|During the Dark Age and Geometric period, the composition of the Greek Twelve God system was effected.
It consisted of individual personified gods and probably
owes its origin to an Asia Minor tradition of twelve gods, known from Xanthus
in Lycia and Yazilikaya. The number remains the same, but the names differ
in references from various sources. The most frequent change observed
is the replacement of Hestia by Dionysus. Geometric art, however, does not allow
the undoubted identification of the depicted figures with certain gods,
owing to their abstract and schematic rendering. Among numerous subsequent representations
the one that finalized the composition of the twelve gods is the frieze
of the Parthenon.
the Twelve Gods, modern scholars distinguish various groups: patriarchal,
such as Zeus and Poseidon, young gods, such as Apollo and Hermes,
goddesses originating from an ancient matriarchal tradition, such as Hera and
Demeter, and virgin goddesses, such as Athena and Artemis. Zeus
was the undisputed dominant god. His name relates him to the Indian sky god
Dyaus pitar and the Roman Diespiter/Jupiter which means Celestial Father.
At the same time, he was the god of weather conditions, his characteristic
symbol being the thunderbolt. He was worshipped under several names as:
Hyetios, Eleutherios, Hellanius, Dictaeus. His consort was Hera, the name of whom
probably means 'mature for marriage'. Hera stands out for her special relation to
temples. Most early temples are dedicated to her (Samos, Argos, Perachora, Olympia). Her responsibility
as patron goddess of marriage allows various interpretations according to the myths
and rites of each area.
| Poseidon, whose name is often interpreted as 'husband
of the earth', was the god of the sea and obviously enjoyed
particular popularity among the Greeks. His cult in Mycenaean Pylos, in the
amphictyony of Calaureia, the Isthmus of the Peloponnese and Mycale in Ionia
was related to the origin of older Greek tribes (Ionians, Aeolians, Boeotians).
Athena seems to have taken her name after the city of Athens, and
not the other way around. This results from the Mycenaean tablets,
where the "despoina tis Athana" (the mistress of Athens) is quoted.
Being a warrior goddess and patron of the acropolis she usually bears
the epithets Polias and Promachos, whereas activities in time of peace are under the
patronage of Athena Ergane.
pre-Homeric name of Apollo was Apellon and was related to the institution
of annual assemblies called appeles. He was a god representing the vigour
of youth and was honoured as: Archegetes, Epicourios, Lyceios,
Delphinios, Pythios and Musagetes. As patron of the Muses and the god of seers
he preserved, at the same time, an ancient destructive dimension, going back to
Syrian-Phoenician and Hittite models. The sphere of influence of Artemis,
sister of Apollo, covered a wide range from hunting and animals to marriage
and childbirth. Her capacity as Potnia Theron (Mistress of Animals) and goddess of nature
links her to Cybele, an Asia Minor deity.
| Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual desire, derives her origin
from the Semitic goddess Ishtar-Astarte. Her Greek name is related to the myth of
her birth from the foam of the sea of Cyprus. Hermes,
the messenger god and psychopompos (conductor of the dead to Hades), was responsible for transitional
situations and movement. A herma was initially a heap of stones and later a stele with a phallic symbol,
a boundary or direction marker. Demeter was -as her name implies-
the mother goddess and goddess of agriculture and harvest, without ever actually being identified
with the earth.
Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy, bears, in the first component of his name,
the name of his father Zeus. He is considered to have been 'imported' from Phrygia
or Lydia during the 8th or 7th centuries BC, but until this day this has not been
established with certainty. Neither was Hephaestus of Greek origin,
since in his birthplace of Lemnos, a non-Greek population survived as late as
the 6th century BC. He was the god of fire and metallurgy. Lastly, Ares was a god
who was not particularly popular. He seems to be the personification of the epithet
areios which, in the Iliad, is attributed to various gods and means 'military' or
'fighting'. Even though belligerents were invoking him before battle, Ares
had temples in only a few places where he enjoyed an organized cult.