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Some of the Gods and Goddesses of Classical Mythology


This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list.  It includes most of the deities who are mentioned in the Heroides, along with a few who are not (e.g., Uranus, who was the father of Saturn and the Titans, and the grandfather of Jove and the Olympian deities).  The details given under each entry are also rather selective; the emphasis is on those aspects or activities of the deity which are mentioned in the Heroides.  The Roman name of the deity is given first, with the Greek name in parentheses if it is different.

Apollo
God of the sun, of music and poetry, of prophecy, and of healing.  Son of Jove and Latona; brother of Diana.  Often called Phoebus Apollo, or simply Phoebus; sometimes called the "Delian" god because he was born on the island of Delos.  He was famous for his prowess with the bow; the Greek hero Achilles was supposed to have been killed by one of Apollo's arrows, shot either by Apollo himself or by the Trojan prince Paris with Apollo's assistance. He and the god Neptune were supposed to have built the original walls of Troy.  He had several loves, including the nymph Oenone and the Trojan princess Cassandra; he taught Oenone the arts of healing and gave Cassandra the power of prophecy.  He sided with Troy in the Trojan War.
Atlas
Son of Iapetus; a Titan rather than an Olympian god.  Father of Maia and grandfather of Mercury.  As punishment for fighting with the other Titans against the Olympians, he was condemned to hold up the sky on his shoulders.  He tricked Hercules into holding up the sky in his place, and Hercules in turn tricked him into taking the burden back.  Perseus used the head of Medusa to turn Atlas into stone, and he became Mount Atlas (in modern-day Morocco).
Ceres (Demeter)
Goddess of crops and fertility.  Daughter of Saturn and Cybele, and sister of Jove, Juno, Pluto, Neptune and Vesta.  Mother of Proserpine. She was an object of veneration in the Eleusinian Mysteries, a mystery cult involving death and rebirth; the initiates of the mysteries were forbidden to speak of them to outsiders. She was often portrayed as carrying a torch, probably in token of her search in the underworld for her daughter, Proserpine, who had been abducted by Pluto. As a compromise with Ceres, Pluto agreed that Proserpine could spend six months each year living with him as his wife, and six months in the upper world with her mother.  During the six months of Proserpine's absence, Ceres grieves and nothing grows (fall and winter); when her daughter returns to her, Ceres makes plants bloom and crops thrive (spring and summer).
Cupid (Eros)
Son of Venus and Mars.  God of love, particularly of sudden infatuation.  Also called Amor (the Latin word for "love").  Cupid is often represented as using a bow and arrow, and he inflamed human hearts (and sometimes the hearts of gods or goddesses) with love or violent passion. According to Virgil, Venus sent Cupid to infect Dido with an irresistible passion for Aeneas; according to Apollonius of Rhodes, she sent him to do the same thing to Medea so that she would fall in love with Jason.  Cupid was involved in numerous other episodes of ungovernable passion in mythology.  
Cybele (Rhea)
Queen of the Titans.  Daughter of Uranus and Gaea.  Wife of Saturn.  Mother of Jove and the older generation of the Olympian gods (Juno, Neptune, Pluto, Ceres and Vesta).
Diana (Artemis)
Goddess of the moon, of hunting and woodland activities, and of chastity.  Daughter of Zeus and Latona; sister of Apollo; sometimes called the "Delian" goddess because she was born on the island of Delos.  Her customary weapons were a bow and arrows. Her followers typically vowed themselves to chastity and disdained bodily adornment, pursuing hunting and related outdoor activities. Theseus' son, Hippolytus, was devoted to Diana, as was the maiden Atalanta.  Diana was sometimes identified with Hecate (a goddess of sorcery and magic) and with Selene (a goddess of the moon).  She sided with Troy in the Trojan War.
Dione
Daughter of Epimetheus; mother of Venus (in the most common versions of Venus's birth).
Jove (Zeus)
King of the Olympian gods; also called Jupiter.  Son of Saturn and Cybele and husband of Juno; brother of Juno, Pluto, Neptune, Ceres and Vesta.  Jove's principal weapon was the lightning bolt, and he was often called "The Thunderer."  One of his minor cults was as the protector of safe returns for travelers.  Jove's father, Saturn, swallowed all of his own children immediately after birth to prevent any of them from overthrowing him.  Cybele saved Jove by giving Saturn a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes in his place; Jove was then raised secretly on the island of Crete.  Saturn was later forced to disgorge the other children and they overthrew him.  Jove had many love affairs, both with humans and with other gods and demigods.  He was the father of a number of gods and goddesses, including Mars and Vulcan (by Juno), Apollo and Diana (by Latona), Mercury (by Maia), Venus (by Dione in most versions of the myth), Proserpine (by Ceres), Dionysus (by the human woman Semele), and Minerva (by no mother--she burst out of his forehead, already full-grown).  Many of the great human families of ancient myth also claim descent from Jove.  He was the father of Tantalus, and so the whole house of Atreus is descended from him (Atreus, Thyestes, Aegisthos, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Orestes, etc.); in addition, he raped the human woman, Leda, and thus became the father of Menelaus' wife, Helen, and the grandfather of Hermione.  He abducted the human woman Europa (by taking on the form of a bull and swimming off with her to Crete); by Europa, he became the father of Minos and thus the ancestor of the royal house of Crete.  The royal family of Troy traced its descent from Dardanus, a son of Jove.  He was the grandfather of Peleus and the great-grandfather of Achilles.    He was the father of the hero Perseus, and also the father of the most famous descendant of the house of Perseus, Hercules.  Jove's wife, Juno, was intensely jealous and frequently took her revenge on the women Jove had affairs with.  The most notable instances of this in the Heroides are her enmity for Hercules (after Jove tricked his mother, Alcmene, into intercourse) and for the nymph Io, whom Jove seduced and then turned into a cow in order to hide her from Juno.  One woman he did not have an affair with was the sea-nymph, Thetis.  He lusted after Thetis, but then learned of a prophecy that she would bear a son who was greater than his father; rather than risk being overthrown by his own son, he married her off to a human, Peleus, and their son was Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors at Troy.  
Juno (Hera)
Queen of the Olympian gods; goddess of matrimony and childbirth.  Daughter of Saturn and Cybele; wife of Jove and sister of Jove, Neptune, Pluto, Ceres and Vesta.  Mother of Mars and Vulcan.  Juno is presented as very jealous and as being ever-watchful of her husband's infidelities.  After Jove raped or seduced the beautiful nymph Io, he turned her into a cow in order to hide her from Juno; Juno then tormented Io unmercifully in order to be avenged for her husband's infidelity.  After the human woman Alcmene became pregnant by Jove, Juno prolonged her labor; after Alcmene gave birth to Jove's child (Hercules), Juno became Hercules' most implacable enemy.  She was also the chief divine opponent of Aeneas, trying to prevent him from founding Rome (a nation that would eclipse and eventually destroy her own favorite city, Carthage).  Juno was also involved in the divine dispute which led ultimately to the Trojan WarShe sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War.
Latona (Leto)
Daughter of Coeus and Phoebe; mother (by Jove) of Apollo and Diana.  Latona sided with Troy in the Trojan War.
Mars (Ares)
God of war; son of Jove and Juno.  He was often accompanied in battle by his hounds, Deimos and Phobos (Terror and Fear).  He had an affair with the goddess Venus while she was married to the god Vulcan; Cupid was the son of Mars and Venus.  He sided with Troy in the Trojan War.
Mercury (Hermes)
Son of Jove and Maia; grandson of Atlas.  Herald and messenger for Jove, and god of a whole host of things:  animal husbandry, wealth, commerce, travel, oratory, theft, gambling, and athletics.  Mercury was sent to Carthage to order Aeneas to abandon Dido and sail for Italy.  He was also sent by Jove to free Io from Argus, the unsleeping guardian that Juno has set over her; he killed Argus, and is sometimes called Argeiphontes (killer of Argus) as a result.  Mercury sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War.
Minerva (Athena)
Daughter of Jove (without the aid of a mother's womb); goddess of wisdom and of defensive warfare, as well as patron of domestic arts such as weaving.  She was supposed to have been born, full-grown, from the forehead of Jove.  She was the protector of Ulysses during his voyage home from Troy, and the advisor of his son, Telemachus.  She also intervened to prevent Achilles from harming Agamemnon in their quarrel during the siege of Troy.  Minerva was also involved in the divine dispute which led ultimately to the Trojan War.  She sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War.
Neptune (Poseidon)
Son of Saturn and Cybele; brother of Jove, Juno, Pluto, Ceres and Vesta; husband of Amphitrite.  God of the sea and of horsemanship; producer of earthquakes.  He was supposed to have built the original walls of Troy, along with Apollo, but to have become angry with the city when they refused to pay him.  In some versions of the myth, he (rather than Aegeus) was the father of Theseus; he helped Theseus find a ring that King Minos had tossed into the sea, and he brought about the death of Hippolytus at Theseus' request.  He sent a bull from the sea as a sign that Minos should be king of Crete, but then cursed Minos' family when Minos refused to sacrifice the bull to him.  In some versions of the myth, he was supposed to be Canace's father; in others, she had several children by him before her affair with her brother, Macareus.  He was also said to have been enamored of the beautiful young man, Pelops, and to have been the father of Neleus and grandfather of Nestor.    
Oceanus
One of the Titans, and god of the Ocean.  Son of Uranus and Gaea, and brother of Saturn.  Father of Iapetus, and grandfather of Prometheus, Atlas and Epimetheus.   Father of the Oceanids and grandfather of Thetis.  Oceanus' realm was the great body of water which was presumed to encircle the land masses of the earth.
Pluto (Hades)
God of the underworld; sometimes also called Dis.  Son of Saturn and Cybele; brother of Jove, Juno, Neptune, Ceres and Vesta.  Pluto abducted Proserpine, the daughter of Ceres, and made her his wife.  As a compromise with the grieving Ceres, he agreed that Proserpine could spend six months of the year with him and six months in the upper world with her mother.
Prometheus
Son of Iapetus; brother of Atlas and Epimetheus  Bringer of fire to humanity.  According to one legend, he also made the first humans.
Proserpine (Persephone)
Daughter of Jove and Ceres; wife of Pluto.  After Pluto abducted Proserpine, Ceres went into deep mourning and stopped performing her divine duties; since Ceres was the goddess of crops and fertility, things ceased to grow on the earth.  A compromise was reached to solve this problem:  Proserpine was allowed to return to her mother for half of the year, and it is during this period (spring and summer) that plants have their growing season.  Theseus and his friend, Pirithous, attempted unsuccessfully to abduct Proserpine from the underworld; Theseus was held captive until Hercules freed him, and Pirithous never escaped.
Saturn (Kronos)
King of the Titans.  Son of Uranus and Gaea; husband of Cybele.  Father of Jove, Juno, Pluto, Neptune, Ceres and VestaSaturn castrated and deposed his father, Uranus.  To prevent the same thing from happening to himself, he swallowed all of his own children as soon as they were born. Saturn's wife, Cybele, hid one child (Jove) and gave Saturn a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow in his place. When he reached adulthood, Jove forced his father to disgorge all the other children and overthrew him.  Saturn's children then became the elder generation of the Olympian gods and goddesses.  Saturn was a god of agricultural fertility, and was often portrayed as presiding over a kind of golden age on the earth.
Tellus (Gaea)
Ancient earth goddess.  Husband of Uranus and mother of the Titans (Saturn and his siblings); grandmother of Jove, Juno and their siblings.
Uranus
Ancient sky god.  Father of the Titans (Saturn and his siblings), and grandfather of the first generation of Olympian gods (Jove, Juno, Neptune, Pluto, Ceres and Vesta).  Husband of Tellus (Gaea).  He was castrated and deposed by his son, Saturn.
Venus (Aphrodite)
Goddess of romantic love, physical beauty and sexual attraction.  According to one myth, she was the daughter of Jove and Dione; according to another, she was born out of the foam of the sea.  Venus was the patron goddess generally of heterosexual romantic or sexual love of any kind, but often particularly of unmarried love. While she was married to the god Vulcan, she had an affair with the god Mars, by whom she had a son, Cupid; Cupid used a bow and arrow for inflaming the hearts of humans and gods with love or violent passion.  Venus was also married at one point to the human Anchises; their son was the great Trojan hero Aeneas, who founded Rome.  Venus was also involved in the divine dispute which led ultimately to the Trojan War.  She sided with Troy in the Trojan War.  
Vesta (Hestia)
Goddess of hearth and home.  Daughter of Saturn and Cybele; sister of Jove, Juno, Pluto, Neptune and Ceres.
Vulcan (Hephaestos)
God of the forge, and master artificer and weapons-maker for the gods.  Son of Jove and Juno.  Vulcan was married to Venus when Venus had an affair with Mars; Vulcan caught the two of them in the act, and humiliated them by displaying them before the other gods.  Vulcan is usually presented as lame because Jove once threw him from Olympus in a fit of anger; Vulcan fell all the way to the earth, and injured his leg when he hit.  Vulcan sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War. 

 

 

 

This page created and maintained by James M. Hunter

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Last updated 06/23/2013