Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks who portray their gods and heroes as dramatizing the nature of the world – all the strengths and weaknesses of the human experience – and were the literal cornerstones of their ritual practices. In ancient Greece these gods were a palpable part of religion and daily life . Some could be scary, to be sure, and when provoked displayed enormous rage, but Greek gods were also capable of gentle wisdom and guileless curiosity. And humor.
Feminine Power . . .
Athena the strong. With an echoing cry she sprang full-blown from the sacred head of Zeus. The sky shivered before her great strength. Athena was proof a father could father-forth without a mother – could anyone wonder that she instantly became his favorite? Athena represents the masculine essence in woman. The perpetual virgin, she honored the male in all ways except marriage and freed other women from the fear of entering a man’s domain. Athena was the only one allowed to know where Zeus’s lightning bolts were hidden and only she could use her father’s magic shield. She was above all else the goddess of civilization, a cultural weaver, which defines her combination of Reason and Necessity.
Beauty . . .
Apollo the fairest, son of Leto and Zeus, he appears as the perfect masculine figure, modern man’s ideal – and perhaps modern woman’s. Apollo’s essence is the personification of man’s highest intellectual and artistic aspirations. He is noble, reasonable and beautiful, the god of many things, including music, prophecy, reason, science and medicine, and finally the sun. His ultimate heroic act was killing the snake-dragon, Python. Plato called him a scholar in the school of love, yet due to his single-mindedness regarding moderation and discipline he was not comfortable with the intensities of love, instead expending much time in unsuccessful chases. First was Daphne, daughter of Peneus, then came Cassandra who also refused him. Then Sibyl. For their rebukes these women suffered consequences – not necessarily administered by Apollo, yet his pursuit was the ultimate cause of their misfortune. For all his outward beauty and reasonableness, he could not quell imposing his will on those he cared for rather than letting them “be themselves.”
Ultimate Mother . . .
Demeter is mother – earth mother, elemental mother, raging, grieving, adoring, clinging mother. Grain, especially corn, is her gift. But one cannot consider Demeter without seeing her daughter, Persephone, for most sculptures of one include the other and they gaze into each other’s eyes in a way that goes beyond mother-daughter love. “Every mother contains her daughter in herself, and every daughter her mother, and every woman extends backward into her mother and forward into her daughter.” The myth of Demeter and Persephone is one of the richest and most profound in all Greek mythology, whereby Demeter, earth mother and fertility goddess, is transformed into the goddess of the highest mysteries of man’s nature. After the transformation Persephone can only spend one-third of the year with her mother, but in each early spring her return brings the blush of new growth to the fields and hills.
The One . . .
Zeus is the first, Zeus is the last, Zeus is the sun and moon, Zeus is the beginner of all things, the god with the dazzling lightning. “For he has hidden all things within himself, and brought them forth again, into joyful light, from his sacred heart, working miracles.” Orpheus and his followers worshipped Zeus as “the breath of all things.” With his ability to integrate all powers in him, Zeus comes closest to The One, the ideal in whom many are reconciled, the highest example in which the tensions of opposing forces is resolved. When followers of the Orphic mysteries went on to exalt the supreme god that permeates us all, they called him Zeus.
The Loner . . .
Artemis (Diana) the solitary. The essential Artemisian passion is a longing for freedom, to be eternally feral and aloof from all entanglements. She is huntress, dancer, the goddess of nature and wildness, a virgin physically and psychologically, belonging to no one, confined by no bond. She is Apollo’s twin and her birth immediately established her power. Born first, easily, and when only a few moments old, she became her mother’s midwife to assist over nine agonizing days the birth of her brother (are you getting the idea Apollo’s main quest was to torture women?). Though remote and unapproachable Artemis, mercurial queen of solitude, is at the same time loveable, gentle, and protector of childbirth.
One With The Ocean . . .
Poseidon is the god of oceans, horses and earthquakes and was perhaps the most invoked of all the gods by the seafaring Greeks. Poseidon embodies two age-old symbols: water represents in man infinite mysteries and possibilities – and infinite dangers of our fluid consciousness; the horse personifies in its primitive potency instinctive drives within our raw nature. Homer speaks of Poseidon: “ . . . the illustrious shaker of the earth. Underneath his majestic self-contained dignity the god of earthquakes and storms embodies the infinite possibilities of our fluid consciousness, but also the turbulence and the dangers unleashed when the forces slumbering under the surface of consciousness erupt.”
Her Symbol is the Swan . . .
Aphrodite is the goddess of Love and Beauty, both heavenly and earthly. It is said that she bubbled up out of the sea foam, and floated on a gentle breeze to the sacred island of Cyprus. The wife of Hephaestus and the mother of Cupid, Aphrodite is best known as the goddess of passionate love that refuses to be tied down, the female force that men can’t do without or forget. She is also the goddess of potions and lore and aphrodisiac drink and food, and it was said she could lure even Zeus away from business. She loved Adonis totally and painfully mourned his death. Eros became her son with Ares, her secret lover. When Eros and Psyche (Soul) united, Aphrodite imposed a condition that caused Eros to flee. Yet when Psyche completed the difficult tasks Aphrodite demanded of her, the goddess arranged the wedding of her son and Psyche, and at the feast Zeus sponsored after the ceremony Aphrodite danced before all the gods. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus was inspired by Aphrodite and Helen was believed to be her earthly embodiment.