program were called the Little
Bears of Artemis.

Artemis was associated with the moonwhich, in its monthly phases, perennially has been linked to females
and menstruation.

Surprisingly for a virgin goddess, Artemis was also a patron of childbirth (a job she shared with Hera). Young
women in the agony of birth-labour would call on Artemis, recalling the birthing-pains of Leto: See Buxton
pp. 4950.

Athena [Athene] was patron goddess of the city of Athensbut patron also of Sparta and certain other
cities. As the guardian of the citadel (the acropolis) at any Greek city, Athena was a popular choice to be
cities patron. Appropriately for her military associations, Athena was pictured in a mans armour: with
helmet, breastplate, shield, and spear.
Like Artemis and Hestia, Athena is a virgin goddess. The point here seems to be that (1) she is not to be
considered as subordinate to any male and (2) she is impenetrable, like the citadel that she guards.

Like Apollo and Zeus, Athena is associated with intellect. She oversees human planning and skill: military
strategy; technologies and crafts including carpentry, weaving, and seafaring; and wisdom generally. Her
animal is the owl. Owls are thought to be wise, like their goddess.
Although associated with womens work such as weaving, Athena features in mythology as the helper of
male heroes: Perseus, Heracles, Odysseus, etc. She is one of the deities known as being potentially close to
humans. Athenas cerebral aspect is embodied in Odysseus, that most clever and strategy-minded of all

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

heroes. Conversely, when Athena gives aid to Heracles, she seems to be temporarily remedying that heros
usual lack of brains.

In mythology, Athena and Poseidon sometimes stand in implicit contrast to each other. Poseidons emphasis
is on power, brute strength shading to stupidity. Athenas emphasis is on wisdom, cunning, stratagems.
Poseidon is the sea, but Athene gave humans the skill of shipbuilding, to travel the sea. Poseidon is the
horse, but Athena gave humans the invention of the horse-bridle, for riding these powerful creatures. In the
Odyssey, Poseidon hates the hero Odysseus and tries to drown him with storms at sea, but Athena favours
Odysseus and guides him safely home.
At the city of Athens, in a contest as to who could give the city the greater gift, Poseidon stabs his trident
violently into the ground of the Acropolis and brings forth a saltwater springimpressive, but not useful.
Athena responds by creating the first olive tree, to be a gift to Athens. In real life, the olive was an economic
staple of Athens (and of other cities).

The messenger-god Hermes is also patron of land travel, commerce, diplomacy, rhetoric, deception, theft,
disguise, and wrestling. The emphases seem to be on movement from place to place, on making connections,
and on transformation or changeability including trickery.

Being the gods messenger, Hermes was one of the gods prone to interact with humans. For example, in his
role as Psuchopompos, parade-leader of souls, Hermes guides groups of newly deceased souls down to their
new home in the Underworld.
Also, more than one myth has Hermes go out among mortals in human disguise, on some important
errand.

Hermes name comes from the Greek common noun herma, meaning a cairna pile of marker stones,
something like an Inukshuk. The herma could be a guide-marker for ancient overland travel, or could be a
boundary-marker. Hermes was furthermore a guardian of boundaries and land-property.

In real-life historical terms, Hermes seems to have been an age-old Greek god of boundaries who
somehow, probably during 1200800 B.C.became amplified into a god who crosses boundaries, in travel
and in changeability.

In Greece of the 400s B.C., a herma (herm in English) could alternatively be a short, sculpted pillar showing
the gods head and an erect penis: See the Buxton page 77 illustration. This was a common style for property
inside a city. In Sept. 26 class, this odd visual image was explained as being an implicit threat against
trespassers.

Hermes counterpart in ancient Roman religion was Mercury (Latin Mercurius). Today, our English adjective
mercurial, meaning changeable or unpredictable, commemorates that aspect of Hermes/Mercury.

The war-god Ares is the least important Olympian in the mythology. He had a place in real-life ancient
Greek worship, and had small mythical roles, but no major story. He was the god of violence in war and
battle-madness, but as Buxton points out (a good summary, page 83), Ares lacked the protective and
leadership nature that the ancient Romans ascribed to their Ares-counterpart, the god Mars.

Ares has no wife but is the enthusiastic extramarital lover of Aphrodite, who is married to Hephaestus. (See
below.) In Homers Iliad and Odyssey, Ares is treated disparagingly or comically: in the net-trap episode (see
below) and even in battle scenes.
A remarkable incident at Iliad Book 5 shows Ares getting speared in the belly by a Greek human hero,
Diomedes (who is being helped by Athena). Of course the wound cannot kill Ares, but it drives him
bellowing from the battlefield. (Some war god!) Ares flies to Mt. Olympus to complain to his father, Zeus,
who rebukes him with the words quoted at Buxton page 83 top. Ares had a really bad day, that day.

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

As embodying the violence of war, Ares implicitly is contrasted with Athena. Athena more admirably
embodies strategy in war and the patriotic defense of the city.

The smith-god Hephaestus too has only a small role in mythology: He tends to be treated comically.
Remarkably, Hephaestus is pictured as lame or slightly misshapen: He limps, with a leg that doesnt work.
The other Olympians tend to laugh at him, and this includes his mother, Hera, and wife, Aphrodite. It is a
primitive comic effect that the one god with a physical disability is married to the universes most beautiful
and desirable female being.

Hephaestus father is Zeusalthough Hesiods version claims that Hephaestus was born out of Hera without
insemination. Zeus disdains Hephaestus; once, in anger, Zeus hurled Hephaestus out of heaven when
Hephaestus had tried to defend his mother in her quarrel with Zeus. Hephaestus downward fall had lasted a
whole dayso far is heaven from Earthuntil he landed on his associated Aegean island, Lemnos.
That actually was Hephaestus 2nd fall from heaven. When he was born, Hera had thrown him out
temporarily in rejection.

Hephaestus is the patron god of metallurgy, the working of metals such as bronze or gold. Here he is not a
comic figure: His metalwork is literally divine, of great beauty and cleverness.
In a famous incident told in Homers Odyssey and referenced at Buxton page 78, Hephaestus gets revenge
on his wifes betrayals of him with Ares: He fashions a magic net of sheer-but-unbreakable material and sets it
with a trip-wire above the marriage bed of him and Aphrodite. In his absence, the two lovers get caught
naked in the net and cannot escape. Hephaestus returns to the net and drags it, with the couple inside, into
the banquet hall at Olympus. Other gods jeer at the humiliated pair.

The god of the smithy was associated by the real-life Greeks with active volcanoes. Hephaestus special
island, Lemnos, was volcanic, and the seafaring Greeks seem to have believed that volcanoes generally, in
Asia Minor or Sicily, were forges of the god: Hephaestus was at work, beneath all that distant smoke and fire.
Today our very word volcano commemorates the god, through his ancient Roman name: Vulcanus
[Vulcan] or Volcanus. That latter form is the origin of our Spanish-derived word volcano.

Aphrodite: See also Buxtons good brief treatment, page 78.


As our textbook mentions, Aphrodite embodies what the Greek called ta aphrodisia, the sexual act. Yes, a
goddess of beauty and love, but normally angled toward sexual desire.
She is among other things the spirit of animal procreation, as shown in a striking passage from the
Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (from around perhaps 680 B.C.), where the beasts of the mountainsidewolves,
lions, bears, leopardsfall to copulating under her spell as she moves past them. Whether Aphrodite is a
daughter of Zeus (as Homer claims) or was born earlier than Zeus (as Hesiod claims), she is easily understood
as a universal principle: the mammalian urge to procreate.

Being credited with such a basic human aspect, Aphrodite is another deity imagined as being relatively
accessible to humans. For example, the Greek poet Sappho (circa 600 B.C.) wrote a famous hymn to
Aphrodite in which Sappho asks for the goddess help in pursuit of a reluctant hoped-for lover. And
evidently ancient Greece saw many prayers and offerings in Aphrodites temples that expressed similar
wishes.

In the mythology, Aphrodite is married to Hephaestus but has had several male-god lovers: Ares (her usual
paramour), Poseidon, Hermes, and Dionysus. By each of these, except her husband, she has at least one
child.
She has had, as well, two human boyfriends. One was the beautiful youth Adonis, who eventually was
killed by a wild boar (although some versions say it was jealous Ares in disguise). The other lover was the
Trojan prince Anchises, by whom the goddess bore the future Trojan hero Aeneas [Aineias].

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

Another Trojan prince, Paris, was not a lover but a human favourite of Aphroditeafter he awarded her the
prize in the Judgment of Paris episode: Buxton page 132. In the ensuing Trojan War, Aphrodite fights (rather
ineffectually) on the Trojan side, against the Greeks and against most (not all) of her fellow Olympian gods.

The real-life origins of this fascinating deity lie outside Greece, in the Near East, in the age-old non-Greek
culture that we call Semitic. Modern scholarship has determined that Aphrodite is an outcrop of a much-
older goddess of Mesopotamia and the Lebanon region who was named variously as Ishtar or Astarte.
Astarte was a sexual and protective goddess, wife of the king-god Melqart. She was associated with the planet
Venus, easily visible to the naked eye. In Lebanon circa 900 B.C. she was worshipped by the non-Greek
people that today are called the Phoenicians. Also there were Phoenician settlers on the island of Cyprus.
Astartes worship and mythology included the idea of her doomed mortal lover, Tammuz, whose death
was publicly mourned annually in dramatic rituals. In lamenting Tammuzs death, the Phoenician ladies
would call on him by the title adon, lord.
On Cyprus at this time also were Greek settlers, who witnessed Astartes cult and who began a process
of borrowing it into Greek religion. Thus Astarte became chronologically the last major Greek deity: Her
Greek name Aphrodite means foam-born but may originally have been just as a Greek-language
approximation of the foreign name Astarte.
Also included in the borrowing was Astartes now-dead boyfriend, under a Greek name that copied the
title adon: Adonis.
Also included was the association with the planet Venus. This planet was now named Aphrodite by the
Greeks, and later would be called Venus by the ancient Romans. (Venus was the Romans name for
Aphrodite.) Today, three thousand years after the Phoenicians, we still call the planet by the goddesss name.

The Greeks would always associate Aphrodite with the island of Cyprus: In Hesiods Theogony she steps
ashore at Cyprus after rising from the sea, and in myth and in real life, Aphrodite sometimes was called
Kupria, the Cypriote [goddess]. Without doubt, this association links back to her real-life historical origins
on Cyprus, even if the Greeks of (say) Platos day no longer remembered that.

Dionysus can be difficult to get a handle on. He was god of grapes, viticulture, and wine, but god also of
stage-theatre and of religious extreme states of mind.
This domain can be understood as being three steps on a continuum of human experience. The first
step or facet would be drunkennessthat is, being intoxicated by a substance.
The second facet would be the state of religious trance or possession that the Greeks called ekstasis
(literally standing outside yourself), which gives us our word ecstasy but which might better be translated
as trance. In modern religions, this might include church services where worshippers routinely become
highly emotional and take on personalities/identities that are different from their daily ones, where they are
thought to be possessed by the holy spirit.
The third facet would be theatre performance, where the actors temporarily take on new identities in
character, often including the use of mask and costume.

In each of these situations, you are acting profoundly differently from your everyday actions, and the ancient
Greeks would say that you were being visited or possessed by Dionysus.

Obviously Dionysus was a god who might commune with humans: To receive a visit from Dionysus, you
need only (for example) have a couple of pints at the Royal Oak.
Dionysus had a human mother, and he marries a human wife: the Cretan princess Ariadne (Buxton page
128). Not so much in his personality but in his associations, he is the god closest to being human.

Overlaps in function
The Greek gods/goddesses tend to overlap somewhat in their spheres of influence, so please dont be
concerned by duplications.

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CLA2323 A: Sept. 26 lecture notes

Zeus, Athena, and Apollo all are associated with wisdom. Zeus and Apollo both are lords of order,
moderation, measure, and prophecy. Athena and Hephaestus share the genius of invention. Athena,
Artemis, and Hestia all are virgin goddesses. Artemis and her brother Apollo are archer gods; both are
associated with the deer (the hunters prime quarry). Poseidon is lord of the sea, but Athena oversees the skill
of seafaring, and Aphrodite can be considered a patron goddess of sailors. Ares is god of war, but Athena
oversees the use of tactics and strategy in war. Both Apollo and his half-brother Hermes have associations
with music, also are lords of shepherds and flocks (sheep or goats); Pan and Dionysus likewise are associated
with the goat. Artemis and Pan both are gods of the wilderness. Dionysus and Apollo both are lords of the
theatre. Aphrodite is the goddess of sex and romantic love, but Hera is pictured as sexually beautiful and as
blessing the marriage bed. Et cetera.

Regarding page 5, above: Zeus creation of the race of heroes


Question: Why all the sexual violence?

The facts: Zeus, Apollo, and other gods repeatedly commit rape. Zeus has relations with goddesses (his sister
Demeter, his sister and wife Hera, etc.), with demigoddesses (Leto, Maia, etc.), and with a catalogue of young
human women (Danae, Alcmene, Leda, etc.). Regarding at least the human women, the sex is not
consensual.

Every single time that Zeus or another god has sex with a mortal woman, the woman gets pregnant; the baby
usually is male, usually a future hero (although Helen of Troy was one female born from Zeus seed).
The rape-victim-mother usually is identified as a princess of some sort: the daughter of the ruling family,
or at least of a noble family, at a Greek city like Thebes or Argos. Further, the woman almost always is a
maiden: This is her first experience, her first child. The idea seems to be that the hero formula works best
if the woman is a virgin chamber until Zeus chooses her.

Answer: From the storytelling viewpoint, the violence may be necessary to explain how the women got
pregnant. In real-life ancient Greece, well-born young women did not have premarital affairs with men.
Women at marriage were virgins; any scandal otherwise was deeply shameful to the family. So, in the
storytelling, since Zeus isnt going to marry the young women, the explanation of their getting pregnant has
to be something that carries no blame to them. In theory, Zeus could have hypnotized the women or put
them to sleep, but the rape more clearly absolves the females of any wrongdoing.

Footnote: the princess Leda seems to have been a married lady when Zeus assaulted her (Buxton page 98). The
princess Alcmene [Alkmene] was still a maiden on her wedding night when Zeus entered the bedroom,
disguised as her husband: She thought she was lying down with her husband (again, p. 98).

Question: Could the mythology be condoning Zeus behavior? If Zeus is the universal lord of justice and order, then doesnt the
mythology simply approve of anything hes shown to do?

Answer: A good question. Greek mythology is full of examples of bad behaviorwhich often are
characterized as badeven from heroes and gods. In this case, for one thing, assaulting noble-born maidens
was not an approved activity in real-life ancient Greece. For another, humans generally are not invited to
imitate Zeus. A religiously pious Greek of 500 B.C. would say that Zeus behavior is beyond our human
ability to judge: Whatever Zeus does is correct, because hes Zeus, but we humans should not try to imitate it.
[end]

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