10 Facts about Greek gods

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10 Facts about Greek gods
Zeus was a violent, thunderbolt-happy womaniser, but retained his position as king of the gods. (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

The gods of ancient Greece were an interesting bunch, to say the least. The surviving myths offer a unique insight into the culture of the legendary civilisation, and the stories are still entertaining to the modern age. The world of the gods is one of trickery, deceit, revenge, drunkenness and acts of cruelty that retain their power to shock. There are many interesting facts about the Greek gods, and they can give you an insight into the characters of the mythological deities.

Zeus cared about hospitality

Zeus is well-known as the king of the Greek gods, but a little known fact is that he was also referred to as “the protector of the rights of hospitality.” Treating one of your guests badly could incur the wrath of Zeus, which almost always takes the form of a thunderbolt.

Herakles strangled snakes as a baby

Hera, the wife of Zeus, was understandably annoyed when the habitually unfaithful god had a child with a mortal woman. To prevent Herakles from becoming a king, Hera delayed his birth and then placed two snakes in his cot. He survived the only way he could, by strangling the life out of the two serpents.

Athena’s unusual birth

Zeus had another affair with Metis, but soon learned that any child born to her would surpass its father. Having overthrown his own father to become king of the gods, Zeus was worried, and decided to eat the still-pregnant Metis to prevent it from coming true. Later, he started to get piercing headaches and went to the doctor. When his head was cut open, Athena jumped out of his skull in full battle regalia.

Persephone and the seasons

Persephone was captured by Hades, the ruler of the underworld, when she was out picking flowers. This worried her mother, Demeter, who found out what had happened from Helios (the Titan Sun god) and decided to destroy the Earth’s crops, resulting in a devastating famine. After Zeus intervened, Persephone was released, but Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, meaning she had to return to the underworld for a part of each year. Demeter redirects her rage towards the Earth each year, creating the barren winter.

Poseidon’s revenge

Poseidon was Zeus’ brother and the god of the sea, and he hated Odysseus. This is understandable, since the legendary hero had blinded his son, the Cyclops. He unleashed his rage by causing a huge storm and destroying Odysseus’ ship.

Hermes the thief

Hermes is the messenger of the gods, but he is also the patron god of thieves. According to the myths, on the day he was born he stole Apollo’s cattle. When Apollo came back, he rushed back into bed and pretended to be an innocent newborn. Apollo complained to Zeus, but in his characteristic style, he found it funny and did nothing to help.

Dionysos the drunkard

The Greeks had so many gods that one was even pretty much dedicated to wine. Dionysos is also associated with high spirits, chaos and celebrations, but he’s most known for drunkenness. One myth recounts him being captured by pirates in the midst of a drunken stupor. They wouldn’t release him, so he solved the problem with wine, creating towering grape vines which tore the ship’s sails and scared the pirates away.

Prometheus and human knowledge

Prometheus taught humans skills such as astronomy, navigation, medicine and mathematics, which annoyed Zeus, who preferred the humans to remain ignorant. Later, Prometheus was elected to solve a dispute amongst the gods, and in the process fooled Zeus into choosing the worst parts of the sacrificed bull. In revenge, Zeus tried to withhold fire from humans, so they could never taste cooked meat. Prometheus secured himself a lifetime of torture by stealing fire from the Sun and giving it to the humans.

Phaethon loses control of the Sun

The image is both striking and telling of the scientific knowledge of the age. The Titan god of the Sun, Helios, dragged the fireball across the sky each day in a chariot powered by four burning-winged horses. Once, his son Phaethon decided to have a try. He failed, crashing the Sun into the Earth and setting the planet on fire, so Zeus promptly destroyed him with a thunderbolt.

Kronos eating his children

Kronos is the Titan god of time, and became ruler of the cosmos after castrating his father. After hearing that he would be overthrown by his son in a prophecy, he took to eating all of his children when they were babies. Zeus was the only one who survived, after being saved by Kronos’ (understandably quite annoyed) wife Rhea.

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