The original Olympians were a group of twelve Greek gods and goddesses believed to dwell on Mount Olympus. After Zeus, the youngest son of the Titan Cronus killed his father, he and his siblings took possession of the mountain.
He and his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, set out to delineate the areas of earth and human affairs for which each would bear responsibility. They drew lots and Zeus was the winner. Thus he became the supreme ruler of all the deities on Mount Olympus.
These are the gods of Mount Olympus whom the ancient Greeks believed could influence and control the affairs of mortals:
1. Zeus. He was the lord of the sky. He married his sister Hera, but had many affairs, with both goddesses and mortal women. His weapon was a lightning bolt which had been given to him by the Cyclops. He hurled it at those who displeased him. He had a golden shield, on which was engraved an eagle. He was the god of thunder and justice.
2. Poseidon. He was the lord of the sea, and second in power only to Zeus. He was credited with creating the first horse. He married Amphitrite, considered the mother of fish, seals and dolphins. His weapon is the trident, which could cause earthquakes and shatter any object. He had a greedy, quarrelsome personality, and often fought with other gods when he tried to take over their cities.
3. Hades. He was the lord of the underworld which he seldom left, and he ruled the dead. He was unpitying and terrible and always anxious to increase the number of his subjects. He seldom allowed anyone to leave, once they had entered his kingdom. He was the god of wealth, due to the precious metals mined from the earth. He was married to Persephone whom he had abducted.
4. Hestia. She was the virgin sister of Zeus and goddess of home and hearth. Each city had a public hearth sacred to Hestia, where the fire was never allowed to go out.
5. Hera. She was the wife and sister of Zeus, who tricked her into becoming his bride. Although she was the queen of the gods and the heavens, her marriage was stormy. She tried to arrange acts of revenge for Zeus’ many infidelities. She often plotted against her husband’s plans and was sometimes able to outwit him. She was the goddess of marriage, fertility, and the different stages of a woman’s life.
6. Ares. He was the son of Zeus and Hera, but was disliked by both his parents. He was the murderous and bloodstained god of war. He was also a coward. He was considered the god of frenzy, hatred and bloodshed.
7. Athena. She was a virgin goddess who sprang full-grown, in armour, from the forehead of her father, Zeus. She was brave and fierce in battle. She was wisdom and purity incarnate. As Zeus’ favourite child, she was allowed to use all his weapons, including his thunderbolt. She was the goddess of cities, crafts and agriculture. She was credited with the invention of the bridle, the flute, the trumpet, the rake, the ship, and the chariot.
8. Apollo. He was the son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother of Artemis. He was recognized as the god of music and played a golden lyre. He was an archer and used a silver bow and arrows. He taught medical skills to mortals, and was known as the god of healing. He was the god of truth and could not lie. He was famous for his oracle at Delphi, where many Greeks travelled to try to discern the future.
9. Artemis. She was daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo. She was the virgin goddess of the hunt. All wild animals were sacred to her, especially the deer. Like her brother, she hunted with a silver bow and arrows. She was the goddess of chastity and became associated with the moon.
10. Aphrodite. She was alternately identified as the daughter of Zeus and Dione, or as having risen from the foam of the sea on a giant scallop. She was the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and of those overwhelming passions which compel humans to act irrationally. She was very beautiful and in addition, possessed a magic girdle, which made anyone she wanted, desire her.
11. Hermes. He was the son of Zeus and Maia, the fastest of the gods and Zeus’ personal messenger. He also guided the dead to the underworld. He was depicted as wearing winged sandals, a winged cap and carrying a magic wand. He was the god of speed, commerce, thieves, travellers, sleep and dreams. He was credited with inventing the lyre, the pipes, the musical scale, boxing and gymnastics.
12. Hephaestus. The son of Zeus and Hera, he was physically lame and ugly. Some accounts say Hera, upset by having an ugly child, flung him from Mount Olympus, breaking his legs. Other tales say he took Hera’s side in an argument with Zeus, and his father flung him from the mountain. Hephaestus was blacksmith to the gods. He was the god of fire and the forge. He used a volcano as his forge and was the patron of smiths, weavers and the arts. He was a kind and peace-loving god and was married to Aphrodite.
These then, were the deities whom the ancient Greeks believed inhabited the mythic Mount Olympus. Like their human inventors, the deities had strengths and weaknesses, talents and frailities but these were magnified many times as the tales grew proportionately more fanciful and entertaining.
Today, besides serving as useful windows into early Greek religion and culture, the tales continue to be of interest. They illustrate the fact that the talent for composing imaginative fantasies has deep roots in history. It is by no means a product of the recent past or of our contemporary civilization. The early Greeks were masters of the skill.