Greek and Roman Mythology
Western Civ I
Greek and Roman mythology have many similarities between them. Each type has there own set of Gods and Goddesses, although they were worshiped for similar reasons. The following will explain each God or Goddess and explain how they compare to each other.
The King of Gods in Greek Mythology is known as Zeus. Zeus was the ruler of the sky, and had the power to create thunderstorms and lightning as well as earthquakes. He was the child of Cronus and Rhea. As the story goes he was their sixth child, and the father to protect him from being overthrown had eaten the five previous children. Zeus was taken to a city called Crete and hidden from his father. As Zeus grew older and learned of what happened he found a potion to make his father regurgitate the other children. Once this happened they all teamed up and killed their father. Zeus then became the ruler of Mount Olympus, and head of the new line of Gods.
Jupiter was the predominant power holder of Roman Gods. He was ruler of the sky, the daylight, all the weather, and even the thunder and lightening. Jupiter helped drive back the Sabines. His temple was built in the Capitol, and newly elected counsels offered their first prayers to him.
Hera was the wife and sister of Zeus, and the High Goddess of the Greeks. She was extremely jealous of the affairs that her husband was having and often tormented or harmed the mistresses he was fooling around with. Although, when she went too far, or tried to cause death, Zeus would intervene and stop her. Hera tried to ship wreak Heracles on his return from Troy, and with that Zeus had her hung by the wrists from top of the mountain with an anvil tied to each ankle. The two had four children together.
Juno, Hera’s counterpart, was the wife of Jupiter. Juno was the protector of women, especially those who are married. Women often gave offerings to Juno to help with their childbirth.
The God of the Underworld, Hades, was the brother of Zeus. He gained Hell, as his share in conquering their father. He is most known for kidnapping his wife, Persephone, while she was picking flowers in a field. As the story goes, Hades had her eat a piece of food in the Underworld, therefore she could not live on the Earth again. Her father, Zeus, made arrangements for her to be allowed on Earth for two-thirds of the year and in the Underworld as Hade’s wife for the rest of the time. This is used as the cause of spring and winter. When she returns to the surface she brings spring with her and when she returns to the Underworld she leaves winter behind her.
Pluto, the Roman God of the Underworld, who’s name also means rich. It reflects the rich mineral resources beneath the ground and the rich resources above the earth. In art he is shown with the Horn of Plenty. This horn is most likely why we associate the Devil, or Satan, as having a horn on top of his head. His name was thought of to be bad luck, and therefore was hardly mentioned in myths.
Ares was the child of Zeus and Hera. He was the God of War. Whenever he was seen or portrayed he would be fully armed and ready for battle. Any cause to fight or go to war would bring him out and about. He was the discomfited lover of Aphrodite. Almost all of his children by mortal women were of a violent nature.
Mars, The Roman God of War and Agriculture, was the second most important god after Jupiter. The month March was named after Mars, and was also the first month of the Roman calendar. March was the month when agriculture was reborn and when most people engaged in war. Mars was given his own priest and altar in Rome. The wolf and woodpecker were the sacred animals of Mars. A festival in October was held in his honor and all farmers and soldiers would lay aside their weapons and had a celebration.
The Greek Goddess of Love and Beauty was Aphrodite. She was married to the Smith God, Hephaestus, but left him for the God of War. She favored the Trojans during the Trojan War. She was known to have angry mood swings and all the gods and mortals paid dearly for it. Aphrodite and Venus were counterparts in mythology.
Venus, The Roman Goddess of Love, was first worshiped in pre-Roman Italy, where she was worshiped for gardens and vegetation. Festivals during the month of April were in recognition of Venus. Her son, Cupid, was told to fire individuals with love by the touch of his arrow. Her plans backfired and an arrow accidentally touched her. She fell in love with Adonis, the first man she saw, and instantly had a passion to be with him. She was so anxious to be with him that she tried to persuade him not to hunt any longer, but he did and got killed by a boar. The name Venus means “beauty” or “charm.”
Poseidon was one of the Olympian deities of the Greeks, the son of Cronus and Rhea. His sphere of power covered the sea, water (not rivers) and earthquakes (Clayton 158). He had similar powers of Zeus in these fields, but was ultimately less powerful. He was mostly worshiped on the island called Atlantis. Offerings were given to him were given when sea goers wanted calm voyage or needed help in navigation. Poseidon had an affair with Medusa and she bore him a Pegasus as a child.
The Roman God of Water was called Neptune. The Romans were not a seafaring community in early times and Neptune was of little importance or worry to them. His festival was celebrated on the height of summer during the driest time of the year. The date was July twenty-third.
The Greek God of Love, usually represented as a small chubby winged child, was called Eros. He was usually equipped with a bow and a quiver full of arrows. These arrows were used to induce love, as well as the lighted torch he was sometimes shown holding. By riding on a lion or dolphin, or breaking the thunderbolts of Zeus one would know that this indicated his power over both gods and men.
The Roman God of Love, Cupid, was also usually represented as a small chubby naked child armed with a bow and quiver of arrows. Mischievously he would aim ?Cupid’s darts’ at will; at times causing untold mayhem as they caused those they pierced to fall in love with the first person they met. In classic arts he is often shown playing a game such as quoits, but sometimes he wears a helmet and carries spear and shield to show that even Mars, God of War, gives way to love. His encounter with Psyche shows him in a more serious aspect (Clayton 63). Psyche would eventually be married to Cupid, after many hardships.
Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and his mistress Leto. Born on the island of Delos with a slightly younger twin brother, Apollo. She was the eternal virgin huntress goddess, even though she had a very vindictive nature. She was responsible for several deaths, including Callisto and Orion. At Ephesus, she was worshiped more as a mother goddess then a huntress. Bees and stags were animals most often associated with her. Her temple was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Diana was very similar to the Greek Goddess Artemis. Born on Delos with a twin brother named Apollo, Diana was the Goddess of Hunting. She had two particular shrines in Italy: one at Aricia on the shores of Lake Nemi, where she is known as Diana of the Woods, and the other at Capua under the name of Diana Tifatina, known as the Goddess of the Crossroads (Clayton 69). Her cult allowed human sacrifice, and her priest could be replaced by whom ever killed him.
In Greek mythology the messenger of the gods, son of Zeus and the nymph Maia, was known as Hermes. He also had the role of escorting the dead to the Underworld. He was also the patron of merchants and seamen, of good luck, and of thieves and pickpockets, and was known for his mischief making. Often used by Zeus as an intermediary in various situations, he was rewarded with a winged helmet and a pair of sandals, which he used for walking the roads.
Mercury was a Roman god, and son of Jupiter and Maia. He was the messenger of Jupiter. He was often seen with the caduceus (a wand), broad-rimmed hat, winged sandals and purse. He, like Hermes, protected the merchants. His name has the root word ?merx’ meaning merchandise.
Apollo, twin brother of Artemis, had Zeus as a father and a nymph as a mother. He was born under the shade of a single palm tree, the only tree on the island. Apollo’s major shrine was at Delphi, but before he could have this he had to rid the place of the monster. Python, a dragon or serpent, had terrorized the countryside for a long time. After slaying this creature Apollo initiated the Pythian Games, in honor of Python. Delphi became noted for the pronouncements made by the priests when they were in a hallucinatory state, most likely after chewing on bay laurel leaves. The legendary Heracles, a half god warrior, came to Delphi to seek advice from the oracle. He was dissatisfied with what he heard and tried to steal the sacred tripod, emblem of Apollo. Heracles and Apollo fought over the tripod, but Zeus separated them and returned the tripod back to Delphi. Apollo was also the God of Music, Fine Arts, Poetry, and Eloquence.
Apollo was also the God of Medicine, which was used to cure as well as attack. Apollo was also responsible for the plague that struck the Greeks at Troy. He had a number of encounters with mankind, working at times for a king as a herdsman. He had several love affairs with mortal girls and nymphs, a number of whom assumed other shapes in an endeavor to escape his attentions.
Greek Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, daughter of Metis by Zeus, had a very strange birth. Zeus had been warned that if Metis had a female child that a male child would follow and eventually overthrow him. To avoid this prophecy, Zeus swallowed the infant whole just as Metis was about to give birth. He soon had a very bad headache, so Hephaestus took a double-sided axe and split his skull open and Athena came out fully-grown and fully armored.
Athena won the city of Athens in a contest with Poseidon. The rules were simple; who ever could produce the best gift for mankind would win. Poseidon created a horse out of rock, while Athena caused an olive tree to grow. The judges declared that the olive tree was most useful and hence she won the city. As a warlike goddess she was protector of many heroes and towns. Her animal familiar was the watch owl.
Minerva was the Roman Goddess of Craft and Trade, including the intellect on how to do the particular craft. Together with Juno and Jupiter she was one of the great Capitoline triad and was introduced to Rome by an Etruscan contingent, which came to aid Romulus. Minerva’s festival was celebrated on March Nineteenth.
Demeter was the sister of Zeus and one of the five children that was eaten by Cronus. Demeter was the God of Fertility, and often referred to as the essential mother. Demeter had a baby girl by the name of Persephone. Her father was Zeus, Hera’s husband as well as Demeter’s brother. Hades kidnapped Persephone and took her to the Underworld with him. After searching everywhere for her lost daughter, Helios the God of the Sun, told her he saw what had happened. She vowed not to return to the gods or continue any of her tasks till her daughter was returned.
Demeter went to Zeus and demanded that her daughter be returned from the Underworld. Zeus agreed under the condition that she had not eaten anything while she was down there. Zeus then found out she had eaten something, and told Demeter that he could not bring her back from the Underworld. When she found out she withdrew her support of earth and mankind.
Demeter caused the fields to become unfertile, and finally a deadlock was reached. Soon a compromise was reached between Demeter, Zeus, and Hades. Persephone would be allowed to earth during the spring, but she would be required to return to the Underworld during the winter.
Ceres, the God of Corn and Harvest, is the Roman equivalent to the Greek Goddess Demeter. She shares all the same legends and stories.
Clayton, Peter. Great Figures of Mythology. Brompton Books Corp. NY, NY. 1990.
Pinset, John. Greek Mythology. Peter Bedrick Books. NY. 1982.