An Overview of Ancient Greek Goddesses

As with all polytheistic peoples the ancient Greeks worshipped a wide variety of gods and goddesses. Each of these multiple gods and goddesses generally had their specific areas of responsibilities.  Most gods would handle “masculine” activities such as war, protection and trade, whereas most goddesses had responsibilities for “feminine” activities such as child birth and the household.

Throughout the long history of the Greek people in ancient times they were perfectly willing to “induct” foreign deities into their pantheon and also as different waves of invaders such as the Doric speakers moved into Greece proper they also simply adopted the gods or goddesses of the locals and blended them into a wide spread pantheon of diverse deities. One cogent theory is that the Doric Greeks worshipped male deities that represented natural elements, like Zeus the lightening thrower or Poseidon the Earth-shaker and also protected the tribe, whereas the earlier inhabitants worshipped fertility and moon goddesses. Thus the Olympian pantheon is a blending of these two traditions; along with deities borrowed from other cultures, such as Leto and Apollo.

Hera is queen of the gods, wife and sister to Zeus. Her main responsibilities seem to be women in general and marriage. This is a bit ironic, as it seems she was reluctant to marry Zeus and of course he was never a faithful husband.  Hera is one of the goddess that was added to the Classical Greek pantheon, originally being the protective city goddess of Argos, Sparta and Mycenae.

Athena is the goddess of wisdom, defensive war, patroness of the city of Athens and goddess of weaving and other home crafts as well. She was said to have sprung fully grown from Zeus’ head.  Her position as Patroness of Athens shows that she like Hera was an incorporated goddess.

Demeter is the goddess of the harvest and is associated with fertility and agriculture.  She is one of the original fertility goddesses and was worshipped long before she was adopted into the Olympians.

Artemis is another of the pre-Greek goddesses adopted by the Greeks. She is the goddess of the hunt and wilderness and also virginity.  She is often portrayed as the twin sister of Apollo, which could mean her original cultic center was in Asia Minor just as Apollo’s was.

Aphrodite is the goddess of love, sex and female beauty. She is a late addition to the pantheon and even the Early Classical Greeks were aware of her foreign origins by making her birth place Cyprus.  There were many other goddesses worshipped by the Greeks, such as Leto and Selene. These goddesses were generally borrowed from Asia and were representatives of fertility or moon goddesses.

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