Before we start, do you know what Dodekatheon means? Once upon a time, there were 12 powerful gods that ruled the Universe, each of them controlling a certain part, after winning a war against the Titans. Each of the 12 gods protected people that glorified their supremacy. These gods are known in Greek Mythology as Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, Hephaestus, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Athena, Aphrodite, Ares and Dionysus. As the legends place them on Mount Olympus, the 12 Gods were called Olympians.
With religion playing a key role throughout history, it’s interesting to see how it applies to Mythology. In monotheism, the key element is praising a single god, while polytheism involves the faith and adoration of multiple ones. As polytheism applies to Greek Mythology, analysing what each god provided for the Universe is key in understanding the Dodekatheon, as a religious practice with Greek roots.
- Zeus the first god of the Dodekatheon.
Zeus, the absolute god, was the last born out of the six children of Cronos and Rhea. To make sure none of the children would steal the power from him, Cronos would eat each of them at the moment they were born. In order to save her youngest child, Rhea gave Cronos a stone wrapped in fabric, to resemble the newborn baby Zeus. Cronos fell in the trap and Zeus grew up under Amalthea’s protection, which is considered to be either a nymph or a goat. Zeus returned to revenge when he fully developed his skills and tricked Cronos into drinking a liquor, which made all his brothers and sisters escape the prison found in Cronos’ stomach.
Zeus made sure that people and other Gods apart from the Dodekatheon were respecting the divine law, on Earth and in Elysium, which was the Paradise, or the place of the blessed after death. Although he ruled the Universe, Zeus knew that destiny, life and death were stronger than himself. He also knew that force is not enough to keep the power. That’s why he consulted the other Gods in taking decisions. God of justice, Zeus taught people to respect the laws and if they misbehaved, he would apply the right punishment. Also, he played the role of the judge and solved conflicts, including those that occurred during the Trojan War.
His power was unmeasurable, using lightning, provoking thunder and storms. Although powerful and dreaded, Zeus was at core a hopeless romantic, as he was always in love with one beauty or another. Balance.
- Hera the loyal wife of Zeus and 2nd god from Dodekatheon.
Sister and loyal wife of Zeus, Hera was one of the greatest Olympian goddesses. She was the goddess of marriage and birth. During the war between Zeus and the Titans, Hera was given by her mother, Rhea, to Oceanus and Thethys. Later, she became the last wife of Zeus. At their wedding, celebrated in the Garden of the Hesperides, she received the golden apples.
Hera had 4 kids: Hephaestus, Ares, Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, and Hebe, the goddess of youth. Although protector of the married women, Hera herself had a hard time with her husband, Zeus, as he was always cheating and made her jealous. Hera took part in the Trojan War, on the side of Achaeans and against the Trojans.
- Demeter from the Dodekatheon.
Goddess of harvest, Demeter was the one that gave people the tools in wheat cultivation and grinding grain. She had a daughter, Kore, with Zeus. Growing up beautiful, Kore was noticed by Hades, the god of the dead, who later kidnapped her, with the help of Zeus.
Demeter, hurt and hopeless, tried to rescue her daughter with the help of many gods, among which Poseidon and Helios, but had no success. After a long time of hiding under the appearance of an old lady, she finally met Kore again, with the intervention of Zeus. Her daughter was no longer called like that, but Kore-Persephone, as she became Hades’ wife. To solve the fight between Demeter and Hades concerning the place that Kore belonged to, Zeus decided Kore (or Persephone) to live 6 months on Earth, and 6 next to her husband in Underworld. That’s why when Persephone, or the goddess of vegetation, spends the 6 months in Underworld, nothing ever flourishes: so, autumn and winter. But once she returns to her mother, spring arrives as well.
- Poseidon the 4th god of the Dodekatheon.
Dark and dreadful, Poseidon was the god of water, earthquakes and horses. He lived in a castle underwater, along with marine divinities, mermaids, tritons and horses. He protected the sailors, but sometimes started violent storms or earthquakes, using his trident. He was the rival of Athena in gaining supremacy over Athens.
In their contest, the Athenians promised to choose the protector that would give them the most useful gift: while Poseidon gave them a salty spring, Athena gave them an olive tree. Athena won the contest, and now the olive tree represents a symbol of peace and prosperity. Mad at his failure, Poseidon hit the earth with his trident, leaving a visible sign on the rock of the Acropolis.
- Hephaestus, as known as the God of Fire from the Dodekatheon.
God of fire, Hephaestus was the most hatred god. He was skilled in the craft of metals. In contrast to other gods, Hephaestus had a limp and was considered to be ugly. In the Illiad, Homer gives 2 possible interpretations. The first focuses on the fact that Zeus punished Hephaestus for supporting his mother in a fight she had with Zeus, therefore being exiled from Olympus. He fell into the void for a whole day, ultimately landing on Lemnos Island. That’s how he got the limp. The second interpretation given by Homer is that of Hera being ashamed of her child’s appearance. She threw him from Olympus before any god could see him, and he landed in the sea, where he was rescued and raised for 9 years by Tethys, learning the craft of metals.
- Apollo, the light of the Dodekatheon
God of light, music and poetry, Apollo was graceful, with long and wavy hair. However, he was unlucky in love, with both Daphne and Coronis.
He had a difficult birth. As his father was Zeus and his mother Leto, Hera was watching her permanently, out of jealousy. However, after 7 days from his birth, he started to learn music and poetry. With his chariot, Apollo headed to the Hyperboreans, giants living “beyond the North Wind”, and gave them summer and the warmth of the sun. He became the god of light. Later, at Delphi, where he wanted to create an Oracle, defeated Python, the serpent. To show gratitude, a temple has been built in Apollo’s honor, which is today known as the Temple of Apollo.
- Artemis the 7th god of the Dodekatheon.
Goddess of the hunt and chastity, Artemis was Apollo’s sister. Her father, Zeus, gave her a bow and arrows, and Pan, the god of the wild, gave her a pack of bad dogs.
She was the protector of women. Although newly born herself, she helped her mother, Leto, to give birth to Apollo. Artemis was known to revenge and make victims with her fury. At the same time, she liked to live in the forest and hunt. She was surrounded by nymphs and her sacre, loyal companion was a deer. She was also the protector of the Amazons, the warrior women who hunted in the same way as her.
- Hermes the messenger of the Dodekatheon
Son of Zeus, clever and sly, Hermes was the messenger of the gods and god of trade. He can be recognized by his helmet and winged sandals. Protector of thieves, shepherds and travelers, he was also the god of magic, of numbers, and the inventor of the alphabet. He created music, astronomy and gymnastics. But all these good deeds could be turned into slyness, when he became the protector of thieves, lie and stealing. He conducted the pass of the alive to the realm of the dead and sent the messages between the gods and humans.
- Athena the symbol of justice from the Dodekatheon.
War goddess blessed and favored by Zeus, Athena symbolizes justice. Courageous and capable, Athena took part in the fights against the giants, killing Pallas, one of the Titans, whose skin she took after his defeat, creating her armor. During the Trojan War, Athena supported the Achaeans, mostly because Trojan Paris never gave her the title of the most beautiful goddess, choosing Aphrodite instead. After all, women have their pride, even in Mythology.
Protector of the Athenians, Athena was chosen by her people and she never disappointed.
- Aphrodite the one who brings the love out of the Dodekatheon.
Goddess of beauty, love, fertility, and marriage, Aphrodite herself had many passionate affairs. Being the most beautiful, she was hatred by many goddesses, among which Athena and Hera. Her presence inspired grace, pleasure and love. The apple and the pomegranate were symbols associated to her. The dove was her favorite bird, and her plants, the rose and the myrtle, became symbols of love. Although married to Hephaestus, she had an affair with Ares, from which resulted the birth of Eros. The forbidden lovers were caught by Hephaestus and punished, but they managed to escape from Olympus.
- Ares the 11th god of the Dodekatheon
God of war, Ares loved blood and violence. He wasn’t appreciated neither by humans, nor by gods. But he managed to gain the love of Aphrodite. Their affair was spotted and report by Helios, the god of Sun.
Ares, although powerful and skilled, was not invincible. He was hurt multiple times, especially by Athena. He was also locked in a bronze vessel for 13 months because he killed one of Poseidon’s sons.
- Dionysus the last god of the Dodekatheon, as known as the god of wine.
Dionysus was a special god: wandering and seductive, he traveled the world but settled his cult at Thebes, his native place. God of wine and winemaking, he discovered the vine during his childhood, that he spent in the mountains. He initiated the Bacchanalia, a festivity where women danced dressed in animal skins. And most probably wine.
The Greek Mythology, complex as it is, cannot be entirely covered with all its details and connections. However, it’s important to know some of its aspects, to gain a clear outlook on Ancient Greek culture. If you liked the Dodekatheon post and helped you learn something new, share it and help others :).