Both Greek goddesses and gods are prominently featured in Greek mythology. The gods and goddesses are significant, with each having a specific role. Zeus, for example, is the God of the Sky and the ruler of all the Olympian gods. As ruler, Zeus clearly has a significant role in Greek myths. However, there are many Greek goddesses that had important roles to fill, including Zeus’ wife Hera.
As Zeus’ wife, Hera was the queen of the Greek goddesses and gods. She was not just Queen of the Olympians; she was also the Goddess of Weddings and Marriage. Being the Goddess of Weddings and Marriage, it makes sense that Hera would become very jealous of Zeus’ affairs. In one instance Hera went so far as to try and kill one of the children that Zeus fathered with another woman. That is jealousy at its worst. In spite of this jealous act, the Greeks still honored Hera with the Festival of Heraia, which was an athletic competition exclusively for women.
As the goddess of war and wisdom, Athena is a well-known goddess whose wisdom led her to be associated with the owl. Athena is also associated with the olive tree, which is considered her sacred symbol. The olive tree came to be Athena’s symbol through a myth that she gave an olive tree to the city of Athens, which grew on the Acropolis. Aside from the olive tree, Athens is also a sacred city for Athena because it is where a major temple was dedicated to her. The famous Parthenon is actually a temple that was dedicated to Athena. While many cities had temples dedicated to her because she was considered the protector of the city, the Parthenon is by far the most famous.
Demeter was a very important goddess for farmers and women, due to the fact that she was the Goddess of Fertility and Agriculture. As the Goddess of Agriculture, Demeter brings harvests once a year. However, according to her myth, crops used to be abundant year round. Demeter had a daughter named Persephone, who was captured by Hades and taken to the underworld. The loss of her daughter upset Demeter very much, and she became very angry causing crops to die for an entire year. This resulted in a famine and prompted Zeus to command Persephone be returned. Hades agreed, but tricked Persephone into eating a pomegranate seed, which resulted in her having to return to the underworld for a portion of every year. Each year when Persephone goes to the underworld the land becomes barren, but when she returns, Demeter becomes happy and crops begin to grow again.
Who can’t help but know about Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty. Aphrodite is symbolized by the dove, which is a bit ironic considering her title of the most beautiful was earned in a tumultuous way. The mythological story of Aphrodite’s beauty began when Eris, the Goddess of Strife, placed an apple that had the inscription, “to the fairest” at a wedding. Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena found the apple and wanted to know who it was for. When they asked Zeus he foresaw that a problem would occur if he answered. Therefore, Zeus gave the job of deciding the fairest to a mortal man name Paris. When Aphrodite promised Paris the most beautiful women in the world in return for the title, he chose Aphrodite. Coincidentally, the most beautiful woman was Helen, the wife of the King of Sparta. When she ran off with Paris while she was under Aphrodite’s influence, a ten year war ensued as the King tried to recapture her.
Eris is the least likeable of all the goddesses. She is the Goddess of Strife, and discord, contention, and rivalry. It was her evil trick that prompted Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera to fight for the title of the fairest. If they had only known who had really planted the apple! Aside from playing mean spirited tricks, Eris was also responsible for calling forth war and discord. She and her brother Ares, the God of War, delighted in bringing about destruction.
Although Artemis, another Greek goddess, had the ability send sudden plagues and death to mortals, she seems mild compared to Eris, especially since she could also heal. Artemis was the Goddess of Hunting, wild animals, and childbirth. She was often portrayed as living in the countryside, and was the twin sister or Apollo. In Ancient Greece there was an unusual festival celebrating Artemis called the festival of Braurunia. At this festival girls between five and ten years old would dress up as bears to appease Artemis.
Hestia was the Goddess of the Hearth and Home. She was the first born of the Olympians and was also the gentlest and most charitable. Hestia was Zeus’ sister, and in return for her vow of chastity, Zeus gave Hestia the honor of presiding over human homes. Aside from this honor, Hestia also tended the fire in the hall of Olympus. Hestia was probably the most likeable of all the gods and goddesses.
The personalities of the Greek goddesses were as varied as the personality of humans, with Hestia perhaps being the nicest and Eris being the most troublesome. Learning about all of the myths surrounding these very different goddesses is fascinating. I am particularly fond of the myth surrounding Aphrodite’s title of the most beautiful. Which goddess most interests you?
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