The 12 Olympians were the gods who ruled after the overthrow of the Titans. They are named after Mount Olympus, where most of them reside. The twelve gods most commonly portrayed in art and poetry as the 12 Olympians were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes and either Hestia, or Dionysus. Hades was not usually included because he lives in the underworld and rarely visits Mount Olympus.
Heroes and Monsters
The Role of Heroes in Greek Mythology and Culture
The hero cult was one of the most distinctive parts of ancient Greek religion. The exploits of a hero, second only to the feats of the gods, played an integral role in stories of the gods. A ‘hero’ in early Greek texts seemed to be defined as a notable man or woman, often of divine ancestry, who was endowed with great courage and strength and celebrated for his or her bold exploits and favoured by the gods. People looked upon heroes with veneration, and regarded them as national ancestors, the founders of great Greek cities and families. Indeed, the Greeks paid tribute to heroes in the same way that they would pay tribute to their ancestors. From the 5th century BC onward, heroes were a popular form of religious worship, and to have the allegiance of a hero was said to be a great advantage. Heroes could demonstrate both good and evil power. To gratify these heroes, people made offerings at shrines, often located at the sight of burial or death. Some heroes were worshipped at certain places, Oedipus at Colonus, Theus at Athens. Honouring a hero would help secure his support in times of crisis, while those who insulted him would incur his wrath.
The Legend of Heracles
Heracles, son of Zeus and Alcmene, was the strongest mortal man in all of existence. Zeus slept with Alcemne in the guise of her husband, Amphitryon, and impregnated her. She later had twins, one from Zeus and one from Amphitryon. Heracles was raised on a farm, and as time passed, he began to get stronger and stronger. Hera, angry that Heracles was Zeus’s illegitimate son, was well aware of Heracles’s growing abilities. She afflicted Heracles with a sudden madness, which caused him to attack Iolaus, who luckily escaped. Heracles began shooting arrows at imaginary beasts; when the madness lifted he discovered he had killed his children and two of Iphicles. Horrified, Heracles secluded himself from any human contact and begged the king of Thespiae for purification. He then consulted an oracle for atonement and was instructed that he was to service the king of Argos, Eurystheus. The result was the famous Labours of Heracles. Eurystheus had originally only intended ten labours for Heracles, but he had discounted the Lernean Hydra and the Augean stables.
1. The Nemean Lion – Heracles’ first labour was to kill a monster called the Nemean lion, whose skin could not be penetrated by spears or arrows. Heracles barricaded the entrances to the lion’s cave and fought the lion face to face, throttling it to death with his bare hands.
2. The Hydra – The second of Hercales’ tasks was to slay the Hydra, a monstrous, many-headed serpent that lived in lake Lerna, guarding an entrance to the Underworld. For every head that Heracles cur off, 2 more grew in its place. Heracles’ nephew suggested burning the stumps of the heads after they were cut off, preventing them from growing back. When the monster was left with only one head, he buried the remaining head beneath a great boulder. Eurystheus discounted this labour as Hercules had had help.
3. The Erymanthian Boar – Heracles’ 3rd task was to capture and bring the Erymanthian boar to the King. While on the way to the mountain on which the boar lived, Heracles visited his centaur friend, Pholus, to rest before continuing his journey. He unintentionally angered the other centaurs and, while defending himself, accidentally killed Pholus, and his old teacher, Chiron. Full of…