Greek gods

Guide to the Gods 1.0

Ancient Greece: H - J

Copyright by Mark de la Hey, 1994, 1995.


(Aides, Dis, Plutos)

"The Unseen One". Greek god of the underworld. Since riches were commonly buried in the ground, he also figured as a god of wealth, Plutos, although the latter is often considered a separate deity. Son of Kronos and Rhea. Brother of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter and Hestia. After Zeus killed Kronos, dominion over the underworld fell to Hades, while Zeus claimed the heavens and Poseidon the seas. He became the husband of Persephone after abducting her (for this story see the entries for Demeter and Persephone). His home in the underworld was often referred to as the "House of Hades". The tasks of judging the souls of the deceased and of punishing sins were assigned to other underworld deities. His cult was restricted to Pylos. He was depicted as dark bearded, bearing a sceptre and a key.


Greek tree nymphs. See Dryads.



"Snatchers". Greek winged female monsters or demons. They may have originated as wind spirits: in Homer they were merely described as winds that swept people away. They were usually three in number, the most common names being Aello, Kelaino (Podarge) and Okypete. Daughters of Thaumas and Elektra, or of Poseidon and Gaia. In early myths they were described as beautiful, but later writers depicted them as ugly bird-like monsters with large claws. In one version, the Harpies were eventually killed by Calais and Zetes.


"Bloom of Youth". Greek goddess of youth. Daughter of Zeus and Hera. Her consort was the deified Herakles. She was the cup- bearer of the gods at Olympus until replaced by Ganymede. Her Roman counterpart was Juventas. Her cult was most popular at Phlious and Sicyon.


See Hekate.



Greek goddess associated with the underworld and with magic. Not mentioned in Homer, she is believed to have originated in Caria in southwest Anatolia. According to Hesiod she was the daughter of the Titan Perses and the nymph Asteria. Elsewhere she is said to be the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was also a goddess of crossroads and waysides, and pillars known as Hekataea were commonly erected at crossroads and doorways, perhaps to ward off evil. She was especially associated with travel by night, although it is nor clear whether she was regarded as the protectress of night travellers or their chief peril. Hekate was also considered a patron of Medea and of witches, and she had an occult following among women in Thessaly, where she was regarded as a moon goddess. She assisted in the search for Persephone after her abduction by Hades. In this connection, as well as in connection with her role in night travel, she was depicted bearing a torch. In later representations, she was shown as having three bodies, particularly in the Hekataea which allowed her to keep watch over all roads at once. Her epithets included Enodia, a reference to her role as a goddess of waysides, and Trioditis, a reference to her role as a triform goddess of crossroads.


(Helius, Sol)

"Sun". Greek sun god. According to Hesiod, he is the son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia. His siblings were Eos (dawn) and Selene (moon). He drove his four-horsed chariot across the sky each day from east to west, descending beneath the ocean at night and returning by its northern stream to the east. According to one story, Helios was absent when Zeus divided the world among the gods, and he was given the island of Rhodes, which had just risen from the sea, in compensation. Rhodes was the center of his cult, where he was the dominant deity at least as early as the 5th century BC. The famous Colossus of Rhodes was an image of Helios. A festival of Helios was also celebrated on Rhodes, during which a four-horsed chariot was driven off a cliff, symbolizing the setting of the sun beneath the sea. He was depicted driving a four-horsed chariot, and with a halo of rays about his head. The Romans worshipped Helios as Sol.


"Day". Greek goddess of the day. Hesiod gives her as the daughter of Erebus and Nyx. She may also have been the consort of her brother Aether.


(Hephaestus, Hephaestos)

Greek god of fire and patron of blacksmiths. Son of Zeus and Hera. In the Iliad, Homer made him the husband of Charis. However, in the Odyssey he was said to be the consort of Aphrodite, and this rather unlikely pairing became the more widely accepted version. Although considered one of the twelve Olympians, he was thrown from the heavens by Hera, who could not accept a child born with deformed legs. According to one legend, he spent the first nine years of his life in the sea, cared for by Eurynome and Thetis. According to another legend, he was taken in and cared for by the people of Lemnos, on whose island he had an important sanctuary. The cult of Hephaistos appears to have originated in Greek Anatolia, or perhaps on Lemnos. His cult seems never to have been very popular in mainland Greece, although he did have a sanctuary in Athens. He also had an important shrine at Ephesus in Anatolia. Despite his lameness, Hephaistos was famed as a blacksmith of extraordinary skill. His smithy was said to be under Mt Aetna, where he was believed to work with his assistants, the Cyclops. He was credited with fashioning the sceptre of Zeus, the Aegis of Athena, the chariot of Helios, arms for Achilles and Aeneas, and the shield of Herakles. Hephaistos was never very lucky in love. His nominal consort, Aphrodite, was never faithful to him, and few if any of her children were fathered by the lame smith god. On one occasion, Hephaistos attempted to force himself on Athena, but she evaded him and his semen fell to the earth where it gave birth to the Athenian serpent-king Erechtheus.


Greek queen of heaven. Daughter of Kronos and Rhea. Sister and wife of Zeus. Mother of Ares, Hephaistos, Hebe and Eileithyia. Though widely worshipped throughout the Greek world, Hera was chiefly known as the jealous and often vindictive wife of the philandering Zeus. In her own right, she was worshipped as a goddess of marriage, of childbirth, and of the life of women in general. Her marriage was said to have resulted after Zeus seduced her in the form of a peacock, although in some versions it was Hera who seduced Zeus with the aid of a magic girdle. At Athens and Samos their marriage was celebrated as the hieros gamos ("sacred marriage"), even though the conduct of Zeus would seem to have made a mockery of this notion. The morality of Hera's conduct was also questionable by modern standards, as she mercilessly persecuted mortal women for the crime of having been raped by her husband. Her chief cult centre was at Argos, where the Heraeum boasted a statue of Hera in ivory and gold by Polycletus. Other important sanctuaries were at Athens and on Crete and Samos, although she had sanctuaries throughout the Greek world. A festival of women's games was also held in her honour every four years at Olympus. The cow and the peacock were sacred to her, and the apple and the pomegranate were her sacred fruits. She was often depicted as a matronly figure seated on a throne, bearing a diadem and a sceptre.


(Heracles, Roman Hercules)

Greek hero, worshipped as a deity. It has been variously speculated that the mythical Herakles may have derived from an actual Greek chieftain or shaman who protected his people from external dangers which later became the labours of Herakles. Some parallels can be seen with the Mesopotamian figures of Ninurta and Gilgamesh. He was the son of Zeus and Alkmene, and the husband of Deianeira. The jealous Hera sent two snakes to kill Herakles in his cradle, but the infant strangled them. When he grew up, he was forced to serve King Eurystheus, who assigned him his twelve labours. These labours were: (1) the slaying of the Nemean lion; (2) the slaying of the Lernaean Hydra; (3) the capture of the Arcadian stag; (4) the destruction of the Erymanthian boar; (5) the cleansing of the Augean stables; (6) the shooting of the man- eating birds of the Stymphalian Marshes; (7) the capture of the Cretan bull; (8) the capture of the man-eating horses of Diomedes; (9) the theft of the girdle of the Amazon queen Hippolyta; (10) the capture of the cattle of Geryon; (11) the acquisition of the golden apples of the Hesperides; and (12) the capture of Cerberus. Having completed the twelve labours, Herakles went on to have many more battles and escapades. It was also during this latter period that he wed Deianeira. On the way home, the centaur Nessus tried to rape her, and Herakles shot him with a poisoned arrow. The dying centaur told Deianeira to preserve some of the blood from his wound, as it had the power of making whomever she wished fall in love with her. Some years later, Herakles fell in love with Iole. Deianeira devised a robe with some of the centaur's blood smeared on it and sent it to Herakles, thinking to win back his love. Instead, the blood poisoned Herakles, causing a painful death. His body was burned on a pyre on Mt. Oita. After his death, Herakles was deified and given the task of guarding the gates to Olympus. There he became the consort of the goddess Hebe. The cult of Herakles was widespread, and he had sanctuaries on Thasos and Mt. Oita, where sacrificial fire festivals were held every four years to commemorate his death. The Dorian kings regarded Herakles as their ancestral god. He was commonly depicted wearing the skin of the Nemean lion, bearing either a bow or a club, or performing one of his labours.



Greek androgynous deity. The cult of Hermaphroditos appeared first in Cyprus, but never became prominent in the rest of the Greek world until the Hellenistic period. Originallythe son of Hermes and Aphrodite. The Naiad Salmakis (associated with a fountain of the same name in Caria, a region of Anatolia) fell so passionately in love with him that their bodies merged into one. In some versions, it was her entreaties to the gods that finally resulted in their becoming one being.


Greek messenger of the gods. Son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. He was believed to have been born on Mt. Cyllene in Arcadia. His cult seems to have originated in Arcadia, where he was a god of fertility depicted in ithyphallic images. His name probably derives from hermaion (pl. herma), the Greek word for a pile of stones used to mark boundaries or as landmarks erected to guide travellers. Stone pillars called hermen were also erected in front of Greek houses, and Hermes was supposed to dwell in these pillars, guarding over the houses. Thus Hermes was considered a god of travellers and merchants, of roads and of doorways. Paradoxically, he was also a patron of thieves and gamblers, and of good fortune. In his capacity as messenger of the gods he was depicted with a broad-brimmed hat (petasus) appropriate for travel, winged sandals (talaria), and a Herald's staff entwined with snakes (kerykeion, Latin caduceus). Hermes is credited with the invention of the lyre (kithara) and with the invention of fire. These feats he performed on the day of his birth, in addition to the theft of Apollo's cattle. His personality had much mischief and trickery about it. He also had the typical sexual appetites of a Greek god. Among the many errands the gods entrusted him with, it was Hermes who was sent to retrieve both Persephone and Eurydice from the underworld. He had many epithets, including Epimelios (guardian of flocks), Nomios (also a reference to his role as guardian of flocks), Hodios (patron of travellers). He was also known as Oneiropompos (conductor of dreams) and Psychopompos (leader of souls in the underworld) in his roles as god of dreams and of passage to the afterlife. In his role as god of doorways he was known as Pylaios or Propylaios. In his capacity as "the good shepherd", he was depicted carrying a sheep on his shoulders, with the epithet of Kriophoros (ram-bearer). In earlier Greek art, he was depicted as bearded, wearing a long tunic, and equipped with his cap, winged sandals and staff (the kerykeion). Later, he came to be portrayed as a beardless youth.


A Thracian god of the underworld. He was depicted as a horseman, and his image was frequently incorporated in funerary stelae.


Greek nymphs who guarded the tree of the golden apples. According to Hesiod, they were the daughters of Erebos and Nyx (night). Other accounts make them the daughters of Atlas and Pleione, Atlas and Hesperis, Phorkys and Ceto, or of Hesperos. Their names were most commonly given as Aegle, Erytheia, and Hesperia (or Arethusa).


(Hesperus, Roman Vesper)

Greek god of the evening star. In some versions, the father of the Hesperides.


(Roman Vesta)

Greek goddess of fire and the hearth. Daughter of Kronos and Rhea. She remained a virgin all her life, on the assumption that she was wedded to the sacred hearth fire. Her worship was largely focused on household hearths, but public cults later emerged at the civic hearth. Small offerings of food and drink were typically made at household hearths before meals.



Greek god of desire. An attendant either of Aphrodite or of Eros.



The Seasons. Greek goddesses associated with the three Greek seasons: spring, summer and winter. Daughters of Zeus and Themis. Their names were Eunomia (good order), Dike (justice), and Eirene (peace). The Athenians recognized only two Horai: Thallo, associated with the blossoms of spring, and Karpo, associated with the ripened fruit of summer or autumn. The Horai were honoured in the annual festival known as the Horaia. The Horai eventually developed into the four modern seasons.



Commonly known as a hero from Greek myth, but generally believed to have originated as an ancient pre-Hellenic god, probably of vegetation. In the Greek legend, Hyakinthos was loved by Apollo, who accidentally killed him with a discus. This would suggest that Hyakinthos was originally a dying god like Adonis or the Mesopotamian Dumuzi whose death and resurrection symbolized the natural cycle of cereal vegetation. At Amyklai in Sparta Hyakinthos was regarded as a deified hero well into the Hellenic period. There he was worshipped in an annual festival, the Hyakinthia, where the worshippers passed from mourning for Hyakinthos to celebration for Apollo -- certainly suggestive of a rite associated with cereal vegetation where the dead plant gives new life through its seed.



Greek goddess of health. Daughter of Asklepios, the god of healing. Some later writers made her the consort of Asklepios. Her sacred animal was the snake, depicted drinking from a saucer or other drinking vessel held in her hand. Her worship spread to Rome in 293 BC, where she came to be identified with Salus.


(Hymenaios, Hymenaeus)

Greek god of marriage. He was traditionally said to be the son of Apollo and a Muse, while later writers made him the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite. He was invoked at weddings in the marriage song. He was depicted as a winged youth bearing a wedding torch and a garland.


Greek god of light. One of the Titans. Son of Ouranos (heaven) and Gaia (earth). Consort of Theia. Father of Helios (sun) and Selene (moon). Hyperion may have been little more than a personification of the sun or an epithet of Helios.


(Roman Somnus)

Greek god of sleep. Son of Erebos and Nyx (night). Brother of Thanatos (death).



Minor Greek deity associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries. He was considered the son of Demeter or Persephone. Possibly the husband of Demeter. In the mysteries, his name was invoked in connection with those of Demeter and Persephone. Some believe Iakchos to be identical with Dionysos (as Bacchus) or Zagreus. He was depicted bearing a torch and leading the participants in the mysteries.


See Eilithyia.


Greek heroine who raised the infant Dionysos while herself a child. Later, Hera drove Ino and her husband Athamas mad, and Ino leaped to her death in the sea, carrying her son Melicertes. She was elevated to the rank of sea goddess under the name of Leukothea, and Melicertes became Palaemon.


See Eirene.


"Rainbow". Greek goddess of the rainbow, and messenger of the gods. She was particularly the agent of Hera. According to Hesiod, she was the daughter of the Titan Thaumas and the nymph Electra. Also in Hesiod, it was her task to draw water from the River Styx which the gods used whenever declaring a solemn oath. She was depicted with wings and her attributes included a Herald's staff and a water pitcher.

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