The Olympian Gods and Hades
in order of their birth in the Theogony

There is a vast amount of material on the WWW about the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, much of which is inaccurate.

What I've directed you to below represents a small selection of images and other material designed to orient you quickly and accurately in the Olympian pantheon. There are fourteen divinities listed below: Hades, god of the Underworld, is not strictly speaking an Olympian, and Hestia and Dionysus generally alternate in catalogues of the canonical twelve Olympians.

In Athens, at the "altar of the twelve Olympians," the divinities worshipped were: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Hermes, and Hestia (rather than Dionysus; see Herodotus 6.108.4 and note 6). This is the order in which the divinities are discussed below, with Dionysus added after Hestia, and Hades appended at the end.

The links are derived principally from two web sites: (1) the catalogue of vases on Perseus and (2) Carlos Parada's Greek Mythology Link, a site on which you can explore all the myths associated with each of the divinities, including variant stories about their births, exploits, etc.

There are also useful collections of images of the Olympian divinities on the University of Haifa Mythology in Western Art site and on Laurel Bowman's Olympian Gods site, which is part of her project, Classical Myth: The Ancient Sources (University of Victoria). Most of the images listed on Bowman's site link either to the Perseus or Haifa sites, although there are some put up by her.

Olympians. Drawing by Nicolas-André Monsiau 1754-1837 on the Greek Mythology Link

Zeus

Zeus's title, "father of gods and men," refers to his power and authority, rather than his genealogical relationship to the other Olympians. As we noted in discussing Iliad Book I, traditions of power conflicts between Zeus and the other gods are preserved in that poem and in some other works of archaic literature.

The principal attribute of Zeus' power is the thunderbolt, shown here (London E 313; Attic red figure amphora; late archaic [470-460 bce).
The principal sign of Zeus' authority is the eagle, king of birds, with which he (probably) appears on this Laconian black figure cup (Louvre E 668; high archaic [560-550 bce]).

In vase paintings, Zeus appears often giving birth to Athena from his head.

Otherwise, he is represented principally in connection with the goddesses and mortal women whom he pursued and from whom a variety of heroes were born. For example, here are vases showing Zeus' pursuit of: (1) a woman (Attic red figure amphora; Birmingham 57.263; late archaic [500-490 bce]), and (2) the nymph Aegina (Boston 01.8077, Attic Red Figure, Lekythos; classical period [450-440 bce]; Boston 03.817, Attic Red Figure, Calyx krater; classical period [450-440 bce]).

Belonging to this same category is Zeus' pursuit of the boy Ganymede, whom he transports to Olympos to become the cupbearer of the gods. On this Attic red figure Nolan amphora (Boston 10.184; early classical [470 bce]) he is shown pursuing Ganymede; transcript of pursuit; and on this Attic red figure kylix (Malibu 84.AE.569; late archaic [480 bce]) Ganymede is shown serving as cupbearer to Zeus. On the exterior of this same vase Zeus is shown pursuing Ganymede.

On this Attic Red Figure Kantharos (Boston 95.36; late archaic period [490-470 bce]), Zeus pursues Ganymede on one side, and Aegina on the other.

Zeus' interest in mortals is pretty much confined to his protection of his son Herakles against the wrath of Hera; on this vase (Louvre G 192, Attic Red Figure, Stamnos; late archaic [480-470 bce]), Zeus (holding a thunderbolt) dispatches Hermes and Iris to aid Herakles; on the other side of the same vase the infant Herakles grapples with two snakes in the presence of Athena, of his alarmed mortal father Ampitryon, and of his mother Alkmene, who protects his twin brother Iphikles.

Zeus from Otricoli. 3C AD on the Greek Mythology Link

Zeus Album of images on the Greek Mythology Link

Hera

Hera appears in vase paintings in a variety of contexts: with Herakles, her traditional nemesis; among the other Olympians; in scenes of the judgement of Paris; at her wedding to Zeus; and, sometimes, in solitary splendor, as on the first vase described below.

Hera is seated on a throne, holding a scepter and phiale; a falcon (rather than the more traditional peacock) is perched on the back of the throne. Attic red figure lekythos of the late archaid period (500-475 bce); overview; RISD 25.078.

Here is Hera at the Judgement of Paris, shown holding a Nike (Victory) in her left hand; overview with Athena behind Hera, and Aphrodite (carrying a small lion) behind Athena; Paris is seated on the right, and Hermes leads the goddesses before him. Attic red figure cup of the classical period (440 bce); Berlin F 2536.

Other judgements of Paris (in chronological order):
Attic black figure amphora; archaic (520 bce); Munich 1392; from left: goddesses (Athena in the middle), Hermes, Paris
Attic black figure hydria; archaic (520-510 bce); Munich 1722; from left: goddesses (Athena in the middle), Hermes, Paris
Attic black figure neck amphora; archaic (510); Würzburg L 186; goddesses in the traditional order: Hera first (nearest to Paris), Athena second, Aphrodite third, Hermes and Paris on the right
Boeotian black figure kantharos; late archaic (500-480 bce); Würzburg L 466; from left: Paris, Hermes, Hera, Athena (head missing), Aphrodite around the other side of the cup
Attic red figure hydria; early classical; London E 178; from left: Aphrodite, Athena, Hera, Paris
Attic red figure hydria; late classical (320 bce); Munich 2439; drawing; Paris in the center, Aphrodite with Eros to his left, Athena to his right, Hera on same level to right

The wedding scene on this vase is thought to represent the marriage of Zeus and Hera, who stand together in a chariot and are faced by three goddesses (Horai [Hours] or Charites [Graces]); detail of Zeus and Hera; Attic black figure tripod kothon; high archaic period (570-565 bce); Louvre CA 616; one of the other scenes on this same vase depicts the judgement of Paris (the three goddesses on the left; Hermes in the center; Iris to his right; Paris on the far right)

Hera Ludovisi. 5th C BC on the Greek Mythology Link

Poseidon

Poseidon and Amphitrite Yale vase

Poseidon and Amphitrite. Painting by Jan Gossaert (1478-1532) on the Greek Mythology Link

Demeter

In vase paintings, Demeter is commonly depicted with Persephone and Hekate (as in the vase on the Daughters of Demeter web site), or else with Triptolemos, the young boy to whom, in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the goddess gives a chariot of winged dragons and a shaft of wheat, and whom she sends forth to distribute the gift of agriculture all over the world. On this Attic red figure hydria of the early classical period (480-40 bce), Triptolemus is seated in his chariot and Demeter pours a libation for him; to his left is Persephone, and Hekate is depicted on the right behind Demeter (London E 183).

The same scene is represented on this late archaic skyphos (490-480 bce), except that here Persephone pours the farewell libation and Demeter stands to the left, behind the chariot,which is powered by winged dragons. (London E 140).

And here is a similar scene on a famous high classical (440-430 bce) relief sculpture known as "The Great Eleusinian Relief" (Athens, NM 126). Persephone is on the left, Demeter on the right, but the boy between them is probably Ploutos ("Wealth") rather than Triptolemus, and Demeter may be receiving grain from him rather than giving it to him. Link here to the discussion of this relief on Perseus.

Demeter from Cnidos (Marble ca. 340 BC) and Hades abducts Persephone (1621-22; After marble group by Gian Lorenzo Bernini at Galleria Borghese in Rome) on the Greek Mythology Link

Apollo

Apollo often appears in the company of his sister Artemis on vases (see also under Artemis); he is also often shown in the company of one or more Muses, or struggling with Herakles for the tripod, which Herakles attempted to carry off from Apollo's shrine at Delphi.

On this Attic red figure Panathenaic amphora of the archaic period (500 bce), Apollo pursues Herakles, who is carrying the tripod on the other side of the vase; detail of Apollo's head; Würzburg L 500.
More often, Apollo and Herakles struggle vigorously over the tripod, either alone, as on this vase (Attic red figure kylix; archaic [525 bce]; Munich 2590), or in the presence of onlookers, as on this vase, where Artemis rushes forward to help her brother and Athena watches on the left (Attic red figure belly amphora; archaic [500 bce]; London E 255).

On this Attic black figure neck amphora of the late archaic period (490 bce) Apollo is playing his lyre (kithara) between columns with cocks on them; Würzburg L 222.

On this Attic red figure pelike of the classical period (430 bce) Apollo is shown with a Muse, who holds a lyre in her right hand; Munich 2362. And you may recognize this representation of Apollo revealing himself to an amused Muse on Mt. Helikon from the Paper Topics page; it is from the cover of an Attic red figure kylix of the early classical period (450 bce; Boston 00.356), .

On this Attic black figure hydria of the archaic period (430-520 bce) Apollo stands in the center, playing his lyre, and faces his mother Leto; Artemis is behind him, and Hermes is on the far left; Poseidon is on the far right; Toledo 1956.70.

Apollo and Artemis sacrificing together; Apollo on side A is shown with his lyre, pouring a libation; Artemis appears on side B, with her quiver and a pitcher (oinochoe); Attic red figure Nolan amphora; early classical (475-450 bce); Philadelphia MS5465.

Roman statue by Apollonius on the Greek Mythology Link

Artemis

Artemis on vases often appears together with her brother Apollo or alone with a fawn, whom she sometimes nurtures and sometimes attacks.

On this Lucanian red figure volute krater of the classical period (430-400 bce), for example, Apollo and Artemis face each other; to their left is Hermes; to their right is their mother Leto; detail of Artemis; detail of Leto (Malibu 85.AE.101).

On this Attic red figure oinochoe of the classical period (440 bce) Apollo and Artemis are sacrificing at an altar together (Malibu 86.AE.236).

The same scene appears on an Attic red figure neck amphora of the early classical period (475-450 bce), where Apollo is shown holding his lyre, and Artemis holds her bow and arrows; Philadelphia MS5466.

Artemis bends forward to embrace a fawn who jumps up toward her; her bow and quiver are hung up behind her; Attic red figure white ground lekythos; early classical (480-470 bce); Mississippi 1977.3.117.

Artemis attacking a fawn and brandishing a torch in her right hand; Attic red-figure pelike of 370 bce (London E 432); Zeus observes the scene on the left; Apollo watches from the right; and Nike (Victory) touches Artemis' head in the center.

"Diana of Versailles", Roman marble copy after original from end of 4C - early 3C BC on the Greek Mythology Link

Hephaestus

Hephaestus on vases appears often as a foundry god--helping to fashion Pandora, assisting at the birth of Athena, or making new armor for Achilles.

On this Attic red figure white ground kylix of unknown date (London D 4), for example, Hephaestus stands on Pandora's right, holding his hammer in his left hand, and Athena is shown to Pandora's left. And there are several representations of Hephaestus assisting at the birth of Athena on the Birth of Athena on Black-Figure Vases Page; see especially the red-figure vase third from the bottom, where Hephaestus looks up in surprise as Athena emerges from Zeus' head--and link here to a color detail of the same vase on Perseus (Attic red figure pelike; early classical [470-460 bce]; London E 410). And here is a drawing of Hephaestus fashioning Achilles' armor in the presence of Thetis (Attic red figure Nolan amphora; late archaic (480 bce); Boston 13.188).

One of the other major contexts in which Hephaestus appears on vases is on the occasion of his "return to Olympus" after he was cast out by either Hera after his birth (as reported by Pausanias), or by Zeus when he came to the rescue of Hera (as reported by Homer and Apollodorus). He was rescued either by the Lemnians, on whose island he landed, or by Thetis, when he landed in the sea. When he returned, he was accompanied by the god Dionysus, and is usually shown riding on a donkey in the company of Dionysus and/or Dionysus' satyrs.

Link here to this is a great return of Hephaestus scene

Venus in Vulcan's workshop. Painting by Gaetano Gandolfi, 1734-1802 on the Greek Mythology Link

Athena

 

Reconstruction of a lost bronze group from Acropolis on the Greek Mythology Link

Athena album of images on the Greek Mythology Link

Ares

 

Ares Borghese. 420 BC on the Greek Mythology Link

Aphrodite

Aphrodite in vase-paintings is commonly shown in the company of the gods, in wedding-scenes, at the judgement of Paris (see below, under Hera), or as a presence at the variety of seductions and rapes that she sponsored.

On this Attic red figure amphoriskos of the classical period (430 bce) Helen is sitting on Aphrodite's lap, and the goddess has her arm around Helen; behind Helen stands Peitho, the goddess of Persuasion. On the other side of the vase a naked boy representing Himeros ("Desire") grasps Paris by the arm. (Berlin inv. 30036)

Aphrodite can also be seen at work among the gods on this vase, a loutrophoros of the late classical period (350-301 bce), where she is represented with Zeus in a palace, and with a winged Eros sitting on her arm; below them, Zeus approaches an apparently eager Leda in the guise of a swan; whole vase side A showing the relation between the two scenes. In mythology, Leda subsequently gave birth to an egg from which Helen and Polydeuces (one of the Dioscouri) were born. (Malibu 86.AE.680)

Venus with the Apple by B. T. Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) on the Greek Mythology Link.

Aphrodite Album of images on the Greek Mythology Link

Hermes

Hermes is the son of Zeus and Maia (the daughter of Atlas) and a god of exchanges and transitions: legitimate exchange (trade and messages), illegitimate exchange (thievery), and transitions to and from Olympus and the mortal realm, and to and from the mortal realm and the Underworld.

In the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, he is called a thief, a cattle rustler, and a conductor of dreams. In that poem, Hermes deceives his brother Apollo by stealing his cattle and then driving them backwards to confuse pursuit.

Hermes on vases is depicted as a traveler, wearing, like mortals, a travelling cap and cape, along with the divine attrribute of winged sandals or boots, and a herald's staff. For example, here he is represented in a departure scene (Worcester 1956.83, Attic Black Figure, Neck amphora); and here by himself (Yale 1913.133, Attic Red Figure, Nolan amphora). And here he is paired with Iris, who is, like Hermes, a messenger of the gods, but who is not, like the god, a psychopomp (conductor of souls to the Underworld). Detail of Iris. Detail of Hermes. (Mississippi 1977.3.82, Attic Red Figure, White Ground, Lekythos)

Head of Hermes Ludovisi from 2C AD, after an Attic model from 5C BC on the Greek Mythology Link

Hestia

Hestia is not frequently depicted in vase paintings, but on the exterior of this Attic red figure kylix of the archaic period (500 bce) representing Herakles entering Olympus, she is part of the company of gods who welcome the hero. Hestia is seated, veiled, and has her arm around Amphitrite, a daughter of Ocean (Oceanid) who became the wife of Poseidon; to their right is Hermes; to their left is one of the Horai (Hours); overview of scene. (Berlin F 2278)

Hestia Giustiniani, Roman statue on the Greek Mythology Link

Dionysus

transcript of vase representing his birth from Zeus' thigh (Boston 95.39; Attic red figure lekthos; early classical [bce]); whole vase

birth from Semele

Roman copy of Greek original from 4C BC and Silenus and the child Dionysus (Copy of a statue from 310-300 BC) on the Greek Mythology Link

Album of Dionysus images on the Greek Mythology Link

Hades

When Hades is depicted on vases, he is usually either in the company of the gods, or shown together with Persephone, as on these vases:

Apulian red figure volute krater of the late classical period (Malibu 77.AE.13) showing Hades and Persephone as king and queen of the underworld

Drawing of the central scene on an Apulian red-figure vase of the late classical period (Munich 3927), showing Hades and Persephone as king and queen of the underworld

Drawing of Roman statue and Hades abducting Persephone(Engraving from 1732) on the Greek Mythology Link