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Mythology Notes on Characters

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Mythology Major Characters

Zeus (Jupiter): Son of Cronus, overthrew his father to free his five siblings and rule the gods. Wielding the thunderbolt, he is the most powerful of all the gods, but he is by no means invincible. On many occasions Zeus must bow to fate. He produces many other gods through his infidelity and causes much conflict with his wife Hera. Mortals hold Zeus in the highest esteem of all the gods. As society developed, Zeus also came to bear attributes of Themis, what is right, and Dike, justice, both of which were once personified as goddesses. He bears the aegis, his bird is the eagle and his tree is the oak.

Hera (Juno): Wife and sister of Jupiter, daughter of Cronus. She is a protector of marriage and often a goddess of childbirth. Her role in mythology is usually that of the jealous wife punishing the women with whom Zeus has sex. Her jealousy of Aphrodite causes her aggressive involvement in the Trojan War. In the tale of the Golden Fleece, she protects men. Cows and peacocks are sacred to her. Her favorite city is Argos.

Poseidon (Neptune): One of the three Olympian brothers, Poseidon drew the lot for control of the ocean. Of the gods, he is second in power to Zeus. He is also known as the Earth shaker. He allegedly helped build the sacred walls of Troy. He gave the first horse to men and horses remained his sacred animal.

Hades (Pluto): The third of the Olympian brothers. He drew the lot to rule the underworld. Although he is allowed on Olympus, he is not truly welcome there. He made Persephone his wife and rules with her as King of the dead.

Athena (Minerva): The daughter of Zeus who sprang from his head fully dressed in arms. She is often depicted as a warrior goddess as well as the goddess of wisdom. She is allowed to use her father's weapons. She is a virgin. Her city is Athens; her tree is the olive tree and her bird is the owl.

Apollo: He is the son of Zeus and Leto. The god of poetry, music, archery and healing. He was born on Delos. He is called Pythonian from a python he killed and Sminthian, the mouse god. The dolphin and the crow are sacred to him. The laurel is his tree.

Artemis (Diana): The twin sister of Apollo. Artemis is a virgin huntress who also possesses aspects of the moon goddess Luna/Selene/Phoebe. Her underworld manifestation is Hecate, a goddess of death. The cypress is her tree and deer are sacred to her although she is a patron of the forest and all things contained within.

Aphrodite (Venus): The goddess of love and beauty. Sometimes said to be a daughter of Zeus, sometimes a sister. In the Iliad she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. In other places, she was born from the sea near Cytherea. Her beauty is often wicked or destructive. She is married to Hephaestus, although she often cheats on him. The myrtle is her tree. The sparrow, dove, and swan are her birds.

Hermes (Mercury): Son of Zeus and Maia, a daughter of Atlas. He is a messenger god who wears winged sandals and carries the Caduceus, a staff with winding snakes, the symbol of modern medicine. He was known also as the god of thieves and commerce. He guides the dead to the underworld.

Ares (Mars): The god of war, son of Zeus and Hera. He is hated for his inhumanity and brutality. He appears little in mythology and was loved more by the Romans than the Greeks. The vulture and the dog are sacred to him.

Hephaestus (Vulcan): The son of Hera; was cast out of heaven either by Zeus or his mother. Although he loves peace, he is the god of the forge and makes the most highly esteemed weapons in the world. He is a patron of craftsmen and an omen of civilization

Hestia (Vesta): Zeus' sister, the virgin goddess of the hearth. Each city possessed a shrine to her in which a fire was always kept burning.

Jason: The hero of the Quest for the Golden Fleece. He went for the fleece to try to regain his kingdom. He endured many hardships in the first voyage described in Mythology and gained the fleece only with the help of Medea. He eventually betrayed her and became engaged to another woman after they had children. Medea killed her own children and Jason's fiancee, then abandoned Jason.

Eros (Cupid): A good god in some Greek tales who later becomes Aphrodite's son. He is mischievous and often doing some sort of deed for his mother.

Leda: The wife of King Tyndareus of Sparta. She was impregnated by Zeus and bore Pollux and Helen. She also bore Castor and Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife. Her sons went on the Calydonian boar hunt and the Quest for the Golden Fleece. In one version of her sons' death, the sons are always together and in another they never are.

Cronus (Saturn): The father of the first six Olympians. He ate his children as they were born because he was told that a son would overthrow him and assume power (just as he had overthrown his father Ouranos and ruled with Rhea).

Atlas: A son of Iapetus, forced to bear the weight of the sky and the earth after the war between the Titans and the Olympians.

Prometheus: Son of Iapetus, brother of Atlas. He established sacrificial rites for men and gave them fire.

Demeter (Ceres): The goddess of Grain and wheat. The Eleusinian mysteries were in her honor. She was also the mother of Persephone and was forlorn when Hades took her daughter away.

Dionysius (Bacchus): The god of the vine and wine. He was born by Zeus and Semele. His mother died. He tried to establish his worship in his home city of Thebes and his followers, the Maenads, killed his cousin, Pentheus, ruler of Thebes. He dies every fall and is reborn in the spring.

Teiresias: The blind prophet of Thebes who appears again and again to warn mortals or advise them. He warned Pentheus against Dionysius and the Maenads. He told Oedipus the gruesome truth of his birth and advised Odysseus from the afterlife.

Heracles (Hercules): The Theban born hero and the son of Zeus. He was the strongest and bravest man to ever live. He achieved great feats. Tragically, however, his emotions often got the best of him and he was more than once put into servitude for committing an awful crime. In this way he accomplished his famous twelve labors. He died after a misunderstanding with his wife, but was deified and worshiped for many generations.

Odysseus (Ulysses): The hero of Homer's Odyssey and a significant force in the Iliad. Odysseus is best known for his adventures (and misfortune) on the sea and his long ill fated journey home. He also designed the horse that brought about the fall of Troy. When he finally made it home after many dangerous stops along the way, he had to contend with suitors who had besieged his house. He killed them all and reasserted his authority over his homeland.

Minor Characters

Hebe: The goddess of youth, a daughter of Zeus and Hera. She was sometimes the cup-bearer to the gods. She is married to the divine Hercules.

Ocean: The Lord of the river that circled all the land of the earth.

Pontus: Father of Nereus.

Nereus: The old man of the sea who married Doris and fathered the Nereids (sea nymphs), the most famous of whom is Thetis, the mother of Achilles. Poseidon married another nymph.

Triton: The trumpeter of the sea; son of Poseidon and Aphrodite.

Proteus: Either a son or attendant of Poseidon. He could change shapes but also tell the future. Often, people must capture him and wait until he stops changing shapes in order to get him to divulge their fate.

Chiron: The boatman who ferries people across the river Styx.

Sleep and Death: Twin brothers who live in the underworld.

Gaia (Earth): The Earth who was born from light and day and gave birth to the Titans with Uranus, the sky.

Pan: A son of Hermes who is part goat and roams the wild places. He is also a wondrous musician.

Silenus: Pan's brother or son who is always drunk and rides an ass.

Castor and Pollux.: Sons of Leda and Zeus. Pollux, is immortal. Castor is mortal. These brothers of Helen spent half of their time in the underworld and half on Olympus after Castor died because they could not bear to be apart.

Aeolus: The King of the winds. Boreas (north, Aquilo), Zephyr (west, Favonius), Notus (south, Auster) and Eurus (east).

Saturn: For Romans, he is the husband of Ops who brought a golden age to Rome.

Janus: God of good beginnings whose doors were kept closed in peaceful times but opened in war. January begins the new year.

Faunus: Grandson of Saturn, a Roman version of Pan and a prophet.

Quirinus: The deified name of Romulus, founder of Rome.

Lucina: Goddess of the moon and childbirth. Her name came to be associated both with Artemis and Hera.

Persephone (Proserpina): Daughter of Demeter, she is the forced wife of Hades and Queen of the underworld. She is the embodiment of spring and is allowed to stay on Earth with her mother only half the year. She must spend the rest of the year in the underworld with Hades.

Rhea: Wife of Cronus and mother of Zeus, Hades, Hestia, Hera, and Poseidon.

Ariadne: The daughter of Minos who helps Theseus escape from the Labyrinth. He leaves her, either on purpose or accidentally, on Naxos where Dionysius rescues her and takes her with him.

Pentheus : The nephew of Dionysius who opposed his worship in Thebes. This opposition resulted in his death at the brutal hands of the Maenads.

Ouranos (Uranus): The heaven, or the sky; the father of the Titans with Gaia.

Epimetheus: The inept brother of Prometheus who created all the animals and left none of the good traits for men.

Pandora: The woman created by Zeus who bore disaster and ruin either by her evil nature or her innocence. In one account, she was pure evil and in another, she released evil by opening a box she was told must remain shut.

Chiron: The Centaur who was benevolent; a teacher of many men and gods.

Deucalion and Pyrrha: The two mortals who survived the great flood of Zeus. Children of Prometheus and Epimetheus.

Io: The heifer who approached Prometheus. Hera turned her into a cow because Zeus desired her.

Europa: The woman after whom Europe is named. Zeus changed himself into a bull to carry her off. She bore Minos and Rhadamanthus on Crete.

Polyphemus: A Cyclops who was the son of Poseidon. He was blinded by Odysseus and thwarted in love by the nymph Galatea.

Hyacinthus: The companion of Apollo who became the hyacinth after he was accidentally killed by a discus.

Adonis: The boy Persephone and Aphrodite loved. He must live half the year alive and half dead (in the underworld). He was killed while alive, and his blood became the anemone.

Psyche: A beautiful but naive girl who drew the enmity of Venus because she was being worshipped by men. Cupid fell in love with her and made her his wife. She wounded him because of her curiosity and Venus forced her to perform arduous tasks until Cupid protected her. Ultimately, she was made a goddess and married Cupid.

Pyramus and Thisbe: Young lovers in Babylon whose parents forbade them to be together. They left the city to meet each other near a mulberry tree. There was a mix up and Pyramus killed himself thinking that Thisbe was dead. Thisbe killed herself when she found Pyramus. Their blood turned mulberries from white to red.

Orpheus and Eurydice: Orpheus was the greatest mortal musician and his wife was Eurydice. She died and he tried to rescue her from the underworld but failed her at the last moment. Maenads eventually killed him.

Ceyx and Alcyone: A devoted couple that were never parted until he went on an ill-fated trip on the sea. When she found his body floating in the surf, she tried to drown herself, but she was turned into a bird and so was he.

Iris: The gods' other messenger besides Hermes. She is most frequently the servant of Hera.

Pygmalion and Galatea: A sculptor who fell in love with his sculpture. It came to life and he named her Galatea.

Baucis and Philemon: An old couple that gave hospitality to Jupiter and Mercury disguised as beggars. In return they were allowed to die together and they became two species of trees that grew from the same stump.

Aeacus: Grandfather of Achilles, father of Peleus; in death he became one of the judges of the dead.

Minos: The ruler of Crete, husband to Pasiphae, who fell in love with a bull and bore the Minotaur. He appears in many tales, usually as a conqueror. He became a judge of the dead in the underworld.

Narcissus: The youth who loved only himself and was interested in none of the nymphs who loved him. As a result, he was turned into a flower.

Endymion: The youth loved so much by the mono that she put him to sleep forever in a sacred grove.

Daphne: Apollo fell in love with her and pursued her but she was turned into a laurel tree. This is the reason why laurel is sacred to Apollo.

Alpheus and Arethusa: Arethusa was a virgin who fled the river god Alpheus. She dived into a stream and became a stream herself. He found his way to her underground.

Phrixus: The relative of Jason who was saved by a golden ram when he was to be sacrificed by his father who took a new wife. He sacrificed the ram to Zeus and gave the fleece to King Aeetes.

Pelias: The usurper who took the throne from Jason's family. He told Jason that he would have to get the Golden Fleece to be given the kingdom. When Jason returns with Medea, she convinces his daughters to kill him.

Medea: The daughter of King Aeetes who betrayed her father and helped Jason on his quest. Cupid made her mad with love for Jason. She killed her brother, convinced Pelias' daughters to kill their father, and eventually killed her children and Jason's new fiancee.

Phaethon: The son of the Sun who was so bold as to ask his father to drive the chariot of the sun. He ended up dying after losing control of the reins.

Bellerophon: The Corinthian hero who tamed Pegasus and conquered many adversaries in Asia Minor. HE enjoyed the love of the gods until he tried to fly up to Olympus.

Otus and Ephialtes: The two giant sons of Poseidon who captured Ares and tried to rape Artemis.

Daedalus and Icarus : Daedalus was the architect of the Labyrinth and Icarus was his son. They escaped Crete by means of waxen wings, but Icarus flew too close to the sun and fell to his death.

Danae: The mother of Perseus who was expelled from her home because her son was destined to kill her father Acrisius. Polydectes fell in love with her and caused Perseus to go on the quest to kill the Gorgon, Medusa.

Perseus: The son of Dane by Zeus who was destined to kill his grandfather. He eventually kills him, by accident, in a discus throwing competition. He goes on a quest to kill the Gorgon, Medusa, and is helped by Hermes and Aphrodite. He is successful and he kills Polydectes and his court.

Polydectes: The wicked king who sent Perseus on a quest meaning to kill him.

Aegeus: Theseus' father who threw himself off the edge of the cliff when his son did not raise the white flags signifying that he had survived.

Theseus: The son of Aegeus and great Athenian hero. He freed the city from the curse of the Minotaur but unfortunately left Ariadne on an island on the way back and unwittingly caused his father to commit suicide. He established Athens as a democracy and was trapped in the underworld until Hercules freed him. Theseus exiled his son because he thought his son had caused his wife to commit suicide.

Oedipus: He left home because an oracle proclaimed he would one day kill his father. He came to Thebes and solved the riddle of the Sphinx, killing it. He went to the city as a hero and married the King's widow.

Pirithous: Theseus' companion. His lust for Persephone caused them both to get caught in the underworld.

Atalanta: A girl raised by hunters who went on the Calydonian Boar hunt. She would only marry a man who could beat her in a footrace. Melanion distracted her by dropping golden apples and beat her.

Peleus: The father of Achilles. He went on the voyage of the Argo and met his wife, Thetis.. Their marriage banquet set the scene for the beginning of the conflict that led to the Trojan War.

Thetis: The nymph who married Peleus and gave birth to Achilles. She always helped her son and brought him new weapons from Hephaestus after Hector seizes his.

Eris: The goddess of discord who throws out the golden apple that causes the Trojan war.

Paris: The young prince who was asked to choose the most beautiful goddess. He chose Aphrodite in exchange for the prize of the most beautiful woman in the world. His stealing of Helen is the human cause of the war.

Helen: The most beautiful woman in the world. A daughter of Zeus and Leda. She causes strife among men at a young age. Theseus wanted to steal her as an infant.

Menelaus: The brother of Agamemnon who was married to Helen. The war is fought on his behalf.

Agamemnon: The leader of the Greek armies that besiege Troy. He sacrificed his own daughter to make the wind blow in the right direction.

Achilles: The hero of the Iliad. Achilles' rage is the fundamental theme of the epic. His death is directly connected to the conquering of the Trojan city. He kills the Trojan hero Hector, but is later killed by Paris.

Iphigenia: The daughter of Agamemnon who was sacrificed.

Hector: The Trojan hero whose life the city depended upon. When he fell, it sounded the death knell for the city.

Ajax : One of the Greek champions. He kills himself in a fit of rage when he is not given Achilles' arms.

Diomedes : Another Greek hero. He is usually depicted working with Odysseus. He fights with gods and wounds them.

Andromache: The wife of Hector who was forced to watch her young son be executed after the fall of Troy.

Patroclus: Achilles' close friend who goes into battle disguised as the hero to rally the Greeks. His death brings Achilles back into the war and destroys the Trojan hope for victory.

Aeneas : The hero of the Aeneid. He led a group away from Troy and eventually made it to Italy after many hardships. Once there he had to fight a great war before he could found his city that led to the founding of the Roman empire.

Cassandra: The prophet daughter of Priam who is raped on the Altars of Athena.

Penelope : The wife of Odysseus who remains loyal even though her husband is gone for twenty years.

Telemachus: Odysseus' son who awaits his father's return and helps him expel the suitors from their household.

Ino: The nymph who helps Odysseus survive Poseidon's wrath.

Calypso: The nymph who detains Odysseus with magic for many years.

Dido: The Queen of Carthage whose generosity to the Trojans is thanked with a ruinous love that results in her death.

Sibyl: The witch who leads Aeneas to the underworld.

Turnus: The native Italian who opposed Aeneas and is killed by him in the end.

Evander: The Italian King who offers Aeneas help and advice to get other allies.

Pallas : The son of Evander who dies at the hands of Turnus.

Atreus: The son of Pelops and father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. He serves his brother his own children when he finds out that he is in love with his wife.

Tantalus: The father of Pelops. He served his son to the gods and was doomed to torture in the underworld forever.

Pelops: The son of Tantalus who was cut up and served to the gods. When he was restored to life, he killed a charioteer in a race and was cursed.

Niobe: Pelops' sister who rules in Thebes. When she tries to get the townspeople to worship her instead of Leto, Apollo and Artemis turn her to stone.

Thyestes: The brother of Atreus who falls in love with his brother's wife. Atreus feeds him his own children.

Clytemnestra: Agamemnon's wife, and sister to Helen. She kills her husband out of lust for his cousin Aegisthus or rage over the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia. She is killed in turn by her son Orestes.

Orestes: The Son of Agamemnon who must commit the sin of killing his mother in order to avenge the murder of his father. The Furies pursue him for many years after. Eventually he is released and the curse over the house of Atreus ends.

Cadmus: The founder of Thebes. A brother of Europa who was told by Apollo to found his own city instead of searching for his sister. He bore four ill-fated daughters.

Laius: Oedipus' father who tries to avoid his fate by sending his infant son to be killed. His son killed him accidentally on a path years later.

Jocasta: Oedipus' wife and mother. She killed herself when she realized that she had borne children with her own son.

Creon: The brother of Jocasta and uncle of Antigone and the warring brothers. He sided with Eteocles against Polyneices even though the latter was older.

Polyneices and Eteocles: The sons of Oedipus who fight over their father's throne. Polyneices secures help from others and Eteocles fights with Creon. They kill each other in a final duel.

Ismene : Antigone's less brave sister who tried to share in her blame but went unpunished.

Antigone: The daughter of Oedipus who accompanies her father in exile and is brave enough to bury her dead brother knowing she will be executed by her uncle Creon.

Procne and Philomela: The sisters of the founder of Athens. Procne's husband abducted her sister and hid her away. Procne found this out and killed her son. He sisters fled and turned into birds

Creusa and Ion: Creusa bore Ion to Apollo and abandoned him in a cave. Years later she was reunited with him at the Oracle at Delphi.

Odin: The king of the gods. He is the father of Balder and the husband of Frigga. He gives men runes and suffers for them on many occasions.

Balder: The son of Odin who is killed ultimately by the deception of Loki.

Thor: The god of thunder after whom Thursday is named.

Freyr: The god of fruits.

Heimdall: The god who watches over the bridge to Asgard.

Tyr: The god of war, after whom Tuesday is named.

Hela: Hela, the goddess of the underworld from whom the English word 'hell' comes.

Loki: A son of a giant who somehow became a sworn friend of Odin. He hates good and causes the death of Balder.

King Aeetes: The king of Colchis, who received the Golden Fleece from Phrixus. He was betrayed by his daughter, Medea, and lost both the fleece and his kingdom.

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