There are basically 12 main Olympian gods and goddesses, and there are some minor gods and goddesses too. These gods and goddess are known by many names, which can make identifying them a little confusing. Many of the major gods and goddess are called Olympians because they reside on the Mount Olympus.
Here is a myth which will help you understand how these gods came into power. Before the gods ruled, there was the dominion of Titans. The Titan Lord Cronus came to know from an oracle that one of his child would overthrow him, so he started swallowing all of his children.
He had swallowed five of his children, Zeus was the sixth child and instead of swallowing the child, his wife gave him rocks folded in blankets. He swallowed the blanket with rocks, thinking it is a child. When Zeus grew up, he made Cronus vomit all the children. These Olympians fought Titans and overthrew them.
12 Olympian Gods and Goddesses
Symbols of Zeus are the thunderbolt, oak tree, scepter, eagle and scales. Zeus often gets in trouble due to his love affairs. Zeus had lots of children; but Hercules, Dionysus and Athena are some famous ones.
Poseidon was married to a Nereid Amphitrite, a sea goddess, but like his brother Zeus he had many lovers. Poseidon is often compared or combined with Neptune, who is the Roman god of the sea too.
He is the supreme ruler of the Underworld. Hades hardly ever left his dark kingdom. He has a watchdog called Cerberus, a huge three-headed dog, who is the key to the Underworld. His symbols are two-pronged spear, crown, scepter and gold chariot with black horses.
One interesting fact about Hades is that, he was given the helmet of invisibility by Cyclops to aid him in the battle of Gods and Titans. Hence, he is also called the 'The Invisible'.
Hera is the wife and sister of Zeus. Hera is the queen of all gods and goddesses. She is considered to be the most beautiful of all the goddesses, even more beautiful than Aphrodite.
Her symbols are the crown, pomegranate, peacock, lion and cow. She is the youngest daughter of Titan Cronus and Rhea. It is said that Hera restores her virginity each year by taking a bath in a sacred spring called Kanathos.
Demeter is the daughter of Cronus and Rhea. She is mostly shown as a sweet, mature woman. Many times a veil is draped over her head, though the face is visible. She is the goddess of fertility, nature, agriculture and the seasons. Symbols used to represent her are wheat, torch, pig and poppy. Her Latin name is Ceres, from which the word cereal is derived.
This goddess of the wisdom is the daughter of Zeus and also goddess of war and crafts. She is symbolized by the owl and the olive tree. A prophecy was made that Metis, who is first wife of Zeus would bear the second child of Zeus. This child would be more powerful than Zeus himself.
Afraid of being overthrown by the child, he swallowed Metis. But, after this incident he got a blinding headache, which was very painful. So, Hephaestus hit his head with a cleaver, and Athena came out from his head, full-grown with an armor, helmet and a spear.
He is the twin brother of Artemis, and considered as the most beautiful among the immortals. Apollo is creative and handsome and shown as a young man with curly golden locks, he is also supportive of various arts.
Artemis is also called the Virgin Huntress. When she was a child she asked her father Zeus, to let her remain an eternal virgin. She has absolute reign over nature and is considered to bring fertility to all the places that worshiped her. Her symbols include bow and her sacred animals - the deer and the snake.
Due to his sandals with wings, he is considered the speediest of all the gods, and can freely visit Earth, Heaven and the Underworld. Hermes is a god who had almost no weaknesses. He is clever, determined, athletic and a very powerful magician. He can even charm monsters with the music from his flute/lyre.
She is a perfect looking goddess, very beautiful, and has an eternal young woman's body. Her strengths are potent attractiveness and dazzling beauty, which sometimes make her vain. Many gods avoided being married to Aphrodite, thinking her beauty may lead to war between the Olympians. So, to avoid war, she was married to god Hephaestus, as he was lame.
Hephaestus is the son of Zeus and Hera. He is the master blacksmith and makes crafts for the gods. He is the god of fire and the forge. His symbols include fire, donkey, anvil, ax, hammer, tons and quail.
Hera thought that Hephaestus was very ugly, and hence she threw him off the Mount Olympus, and so he became lame. He had created Pandora, the famous box of which many tales describe him as the father of Eros.
He is the son of Zeus, and has a twin sister Eris. He is considered the fiercest of all the gods and has a terrible temper. He likes war and the massacre that comes out of it. Ares is very hot-tempered, and likes to go to war for any reason without thinking of its consequences.
His symbols include the golden chariot, brandished bronze armor, and a spear. Ares is also many times associated with vultures and dogs. Ares' secret mistress was the goddess Aphrodite. Their secret union resulted in the birth of Armonia (Harmony).
She is the firstborn of the Olympian gods. Hestia has power over hearth, altars and states. She is the firstborn child of Rhea and Cronus. She hardly ever leaves her home, and has sworn a vow of eternal chastity.
She is gentle and calm by nature, and is supportive of the family and home. Hestia has no children. Hestia is one of three goddesses who are immune to any influence of Aphrodite.
There are many interesting novels which are based on Greek mythology. One of the latest is Percy Jackson & the Olympians. In this novel you will find an interesting synthesis of this century and the Greek culture.