In ancient Greek religion and mythology, the twelve Olympians are the major deities of the Greek pantheon, commonly considered to be Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and either Hestia or Dionysus. They were called Olympians because, according to tradition, they resided on Mount Olympus.
Although Hades was a major ancient Greek god, and was the brother of the first generation of Olympians (Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia), his realm was the underworld, far from Olympus, and thus was not usually considered to be one of the Olympians.
Besides the twelve Olympians, there were many other cultic groupings of twelve gods.
The Olympians were a race of deities, primarily consisting of a third and fourth generation of immortal beings, worshipped as the principal gods of the Greek pantheon and so named because of their residency atop Mount Olympus. They gained their supremacy in a ten-year-long war of gods, in which Zeus led his siblings to victory over the previous generation of ruling gods, the Titans. They were a family of gods, the most important consisting of the first generation of Olympians, offspring of the Titans Cronus and Rhea: Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter and Hestia, along with the principal offspring of Zeus: Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and Dionysus. Although Hades was a major deity in the Greek pantheon, and was the brother of Zeus and the other first generation of Olympians, his realm was far away from Olympus in the underworld, and thus he was not usually considered to be one of the Olympians. Olympic gods can be contrasted to chthonic gods including Hades, by mode of sacrifice, the latter receiving sacrifices in a bothros (βόθρος, "pit") or megaron (μέγαρον, "sunken chamber") rather than at an altar.
The canonical number of Olympian gods was twelve, but besides the (thirteen) principal Olympians listed above, there were many other residents of Olympus, who thus might be considered to be Olympians. Heracles became a resident of Olympus after his apotheosis and married another Olympian resident Hebe. According to Hesiod, the children of Styx: Zelus (Envy), Nike (Victory), Cratos (Power), and Bia (Force), "have no house apart from Zeus, nor any dwelling nor path except that wherein God leads them, but they dwell always with Zeus." Some others who might be considered Olympians, include the Muses, the Graces, Iris, Dione, Eileithyia, the Horae, and Ganymede.
Besides the twelve Olympians, there were many other various cultic groupings of twelve gods throughout ancient Greece. The earliest evidence of Greek religious practice involving twelve gods (Greek: δωδεκάθεον, dodekatheon, from δώδεκα dōdeka, "twelve" and θεοί theoi, "gods") comes no earlier than the late sixth century BC. According to Thucydides, an altar of the twelve gods was established in the agora of Athens by the archon Pisistratus (son of Hippias, and the grandson of the tyrant Pisistratus), in c. 522 BC. The altar became the central point from which distances from Athens were measured and a place of supplication and refuge.
Olympia apparently also had an early tradition of twelve gods. The Homeric Hymn to Hermes (c. 500 BC) has the god Hermes divide a sacrifice of two cows he has stolen from Apollo, into twelve parts, on the banks of the river Alpheius (presumably at Olympia):
Another of Pindar's Olympian odes mentions "six double altars". Herodorus of Heraclea (c. 400 BC) also has Heracles founding a shrine at Olympia, with six pairs of gods, each pair sharing a single altar.
Many other places had cults of the twelve gods, including Delos, Chalcedon, Magnesia on the Maeander, and Leontinoi in Sicily. As with the twelve Olympians, although the number of gods was fixed at twelve, the membership varied. While the majority of the gods included as members of these other cults of twelve gods were Olympians, non-Olympians were also sometimes included. For example, Herodorus of Heraclea identified the six pairs of gods at Olympia as: Zeus and Poseidon, Hera and Athena, Hermes and Apollo, the Graces and Dionysus, Artemis and Alpheus, and Cronus and Rhea. Thus while this list includes the eight Olympians: Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Athena, Hermes, Apollo, Artemis, and Dionysus, it also contains three clear non-Olympians: the Titan parents of the first generation of Olympians, Cronus and Rhea, and the river god Alpheius, with the status of the Graces (here apparently counted as one god) being unclear.
The Roman poet Ennius gives the Roman equivalents (the Dii Consentes) as six male-female complements, preserving the place of Vesta (Greek Hestia), who played a crucial role in Roman religion as a state goddess maintained by the Vestals.
There is no single canonical list of the twelve Olympian gods. The thirteen gods and goddesses most commonly considered to be one of the twelve Olympians are listed below.
|Greek||Roman||Image||Functions and attributes|
|Zeus||Jupiter||King of the gods and ruler of Mount Olympus; god of the sky, lightning, thunder, law, order and justice. Youngest child of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. Symbols include the thunderbolt, eagle, oak tree, bull, scepter, and scales. Brother and husband of Hera, although he had many lovers, also brother of Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, and Hestia.|
|Hera||Juno||Queen of the gods and the goddess of marriage, women, childbirth and family. Symbols include the peacock, cuckoo, and cow. Youngest daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Wife and sister of Zeus. Being the goddess of marriage, she frequently tried to get revenge on Zeus' lovers and their children.|
|Poseidon||Neptune||God of the seas, water, storms, hurricanes, earthquakes and horses. Symbols include the horse, bull, dolphin, and trident. Middle son of Cronus and Rhea. Brother of Zeus and Hades. Married to the Nereid Amphitrite, although, like most male Greek gods, he had many lovers.|
|Demeter||Ceres||Goddess of the harvest, fertility, agriculture, nature and the seasons. She presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. Symbols include the poppy, wheat, torch, cornucopia, and pig. Middle daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Also the lover of Zeus and Poseidon, and the mother of Persephone.|
|Athena||Minerva||Goddess of wisdom, handicraft, and warfare. Symbols include the owl and the olive tree. Daughter of Zeus and the Oceanid Metis, she rose from her father's head fully grown and in full battle armor.|
|Apollo[A]||God of light, the sun, prophecy, philosophy, truth, inspiration, poetry, music, arts, medicine, healing, and plague. Symbols include the sun, bow and arrow, lyre, swan, and mouse. Son of Zeus and Leto, and twin brother of Artemis.|
|Artemis||Diana||Goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, virginity, the moon, archery, childbirth, protection and plague. Symbols include the moon, horse, deer, hound, she-bear, snake, cypress tree, and bow and arrow. Daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo.|
|Ares||Mars||God of war, violence, bloodshed and manly virtues. Symbols include the boar, serpent, dog, vulture, spear, and shield. Son of Zeus and Hera, all the other gods despised him except Aphrodite. His Latin name, Mars, gave us the word "martial."|
|Aphrodite||Venus||Goddess of love, pleasure, passion, procreation, fertility, beauty and desire. Symbols include the dove, bird, apple, bee, swan, myrtle, and rose. Daughter of Zeus and the Oceanid Dione, or perhaps born from the sea foam after Uranus' blood dripped into the sea after being castrated by his youngest son, Cronus, who then threw his father's genitals into the sea. Married to Hephaestus, although she had many adulterous affairs, most notably with Ares. Her name gave us the word "aphrodisiac", while her Latin name, Venus, gave us the word "venereal".[B]|
|Hephaestus||Vulcan||Master blacksmith and craftsman of the gods; god of the forge, craftsmanship, invention, fire and volcanoes. Symbols include fire, anvil, axe, donkey, hammer, tongs, and quail. Son of Hera, either by Zeus or alone. Married to Aphrodite, though unlike most divine husbands, he was rarely ever licentious. His Latin name, Vulcan, gave us the word "volcano."|
|Hermes||Mercury||Messenger of the gods; god of travel, commerce, communication, borders, eloquence, diplomacy, thieves and games. Symbols include the caduceus (staff entwined with two snakes), winged sandals and cap, stork, and tortoise (whose shell he used to invent the lyre). Son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. The second-youngest Olympian, just older than Dionysus.|
Most listings include either one or the other of the following deities as one of the twelve Olympians.
|Greek||Roman||Image||Functions and attributes|
|Hestia||Vesta||Goddess of the hearth, fire and of the right ordering of domesticity and the family; she was born into the first Olympian generation and was one of the original twelve Olympians. Some lists of the Twelve Olympians omit her in favor of Dionysus, but the speculation that she gave her throne to him in order to keep the peace seems to be modern invention. She is the first child of Cronus and Rhea, eldest sister of Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hera, and Zeus.|
|Bacchus||God of wine, the grape vine, fertility, festivity, ecstasy, madness and resurrection. Patron god of the art of theatre. Symbols include the grapevine, ivy, cup, tiger, panther, leopard, dolphin, goat, and pinecone. Son of Zeus and the mortal Theban princess Semele. Married to the Cretan princess Ariadne. The youngest Olympian god, as well as the only one to have a mortal mother.|
|Major Olympians' family tree |