The Gods of Olympus
Background..|..The 12 Olympians..|..Abode of the Gods..|..Greek Drama Terms..|..Greek Theater (Structure) 
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.By Michael J. Cummings © 2003
Background 
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.......Since ancient times, western literature has lived at the foot of Mount Olympus, the nearly two-mile high colossus that was believed to be home to important Greek gods. Writers of every age and every genre have invoked the magic of Olympus to make fire and thunder with words–or to perfume them with the breath of Venus. 
.......The Greek writers Hesiod (born in the 7th or 8th Century B.C.) and Homer (born in the 8th or 9th Century B.C.) immortalized the Olympian gods–Hesiod in the Theogony and in Works and Days, Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Theogony presents a creation myth and a genealogy of the gods, along with accounts of their exploits. The Works and Days advises farmers how to prosper, through honest toil and righteous living, without incurring the disfavor of the gods. Homer’s Iliad tells the story of the final year of the Trojan War, between Greece and Troy, focusing on the greatest Greek warrior, Achilles, and on the machinations of Olympian gods who take sides and attempt to influence the outcome of the war. The Odyssey narrates the adventures of Odysseus (known as Ulysses to the Romans), a hero of the war who designed the famous Trojan horse to breach the walls of Troy, on his long sea voyage home after the war. While sailing home, the Olympian gods alternately help or hinder his progress. The Iliad and The Odyssey, both epic poems, are among the greatest works in world literature.  
.......Every great writer since Hesiod and Homer–including Sophocles, Vergil, Ovid, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton–has climbed Olympus to retrieve metaphorical divinities or one of their qualities to illumine, clarify, or beautify his or her language. 
.......Though everlasting and supernal, the gods of Olympus exhibited humanlike behavior. They could be loving and generous, wise and forbearing. They could also be petty and base, fickle and vile. And, they could be quick to anger. In "Book I" of The Iliad, the Olympian god Apollo descends the great mountain in a rage after the Greek general Agamemnon captures a beautiful maiden and refuses to give her up to her father, Chryses, a priest of Apollo.

.......[Apollo] came down furious from the summits of Olympus, with his bow and his quiver upon his shoulder, and the arrows rattled .......on his back with the rage that trembled within him. He sat himself down away from the ships with a face as dark as night, and .......his silver bow rang death as he shot his arrow in the midst of them. First he smote their mules and their hounds, but presently .......he aimed his shafts at the people themselves, and all day long the pyres of the dead were burning. (English translation by .......Samuel Butler.) 

The gods could also be quick to laugh. In "Book 8" of The Odyssey, the blacksmith god, Vulcan–a lame and ugly hunchback–fashions an invisible chain to ensnare his beautiful wife, Venus, and her inamorato, Mars, after they rendezvous to make love. In bed, they become hopelessly entangled in the chain. Vulcan then invites other gods to look upon his unfaithful wife and her paramour caught–like wasps in a spider’s web–in his trap.  

.......On this the gods gathered to the house of Vulcan. Earth-encircling Neptune came, and Mercury the bringer of luck, and King 
.......Apollo. . . . Then the givers of all good things stood in the doorway, and the blessed gods roared with inextinguishable laughter, .......as they saw how cunning Vulcan had been. . . . (English translation by Samuel Butler.) 
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The 12 Olympians 
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.......Encyclopedias and mythology books generally list the 12 same gods as permanent residents of Mount Olympus by virtue of their overriding importance and their genealogical background. However, two of these important deities spent most of their time in the domains which they governed, the sea and the underworld. In addition, the Greeks of one era sometimes differed with the Greeks of another era on who were the most important gods. Consequently, the list of the favored 12 sometimes changed, omitting one god in favor of another. 
.......The Olympian gods were the successors of an earlier dynasty of gods known as Titans. The Titan ruler, Cronos, believing that one of his children might attempt to overthrow him, swallowed each of them after his or her birth. However, one child, Zeus, was rescued by his mother and hidden on the island of Crete. Later, Zeus forced his father to vomit the other children from his stomach. Then, with the help of his siblings, he overthrew Cronus to become lord of the universe.  
.......The names of the chief Olympian deities are listed below. Writers in ancient Greece–such as Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides–used the original Greek names, the English transliteration of which appears at left in the list. Writers in ancient Rome and its dominions used the Latin version of the names, the English transliteration of which appears in parentheses.  
.......Some English language writers, past and present, use the transliteration of the Greek version; others prefer the transliteration of the Latin (or Roman) version. For example, William Shakespeare uses the transliteration of the Latin version in his plays and poems. Instead of referring to the king of the gods as Zeus (the transliteration of the Greek name), he refers to him as Jupiter and Jove, the transliterations of the Latin names (Iuppiter and Iovis). Here are the names of the Olympian gods and a brief description of each:. 
 
Zeus (Jupiter and Jove) King and protector of the gods and humankind. As ruler of the sky, he made rain and thunder and wielded lightning bolts. Zeus was the youngest son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. 
Hera (Juno) Queen of the gods and protector of marriage. She was the wife of Zeus and, as the daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, also his sister. 
Athena or Pallas Athena (Minerva) Goddess of wisdom and war. She was born fully grown in a suit of armor, issuing from the forehead of Zeus. The Greeks highly revered her and built many temples in her honor. 
Ares (Mars) God of war and the son of Zeus and Hera.  
Poseidon (Neptune) God of the sea and brother of Zeus. 
Hades (Pluto) God of the underworld and brother of Zeus. 
Hephaestus (Vulcan) God of fire and metalwork who built the palaces in which the Olympian gods lived. He also forged their armor and made their jewelry. He was the son of Zeus and Hera. 
Apollo, Phoebus Apollo, or Phoebus (Same as Greek Names) God of prophecy, music, poetry, and medicine. His alternate name, Phoebus, means brightness, and he was thus also considered the god of the sun. He was the son of Zeus and Leto, the daughter of Titans. The Greeks highly revered him and built many temples in his honor. One such temple at Delphi was the site of a famous oracle, the Pythia, who pronounced prophecies as the mouthpiece of Apollo. 
Artemis (Diana) Goddess of the hunt. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto (see Apollo) and the twin sister of Apollo. 
Aphrodite (Venus) Goddess of love and beauty. According to Homer, she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione, the daughter of a Titan; according to the Greek poet Hesiod, she was born from the foam of the sea.  
Hermes (Mercury) Messenger god who wore a winged hat and winged sandals. He was also the god of science, luck, commerce, and cunning. He was the son of Zeus and Maia, the daughter of a Titan. 
Hestia (Vesta) Goddess of the home and hearth and sister of Zeus. 

.......Other lists of the major Olympian gods omit Hades in favor of Hebe, a cupbearer of the gods. Still others rank Dionysus (Roman name, Bacchus), the god of wine and vegetation and a patron of the arts, as one of the elite twelve.

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The Abode of the Gods

.......The Olympian gods lived in palaces constructed by Hephaestus on the summit of Mount Olympus, the highest peak (9,570 feet) in a mountain range between Macedonia and Thessaly near the Aegean Sea. Mount Olympus is sometimes called Upper Olympus because it lies just north of a lesser peak (5,210 feet) known as Lower Olympus.  
.......Minor goddesses called the Seasons maintained watch at the entranceway of Mount Olympus, a gate of clouds which opened and closed whenever a god left or returned to Olympus.  
.......In their lofty domain, the gods breathed only pure air, or ether. They took their meals in the palace of Zeus, eating ambrosia to sustain eternal life and drinking a delicious beverage called nectar, served by Hebe. Near the throne of Zeus sat lesser goddesses known as Muses, who were nine in number. They regaled the gathering with songs of the gods and of earthly heroes and history. These daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, learned under the tutelage of Apollo.  
.......Other lesser gods on Olympus included the following: (1) Eros (Cupid), god of love and son of Aphrodite who shot arrows that impregnated humans with love. (2) Iris, messenger goddess of Zeus and Hera who created rainbows when she flew across the sky. (3) Themis, a companion of Zeus who was the goddess of justice. She holds scales on which she weighs the claims in a suit of law. (4) The Charites, or Graces, goddesses of joy and beauty. (5) Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance and punishment. (6) Aidos, the goddess of conscience. 
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