The Original Six

As you've read, Cronus lost his power after being overthrown by his own children. With the defeat of Cronus, however, this family conflict ended. The children of Cronus united, dividing their realm among them. They agreed, however, that they needed a supreme ruler and unanimously chose Zeus. The following sections introduce the six original Olympian gods and goddesses.

The Brothers

After the fall of Cronus, his three sons — Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades — divided the dominions. To be fair, they drew lots. The three realms up for grabs were the heavens, the seas, and the land of the dead. (Mount Olympus would remain the realm of all the gods, with no one god having control.)

Zeus drew the heavens, which made him the ruler of the gods and the heavens both. Depictions of Zeus often show him as wearing a helmet, wielding one of his thunderbolts, and protected by the aegis (a breastplate or shield). He is also often accompanied by an eagle, an attendant that symbolizes his power.

Poseidon drew the seas as his realm. In the myths, Poseidon often appears as a violent god, associated with savage sea storms and earthquakes. He is depicted as tall with a long, flowing beard, and wielding his trident, which was one of the weapons made by the Cyclopes during the war against Cronus. He may be pictured with seashells or various kinds of sea creatures. Poseidon was also associated with horses; the ancients imagined rearing horses in the mighty waves that crashed into the shore.

Some myths say that Poseidon created or tamed the horse. He was said to give horses as gifts to those he favored, and his great chariot was drawn by horses or by monstrous horselike creatures.

The third brother, Hades, drew the Underworld, land of the dead. The Greek Underworld is not the same as the Christian concept of hell, nor was Hades considered evil or satanic. In Greek mythology, Hades appears as a loner uninterested in the world of the living. He is often depicted holding a key, signifying his status as the god who keeps the dead locked away from the world of the living. Like Poseidon, Hades was associated with horses; some myths say that Hades, not Poseidon, created the horse.

The Sisters

Zeus's sisters did not participate in the drawing of lots, but they had their own powers. The realms governed by Hera, Hestia, and Demeter were essential to an orderly universe.

Hera was the greatest of the Greek goddesses. As Zeus's sister and wife, she was queen of the heavens. Jealous and vindictive, Hera possessed both a quick temper and fearsome passion. She was the protector of wives, defender of marriage, and a goddess of childbirth. Her depictions emphasize her queenly stature: She appears as tall and stately, wielding a scepter. Her bird was the peacock.

Hestia, goddess of hearth and home, does not appear in many surviving myths. Despite this, she is thought to have been held sacred and worshiped in every ancient household. Hestia was closely associated with virginity.

Demeter's name means “Mother Earth.” Don't confuse her with Gaia, however. Gaia was Earth itself. Her granddaughter Demeter had dominion over the fruits of the earth, the power of fertility, and agriculture. Demeter loved to be close to the soil. Whereas her sister Hestia never left Mount Olympus, Demeter rarely stayed there, preferring to spend time on Earth. Demeter is often shown seated and may be depicted with a torch or sheaves of grain. Her bird was the crane, her animal the serpent.

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