Greek gods

Having trouble keeping your Greek mythology straight? You’re not alone. Though most of us have heard tales of the ancient Greek gods, it’s hard to keep straight exactly who is who. Fear not, for here you’ll find an easy, understandable crash course in Greek gods 101.

Zeus gets the party started

At the end of the day, it all pretty much goes back to Zeus where the ancient Greek gods are concerned. Known as the “father of many,” he was the king of the gods, many of whom owe him their existence. He was the son of this Titan named Kronos, who was seriously afraid that one of his kids was going to overthrow him. So nervous was Kronos, in fact, that he kept eating his wife Rhea’s kids. By the time Zeus came along, Kronos had already eaten five other kids and Rhea was getting pretty fed up with the whole thing.

So instead of baby Zeus, she gave Kronos a stone which he ate thinking he was taking out baby number six. Later, Kronos got a big surprise when Zeus grew up, returned, and snuck his pops a special brew that forced him to throw up his formally devoured children. Zeus then led his recently regurgitated siblings in a revolt against the Titans and thus became king of the gods. His main hobbies including wielding his lightning bolts, chillin’ on Mount Olympus, and cheating on his long-suffering wife, Hera.

Zeus’ complicated family tree

As you can imagine, Hera didn’t really appreciate her husband’s antics, so she was always trying to get even with Zeus’ side pieces and their offspring. One such offspring was Hercules, who Hera tried to kill by slipping a couple of serpents in his crib. It was then that baby Hercules debuted his legendary power by killing both of the serpents with his bare baby hands.

Among Zeus’ other offspring are several of the other gods, including Ares, whose parents were Zeus and Hera. Despite his flair for warmongering, rumor has it that Ares wasn’t particularly cunning in battle. When it came to war skills, Ares’ sister Athena was where it was at. See, Athena was not only the goddess of defense but also of cunning. As far as where she came from, the story goes that one day Zeus had a really killer headache and asked Hephaistos to cut his head open to see what was going on. When Hephaistos obliged, out popped Athena who was fully grown, dressed in armor, and ready to rumble.

While it’s never a lucky break to be selected as the kid your dad chose to slice open, it sort of makes sense that Hephaistos was the one Zeus picked for the job. The son of Zeus and Hera, Hephaistos was initially kicked out of Mount Olympus after he was born lame. Luckily, he found the silver lining and discovered he was a really amazing craftsman. He went on to become the god of fire, metalworking, sculptures, and the like. So impressed were his parents with his skills that they eventually forgave him for being accidentally lame and welcomed him back home to the mountain.

When it came to weapon-wielding, Zeus’ daughter Artemis was pretty handy with a bow as well. Daughter of Zeus and a Titaness named Leto, Artemis was the goddess of hunting, archery, and childbirth. She was a great goddess to have on your side, but not one you wanted to cross. She once turned a guy named Actaeon into a wild stag who was devoured by his own hunting dogs because he accidentally saw her naked. Oops!

Artemis also had a twin brother named Apollo who was god of the sun, truth, music, poetry, dancing, healing, and prophecy. As you can tell, he was a pretty busy guy. This was probably why he was less than amused one day when Hermes stole and hid his cattle. Being quite the prankster, Hermes pulled off the cattle joke on the day he was born. When Apollo got angry, Hermes simply leapt back into his crib and pretended to be all innocent, which Zeus apparently found hilarious. Hermes grew up to be the guy you always see flying around with wings on his feet. He was the son of Zeus and a lady named Maia and became known as the messenger of the gods as well as the god of travel, hospitality, and trade. Also among the family’s fun lovers was Dionysus, who really loved wine. Often drunk, he became the god of pleasure, wine, festivity, and theatre.

The extended fam

Though many gods were the sons and daughters of Zeus, not all of them were. While some claim that Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, was a daughter of Zeus, it’s more commonly believed that she was formed from the combination of the sea and the severed man parts of an unfortunate Titan.

Then you’ve got the siblings of Zeus, such as Posidean, the god of the sea. Posidean was particularly known for his bad temper which he often vented through sea storms and earthquakes. Zeus also had a sister named Demeter who was the goddess of fertility and agriculture. Demeter had a daughter named Persephone, who was kidnapped by Hades and carried off to the underworld. Though Zeus eventually demanded that Hades release Persephone, Hades had already tricked her into eating some underworld food, knowing that it would force her to return to the underworld for at least part of each year. So each time Persephone gets to come home, Demeter celebrates with spring and summer. Each time she has to go back down, however, Demeter mourns with dreary weather such as what you see during fall and winter.