Mythology For Dummies
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The predominant mythologies handed down through the ages are those of the Greeks and Romans. The Greek mythology names and the Roman mythology names of each culture include gods and goddesses who interacted with humans, with good, bad, and indifferent motives.

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Zeus throwing lightning

Zeus (a Greek god) is depicted here throwing lightning. However, the Romans would assume this was a depiction of Jupiter, the king of gods.

The Greek mythology names of the gods and goddesses varied from the Roman names, although each culture ascribed to deities with comparable powers and spheres of influence. The following table shows those areas and the names of the important deities in each mythology:

Greek and Roman Mythology Names

Greek Name Roman Name Description
Zeus Jupiter King of Gods
Hera Juno Goddess of Marriage
Poseidon Neptune God of the Sea
Cronos Saturn Youngest son of Uranus, Father of Zeus
Aphrodite Venus Goddess of Love
Hades Pluto God of the Underworld
Hephaistos Vulcan God of the Forge
Demeter Ceres Goddess of the Harvest
Apollo Apollo God of Music and Medicine
Athena Minerva Goddess of Wisdom
Artemis Diana Goddess of the Hunt
Ares Mars God of War
Hermes Mercury Messenger of the Gods
Dionysus Bacchus God of Wine
Persephone Proserpine Goddess of Underworld
Eros Cupid God of Love
Gaia Gaea Goddess of Earth
Besides the gods and goddesses named here there were many other gods and immortals in Greek mythology.

The Greek mythology names of other gods include the goat-god Pan; Rhea, Cronos's sister and the mother of his children; Heracles, the son of a mortal and Zeus who had to earn his immortality; Ganymede, a beautiful prince that Zeus brought to Olympus to be his cup-bearer; and the four winds: Zephyrus, Eurus, Notus, and Boreas.

Like the Christian god, Jehovah, Zeus/Jupiter was considered the all-mighty father, but instead of being the father of man, he was the father of the lesser gods. Zeus actually was a third-generation god.

So, who were the first- and second-generation gods? Glad you asked. Gaia was the first goddess, also known as Mother Earth, and gave birth (with her son Uranus being the father) to the second-generation Titans. The Titans were led by Cronos or Saturn, and he seized power from Uranus. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are the sons of Cronos, and Zeus was considered primarily responsible for overthrowing his father.

The Olympians as teachers

Hera/Juno was his mate, although not the mother of all of his children. Zeus, Hera, and the other third-generation gods of Ancient Greece were Olympians; that is, they lived at the top of Mount Olympus, the highest peak in Ancient Greece, or a heaven in the skies. Sometimes, these gods intermingled with mortals, even falling in love and bearing children with mortal men and women.

Although modern man views these Greek gods and goddesses as creatures of mythology, remember that to the ancient Greeks, they were no less real than current beliefs in God or Buddha. With the passage of time, modern society has come to view the stories of the gods as metaphors for teaching lessons about behaviors and actions, although the gods and goddesses in Greek and Roman mythology exhibited many of the weaknesses and pettiness that modern man would never associate with deities.

One lesson that the Greek myths loved to teach was the lesson of hubris, or pride. Whenever a mortal (or god) exhibited hubris, thinking he or she was better than the gods, they inevitably would also experience a resulting tragedy. If one of the lesser gods started thinking he was more powerful than Zeus, then he, too, would be knocked down a peg or two. This type of metaphorical lesson continues in the stories of the Bible, Shakespearian tragedies, and even into modern literature and art.

Of course, the stories of these ancient gods were not just provided as a way to guide the behavior of men. Many of the myths explain various aspects of the world. Of course, there's a story about how the world was created, but there are also stories to explain things such as the changing of the seasons. Persephone or Proserpine (Zeus and Demeter's daughter in Greek mythology and Jupiter and Ceres's daughter in Roman mythology) was stolen by Hades or Pluto to be his queen in the underworld. Her mother, the earth goddess, was saddened by her loss and refused to fulfill her duties. A compromise was reached whereby Persephone would spend 4–6 months (depending on the version of the myth) with her mother, and the rest of the year in the underworld. Thus, when she is with Hades, the earth goddess refuses to fulfill her duties, resulting in fall and winter, but Persephone returns, resulting in spring and summer.

Parallels to Christianity and other modern religions

Every religion has a creation "myth," although those who currently practice a religion would argue that it isn't myth. Christianity has the story of God created the Heavens and the Earth, and the story of the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden. The Greeks actually had several creation myths including one involving an egg from which all planets, the Earth, and all creatures hatched.

It is interesting to note some other parallels. For example, Eve, the first woman in Christianity, was tempted into sin by the serpent and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As a punishment, Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden of Eden where they had everything they desired. In Greek mythology, the first woman is Pandora. Ring a bell? Pandora is tempted to open a forbidden box (jar in some versions) and brings chaos by releasing all the ills of the world.

The first humans were destroyed in a great flood sent by Zeus. The only survivors were one man, Deucalion, and his wife. Of course, this parallels the story of Noah and his ark.

Mount Olympus itself is often considered to be the Ancient Greek's version of Heaven, and Hades, named for the god who ruled the underworld, is the equivalent of the Christian's Hell.

Interested in other culture's mythologies?

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