Greek gods are an integral part of Greek mythology. Our formal knowledge of the ancient Greek gods can be traced back to the writings of Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey (8th century BC). In addition, many scholars believe that the myths were heavily influenced by the Mycenaean culture that existed in Greece between 1700 and 1100 BC. Remarkably, there is evidence that the beginnings of Greek mythology can be traced back to the ancient Middle Eastern cultures of Mesopotamia and Anatolia. There are many similarities between the mythology of these ancient Middle Eastern cultures and the ancient Greeks.

Greek Gods – The Religious & Social Background

The Greek gods were created by man to explain the world around them, act as a means of exploration, provide legitimacy and authority to ancient Greek aristocracy, and provide entertainment for the masses. The religion of the ancient Greeks did not have a single source of written scripture such as the Bible or the Qur’an. Furthermore, the ancient Greeks did not believe in absolute truth as practiced by modern faiths such as Christianity and Judaism. Generally, a Greek city-state would devote itself to a particular god or a set of gods, and depending on the location of the city-state, the characteristics of the gods could vary widely. Many city-states erected temples to their particular gods, and these gods were honored in festivals and animal sacrifices.

The ancient Greek gods normally took on human form and lived in a society similar to human society. They exhibited all the emotions of human beings and frequently intervened in human history such as in the Trojan War. The most significant difference between the Greek gods and humans was that the gods were immortal and human beings were not.

The Creation Myth

It is difficult to trace the ancestry of the ancient Greek gods since there are several creation myths. A combination of the account put together by the Greek Poet Hesiod in the 8th century BC and an account written by the mythographer (compiler of myths) Apollodrous would have been recognized by most ancient Greeks. It was as follows: The god Chaos (gaping void) was the foundation of all creation. Out of this god arose Gaea (earth), Tartarus (underworld) and Eros (love). The god Eros was necessary to draw Chaos and Gaea together so that they would produce offspring. Chaos then created night and the first born of Gaea was Uranus (god of the heavens). The union of Chaos and Gaea also resulted in the creation of the mountains, seas, and gods known as Titans. The interaction of these early gods resulted in the creation of several other gods.

These included well-known figures such as Aphrodite, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus. Zeus eventually waged war on his father (Cronus) and the Titans. As a result of this conflict, Zeus established a new regime, the Olympians, on Mt. Olympus. Zeus ruled the sky, his bother Poseidon ruled the seas, and his brother Hades ruled the underworld. The creation of human beings is the result of conflicting myths. Many creation stories held that human beings sprang directly from the ground. In some cases, separate Greek societies had their own unique creation events. This is true for the Arcadians and Thebans, which both trace their beginnings to different earth-born men created in different areas. One myth states that humans were created out of earth and water, aided by the Titan, Prometheus, with his gift of fire.

The Great Flood

The ancient Greeks believed in a flood that destroyed all mankind similar to the account described in the Bible. In the Greek myth, the flood took place during the age of Deucalion 1 (1450 BC). Deucalion 1 and his wife, Pyrrah 1, were warned in advance of the coming deluge and told to construct a chest and fill it with provisions. The source of the coming deluge was the anger of Zeus towards mankind. Zeus had become disgusted at the degeneration of humans, and in particular, the practice of human sacrifice. Zeus assembled the gods and decided to wipe out mankind by water. Deucalion and Pyrrah survived the flood by floating in the chest they built. They floated in the chest for nine days and nine nights and came to rest on a mountain in Phocis. Once Zeus realized that the world was a stagnant pool of water survived only by Deucalion and Pyrrah, he stopped the rains and restored the land. In order to repopulate the world, the gods instructed the survivors to cast stones over their heads. The stones cast by Deucalion became men and the stones cast by Pyrrah became women. This recreation by stone was used to explain the hardness of the human race. There are a great number of differences between the Greek myth and the account of the flood described in the Bible. For example, there is evidence that the biblical flood took place closer to 2500 BC. Furthermore, unlike the Greek myth, Noah and his family were saved along with sufficient animal life to repopulate the planet. However, both accounts maintain that the world was destroyed as the result of mankind’s sin, and the human race was saved as a result of a few individuals leading a righteous life.

Life after Death

The Greek gods represented the ancient Greek belief that when an individual died, his vital breath or psyche left the body to enter the palace of Hades (king of the dead). In the earlier periods of ancient Greece, the psyche was not the same as the Christian view of a soul. Once it left the body, the psyche was a phantom image that could be perceived, but not touched. The wall separating the living from the dead was impenetrable. Gradually, the concept of the psyche became similar to the concept of a soul. The soul was separate from the body, but responsible for an individual’s personality. The soul was also responsible for an individual’s moral decisions.

The early Greeks did not believe that a person’s action in this life had any bearing on their afterlife. However, by “Classical Times” (480-323 BC), the belief that a moral person would be rewarded in the afterlife was prevalent. At the same time, the idea that a person who repeatedly transgressed deserved eternal punishment developed. The concern of how one spent their afterlife led to many burial rituals and commemorative ceremonies for the dead.

The Lasting Effects of the Greek Gods

The Greek gods continue to impact modern society, and the lasting effects of ancient Greek civilization cannot be exaggerated. In fact, most of Western civilization can trace its origins to ancient Greece. When the Roman Empire conquered the Greeks they inherited an extensive empire. The Romans also adopted the beliefs of the Greeks and Greek mythology became the official religion of the Roman Empire. This lasted for centuries, until the Roman emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Rome in 312 AD.

Although there are no modern formal religions that worship the ancient Greek gods, their legacy continues throughout the entire world. In particular, the arts have been greatly influenced by Greek mythology. Many well-known masterpieces in painting, music, literature and theater use themes from Greek mythology.

Today, the influence of Greek mythology and the ancient Greek gods shows no sign of diminishing. Computer games frequently use stories of the ancient Greek gods as a backdrop for their quest orientated games. Motion pictures that utilize characters from Greek mythology are still popular.

It seems that the moral and intellectual themes of the stories behind the ancient Greek gods have proven easily adaptable to many cultures over many centuries. It shows mankind’s inherent need to explore origins, meaning and morality – it shows man’s need to explain why he is here and where he is going…

List of Greek Gods

Name Description / Domain
ACHELOUS The patron god of the “silver-swirling” Achelous River.
AEOLUS Greek god of the winds and air
AETHER Primordial god of the upper air, light, the atmosphere, space and heaven.
ALASTOR God of family feuds and avenger of evil deeds.
APOLLO Olympian god of music, poetry, art, oracles, archery, plague, medicine, sun, light and knowledge.
ARES God of war. Represented the physical, violent and untamed aspect of war.
ASCLEPIUS God of medicine, health, healing, rejuvenation and physicians.
ATLAS The Primordial Titan of Astronomy. Condemned by Zeus to carry the world on his back after the Titans lost the war.
A wind god (Anemoi) and Greek god of the cold north wind and the bringer of winter. Referred to as “The North Wind”.
CASTOR One of the twins, CASTOR AND POLLUX, known as Dioscuri. Zeus transformed them into the constellation Gemini
CHAOS The nothingness that all else sprung from. A god who filled the gap between Heaven and Earth and created the first beings Gaia, Tartarus, Uranus, Nyx and Erebus.
CHIRON The Ferryman of Hades. Took the newly dead people across the rivers Styx and Acheron to the Greek underworld if they paid him three obolus (a Greek silver coin).
CRONOS The god of time. Not to be confused with Cronus, the Titan father of Zeus.
CRIUS The Titan god of the heavenly constellations and the measure of the year..
CRONUS God of agriculture, leader and the youngest of the first generation of Titans and father of the Titans. Not to be confused with Cronos, god of time.
DIONYSUS An Olympian god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theatre.
EREBUS Primordial god of darkness.
EROS God of sexual desire, attraction, love and procreation.
EURUS One of the wind god known as Anemoi and god of the unlucky east wind. Referred to as “The East Wind”.
GLAUCUS A fisherman who became immortal upon eating a magical herb, an Argonaut who may have built and piloted the Argo, and became a god of the sea.
God of the Dead and Riches and King of the Underworld.
HELIOS God of the Sun and also known as Sol.
HEPHAESTUS God of fire, metalworking, stone masonry, forges and the art of sculpture. Created weapons for the gods and married to Aphrodite.
HERMES God of trade, thieves, travelers, sports, athletes, and border crossings, guide to the Underworld and messenger of the gods.
HYMENAIOS God of marriage ceremonies, inspiring feasts and song.
HYPNOS The Greek god of sleep.
MOMUS God of satire, mockery, censure, writers and poets and a spirit of evil-spirited blame and unfair criticism.
MORPHEUS God of dreams and sleep – has the ability to take any human form and appear in dreams.
MOROS The physical embodiment of doom
NEREUS The Titan god of the sea before Poseidon and father of the Nereids (nymphs of the sea).
OCEANUS Titan god of the ocean. Believed to be the personification of the World Ocean, an enormous river encircling the world.
PALLAS The Titan god of warcraft and of the springtime campaign season.
PAN God of nature, the wild, shepherds, flocks, goats, mountain wilds, and is often associated with sexuality. Also a satyr (half man, half-goat).
PHOSPHORUS The Morning Star – THE PLANET VENUS as it appears in the morning.
POLLUX Twin brother of Castor, together known as the Dioskouri, that were transformed into the constellation Gemini.
PONTUS ancient, pre-Olympian sea-god of the deep sea, one of the Greek primordial deities and son of Gaia.
POSEIDON Olympian Greek god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses.
PRIAPUS Minor rustic fertility god, protector of flocks, fruit plants, bees and gardens and known for having an enormous penis.
PRICUS The immortal father of sea-goats, made into the Capricorn constellation.
PROMETHEUS Titan god of forethought and crafty counsel who was given the task of moulding mankind out of clay.
PRIMORDIAL A group of gods that came before all else.
TARTARUS The god of the deep abyss, a great pit in the depths of the underworld, and father of Typhon.
THANATOS A minor god and the god of death.
TRITON Messenger of the sea and the son of Poseidon
TYPHON  Last son of Gaia, fathered by Tartarus and god of monsters, storms, and volcanoes.
URANUS Primordial god of the sky and heavens, and father of the Titans.
ZEPHYRUS A wind god (Anemoi). God of the west wind and known as “The West Wind”.
ZEUS God of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order, justice, King of the Gods and the “Father of Gods and men”.