Tag Archives: Demeter

Deities of Earth and Underworld

Chthonic in ancient Greek means “of the earth”, as opposed to the heavenly deities who lived in Olympus. These deities could be deities of the fertile earth, like agricultural deities, or else of the underworld. Heroes and the spirits of the dead were also considered chthonic.1

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The Melissae: bees and the goddess

A tablet in Linear B from Knossos reads:

To all the gods, honey
To the mistress of the labyrinth, honey.

The civilization at Knossos, on the island of Crete, preceded that of the Greeks. While it is hard to say exactly how much of the later Greek culture reflects that of the Cretans, both considered honey a gift worthy of the gods.

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Medusa, Rhiannon, Macha: the horse-goddess and her twins

The imagery of the Greek Gorgon can be traced back to Persian and Near Eastern art, but the myth of the beautiful Medusa seems to come from a different source. A story found in various forms in Greece, India, Ireland and Wales tells of a woman who either becomes a horse or has a strong equine connection, gives birth to twins and suffers greatly.

However, Demeter, Saranyu, Macha and Rhiannon are goddesses, while Medusa is considered a monster. Still, her story is so similar to these others that it obviously descends from the same Indo-European myth.

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Poseidon: top god?

There was a discussion recently on the Mythology Stack Exchange about whether Poseidon had been the first head of the Greek pantheon. It’s an interesting question….

You can argue this one in a number of ways. While the name Zeus is clearly Indo-European (one of the very few that is), the name Poseidon, along with his title Earth-Shaker, appears in Mycenean texts from very early times. On the Messenian coast, at least, he seems to have kept his status, and like Zeus he is the father of kings and heroes. (Indeed, the number of his offspring is second only to Zeus’.)

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Helios: He Who Gladdens Mortals

Helios, the Greek sun-god, doesn’t get much press. Compared to the oracle-god and plague-sender Apollo, he gets hardly any. I remember once watching Jeopardy with friends and being unable to convince anyone that Helios was the sun-god, not Apollo. (I was a bit disappointed in Alex Trebeck.)

The problem that Helios faces is that he is the sun; his name means “sun” and his role in Greek myth is to rise, shine and set every day. Unlike Apollo, he is too predictable to need buying-off. In the Odyssey, when his cattle are stolen Helios has to convince Zeus to raise a storm to punish the thieves. Apollo would’ve shot ’em full of arrows.

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Ceres: asteroid to dwarf planet

Status is a funny thing. When Pluto was relisted as a dwarf planet, it was definitely a demotion. For the former asteroid Ceres, however, it was a step up. What had been an unusually large asteroid has moved into a whole new league. This was a bit unfortunate for astrologers, as they had taken the four largest asteroids, all named for Classical goddesses, as a balancing-act for the male-dominated planets.

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