about the characters of the Olympic Godheads
ZEUS, ruler of the heavens and the (surface) earth, is the guarantor of cosmic order. As father of the gods and all of humanity he is the authoritarian leader and determines the path. Nevertheless he shows numerous, all too human weaknesses, such as for example his countless love affairs. Often he is forced to choose a zigzag course to escape the rage of his wife Hera. This well-considered, yet seemingly arbitrary path, is often a diplomatic detour to show consideration for the circumstances involved. On the one hand both fatherly and diplomatic, on the other he can act mercilessly: relentless and unpredictable he strikes like a bolt of lightning – he is destructive but also creates new life.
The great earth goddess and protector of fertility DEMETER bears her brother Zeus a daughter: Persephone. Zeus promises Persephone as a wife to his brother Hades. This afflicts Demeter so strongly that she refuses humanity the fruits of the earth. Since Persephone has already eaten of the fruits of the kingdom of the dead, the daughter seems lost. A way out is negotiated wherein the daughter must remain in the empire of the dead for one third of each year, but may return to earth for the remainder of the year. The drama of the loss and retrieval of Persephone was celebrated every autumn in the Eleusinian mysteries – the transition between the kingdom of the dead and the earth, the dance in the round of spring’s life eruption through to wintry burial, the cycle of nature itself. Demeter is the symbolic fountain of renewal and the guarantor of eternal life and hope.
APOLLO, Artemis’ twin brother, stands for law and order, and peace. As the god of prophecy he presides over the Oracle of Delphi: it is in his name that sin is atoned for. More than any other deity he embodies the Greek ideal of radiant beauty. Yet his character is not without blemish: always intent on being the most beautiful and the best, he hurts those who insult his vanity. His occasionally merciless brutality suggests that he does not always create law and order by means of discretion and clever discernment. In spite of his beauty and numerous affairs, a fulfilled loving relationship eludes him. Like Artemis, his charisma affects gods and people alike, yet he does not allow anyone to get close to him.
ARES is the only son of Zeus and Hera. In the Iliad, the god of war and battle is ridiculed as a violent and boastful warrior. His only true pleasure is combat and the spilling of blood. A brutal cudgel, not caring which side it hits. His legs spread wide, he straddles the world with a sententious crest. He has no wife but numerous affairs – the best known being with Aphrodite, a strong contrast of characters and an eternal theme in art. The result of this liaison is the child Eros.
ATHENE, the goddess of wisdom and war, is the patron of art and science. The favourite daughter of Zeus was born directly from the skull of her father, clad completely in armour. Often shown as a maiden warrior, she is guided by reason. Her rational and introverted nature makes her seem unapproachable and reserved. As the guardian of knowledge she possesses essential insights and knows of their internal structures, which she holds and protects in herself as a pattern. As the goddess of the arts of women, weaving and spinning are under her patronage.
The blacksmith god HEPHAISTUS is conceived by Hera alone. Horrified by his disfiguring clubfoot, she flings him from Mount Olympus after birth. Perhaps Hera was dismayed by her own action – the parthenogenous conception – since she bore a disfigured child. Unwanted by the gods, Hephaistus is assigned the role of the outsider and ignoble bastard. He makes a virtue out of his necessity and wins himself a place on Mount Olympus by his craftsman’s virtuosity as a blacksmith god. His expulsion is followed by a meteoric rise, since he becomes indispensable to the gods’ world. Nevertheless, even if he can maintain his place, he always remains the soot-smeared craftsman.
As ruler of the seas and waterways POSEIDON, more than any other god, embodies the components of violence. He is often irritable and vengeful, unleashing his power in the raging of sea storms. He lives in a palace under the sea and traverses the oceans in his chariot at unbelievable speed. If Poseidon was involved in a fight, the earth shook and Hades feared that the vault of the underworld would collapse. Poseidon’s character can be found in the shape of a wave which breaks with uncontrollable strength and flattens everything in its path. As fast as the wave towers up, just as quickly can it dissolve and disperse – storm or stagnation, depending on Poseidon’s mood.
HERA is the wife and sister of Zeus and a ruler in heaven. As the protector of marriage and birth she represents women’s life cycle, a combination of maidenly and womanly elements. Zeus often prefers other women; she, however, remains virtuous, whilst scheming behind his back against potential rivals. With the power of a whirlwind she inflicts her domineering, quarrelsome ways and often intransigent hatred upon her opponents. She seems light of foot, hovering above all things yet she suffers at the same time from the heaviness of her load. Again and again she revolves around her own axis, which hinders her from moving forward. Nevertheless, she possesses a sensitive and vulnerable soul which she only protects by indulging in all too impulsive actions.
ARTEMIS, daughter of Zeus and twin sister of Apollo, is the goddess of hunting and archery. She is seen as the protector of wild animals and roams through nature as a chaste huntress. In her nymph-like appearance she can certainly seem enchanting and attractive to men, however she punishes all who come near her. She brings death to any man who wishes to rob her of her self-elected chastity, and to any of her companions who break her imposed vows. For Artemis, lovemaking is an act of female weakness. In control at all times, she finds her fulfilment in the extensive hunting of
`stags´, thus possibly denying herself the enjoyment of (true) femininity.
Rising from the sea in perfect form APHRODITE, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility, possesses the power to instil feelings of love and lechery in almost all the deities. She aids mortal lovers, helping partners to find one another. As the embodiment of sensual passion, seduction and irresistibility she has numerous affairs and often cuckolds her husband, the blacksmith god Hephaistus. According to Zeus’ will she must however fall in love with a mortal since she has too often japed at the immortals. Hera, Athene and Aphrodite lay equal claim to the title of the most beautiful goddess. Paris, the most beautiful man, is ordered by Zeus to pass judgement. He gives Aphrodite the prize because she has promised him the love of the most beautiful mortal woman.
HERMES, son of Zeus and his messenger,is the protector of travellers, shepherds and merchants, but also of thieves and scoundrels. He leads the dead to Hades’ empire. He clears stones out of the traveller’s path and brings good fortune to the merchants. By cunning and craftiness he manages not only to gain the upper hand on the great Apollo himself but even to assure that in the end all parties are satisfied and ready to swear everlasting friendship. The wing-sandaled god is able to change location as he pleases with an elegant loop, moving fleet-footed from the upper world to the underworld. Merchants and thieves alike also need to turn elegant loops in order to attain what they desire.
According to the best known genealogy DIONYSUS, the god of wine and fertility, was
born from Zeus’ thigh and brought up as a girl. Dionysus is a strange figure endowed with explosive power, which also makes him the lascivious god of wine and ecstasy. His cult and the attendant ecstatic rites promised redemption. In the Late Hellenistic world Dionysus was finally established as the ruling deity. Hestia relinquished her place on Mount Olympus to Dionysus – this describes mythologically the change of society at that time to a patriarchy.