The Greek God Family Tree
UPDATE 11/23/2015: I made an updated poster version, with like a dozen extra gods! Buy it here!
“I’ll just list all the Greek Gods,” I said. “It’ll be easy.”
I had no idea.
There are just so many. I had to cut it down, and cut it again, and even then I didn’t finish in time – sorry again, by the way.
So this is not even close to a full list of Gods and Goddesses, to say nothing of all the demigods, mythical creatures, anthropomorphized-concepts, and other things that show up in Greek mythology. Just some of the biggest, most important ones.
In order of appearance:
Before there were Gods, there were these God-like anthropomorphized concepts. Most of them don’t come up in pop-culture, I think because they were like five-plus generations removed from the Olympians. My favorite by far is Momus, God of Blame and Insults, who was kicked out of the clubhouse for insulting (among other things) Zeus’s sex life and Aphrodite’s squeaky sandals.
Gaia (aka Gaea)
Primeval Goddess of the Earth
Gaia was mother of more or less everyone and everything, which is only one of the reasons her descendants’ family tree is so screwed up. As far as I can tell, the first thing she did after having a kid was marry him, and then made more kids so they could fight. Picture a heavy-set Lucille Bluth with earth-powers.
Ouranos (aka Uranus)
Primeval God of the Sky
Ouranos was his own stepfather, and had some serious sibling rivalry with his children. Eventually a bunch of them got together and cut off his penis, after which he either died or disappeared, depending on who you ask.
Olympian Goddess of Love
Oh but that penis? It landed in some water, and produced “foam” from which emerged Aphrodite. There are a lot of stories about her, but I think my favorite is the one where she got so angry that she made a girl named Myrrha fall in love with her own father. And THEN, when the incest-baby was born from the tree-that-had-formerly-been-Myrrha (long story), Aphrodite fell in love with it and got into a big fight over who got to be the baby’s lover. She also turned a statue named Galatea into a real girl, which inspired Pygmalion (by George Bernard Shaw), which inspired My Fair Lady (the musical), which inspired My Fair Lady (the movie starring Audrey Hepburn).
So, count with me now: incest, murder, castration, “foam,” incest again, pedophilia, and we’re only three gods in!
Titan Goddess of Divine Law and Order
What Themis is god of doesn’t really translate directly, and I’m not sure I’d understand it even if it did, because the ancient Greek concept of “divine justice” is totally tied up in ancient Greek culture in general, which is about as foreign to use as it’s possible to be. Like, just imagine a modern American and a 14th century English lord trying to agree on what should be basic human rights. Ancient Greece is four times as far away, chronologically speaking.
Titan Goddess of Memory
Mnemosyne invented language and words. Before people invented writing, if you wanted to hear a story, you’d have to memorize it. Mnemosyne was the goddess of that. She was also the mother of the Muses, the father being Zeus.
Titan God of Light
Married to Theia. His son was the sun, but I don’t think that’s as punny in ancient Greek. He was one of the Titans who fought Zeus got banished to Tartarus (the underworld’s underworld, a sort of metaphysical maximum security prison) forever, until Zeus let him out.
Titan Goddess of Heavenly Light
Heavenly light apparently means the light of a clear blue sky. Sister/wife of Hyperion.
Crius (aka Krios)
Titan God of the Constellations
Banished to Tartarus forever, until Zeus let him out. I know some of these descriptions are short, but most of these guys barely appear anywhere aside from lists of titans.
Oceanus (aka Okeanos)
Titan God of Ocean, Streams, Water
In Greek Mythology, the entire habitable world was surrounded by a big ocean/stream. Later, as people learned more about Geography, he wound up in charge of the Atlantic Ocean, with Poseidon getting the Mediterranean. He also went to Tartarus, also until Zeus let him out. He also had crab claws on his head for some reason.
Titan Goddess of Fresh Water
Tethys was married to Oceanus and gave birth to literally thousands of water-related mythological beings but otherwise didn’t do much.
Iapetus (aka Iapetos)
Titan God of Mortality
Iapetus is apparently a distant ancestor of all humans via Prometheus (not pictured), so that’s something. He also went to Tartarus.
Remember the thousands of water babies Tethys had with Oceanus? Pleione is one of them. The only reason she’s listed here is because her grandson is Hermes.
Bearer of the Heavens
You might recognize Atlas as that guy with the world on his back. Greek myth says he actually held the sky, but, I don’t know, artistic license or whatever. One time, Herakles (aka Hercules) held the sky for him for a while, in exchange for some golden apples. Another time Perseus turned him to stone.
Coeus (aka Koios)
Titan God of Intellect
Mainly important because his grandkids were Artemis and Apollo. Like the other male Titans, he did some time in Tartarus.
Titan Goddess of Intellect
Wife/sister of Coeus, grandmother of Artemis and Apollo. Shares a name (and probably nothing else) with the best character on Friends.
Kronos (aka Cronus)
Titan God of Time
Update 4/4/2016: Turns out maybe he’s not actually the god of time, because Kronos is the god and “khronos” is time. But it also looks like folks have been making that mistake for literally thousands of years so for now I’ll just leave this note.
Original post: Kronos wasn’t a God of, like, wibbily-wobbly-timey-wimey. More like unstoppable, inexorable entropy that grinds everything you’ve ever loved into dust.
You might also remember him as the one who de-penised Uranus, but it gets worse. A while post-de-penising, he learned that one of his kids would eventually overthrow him, so whenever one was born he’d eat it. Or that was the plan – unfortunately for him, when Zeus was born, his wife Rhea switched it with a rock dressed like a baby. Rock-Zeus got eaten, but real-Zeus grew up, retrieved his previously-eaten siblings, and overthrew the Titans in a big ol’ war.
So where are we now? Incest, pedophilia, castration, “foam,” murder, cannibalism, infanticide – did I miss any? I’m losing count.
Titan Goddess of Motherhood and Fertility
Fed Kronos a rock dressed like a baby.
Mother of Dionysus
Semele was just some priestess until Zeus took a liking to her. Then Zeus’s wife Hera found out and tricked Semele into looking at Zeus’s true form, which caused her to die in a fire. This is why you don’t talk to gods.
Mother of Hermes
Maia didn’t talk to gods, but Zeus “begot” her a baby anyway.
Mother of Artemis and Apollo
Zeus also “begot” Leto some babies, and Hera got so jealous that she followed her around just to prevent her from giving birth anywhere. I don’t know what happens in Greek mythology if you’re physically unable to end a pregnancy, but it probably isn’t good. Lucky for Leto that she eventually found a place to hide.
King of Gods
You might have noticed that like, half of the people on this list either slept with or descended from Zeus. If it was sexable, Zeus sexed it. And not always (or even mostly) consensually, but I get the sense that the ancient Greeks had different ideas about consent than we do today. What else? He threw lightning bolts, defeated the titans, resolved disputes (kind of, sort of), and was powerful enough that he could get away with more or less anything.
Queen of Gods, Goddess of Marriage
What does it say about the Ancient Greeks that their Goddess of Marriage was hitched to a serial-adulterer? Seriously, more or less every story about her starts with Zeus messing around (with or without consent) and ends with Hera taking revenge on she-with-whom-Zeus-messed-around. It’s like a weird, violent, incestuous sitcom.
God of Wine and Parties
Most depictions of Dionysus make him either a cool old drunk guy or a the greek equivalent of a glam rocker. He mostly wandered around with satyrs, drank, made wine, made friends, and occasionally got chased out of places.
Messenger of the Gods
You’ll probably recognize Hermes’s boots and hat more than the god himself – they served as inspiration for he Flash’s original outfit. Hermes is involved in a lot of inter-diety drama as a message-carrier, but there’s also a fair number of stories of cow-stealing. Seriously, Hermes stole his first cows before he was one day old. He’s a sneaky one.
Apollo (aka Apollon)
God of Healing, Sickness, Music, and Prophecy
Apollo is a little more complex than some of his fellow gods. Sometimes he’d heal people, sometimes he’d kill them, sometimes he’d even cause plagues.
Oh, and one time someone challenged him to a music contest, and Apollo won and gave the guy donkey ears.
Goddess of the Hunt
Most of what I’ve read about Artemis has her shooting things with arrows. Oh, but there’s also a great story where Artemis defends Mount Olympus from two giants. She turns into a deer and runs between them, and they both miss her and spear each other.
Goddess of War and Heroes
Athena is just awesome. First off, she wasn’t born – she burst, fully armed, from Zeus’s head. And she only got cooler. Basically every story about a Greek hero features Athena somewhere. She advised and/or helped Perseus, Herakles, Odysseus, the Argonauts, and I’m sure a bunch more that I’m forgetting. Plus, she was the patron diety of Athens, which she won in a contest against Poseidon.
God of War
Ares is kind of like Athena, but dumber. Literally every story I know about him involves him getting mad at something and trying to kill it. He usually succeeds.
God of Fire and Metalworking
Poor Hephaistos. He was born crippled, and thrown off Olympus by his own mother. But won in the end. He made her a beautiful throne that stuck to her when she sat in it, and refused to unstick her. It was only after Dionysus got him drunk that he relented and let her out. After that, he did ok. He even got to marry Aphrodite. Yes, she cheated on him constantly, but it’s the thought that counts.
God of the Sea
Poseidon was almost as bad as Zeus when it came to Women. Seriously, he even non-consensually “seduced” Medusa, although that was before she she got snakes for hair. It was also the reason she got snakes for hair – Athena wasn’t pleased that the “seduction” had happened in her temple. Poseidon and Athena were in conflict pretty frequently, actually, including practically all of the Odyssey.
Goddess of the Hearth
If you had to hang out with a Greek deity, I’d go with Hestia. She never married, just cooked food, lit fireplaces, took care of travelers, and basically just chilled out at home. All-around cool lady.
God of the Dead
Disney’s Hercules did Hades a real disservice, because now everyone thinks he was some fast-talking cartoon supervision. He wasn’t. He didn’t skip work, he didn’t ruin lives (well, living ones), he didn’t play pranks, he hardly even left the underworld at all. I mean, sure, there was the time he kidnapped Persephone, but that at least started as a misunderstanding. Compared to his brothers Zeus and Poseidon? He was practically cuddly.
Goddess of Agriculture
The most famous story of Demeter is the one where Zeus offers her daughter Persephone to Hades as a wife. Hades accepts, but has to kidnap her for some reason, and then Demeter throws a fit and threatens to ruin farming forever unless Hades give Persephone back. But then Persephone eats a pomegranate seed and ends up in a split-custody arrangement between Hades and her mom.
If you’re interested enough to want more than my rambling descriptions, there’s a whole lot at theoi.com. I also found this story about a man who met a Greek God. With any luck, on Friday you’ll get to see Potato III: Attack of the Clones. The following week, Australia vs. Animals, Episode 1.