Ares, the god of war, was probably in his origin, a Thracian divinity. He is the embodi ment of the wild rage of battle, and as such is represented by Homer as bawling and bluster ing, a character which he never lost in later story.
Aphrodite was the goddess of sexual love, whether legitimate or not. She had irresistible power over gods and men alike. Wedded to Hephestus, she herself had slight regard for her marriage vows, but had many amours, the most famous being those with Ares and with Anchises, the father of the hero of the There can be little doubt that Aphrodite came to Greek lands at some remote period from Phoenicia, for many of her functions and at tributes were identical with those of Astarte or Ishtar. Aphrodite's attendant son, Eros, is not mentioned in Homer, but in Hesiod he ap pears associated with her, although he is there regarded as of independent origin.
The god of fire was Hephestos, the handi craftsman of Olympus, who wrought many wondrous works for gods and favored princes. He was the teacher of the Cyclops and the pat ron of smiths. He appears somewhat as the butt of the other Olympians, apparently because of his lameness. This affliction was due, ac cording to one account, to the hasty act of his father Zeus, who in a fit of anger, seized him by the foot and threw him out of heaven. An other, perhaps older, tradition made him the illegitimate son of Hera, who believing him a weakling cast him out at his birth.
Poseidon, the brother of Zeus, had as his realm the sea and all other waters. As lord of the ocean he was also supporter of the earth, which he rocked by stirring his element. He was furthermore the creator of the first horse and hence the patron of horses and of horse manship.
Hermes is the herald and messenger of the gods in the Homeric epics. For example he car ries from Zeus to Calypso the order to let Ulysses go, and he escorts Priam safely to the Greek camp that he may ransom Hector's body. He also conducts the shades of the dead to Hades or brings them back to earth. Many myths deal with his character as the patron of thieves and the giver of wealth. It is said that in his earliest infancy he invented the lyre, which he presented to Apollo in atonement for the theft of 50 cattle. In his function as herald he became the god of oratory, and indeed of all speech; as protector of high roads, he was the god of the traveler and merchant; and he was also patron of athletic contests.
Hades, the second brother of Zeus, presided over the realm of the dead, but his cult never obtained any great prominence in Greece, and few tales were told of him in post-Homeric legends. Persephone became his bride.
the god of all life, especially of plant life. In Homer he has not yet been admitted to Olympus, but many myths are re ferred to showing the opposition which was offered to the establishment of his worship. In fact this god was of Thracian or Phrygian origin and only gradually made his way into Greece, being first domiciled at Athens possibly as late as the 8th century B.C. In a common myth Dionysus appears as the son of Zeus and a mortal, Semele. At his birth his mother was consumed by lightning but the babe was sewn into the thigh of Zeus, whence he was reborn to be reared by the nymphs on Mount Nisa. The functions of this divinity were varied. As a god of vegetation, under the name of Zagreus, he was said to have been torn in pieces by the Titans and then to have been revived; thus he became by his rebirth a warrant of human im mortality, and as such played an important role in the Orphic religion. The spread of the wor ship of Dionysus across the seas is celebrated by the legend that Tyrrhenian pirates once seized the young god and attempted to bear him away in their ships, but he burst his bonds and, when his captors refused to believe him a god for the miracles he worked, he changed them all into dolphins. A later series of myths told of his travels to India. Out of the songs and dances in honor of Dionysus devel oped the dithyramb and both tragedy and comedy.
Demeter was principally the goddess of the tilled soil and especially the giver of grain to men; and since well being and good social order depend on agricultural prosperity, she became the giver of wealth and of laws. Persephone, who was obviously a parallel to Demeter, in myth was the latter's daughter and was stolen away by Hades to be his bride. Demeter wan dered in the guise of an old woman over the earth mourning until she came to Eleusis, where she was kindly received by the king's daughters and established as nurse to the king's son. When she was discovered in her attempts to make the child immortal by repeated baptisms of fire, she revealed herself and ordered a tem ple to be bulit in her honor. Yet in her sorrow over her daughter she kept back the gifts of earth, so that men began to die, until Zeus com manded Hades to allow Persephone to return for two-thirds of the year to her mother. Then Demeter established her rites, the Eleu sinian mysteries, which developed from an agri cultural festival into one of the most potent Greek religious festivals.