Famous Men of Greece - John Haaren

The Gods of Greece


In the southern part of Europe is a little country called Greece. It is the home of a nation called the Greeks, and Greeks have lived in it for more than three thousand years. In olden times they believed that before they came to the land it was the home of the gods, and they used to tell wonderful stories of what happened when the gods lived in the country. One of these stories was about a god called Cronos, and his children.

Cronos was the first king of the gods. He had a wife named Rhea. His mother told him that one of his children would take his kingdom from him. He determined that this should never happen, and so he swallowed his children as soon as they were born. His cruelty distressed Rhea very much, and when a sixth child was born she made a plan to save its life. She gave Cronos a stone wrapped in baby-clothes, and this he swallowed.

Then Rhea took the child and hid him in a cave. And though the cave was dark he filled it with bright light; so she named him Zeus, which means brightness. We call him Jupiter.

Jupiter had one of the strangest nurses that a baby ever had. It was a goat. However, she took such good care of him that when she died she was changed into a group of stars, which shine in the sky to this day.

When Jupiter grew up he went to war against his cruel father. Cronos persuaded some giants, called Titans, to help him in fighting Jupiter. These Titans were so strong that they pulled up hills and mountains and threw them at Jupiter as easily as boys throw snowballs at one another. Jupiter soon saw that he must find some match for the Titans. So he asked another family of giants to aid him. They were called Cyclops, or Round-Eye, because each had only one eye, which was round and was in the middle of his forehead. The Cyclops were famous blacksmiths, and they made thunder and lightning for Jupiter. So when the Titans hurled mountains, Jupiter hurled back bolts of thunder and flashes of lightning. The battle was a terrible one. Jupiter was the victor.

After this great battle Jupiter made Cronos bring back to life the children whom he had swallowed, and then he gave to each of his brothers and sisters a part of the kingdom of their wicked father. He made himself the king of the gods, and for his own kingdom he took the blue sky. He made his sister Here, whom we call Juno, the goddess of the clouds and queen of all the gods.

To his brother Poseidon, whom we call Neptune, he gave the ocean, and he made his brother Hades, whom we call Pluto, king of the regions under the earth and sea.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren

NEPTUNE AND HIS HORSES from the Escurial Tapestries

He made his sister Demeter, whom we call Ceres, queen of the grains, the fruits and the flowers.

His sister Hestia, whom we call Vesta, he made the goddess of fire and gave her charge of the homes and hearthstones of men.


When the kingdom of Cronos had been divided, the new rulers found a great deal to do. In the depths of the sea Neptune built a palace whose floor was of snow-white shells and blood-red coral, while the walls were of shining mother-of-pearl. When the waves above his palace were wild, Neptune would yoke his brazen-hoofed horses to his chariot and, standing with his trident, or three-pronged spear, in his hand, would drive swiftly over the water. And as the brazen hoofs of the horses trampled upon the waves the sea became calm.

The underground world of Pluto was a dreary region. It was the home of the dead. Round it flowed a black river called the "Styx," or "Hateful." The only way to cross this river was in a ferryboat rowed by a silent boatman named Charon. At the gateway of the under world was the terrible watch-dog Kerberus, or, as we spell the name, Cerberus. When the old Greeks buried a person they put a coin in his mouth and a barley-cake sweetened with honey in his hand. The coin was to pay Charon for taking the spirit across the Styx and the cake was to be thrown to Cerberus, so that, while he was eating it, the spirit might pass unnoticed into the spirit-land.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren


No goddess was willing to be Pluto's wife and live in his world of gloom. So he was very lonely. One day he visited the upper world in his chariot drawn by four handsome coal-black steeds. He saw a beautiful maiden, named Persephone, whom we call Proserpine, gathering flowers in a meadow. Pluto at once bore her off to his kingdom of darkness and married her. Thus she became the queen of the lower world.

This made life much pleasanter for Pluto, but it was very hard for Proserpine. She loved sunshine and flowers, and she grieved for them so much that at last Jupiter took pity upon her and persuaded Pluto to let her come back to the land of light for a part of every year. When she made her yearly visits, the flowers that she loved so dearly bloomed for her, the grass grew green, and it was spring. When the time came that she must return to Pluto, all the flowers drooped and died, the grass turned brown, and bleak winter followed.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren


The sisters of Jupiter had a great deal to do in their fair kingdoms. Every spring and summer Ceres caused the different kinds of fruits and grains and flowers to grow. As she could not do all this work alone she had thousands of beautiful maidens, called nymphs, to help her. There was a wood-nymph in every tree to make its leaves green and glossy and to color its blossoms. There was a water-nymph in every spring that bubbled out of the hills, and one in every stream that flowed through the valleys. The nymphs of the springs and brooks watered the plants and crops of Ceres and made them grow.

Vesta was the sister to whom had been given charge of the home and hearthstone. She caused the fires to glow, which burned on the hearth and made home cheery and gave warmth to the family and to strangers who came to see them. In every city and town of Greece a fire sacred to Vesta was always kept burning.


In his kingdom of the sky Jupiter dwelt in splendor, but he was not always happy; for although Juno, his queen, was a lovely in face and form, she was more beautiful than good-tempered; and sometimes she and Jupiter had bitter quarrels.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren


One of the sons of Jupiter was named Hermes or Mercury. He wore golden sandals and carried a wonderful wand. On the heels of the sandals were wings with which he could fly through the air like a bird. Because he could travel so swiftly he became the messenger of the gods.

Another son of Jupiter was Hephaestus, whom we call Vulcan. He was the god of fire and the friend of workers in metals. He had a great forge under Mount Ætna, and there he made wonderful things of iron and brass. The round-eyed Cyclops were his blacksmiths. One day Vulcan was rude to his father, who to punish him hurled him from heaven. Vulcan fell upon rocks and broke his leg and ever after that was lame.

Ares, the terrible god of war, whom we call Mars, was another son of Jupiter. He delighted in battle and bloodshed.

Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, or Diana, were also children of Jupiter. They were both beautiful. Apollo's beauty was so great that when we wish to say that a man is handsome in face and form, we say, "He is an Apollo." Apollo and Diana were great favorites with Jupiter, who made Apollo the god of the sun, and Diana the goddess of the moon. To each he gave a silver bow, from which they shot arrows of light.

The most wonderful daughter of Jupiter was Athene, whom we usually call Minerva. One day the king of the gods had a headache from which he could get no relief; so he sent for Vulcan. When the great blacksmith arrived at his father's palace Jupiter said to him, "Split open my head with your axe." As soon as Vulcan had done this, a maiden goddess, clothed in armor, sprang from the head of Jupiter. The maiden was Minerva, the goddess of wisdom.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren

MINERVA by Flaxman


Most beautiful of all the goddesses was Aphrodite, or Venus, who sprang from the foam of the sea. She was the goddess of love. Several of the gods wished to marry her. Jupiter decided the matter strangely by giving her to Vulcan, the ugliest of all the gods.

Venus had a son named Eros, or Cupid, the god of love. He carried a bow and arrows, and if one of his arrows pierced the heart of a mortal, that mortal fell in love.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren

JUNO, CUPID, and VENUS by Sabatelli

There was a fair goddess named Iris, who caused the rainbow to brighten dark storm-clouds, and often bore messages from heaven to men.

There were also many other gods and goddesses. Three sisters were known as the Graces. They made mortals gracious and lovable, friendly and pleasant in their ways.

There were three other sisters called the Furies. Their forms were draped in black, and their hair was twined with serpents. They punished wicked people and gave them no peace as long as they lived.

Higher than all gods and goddesses were three weird sisters, called the Fates. Not even Jupiter could change the plans of the Fates. Whatever they said must come to pass always happened. Whatever they said should not happen never took place. When a child was born, one of the sisters began to spin the thread of its life. The second decided how long the thread should be. The third cut the thread when the moment came for the life to end.

After men came to Greece and dwelt there the gods and goddesses withdrew to the far-away peaks of Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece, and made their home there.