The information for this study has been collected from:
'The Two Babylons' first published in book form 1858, by Rev. Alexander Hislop a Free Church of Scotland minister,
Crompton's Interactive Encyclopedia CD © 1994, 1995 by Crompton's NewMedia Inc.,
Collier's Encyclopedia © 1967 by Crowell-Collier Publishing Company;
and Infopedia CD, Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia © 1995 by Funk and Wagnalls.
ADONIS, in Greek mythology, beautiful youth beloved by the goddesses Aphrodite and Persephone. Born of the incestuous union of King Cinyras of Cyprus and his daughter, Adonis was placed in the custody of Persephone, queen of the underworld. When Adonis was slain by a wild boar while hunting, Aphrodite pleaded with the god Zeus to restore him to her. Zeus decreed that Adonis should spend the winter months with Persephone in Hades and the summer months with Aphrodite. The story of his death and resurrection is symbolic of the natural cycle of death and rebirth.
AMON (Egypt., "hidden"), also spelled Ammon, Amen, or Amun, ancient Egyptian deity, originally a local Theban god of reproductive forces, represented as a ram. Amon, his wife, Mut (Egypt., "the mother"), and his son, the moon god Khon (Egypt., "to traverse the sky"), formed the divine triad of Thebes. Later Amon was identified with the sun god Ra of Heliopolis, and was known as Amon-Ra, "the father of the gods, the fashioner of men, the creator of cattle, the lord of all being." As a universal god he became the god of the Egyptian nation and the empire. The power of his high priest rivalled that of the pharaoh, provoking political problems similar to modern church-state rivalry. The biggest temple ever built was for Amon-Ra at al-Karnak. Amon was worshipped in the ancient Greek colonies of Cyrene, where he was identified with Zeus, and in Rome, where he was associated with Jupiter.
ANUBIS, in Egyptian mythology, god of the dead. He was considered the inventor of embalming, the guardian of tombs, and a judge of the dead. The Egyptians believed that at the judgment he weighed the heart of the dead against the feather of truth.
APHRODITE, in Greek mythology, the goddess of love and beauty and the counterpart of the Roman Venus. In Homer's Iliad she is said to be the daughter of Zeus and Dione, one of his consorts, but in later legends she is described as having sprung from the foam of the sea and her name may be translated "foam-risen." In Homeric legend Aphrodite is the wife of the lame and ugly god of fire, Hephaestus. Among her lovers was Ares, god of war, who in later mythology became her husband. She was the rival of Persephone, queen of the underworld, for the love of the beautiful Greek youth Adonis. Probably Oriental in origin, Aphrodite was identified in early Greek religious beliefs with the Phoenician Astarte and was known as Aphrodite Urania, queen of the heavens, and as Aphrodite Pandemos, goddess of the people.
APIS, sacred bull of the ancient Egyptians. It was known to them as Hapi and was regarded as the incarnation of Osiris or of Ptah. A court was set apart for Apis in the temple of Ptah at Memphis. It was believed that when Apis died, a new Apis appeared and had to be searched out; he would be recognisable by certain sacred marks upon his body, such as his colour (mainly black) and a knot under his tongue.
ARISTAEUS, in Greek mythology, son of the god Apollo and the nymph Cyrene. He was worshipped as the protector of hunters, herdsmen, and flocks and as the inventor of bee keeping and olive culture. When Aristaeus tried to seduce Eurydice, the wife of the celebrated musician Orpheus, she fled from him and received a fatal snake bite. The nymphs punished him by causing all of his bees to die; but he appeased the nymphs with a sacrifice of cattle, from whose carcasses emerged new swarms of bees. Aristaeus was learned in the arts of healing and prophecy, and he wandered over many lands sharing his knowledge and curing the sick. He was widely honoured as a beneficent god and was often represented as a youthful shepherd carrying a lamb.
ARTEMIS, in Greek mythology, one of the principal goddesses, counterpart of the Roman goddess Diana. She was the daughter of the god Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of the god Apollo. She was chief hunter to the gods and goddess of hunting and of wild animals, especially bears. Artemis was also the goddess of childbirth, of nature, and of the harvest. As the moon goddess, she was sometimes identified with the goddess Selene and Hecate.
ASTARTE, Greek and Roman name of Ashtoreth, the supreme female divinity of the Phoenician nations, the goddess of love and fruitfulness. Like that of Baal, the corresponding male divinity, the name is frequently found in the earlier books of the Old Testament in the plural form Ashtaroth; not until the time of King Solomon of Israel (10th cent. BC) did the singular form Ashtoreth occur. She symbolised the female principle, as Baal symbolised maleness. Astarte has been identified with various Greek goddesses: the goddess of the moon, Selene; the goddess of wild nature, Artemis; and the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. The Babylonian and Assyrian counterpart of Astarte was Ishtar.
BACCHUS, in Greek and Roman mythology, the god of wine, identified with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and Liber, the Roman god of wine.
BALDER or BALDUR, in Norse mythology, the god of light and joy, son of Odin and Frigga, king and queen of the gods. Having dreamed that Balder's life was threatened, Frigga extracted an oath from the forces and objects in nature, animate and inanimate, that they would not harm Balder, but she forgot the mistletoe. The gods, thinking Balder safe, cast darts and stones at him. The malicious giant Loki put a twig of mistletoe in the hands of Balder's twin, the blind Hoder, god of darkness, and directed his aim against Balder, who fell pierced to the heart. After the death of Balder, Odin sent another son, the messenger Hermod, to the underworld to plead for Balder's return. The god would be released only if everything in the world would weep for him. Everything wept except one old woman in a cave, and Balder could not return to life.
BEL, supreme god of the Babylonians (see Isa. 46). Bel is the Chaldea form of Baal and is believed by some to be identical with that god. Like the equivalent Hebrew ba'al, the name Bel was used also in the sense of "lord" or "owner." Bel presided over the air. His consort was Belit. Bel was identified with the Greek god Zeus by the Greek historian Herodotus.
BELLONA, in Roman mythology, the goddess of war. She is often identified with the Greek war goddess Enyo. In later mythology, Bellona was described as the sister, daughter, or wife of the Roman god of war, Mars, and sometimes as his charioteer or muse.
CERES, in Roman mythology, the goddess of agriculture. She and her daughter Proserpine were the counterparts of the Greek goddesses Demeter and Persephone. The Greek belief that her joy at being reunited with her daughter each spring caused the earth to bring forth an abundance of fruits and grains was introduced into Rome in the 5th century BC, and her cult became extremely popular, especially with the plebeians. The word cereal is derived from her name. Her chief festival, the Cerealia, was celebrated from April 12 to 19.
CHAOS, in the ancient Greek theory of creation, the dark, silent abyss from which all things came into existence. Chaos gave birth to the black Night and to Erebus, the dark, fathomless region where death dwells. These two children of the primeval darkness in turn united to produce Love, who brought forth Light and Day. Into this universe of formless natural forces, Chaos generated the solid mass of Earth, from which arose the starry, cloud-filled Heaven. Mother Earth and Father Heaven, personified respectively as Gaea and her husband, Uranus, were the parents of the first creatures in the universe. In later mythology Chaos is the formless matter from which the cosmos, or harmonious order, was created.
CUPID (Lat. cupido, "desire"), in Roman mythology, son of Venus, goddess of love. His counterpart in Greek mythology was Eros, god of love. He is best known as the handsome young god who falls in love with the beautiful maiden Psyche. This story is told in The Golden Ass, a romance by the Roman writer Lucius Apuleius. In other tales he appears as a mischievous boy who indiscriminately wounds both gods and humans with his arrows, thereby causing them to fall deeply in love.
CYBELE, Latin name of a goddess native to Phrygia in Asia Minor and known to the Greeks as Rhea, the wife of the Titan Cronus and mother of the Olympian gods. Cybele was a goddess of nature and fertility who was worshipped in Rome as the Great Mother of the Gods. Because Cybele presided over mountains and fortresses, her crown was in the form of a city wall, and she was also known to the Romans as Mater Turrita. The cult of Cybele was directed by eunuch priests called Corybantes, who led the faithful in orgiastic rites accompanied by wild cries and the frenzied music of flutes, drums, and cymbals.
DAPHNE, in Greek mythology, nymph, daughter of the river god Peneus. She was a hunter who dedicated herself to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, and, like the goddess, refused to marry. The god Apollo fell in love with Daphne, and when she refused his advances, he pursued her through the woods. She prayed to her father for help, and as Apollo advanced upon her, she was changed into a laurel tree (Gr. daphne). Grief-stricken at her transformation, Apollo made the laurel his sacred tree.
DEMETER, in Greek mythology, goddess of corn and the harvest, and daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. When her daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, god of the underworld, Demeter's grief was so great that she neglected the land; no plants grew, and famine devastated the earth. Dismayed at this situation, Zeus, the ruler of the universe, demanded that his brother Hades return Persephone to her mother. Hades agreed, but before he released the girl, he made her eat some pomegranate seeds that would force her to return to him for four months each year. In her joy at being reunited with her daughter, Demeter caused the earth to bring forth bright spring flowers and abundant fruit and grain for the harvest. However, her sorrow returned each fall when Persephone had to go back to the underworld. The desolation of the winter season and the death of vegetation were regarded as the yearly manifestation of Demeter's grief when her daughter was taken from her. Demeter and Persephone were worshipped in the rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The cult spread from Sicily to Rome, where the goddesses were worshipped as Ceres and Proserpine.
DEUCALION, in Greek mythology, son of the Titan Prometheus. Deucalion was king of Phthia in Thessaly when the god Zeus, because of the wicked ways of the human race, destroyed them by flood. For nine days and nights Zeus sent torrents of rain. Only Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, survived drowning. They were saved because they were the only people who had led good lives and remained faithful to the laws of the gods. Having been warned by his father, Prometheus, of the approaching disaster, Deucalion built a boat, which carried him and Pyrrha safely to rest atop Mount Parnassus. The oracle at Delphia commanded them to cast the bones of their mother over their shoulders. Understanding this to mean the stones of the earth, they obeyed, and from the stones sprang a new race of people.
DIONYSUS, in Greek mythology, god of wine and vegetation, who showed mortals how to cultivate grapevines and make wine. He was good and gentle to those who honoured him, but he brought madness and destruction upon those who spurned him or the orgiastic rituals of his cult. According to tradition, Dionysus died each winter and was reborn in the spring. To his followers, this cyclical revival, accompanied by the seasonal renewal of the fruits of the earth, embodied the promise of the resurrection of the dead. The yearly rites in honour of the resurrection of Dionysus gradually evolved into the structured form of the Greek drama, and important festivals were held in honour of the god, during which great dramatic competitions were conducted. The most important festival, the Greater Dionysia, was held in Athens for five days each spring. It was for this celebration that the Greek dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides wrote their great tragedies. After the 5th century BC, Dionysus was known to the Greeks as Bacchus.
ERINYES, also Furies, in Greek mythology, the three avenging deities Tisiphone (the avenger of murder), Megaera (the jealous one), and Alecto (unceasing in anger). In most accounts the Erinyes are the daughters of Gaea and Uranus; sometimes they are called the daughters of Night. They lived in the world below, from which they ascended to earth to pursue the wicked. They were just but merciless and without regard for mitigating circumstances. They punished all offences against human society such as perjury, violation of the rites of hospitality, and, above all, the murder of blood relatives. These goddesses were hideous to behold; they had writhing snakes for hair, and blood dripped from their eyes. They tormented wrongdoers, pursuing them relentlessly and driving them mad. One of the most famous legends about the Erinyes concerns their pursuit of the Theban prince Orestes for the murder of his mother, Queen Clytemnestra. Orestes had been commanded by the god Apollo to avenge the death of his father, King Agamemnon, whom Clytemnestra had murdered. The Erinyes, however, heedless of his motives, pursued and tormented him. Orestes finally appealed to the goddess Athena, who persuaded the avenging goddesses to accept Orestes' plea that he had been cleansed of his guilt. When they were thus able to show mercy, they became changed themselves. From the Furies of frightful appearance, they were transformed into the Eumenides, protectors of the suppliant.
EROS, in Greek mythology, the god of love and counterpart of the Roman Cupid. In early mythology he was represented as one of the primeval forces of nature, the son of Chaos, and the embodiment of the harmony and creative power in the universe. Soon, however, he was thought of as a handsome and intense young man, attended by Pothos ("longing") or Himeros ("desire"). Later mythology made him the constant attendant of his mother, Aphrodite, goddess of love. In Greek art Eros was depicted as a winged youth, slight but beautiful, often with eyes covered to symbolise the blindness of love. Sometimes he carried a flower, but more commonly the silver bow and arrows, with which he shot darts of desire into the bosoms of gods and men. In Roman legend and art, Eros degenerated into a mischievous child and was often depicted as a baby archer.
EUMENIDES, in Greek mythology, ancient earth spirits or goddesses, associated with fertility but also having certain moral and social functions. Traditionally three in number, the Eumenides were worshipped in Athens, at Colonus, and in lands outside Attica. Although their name is variously described as meaning "the kindly ones," "the reverend ones," and "the gracious ones," the goddesses were usually portrayed as Gorgon like creatures with snakes for hair and eyes that dripped blood. Their appearance stems from their identification in later legends with the Erinyes, the three avenging goddesses from the underworld. According to tradition, when the Erinyes showed mercy to the Theban prince Orestes, whom they had been pursuing, they underwent a spiritual transformation. In their new aspect they showed kindness to humans rather than vengeance and were, therefore, renamed Eumenides.
FATES, in Greek mythology, the three goddesses who determined human life and destiny. Known as Moirae in Greek and Parcae in Latin, the Fates apportioned to each person at birth a share of good and evil, although one might increase the evil by one's own folly. Portrayed in art and poetry as stern old women or as sombre maidens, the goddesses were always thought of as weavers. Clotho, the Spinner, spun the thread of life; Lachesis, the Dispenser of Lots, decided its span and assigned to each person his or her destiny; and Atropos, the Inexorable, carried the dread shears that cut the thread of life at the proper time. The decisions of the Fates could not be altered, even by the gods.
FAUNUS, in Roman mythology, the grandson of the god Saturn, worshipped as the god of the fields and of shepherds. He was believed to speak to people through the sounds of the forest and in nightmares. Faunus is the Roman counterpart of the Greek god Pan. He was attended by the fauns, creatures half men and half goats, the counterparts of the Greek satyrs. In some legends Faunus was identified as an early king of Latium, who taught his people how to plant crops and breed stock. He was also credited with introducing the religious system of the country and was honoured after his death as a god.
GAEA or GE, in Greek mythology, the personification of Mother Earth, and the daughter of Chaos. She was the mother and wife of Father Heaven, who was personified as Uranus. They were the parents of the earliest living creatures, the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the Giants the Hecatoncheires (Hundred-Headed Ones). Fearing and hating the monsters, although they were his sons, Uranus imprisoned them in a secret place in the earth, leaving the Cyclopes and Titans at large. Gaea, enraged at this favouritism, persuaded her son, the Titan Cronus, to overthrow his father. He emasculated Uranus, and from his blood Gaea brought forth another race of monsters, the Giants, and the three avenging goddesses the Erinyes. Her last and most terrifying offspring was Typhon, a 100-headed monster, who, although conquered by the god Zeus, was believed to spew forth the molten lava flows of Mount Etna.
GANYMEDE, in Greek mythology, a handsome young Trojan prince whom the god Zeus, in the guise of an eagle, snatched from the midst of his companions and bore up to Mount Olympus. He was granted immortality and replaced Hebe, goddess of youth, as cupbearer to the gods. Ganymede was later identified with the constellation Aquarius, "the Water Bearer.”
GENIUS, in Roman mythology, a protecting, or guardian, spirit. It was believed that every individual, family, and city had its own genius. The genius received special worship as a household god because it was thought to bestow success and intellectual powers on its devotees. For this reason, the word came to designate a person with unusual intellectual powers. The genius of a woman was sometimes referred to as a juno.
GOLDEN FLEECE, in Greek mythology, the fleece of the winged ram Chrysomallus. The ram was sent by the god Hermes to rescue Phrixus and Helle, the two children of the Greek king Athamas and his wife, Nephele. Athamas had grown indifferent to his wife and had taken Ino, the daughter of King Cadmus, for his second wife. Ino hated her stepchildren, especially Phrixus, because she wanted her own son to succeed to the throne. Realising that her children were in grave danger because of the jealousy of their stepmother, Nephele prayed to the gods for help. Hermes sent her Chrysomallus, the winged ram, whose fleece was made of gold. The ram snatched the children up and bore them away on his back. Soaring into the air, he flew eastward, but as he was crossing the strait that divides Europe and Asia, Helle slipped from his back and fell into the water. The strait where she was drowned was named for her: the Sea of Helle, or the Hellespont. The ram safely landed Phrixus in Colchis, a country on the Black Sea that was ruled by King Aeëtes. There he was hospitably received and, in gratitude to the gods for saving his life, sacrificed Chrysomallus at the temple of the god Zeus. Phrixus then gave the precious Golden Fleece to Aeëtes, who placed it in a sacred grove under the watchful eye of a dragon that never slept. Many years later the Argonauts, led by Phrixus's cousin the Greek hero Jason, recovered the Golden Fleece with the help of the daughter of King Aeëtes, the sorceress Medea, who out of love for Jason put the dragon to sleep.
GORDIAN KNOT, in Greek mythology, complex knot tied by Gordius, king of Phrygia and father of Minos. Gordius was a Phrygian peasant who became king because he was the first man to drive into town after an oracle had commanded his countrymen to select as ruler the first person who would drive into the public square in a wagon. In gratitude, Gordius dedicated his wagon to the god Zeus and placed it in the grove of the temple, tying the pole of the wagon to the yoke with a rope of bark. The knot was so intricately entwined that no one could undo it. A saying developed that whoever succeeded in untying the knot would rule all of Asia. According to legend, not even Alexander the Great was able to untie it, so he had to cut it with his sword. The expression "to cut the Gordian knot" refers to a situation in which a difficult problem is solved only by a decisive and forceful action.
GORGON, in Greek mythology, one of three monstrous daughters of the sea god Phorcys and his wife, Ceto. The Gorgons were terrifying, dragon like creatures, covered with golden scales and having snakes for hair. They lived on the farthest side of the western ocean, shunned because their glance turned people to stone. Two of the Gorgons, Stheno and Euryale, were immortal; Medusa alone could be killed. The hero Perseus killed Medusa and brought back her head, with the help of the deities Hermes and Athena. From her blood sprang the winged horse Pegasus, her son by the god Poseidon.
GRACES, in Greek mythology, the three goddesses of joy, charm, and beauty. The daughters of the god Zeus and the nymph Eurynome, they were named Aglaia (Splendor), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Good Cheer). The Graces presided over banquets, dances, and all other pleasurable social events, and brought joy and goodwill to both gods and mortals. They were the special attendants of the divinities of love, Aphrodite and Eros, and together with companions, the Muses, they sang to the gods on Mount Olympus, and danced to beautiful music that the god Apollo made upon his lyre. In some legends Aglaia was wed to Hephaestus, the craftsman among the gods. Their marriage explains the traditional association of the Graces with the arts; like the Muses, they were believed to endow artists and poets with the ability to create beautiful works of art. The Graces were rarely treated as individuals, but always together as a kind of triple embodiment of grace and beauty. In art they are usually represented as lithe young maidens, dancing in a circle.
HADES, in Greek mythology, god of the dead. He was the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea and the brother of Zeus and Poseidon. When the three brothers divided up the universe after they had deposed their father, Cronus, Hades was awarded the underworld. There, with his queen, Persephone, whom he had abducted from the world above, he ruled the kingdom of the dead. Although he was a grim and pitiless god, unappeased by either prayer or sacrifice, he was not evil. In fact, he was known also as Pluto, lord of riches, because both crops and precious metals were believed to come from his kingdom below ground. The underworld itself was often called Hades. It was divided into two regions: Erebus, where the dead pass as soon as they die, and Tartarus, the deeper region, where the Titans had been imprisoned. It was a dim and unhappy place, inhabited by vague forms and shadows and guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed, dragon-tailed dog. Sinister rivers separated the underworld from the world above, and the aged boatman Charon ferried the souls of the dead across these waters. Somewhere in the darkness of the underworld Hades' palace was located. It was represented as a many-gated, dark and gloomy place, thronged with guests, and set in the midst of shadowy fields and an apparition-haunted landscape. In later legends the underworld is described as the place where the good are rewarded and the wicked punished.
HARMONIA, in Greek mythology, daughter of Ares, god of war, and Aphrodite, goddess of love, and wife of Cadmus, founder of Thebes. At Harmonia's wedding, which was attended by the gods, Aphrodite gave her a beautiful necklace made by Hephaestus, god of metalwork. Although the gift brought her good fortune, it brought only death and misery to her family. In their old age Harmonia and Cadmus were transformed into serpents.
HARPIES, in Greek mythology, foul creatures with the heads of old women and the bodies, wings, beaks, and claws of birds. They could fly with the speed of the wind, and their feathers, which could not be pierced, served as armor. They snatched up mortals and carried them to the underworld, leaving behind a sickening odour.
HATHOR, in Egyptian mythology, goddess of the sky and queen of heaven. Daughter of the sun god Ra and wife of the sky god Horus, she was the goddess of fertility and patron of women and marriage. She was also the goddess of love and beauty; for this reason, she was identified often with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Worshipped throughout Egypt, she was often represented as a star-studded cow or as a woman with a cow's head. Her name also appears as Athor or Athyr.
HEBE, in Greek mythology, the goddess of youth, the daughter of Zeus and Hera. Hebe served for a long time as cupbearer to the gods, serving them their nectar and ambrosia. She was replaced in this office by the Trojan prince Ganymede. According to one story, she resigned as cupbearer to the gods upon her marriage to the hero Hercules, who had just been deified. In another, she was dismissed from her position because of a fall she suffered while in attendance on the gods.
HECATE, in Greek mythology, goddess of darkness, and the daughter of the Titans Perses and Asteria. Unlike Artemis, who represented the moonlight and splendour of the night, Hecate represented its darkness and its terrors. On moonless nights she was believed to roam the earth with a pack of ghostly, howling dogs. She was the goddess of sorcery and witchcraft and was especially worshipped by magicians and witches, who sacrificed black lambs and black dogs to her. As goddess of the crossroads, Hecate and her pack of dogs were believed to haunt these remote spots, which seemed evil and ghostly places to travellers. In art Hecate is often represented with either three bodies or three heads and with serpents entwined about her neck.
HEL, in Norse mythology, the goddess of the dead. She dwelt beneath one of the three roots of the sacred ash tree Yggdrasil and was the daughter of Loki, the spirit of mischief or evil, and the giantess Angerbotha (Angerboda). Odin, the All-Father, hurled Hel into Niflheim, the realm of cold and darkness, itself also known as Hel, over which he gave her sovereign authority.
HELLEN, ancestor of the Hellenes or Greeks. He was the son of Pyrrha and Deucalion, who were spared because of their piety in a devastating flood that destroyed all creation. Hellen was believed to be the father of the principal nations of Greece. From his sons Aeolus and Dorus sprang the Aeolians and Dorians, and from his son Xuthus came the Achaeans and Ionians.
HEPHAESTUS, in Greek mythology, god of fire and metalwork, the son of the god Zeus and the goddess Hera, or sometimes the son of Hera alone. In contrast to the other gods, Hephaestus was lame and awkward. Shortly after his birth, he was cast out of heaven, either by Hera, who was repelled by his deformity, or by Zeus, because Hephaestus had sided with Hera against him. In most legends, however, he was soon honoured again on Olympus and was married to Aphrodite, goddess of love, or to Aglaia, one of the three Graces. As the artisan among the gods, Hephaestus made their armor, weapons, and jewellery. His workshop was believed to lie under Mount Etna, a volcano in Sicily. Hephaestus is often identified with the Roman god of fire, Vulcan.
HERA, in Greek mythology, queen of the gods, the daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, and the sister and wife of the god Zeus. Hera was the goddess of marriage and protector of married women. She was the mother of Ares, god of war; Hephaestus, god of fire; Hebe, goddess of youth; and Ilithyia, goddess of childbirth. A jealous wife, she often persecuted Zeus's mistresses and children, and was known for her vindictive nature. Angry with the Trojan prince Paris for preferring Aphrodite, goddess of love, Hera aided the Greeks in the Trojan War and was not appeased until Troy was finally destroyed. Hera is often identified with the Roman goddess Juno.
HERCULES, in Greek mythology, Roman name of the Greek hero Heracles, noted for his strength and courage and for his many legendary exploits. He was the son of the god Zeus and Alcmene, wife of the Theban general Amphitryon. Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus, was determined to kill her unfaithful husband's offspring, and shortly after Hercules' birth she sent two great serpents to destroy him. Hercules, although still a baby, strangled the snakes. As a young man Hercules killed a lion with his bare hands. As a trophy of his adventure, he wore the skin of the lion as a cloak and its head as a helmet. . . . Death of the Hero. Hercules later married Deianira, whom he won from Antaeus, son of the sea god Poseidon. When the centaur Nessus attacked Deianira, Hercules wounded him with an arrow that he had poisoned in the blood of the Hydra. The dying centaur told Deianira to take some of his blood, which he said was a powerful love charm but was really a poison. Believing that Hercules had fallen in love with the princess Iole, Deianira later sent him a tunic dipped in the blood. When he put it on, the pain caused by the poison was so great that he killed himself on a funeral pyre. After death he was brought by the gods to Olympus and married to Hebe, goddess of youth. Hercules was worshipped by the Greeks as both a god and as a mortal hero. He is usually represented as strong and muscular, clad in a lion skin and carrying a club. The most famous statue of the mythical hero is in the National Museum in Naples.
HERMES, in Greek mythology, messenger of the gods, the son of the god Zeus and of Maia, the daughter of the Titan Atlas. As the special servant and courier of Zeus, Hermes had winged sandals and a winged hat and bore a golden Caduceus, or magic wand, entwined with snakes and surmounted by wings. He conducted the souls of the dead to the underworld and was believed to possess magical powers over sleep and dreams. Hermes was also the god of commerce, and the protector of traders and herds. As the deity of athletes, he protected gymnasiums and stadiums and was believed to be responsible for both good luck and wealth. Despite his virtuous characteristics, Hermes was also a dangerous foe, a trickster, and a thief. On the day of his birth he stole the cattle of his brother, the sun god Apollo, obscuring their trail by making the herd walk backward. When confronted by Apollo, Hermes denied the theft. The brothers were finally reconciled when Hermes gave Apollo his newly invented lyre. Hermes was represented in early Greek art as a mature, bearded man; in classical art he became an athletic youth, nude and beardless.
HESTIA, in Greek mythology, virgin goddess of the hearth, the eldest daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. She was believed to preside at all sacrificial altar fires. Prayers were offered to her before and after meals, and most cities had a common hearth where her sacred fire burned. In Rome, Hestia was worshipped as Vesta; her fire was attended by six virgin priestesses known as the vestals.
HORUS, in Egyptian mythology, god of the sky and of light and goodness. One of the major Egyptian deities, Horus was the son of Isis, the nature goddess, and Osiris, the god of the underworld. After Osiris was murdered by his evil brother Set, the god of darkness and evil, Horus avenged his father's death by killing his uncle. Worshipped throughout Egypt, Horus was usually depicted as a falcon or a falcon-headed man. Another representation of him, an infant with a finger held to his lips, was known as Harpocrates by the Greeks and Romans.
HUITZILOPOCHTLI, in Aztec religion, the god of war and of the sun. According to tradition, he guided the Aztecs during their long migration from Aztlán, their mythical homeland, to the valley of Mexico. His name, from the Aztec huitzilin, meaning "hummingbird," expresses the Aztec belief that dead warriors were reborn as hummingbirds. His mother, the earth goddess Coatlicue, conceived him after keeping in her bosom a ball of hummingbird feathers that is, the soul of a fallen warrior that dropped from the sky. As the sun god, Huitzilopochtli was born anew each morning from Coatlicue's womb. He was also thought to require human hearts and blood for nourishment. Sacrificial victims included prisoners of war and warriors who had perished in battle; after their death and sacrifice, such warriors became part of the sun's brilliance until, after four years, they were incarnated permanently in the bodies of hummingbirds. Huitzilopochtli was usually depicted either as a hummingbird or as a warrior wearing hummingbird feathers for armor. The temple built in his honour at Tenochtitlán (on the site of present-day Mexico City) was a great architectural achievement in pre-Columbian America
INDRA, in Vedic myth, god of the atmosphere, storms, rain, and battle. Indra is the most celebrated Vedic god (more than 250 hymns of the Veda are addressed to him). Ancient legends depict him as the most powerful foe of various demonic powers preventing the rain and the dew from fructifying the earth; of these evil beings the demon Vritra, who imprisons the waters before Indra slays him, is foremost. Some of the many powers reputedly overcome by Indra, for example, the Asuras (demons or titans who are sworn enemies of the Vedic gods), are now regarded by scholars as representations of the original Dravidian inhabitants of India. In later Hinduism, Indra is subordinate to the gods Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu.
IO, in Greek mythology, daughter of the river god Inachus. She was loved by the god Zeus, who changed her into a white heifer to protect her from the jealousy of his wife, Hera. Suspecting that the animal was really Zeus's mistress, Hera asked for the heifer as a gift and set the 100-eyed monster Argus to guard it. Because the monster never slept with all his eyes shut, Io was unable to escape until Zeus sent his son, the messenger god Hermes, to rescue her. Hermes managed to kill the monster after he had put Argus's 100 eyes to sleep with a series of boring stories. Hera was still angry, however, and next sent a gadfly to torment Io, who wandered over the earth in misery. Io finally swam across the sea that was later named for her (the Ionian Sea) and at last reached Egypt. There she was restored to her original physical form, and she bore Zeus a son, Epaphus, who was an ancestor of the Greek hero Hercules.
IRIS, in Greek mythology, goddess of the rainbow, the daughter of the Titan Thaumas and Electra, daughter of the Titan Oceanus. As messenger of the god Zeus and his wife, Hera, Iris left Olympus only to convey the divine commands to humankind, by whom she was regarded as an adviser and guide. Travelling with the speed of the wind, she could go from one end of the earth to the other, and to the bottom of the sea or to the depths of the underworld. Although she was a sister of the winged monsters, the Harpies, Iris was represented as a beautiful maiden, with wings and robes of bright colours and a halo of light on her head, trailing across the sky with a rainbow in her wake.
ISHTAR, chief goddess of the Babylonians and the Assyrians and the counterpart of Astarte, a Phoenician goddess. The name appeared in different forms in every part of the ancient Semitic world; thus it was Athtar in Arabia, Astar in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), and Ashtart in Cannan and Israel. The sex of the divinity also varied: Athtar and Astar were male deities. Ishtar of Erech (in Babylonia) was a goddess worshipped in connection with the evening star, but Ishtar of Akkad (also in Babylonia) was a god identified with the morning star. As a goddess, Ishtar was the Great Mother, the goddess of fertility and the queen of heaven. On the other hand, her character had destructive attributes; she was considered, especially by the Assyrians, a goddess of hunting and war and was depicted with sword, bow, and quiver of arrows. Among the Babylonians, Ishtar was distinctly the mother goddess and was portrayed either naked and with prominent breasts or as a mother with a child at her breast. As goddess of love she brought destruction to many of her lovers, of whom the most notable was her consort Tammuz, the Babylonian counterpart of Adonis.
ISIS, in Egyptian mythology, goddess of fertility and motherhood. According to the Egyptian belief, she was the daughter of the god Keb ("Earth") and the goddess Nut ("Sky"), the sister-wife of Osiris, judge of the dead, and mother of Horus, god of day. Ancient stories described Isis as having great magical skill, and she was represented as human in form though she was frequently described as wearing the horns of a cow. Her personality was believed to resemble that of Athor, or Hathor, the goddess of love and gaiety. The cult of Isis spread from Alexandria throughout the Hellenistic world after the 4th century BC. It appeared in Greece in combination with the cults of Horus, her son, and Serapis, the Greek name for Osiris. The Greek historian Herodotus identified Isis with Demeter, the Greek goddess of earth, agriculture, and fertility. The tripartite cult of Isis, Horus, and Serapis was later introduced (86 BC) into Rome in the consulship of Lucius Cornelius Sulla and became one of the most popular branches of Roman religion. It later received a bad reputation through the licentiousness of some of its priestly rites, and subsequent consuls made efforts to suppress or limit Isis worship.
JINNI, in Middle Eastern and Islamic folklore and mythology, a spirit or demon lower than an angel. The plural form of the name is jinn, the feminine form jinniyah. Composed of fire or air, jinn can assume both animal and human form. They may be either good or evil: If good, they are beautiful; if wicked, they are ugly. They exist in air, in flame, under the earth, and in inanimate objects, such as rocks, trees, and ruins. In some ways they resemble humans: They have the same bodily needs; they reproduce their kind; and they die, although they live longer. Jinn are mischievous spirits who enjoy punishing humans for wrongs done them, even unintentionally. Thus, accidents and diseases are considered to be their work. With the proper knowledge, however, humans can control jinn for their own purposes. Popular in the folklore of Egypt, Syria, Iran, Turkey, and North Africa, jinn are familiar in the West as characters in The Thousand and One Nights. They are frequently known by the Anglicised form genie.
JOCASTA, in Greek mythology, wife of Laius, king of Thebes, and mother of Oedipus, king of Thebes. When an oracle foretold that Jocasta's son would kill his father, Laius abandoned the child on a mountain. The infant, rescued by a shepherd and given the name Oedipus, was adopted by Polybus, king of Corinth. Later, when an oracle proclaimed that he would kill his father, Oedipus, not wanting any harm to come to Polybus, left Corinth. On the road to Boeotia, Oedipus quarrelled with and killed a stranger he mistook for a robber. The victim was his true father, Laius. Believing her son dead, Jocasta did not recognise Oedipus when he reappeared in Thebes as a young man. The youth saved the city from a dread monster and, as a reward, was married to Jocasta. When she learned that Oedipus was her son as well as her husband, Jocasta committed suicide in horror and despair at their incestuous relationship.
JUNO, in Roman mythology, queen of the gods, the wife and sister of the god Jupiter. She was the protector of women and was worshipped under several names. As Juno Pronuba she presided over marriage; as Juno Lucina she aided women in childbirth; and as Juno Regina she was the special counsellor and protector of the Roman state. Her special festival, the Matronalia, was celebrated on March 1. Juno is the Latin counterpart of the Greek queen of the gods, Hera. The month of June was named after her.
JUPITER or JOVE, in Roman mythology, the ruler of the gods, the son of the god Saturn, whom he overthrew. Originally the god of the sky and king of heaven, Jupiter was worshipped as god of rain, thunder, and lightning. As the protector of Rome he was called Jupiter Optimus Maximus ("the best and most high") and was worshipped in a temple on the Capitoline hill. As Jupiter Fidius he was guardian of law, defender of truth, and protector of justice and virtue. The Romans identified Jupiter with Zeus, the supreme god of the Greeks, and assigned to the Roman god the attributes and myths of the Greek divinity; the Jupiter of Latin literature, therefore, has many Greek characteristics, but the Jupiter of Roman religious worship remained substantially untouched by the Greek influence. With the goddesses Juno and Minerva, Jupiter formed the triad whose worship was the central cult of the Roman state.
LARES, in Roman mythology, tutelary deities of the crossroads and country districts; also, and more commonly, the gods of the household. The lares compitales were worshipped at the compitum, or "crossroads" where four pieces of property joined. The lares familiares, or "household gods," which were distinguished from the lares compitales, are considered by some modern scholars to have been the deified spirits of dead ancestors, which were worshipped as good spirits in contrast to the malevolent tormentors, the larvae; according to a more accepted theory, the household Lares were also originally spirits of the tilled fields and only later invested with domestic functions. The lar familiaris, or guardian spirit of the household, was the center of family worship, and the word lar was often used by Roman writers to mean "home.".
LETHE, in Greek mythology, the river of forgetfulness, situated in the underworld. The spirits of the dead drank from its waters to forget the sorrows of their earthly life before entering Elysium. When the Trojan prince Aeneas visited the world of the dead, he found a great number of souls wandering on the banks of the stream. His father, Anchises, with whom he was joyously reunited, told him that before these spirits could live again in the world above, they must drink of the river of oblivion to forget the happiness they had experienced in Elysium.
LOKI, in Norse mythology, the handsome giant who represented evil and was possessed of great knowledge and cunning. He was indirectly responsible for the death of Balder, god of light and joy. According to the Poetic Edda, a collection of Scandinavian myths, Loki and Hel, goddess of the underworld, will lead the forces of evil against the Aesir, or gods, in the titanic struggle of RagnaroK, the end of the world.
MANES, in Roman mythology, spirits of the dead, apparently hostile, and therefore euphemistically termed di manes, the "kindly ones." Sometimes the Manes were identified with di parentes, or "dead ancestors" living in the underworld, who came forth only on certain days, at which time propitiatory offerings were made to them.
MARDUK, in Babylonian religion, the supreme god. Originally, he was a god of thunderstorms. According to Enuma elish, an ancient epic poem of creation, Marduk defeated Tiamat and Kingu, the dragons of chaos, and thereby gained supreme power. Acknowledged as the creator of the universe and of humankind, the god of light and life, and the ruler of destinies, he rose to such eminence that he claimed 50 titles. Eventually, he was called simply Bel, meaning "Lord.”
MARS, in Roman mythology, god of war, the son of Jupiter, king of the gods, and of his wife, Juno. One of the most important Roman deities, Mars was regarded as the father of the Roman people, because he was the father of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. Originally a god of the year, especially of the spring, Mars was identified by the Romans with the Greek god of war, Ares. The month of March was named for him.
MEMNON, in Greek mythology, king of Ethiopia, the son of the Trojan prince Tithonus and of Eos, goddess of the dawn. In the tenth year of the Trojan War, Memnon brought his army to the assistance of Troy. He fought bravely but was eventually killed by the Greek hero Achilles. To comfort Memnon's mother, however, the god Zeus made him immortal. The two colossal statues of Amenhotep III near Thebes in Egypt were thought to be of Memnon.
MENTOR, in Greek mythology, elderly friend and counsellor of the hero Odysseus and tutor of his son Telemachus. In the Odyssey of Homer, the goddess Athena frequently assumes the form of Mentor when she appears to Odysseus or Telemachus. In modern English the tutor's name has become an eponym for a wise, trustworthy counsellor or teacher.
MERCURY, in Roman mythology, messenger of the gods, the son of the god Jupiter and of Maia, the daughter of the Titan Atlas. Mercury was also the god of merchants and of trading and shared many of the attributes of the Greek god Hermes. The worship of Mercury was introduced into Rome in 495 BC when a temple was dedicated to him near the Circus Maximus. His festival was celebrated on May 15.
MINERVA, in Roman mythology, goddess of wisdom, the daughter of Jupiter, king of the gods. The Roman counterpart of the Greek goddess Athena, Minerva sprang from the head of Jupiter, fully grown and in full armor. Fierce and warlike, she was the patron of warriors, the defender of the home and the state, and the embodiment of wisdom, purity, and reason. Minerva was also the patron of the arts, handicrafts, and trades. With her father and Juno, she was one of the three principal deities of the Roman state.
MINOS, in Greek mythology, legendary ruler of Crete. Minos was the son of Zeus, father of the gods, and of the princess Europa. From the city of Knossos he colonised many of the Aegean islands, and he was widely considered a just ruler. In the most famous story about Minos, he refused to sacrifice a certain bull. The god Poseidon punished him by making his wife Pasiphaë fall in love with the animal, and she subsequently gave birth to the Minotaur. According to Attic legend, Minos was a tyrant who took harsh measures to avenge the death of his son Androgeous at the hands of the Athenians. At stated intervals he exacted a tribute from Athens of seven youths and seven maidens to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. Minos eventually met his death in Sicily, and he then became one of the judges of the dead in the underworld.
MINOTAUR, in Greek mythology, monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man. It was the offspring of Pasiphaë, queen of Crete, and a snow-white bull the god Poseidon had sent to Pasiphaë's husband, King Minos. When Minos refused to sacrifice the beast, Poseidon made Pasiphaë fall in love with it. After she gave birth to the Minotaur, Minos ordered the architect and inventor Daedalus to build a labyrinth so intricate that escape from it without assistance would be impossible. Here the Minotaur was confined and fed with young human victims Minos forced Athens to send him as tribute. The Greek hero Theseus was determined to end the useless sacrifice and offered himself as one of the victims. When Theseus reached Crete, Minos's daughter Ariadne fell in love with him. She helped him escape by giving him a ball of thread, which he fastened to the door of the maze and unwound as he made his way through it. When he came upon the sleeping Minotaur, he beat the monster to death and then led the other sacrificial youths and maidens to safety by following the thread back to the entrance.
MNEMOSYNE, in Greek mythology, the goddess of memory. She and Zeus, father of the gods, were the parents of the nine Muses. Mnemosyne was one of the pre-Olympian Titans, who were the children of the god of the heavens, Uranus, and the goddess of the earth, Gaea.
MUSES, in Greek mythology, nine goddesses and daughters of the god Zeus and of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. The Muses presided over the arts and sciences and were believed to inspire all artists, especially poets, philosophers, and musicians. Calliope was the muse of epic poetry, Clio of history, Euterpe of lyric poetry, Melpomene of tragedy, Terpsichore of choral songs and the dance, Erato of love poetry, Polyhymnia of sacred poetry, Urania of astronomy, and Thalia of comedy. They were said to be the companions of the Graces and of Apollo, the god of music. They sat near the throne of Zeus, king of the gods, and sang of his greatness and of the origin of the world and its inhabitants and the glorious deeds of the great heroes.
NEMESIS, in Greek mythology, personification of divine justice and the vengeance of the gods, sometimes called the daughter of Night. She represented the righteous anger of the gods against the proud and haughty and against breakers of the law; she distributed good or bad fortune to all mortals. No one could escape her power.
NIKE, in Greek mythology, goddess of victory, daughter of the Titan Pallas and the river Styx. Nike fought with the god Zeus in his battle against the Titans, and in Greek art is sometimes represented as winged and carrying a wreath or palm of victory. The Nike of Samothráki, or Winged Victory (Louvre, Paris), is one of the finest pieces of Hellenistic sculpture.
NYMPHS, in Greek and Roman mythology, lesser divinities or spirits of nature, dwelling in groves and fountains, forests, meadows, streams, and the sea, represented as young and beautiful maidens, fond of music and dancing. The nymphs were distinguished according to the part of nature they personified, and included the Oceanids, or daughters of Oceanus, the ocean that flows around the earth; the Nereids, or daughters of the sea god Nereus, nymphs of the Mediterranean Sea; the Potameides, river nymphs; the Naiads, nymphs of springs and freshwater streams; the Oreads, nymphs of mountains and grottoes; and the Dryads, nymphs of the forests.
ORACLE, response delivered by a deity or supernatural being to a worshipper or inquirer; also, the place where the response was delivered. The responses were supposed to be given by divine inspiration and were manifested through the medium of human beings; through their effect on certain objects, as in the tinkling, at the ancient Greek town of Dodona, of a cauldron when hit by a chain impelled by the wind; or by the actions of sacred animals. Oracles date from the greatest antiquity. Among the ancient Egyptians all the temples were probably oracular. In later days one of the most renowned oracles was that of Amon, in the oasis of Siwah, Egypt. Oracles were used by the Hebrews, as in the consultation of the Urim and Thummin by the high priest. The oracles in Phoenicia were associated with the deities Baalzebub and other Baalim. Oracles were also common throughout Babylonia and Chaldea. The most renowned Greek oracle was that of Apollo at Delphi. In Asia Minor the most celebrated was the one at Didyma, near Miletus.
ORPHISM, in classical religion, mystic cult of ancient Greece, believed to have been drawn from the writings of the legendary poet and musician Orpheus. Fragmentary poetic passages, including inscriptions on gold tablets found in the graves of Orphic followers from the 6th century BC, indicate that Orphism was based on a cosmogony that centered on the myth of the god Dionysus Zagreus, the son of the deities Zeus and Persephone. Furious because Zeus wished to make his son ruler of the universe, the jealous Titans dismembered and devoured the young god. Athena, goddess of wisdom, was able to rescue his heart, which she brought to Zeus, who swallowed it and gave birth to a new Dionysus. Zeus then punished the Titans by destroying them with his lightning and from their ashes created the human race. As a result, humans had a dual nature: the earthly body was the heritage of the earth-born Titans; the soul came from the divinity of Dionysus, whose remains had been mingled with that of the Titans.
OSIRIS, in Egyptian mythology, one of the principal deities. Originally the local god of Abydos and Busiris, Osiris, who represented the male productive force in nature, became identified with the setting sun. Thus he was regarded as the ruler of the realm of the dead in the mysterious region below the western horizon. Osiris was the brother and husband of Isis, goddess of the earth and moon, who represented the female productive force in nature. According to legend, Osiris, as king of Egypt, found his people plunged in barbarism and taught them law, agriculture, religion, and other blessings of civilisation. He was murdered by his evil brother, Set, who tore the body to pieces and scattered the fragments. Isis found and buried his scattered remains, however, and each burial place was thereafter revered as sacred ground. Their son Horus, sired by a temporarily regenerated Osiris, avenged his father's death by killing Set and then ascended the throne. Osiris lived on in the underworld as the ruler of the dead, but he was also, through Horus, regarded as the source of renewed life.
PANATHENAEA, oldest and most famous festival of Athens, celebrated in honour of Athena, patron goddess of the city. Ancient writings tell of a Lesser and Greater Panathenaea, the former held annually, the latter every fourth year. A patriotic as well as religious festival, the Panathenaea included processions, dances, sacrifices, poetry, recitations, and musical and athletic contests. One of these processions, a march by the people to the temple of Athena, is depicted on the frieze of the Parthenon.
PANDORA, in Greek mythology, first woman on earth, created by the god Hephaestus at the request of the god Zeus. Zeus wished to counteract the blessing of fire, which had been stolen from the gods by the Titan Prometheus and given to human beings. Endowed by the gods with every attribute of beauty and goodness, Pandora was sent to Epimetheus, who was happy to have her for his wife, although he had been warned by his brother Prometheus never to accept anything from Zeus. In bestowing their gifts on Pandora, the gods had given her a box, warning her never to open it. Her curiosity finally overcame her, however, and she opened the mysterious box, from which flew innumerable plagues for the body and sorrows for the mind. In terror, she tried to shut the box, but only Hope, the one good thing among many evils the box had contained, remained to comfort humanity in its misfortunes. In another legend, the box contained blessings that would have been preserved if Pandora had not allowed them to escape.
PEGASUS, in Greek mythology, winged horse, son of Poseidon, god of the sea, and the Gorgon Medusa. Pegasus sprang from Medusa's neck when she was killed by the hero Perseus. Shortly after its birth, the magic steed struck the ground on Mount Helicon, and on the spot a spring, later sacred to the Muses and believed to be a source for poetic inspiration, began to flow.
PERSEPHONE, in Greek mythology, daughter of Zeus, father of the gods, and of Demeter, goddess of the earth and of agriculture. Hades, god of the underworld, fell in love with Persephone and wished to marry her. Although Zeus gave his consent, Demeter was unwilling. Hades, therefore, seized the maiden as she was gathering flowers and carried her off to his realm. As Demeter wandered in search of her lost daughter, the earth grew desolate. All vegetation died, and famine devastated the land. Finally Zeus sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to bring Persephone back to her mother. Before Hades would let her go, he asked her to eat a pomegranate seed, the food of the dead. She was thus compelled to return to the underworld for one third of the year. As both the goddess of the dead and the goddess of the fertility of the earth, Persephone was a personification of the revival of nature in spring. The Eleusinian Mysteries were held in honour of her and her mother. Proserpine was the Latin counterpart of Persephone.
PHILEMON AND BAUCIS, in Roman mythology, peasant couple of Phrygia, remarkable for their mutual love. When Jupiter, father of the gods, and his messenger, Mercury, wandered through Phrygia in human form seeking food and lodging, they were turned away by all except the aged Philemon and his wife, Baucis, who hospitably entertained them. As a reward for their kindness, Jupiter saved them from a flood that he sent to punish the Phrygians for their cruelty and changed Philemon and Baucis's humble cottage into a temple. He also swore to grant them anything they might wish, but they asked only to be priest and priestess of his temple and to die at the same time. Jupiter fulfilled his promise, and in their extreme old age he transformed Philemon and Baucis into an oak and linden tree, which grew from one trunk so they would never be separated. This marvellous tree stood for many years before the temple and was honoured by the people.
PLEIADES, in Greek mythology, seven daughters of Atlas and of Pleione, the daughter of Oceanus. Their names were Electra, Maia, Taygete, Alcyone, Celaeno, Sterope, and Merope. According to some versions of the myth, they committed suicide from grief at the fate of their father, Atlas, or at the death of their sisters, the Hyades. Other versions made them the attendants of Artemis, goddess of wildlife and of hunting, who were pursued by the giant hunter Orion, but were rescued by the gods and changed into doves. After their death, or metamorphosis, they were transformed into stars, but are still pursued across the sky by the constellation Orion.
PLUTO, in Roman mythology, god of the dead, the husband of Proserpine. The Latin counterpart of the Greek god Hades, Pluto assisted his two brothers, Jupiter and Neptune, in overthrowing their father, Saturn. In dividing the world among them, Jupiter chose the earth and the heavens as his realm, Neptune became the ruler of the sea, and Pluto received as his kingdom the lower world, in which he ruled over the shades of the dead. He was originally considered a fierce and unyielding god, deaf to prayers and unappeased by sacrifices. In later cults and popular belief the milder and more beneficent aspects of the god were stressed. Believed to be the bestower of the blessings hidden in the earth, such as mineral wealth and crops, Pluto was also known as Dis or Orcus, the giver of wealth.
POSEIDON, in Greek mythology, god of the sea. In art, Poseidon is represented as a bearded and majestic figure, holding a trident and often accompanied by a dolphin. Every two years the Isthmian Games, featuring horse and chariot racers, were held in his honour at Corinth. The Romans identified Poseidon with their god of the sea, Neptune.
PRIAPUS, in Greek mythology, god of fertility, protector of gardens and herds. He was the son of Aphrodite, goddess of love, and of Dionysus, god of wine, or, according to some accounts, of Hermes, messenger of the gods. He was usually represented as a grotesque individual with a huge phallus. The Romans set up crude images of Priapus in their gardens as scarecrows.
PROMETHEUS, in Greek mythology, one of the Titans, known as the friend and benefactor of humanity, the son of the Titan Iapetus by the sea nymph Clymene or the Titaness Themis. Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus were given the task of creating humanity and providing humans and all the animals on earth with the endowments they would need to survive. Epimetheus (whose name means afterthought) accordingly proceeded to bestow on the various animals gifts of courage, strength, swiftness, and feathers, fur, and other protective coverings. When it came time to create a being who was to be superior to all other living creatures, Epimetheus found he had been so reckless with his resources that he had nothing left to bestow. He was forced to ask his brother's help, and Prometheus (whose name means forethought) took over the task of creation. To make humans superior to the animals, he fashioned them in nobler form and enabled them to walk upright. He then went up to heaven and lit a torch with fire from the sun. The gift of fire that Prometheus bestowed upon humanity was more valuable than any of the gifts the animals had received. Because of his actions Prometheus incurred the wrath of the god Zeus. Not only did he steal the fire he gave to humans, but he also tricked the gods so that they should get the worst parts of any animal sacrificed to them, and human beings the best. In one pile, Prometheus arranged the edible parts of an ox in a hide and disguised them with a covering of entrails. In the other, he placed the bones, which he covered with fat. Zeus, asked to choose between the two, took the fat and was very angry when he discovered that it covered a pile of bones. Thereafter, only fat and bones were sacrificed to the gods; the good meat was kept for mortals. For Prometheus's transgressions, Zeus had him chained to a rock in the Caucasus, where he was constantly preyed upon by an eagle. Finally he was freed by the hero Hercules, who slew the eagle.
PROTEUS, in Greek mythology, son of Poseidon, god of the sea, or his attendant and the keeper of his seals. Proteus knew all things past, present, and future but was able to change his shape at will to avoid the necessity of prophesying.
PTAH, in ancient Egyptian mythology, one of the greatest of gods. Ancient inscriptions describe him as "creator of the earth, father of the gods and all the being of this earth, father of beginnings." He was regarded as the patron of metalworkers and artisans and as a mighty healer. He is usually represented as a mummy bearing the symbols of life, power, and stability. The main center of his worship was in Memphis.
QUIRINUS, in early Roman mythology, god of war worshipped by the Sabines.
RA or RE, in ancient Egyptian mythology, sun god depicted with a human body and the head of a hawk. Ra was usually considered the creator and controller of the universe, his chief symbols being the sun disk and the obelisk. Originally a local cult, the worship of Ra first became widespread during the Old Kingdom in Egypt. The chief temple of Ra was at the city of Heliopolis, which became an important center when the cult was adopted as a state religion. Ra later became associated with other important deities, particularly Amon and Horus.
RHEA, in Greek mythology, mother of the gods, a Titan, the daughter of Uranus and Gaea, Heaven and Earth, and the sister and wife of the Titan Cronus. For many ages, Cronus and Rhea ruled the universe. Cronus, having been warned that one of their children was destined to seize his throne, tried to avert this fate by swallowing his offspring as soon as they were born. After the birth of her sixth child, the god Zeus, Rhea outwitted her husband by giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he swallowed, thinking it was the baby. In the meantime, she had hidden the child in Crete. Later, when Zeus was grown, he forced his father to disgorge the stone, along with the five other children who had been born to Rhea: Poseidon, god of the sea; Hades, god of the dead; Demeter, goddess of the earth; Hestia, goddess of the hearth; and Hera, goddess of marriage, who became the wife of Zeus. In Roman mythology, Rhea was identified with Cybele, the great mother of the gods.
SATURN, in Roman mythology, ancient god of agriculture. In later legends he was identified with the Greek god Cronus, who, after having been dethroned by his son Zeus (in Roman mythology, Jupiter), fled to Italy, where he ruled during the Golden Age, a time of perfect peace and happiness. Beginning on December 17 of each year, during the festival known as the Saturnalia, the Golden Age was restored for seven days. All business stopped and executions and military operations were postponed. It was a period of goodwill, devoted to banquets and the exchange of visits and gifts. A special feature of the festival was the freedom given to slaves, who during this time had first place at the family table and were served by their masters. Saturn was the husband of Ops, goddess of plenty. Besides Jupiter, who was ruler of the gods, Saturn's children also included Juno, goddess of marriage; Neptune, god of the sea; Pluto, god of the dead; and Ceres, goddess of the grain. In art Saturn is usually shown bearded, carrying a sickle or an ear of corn.
SATYRS, in Greek mythology, deities of the woods and mountains, with horns, tails, and, sometimes, the legs of a goat. The satyrs were the companions of Dionysus, god of wine, and spent their time pursuing nymphs, drinking wine, dancing, and playing the syrinx, flute, or bagpipes.
SERAPIS, also Sarapis, in Greek and Egyptian mythology, a deity, variously associated with Osiris, Hermes, and Hades, introduced in the 3d century BC as a state god for both Greeks and Egyptians. Serapis was believed by Egyptians to be a human manifestation of Apis, a sacred dead bull that symbolised Osiris; in Greek mythology, Serapis was represented as a god of fertility and medicine and the ruler of the dead in Tartarus. The worship of Serapis spread throughout the ancient world and the Roman Empire.
SPHINX, in Greek mythology, monster with the head and breasts of a woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of a bird. Lying crouched on a rock, she accosted all who were about to enter the city of Thebes by asking them a riddle, "What is it that has four feet in the morning, two at noon, and three at night?" If they could not solve the riddle, she killed them. When the hero Oedipus solved the riddle by answering, "Man, who crawls on four limbs as a baby, walks upright on two as an adult, and walks with the aid of a stick in old age," the sphinx killed herself. For ridding them of this terrible monster, the Thebans made Oedipus their king. In ancient Egypt, sphinxes were statues representing deities, with the body of a lion and the head of some other animal or of man, frequently a likeness of the king. The most famous of all Egyptian sphinxes is the Great Sphinx of Giza, near the pyramids.
TANTALUS, in Greek mythology, king of Lydia and son of Zeus, ruler of the gods. Tantalus was honoured above all other mortals by the gods. He ate at their table on Olympus, and once they even came to dine at his palace. To test their omniscience, Tantalus killed his only son, Pelops, boiled him in a cauldron, and served him at the banquet. The gods, however, realised the nature of the food. They restored Pelops to life and devised a terrible punishment for Tantalus. He was hung forever from a tree in Tartarus and afflicted with tormenting thirst and hunger. Under him was a pool of water, but when he stooped to drink, the pool would sink from sight. The tree above him was laden with pears, apples, figs, ripe olives, and pomegranates, but when he reached for them the wind blew the laden branches away. The word tantalise is derived from this story.
TARTARUS, in Greek mythology, the lowest region of the underworld. According to Hesiod and Vergil, Tartarus is as far below Hades as the earth is below the heavens and is closed in by iron gates. In some accounts Zeus, the father of the gods, after leading the gods to victory over the Titans, banished his father, Cronus, and the other Titans to Tartarus. The name Tartarus was later employed sometimes as a synonym for Hades, or the underworld in general, but more frequently for the place of damnation where the wicked were punished after death. Such legendary sinners as Ixion, king of the Lapiths, Sisyphus, king of Corinth, and Tantalus, a mortal son of Zeus, were placed in Tartarus.
THEMIS, in Greek mythology, one of the Titans, the daughter of Uranus and Gaea, Heaven and Earth, and the mother of the three Fates and the Seasons. The goddess of divine justice and law, Themis was the constant companion of the god Zeus and sat beside him on Olympus. In ancient art she is represented holding aloft a pair of scales on which she weighs the claims of opposing parties.
THOR, in Norse mythology, the god of thunder, eldest son of Odin, ruler of the gods, and Lord, the earth goddess. Thor was the strongest of the Aesir, the chief gods, whom he helped protect from their enemies, the giants. He had a magic hammer, which he threw with the aid of iron gloves and which always returned to him. Thunder was supposed to be the sound of the rolling of his chariot. Thursday is named after Thor.
TITANS, in Greek mythology, 12 children of Uranus and Gaea, Heaven and Earth, and some of the children of the 12. Often called the Elder Gods, they were for many ages the supreme rulers of the universe and were of enormous size and incredibly strong. Cronus, the most important of the Titans, ruled the universe until he was dethroned by his son Zeus, who seized power for himself. The other important Titans were Oceanus, the river that flowed around the earth; Tethys, his wife; Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory; Themis, the goddess of divine justice; Hyperion, the father of the sun, the moon, and the dawn; Iapetus, the father of Prometheus, who created mortals; and Atlas, who carried the world on his shoulders. Of all the Titans only Prometheus and Oceanus sided with Zeus against Cronus. As a result, they were honoured and the others were bound in Tartarus. Eventually, however, Zeus was reconciled with the Titans, and Cronus was made ruler of the Golden Age.
TRIPTOLEMUS, in Greek mythology, the original priest of the corn goddess Demeter and founder of the Eleusinian Mysteries celebrated in Demeter's honour. The son of King Celeus of Eleusis, Triptolemus herded his father's cattle. One day he observed the daughter of Demeter, Persephone, being carried off in the chariot of her abductor, Hades, god of the underworld. Persephone was restored to her mother, and Demeter gave Triptolemus the wooden plow and seed corn, and then sent him to instruct mortals in the art of agriculture. She also taught him the rites that became the most famous of all Greek religious festivals.
UNICORN, fabled beast, pure white in colour, having the head and legs of a horse and a long, twisted horn set in the middle of its forehead. Symbolic of holiness and chastity, the unicorn was prominent in tapestries of the Middle Ages. It has been widely used in heraldic signs.
URANUS, in Greek mythology, the god of the heavens and husband of Gaea, the goddess of the earth. Uranus was the father of the Titans, the Cyclopses, and the 100-headed giants. The Titans, led by their ruler, Cronus, dethroned and mutilated Uranus, and from the blood that fell upon the earth sprang the three Erinyes, or Furies, who avenge crimes of patricide and perjury. Although Uranus may have been worshipped as a god by earlier inhabitants of Greece, he was never an object of worship by the Greeks of the historical period.
VENUS, in Roman mythology, originally a goddess of gardens and fields but later identified with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. In imperial times she was worshipped under several aspects. As Venus Genetrix, she was worshipped as the mother of the hero Aeneas, the founder of the Roman people; as Venus Felix, the bringer of good fortune; as Venus Victrix, the bringer of victory; and as Venus Verticordia, the protector of feminine chastity. Venus was the wife of Vulcan, god of metalwork, but she was often unfaithful to him. Among her many lovers were Mars, the god of war; the handsome shepherd Adonis; and Anchises, the father of Aeneas. Venus was also the mother of Cupid, god of love.
VESTA, in Roman mythology, the goddess of the hearth, worshipped by Roman families as a household deity. The most important public shrine to Vesta was her round temple in the Forum at Rome, where her fire was said to have been brought from Troy by Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome. The shrine was symbolic of the safety of the city and was watched continually by six vestal virgins, priestesses who kept the fire burning and who served for terms of 30 years according to severe rules. In early June of each year a festival honouring Vesta, called Vestalia, was held. In form the goddess was associated with the flames of her fire. Her Greek counterpart was Hestia.
ZEUS, in Greek mythology, the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. Zeus corresponds to the Roman god Jupiter. Zeus was considered, according to Homer, the father of the gods and of mortals. He did not create either gods or mortals; he was their father in the sense of being the protector and ruler both of the Olympian family and of the human race. He was lord of the sky, the rain god, and the cloud gatherer, who wielded the terrible thunderbolt. His breastplate was the aegis, his bird the eagle, his tree the oak. Zeus presided over the gods on Mount Olympus in Thessaly. His principal shrines were at Dodona, in Epirus, the land of the oak trees and the most ancient shrine, famous for its oracle, and at Olympia, where the Olympian Games were celebrated in his honour every fourth year. The Nemean games, held at Nemea, northwest of Argos, were also dedicated to Zeus. Beginning with the writings of the Greek poet Homer, Zeus is pictured in two very different ways. He is represented as the god of justice and mercy, the protector of the weak, and the punisher of the wicked. As husband to his sister Hera, he is the father of Ares, the god of war; Hebe, the goddess of youth; Hephaestus, the god of fire; and Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. At the same time, Zeus is described as falling in love with one woman after another and resorting to all kinds of tricks to hide his infidelity from his wife. Stories of his escapades were numerous in ancient mythology, and many of his offspring were a result of his love affairs with both goddesses and mortal women. It is believed that, with the development of a sense of ethics in Greek life, the idea of a lecherous, sometimes ridiculous father god became distasteful, so later legends present Zeus in a more exalted light.
© S. D. Goeldner.
© S. D. Goeldner, 1999. Last updated November, 2019.
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