The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology

By Robin Hard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE

THE YOUNGER OLYMPIAN GODS AND GODDESSES

The great Olympian deities who remain to be considered were all of younger birth than Zeus and the other children of Kronos, with the possible exception of Aphrodite. Zeus fathered three divine sons soon after his rise to power, Hephaistos and Ares by his wife Hera (unless she brought Hephaistos to birth without his involvement, see p. 79), and Apollo by his cousin Leto as the twin brother of Artemis; and he completed the Olympian family during the heroic era by fathering Hermes and Dionysos through liaisons with mortal women. As a radiant god of prophecy, music and healing, Apollo was the most exalted of these younger Olympian gods, and we will start with him accordingly before passing on to the children of Zeus’ marriage. The deities who came to be classed as children of Zeus and Hera were of diverse origin and not of the very highest status; their daughters Hebe and Eileithuia cannot even be included in the present company as Olympian deities of the first rank. Of their sons, Hephaistos was something of an outsider among the Olympians, not only because he laboured as a manual worker in his function as the divine blacksmith, but also because he was partially deformed; and even if war, which was the special concern of his brother Ares, was not regarded as being ignoble in itself, Ares was a vicious and bloodthirsty god who delighted in mayhem and slaughter for their own sake, and was consequently not viewed with much respect by either gods or mortals. The two late-born Olympians, Hermes and Dionysos, were gods of idiosyncratic character, Hermes a divine trickster and messenger who was much concerned with boundaries and their transgression, and Dionysos a god of wine and ecstasy.

Zeus brought his dearest child, Athena, to birth from his own head after swallowing her mother Metis; and he fathered Artemis by the goddess Leto as the twin brother of Apollo. Both were virgin goddesses who enjoyed active pursuits, Athena as a warrior-goddess and city-goddess who was a patroness of arts and manufactures, and Artemis as a divine huntress who had no love for armies and cities but preferred to roam through the untamed countryside with her attendant nymphs. If Aphrodite was born from the sea-foam that surrounded the severed genitals of Ouranos as in the standard account derived from Hesiod (see p. 194), she was the first-born of the Olympian gods; or if she was of more conventional birth as the daughter of Zeus and Dione, as is suggested by Homer, she belonged to the

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