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Greek gods (Athena, Demeter, Leto, Harmonia)

Athena

Athena is Zeus' daughter and his favorite child, she is often described as "gray-eyed" or "flashing- eyed." In popular myth she is said to have no mother, because she sprang full grown and in full armor from her fathers head.

This is not entirely true however. Athena's mother was Metis, Zeus came to lust after her, and chased her in his direct way. Metis tried to escape as best she could, going so far as to change her form many times, turning into various creatures such as hawks, fish, and serpents. But Zeus was both determined and equally proficient at changing form. He continued his pursuit until she relented.

An Oracle of Gaea then prophesied that Metis first child would be a girl but, her second child would be a boy that would overthrow Zeus as had happened to his father (Cronus) and his grandfather (Uranus). Zeus took this warning to heart. When he next saw Metis he flattered her and put her at her ease, then with Metis off guard Zeus suddenly opened his mouth and swallowed her. This was the end of Metis but, possibly the beginning of Zeus's wisdom.

After a time Zeus developed the mother of all headaches. He howled so loudly it could be heard throughout the earth. The other gods came to see what the problem was. Hermes realized what needed to be done and directed Hephaestus to take a wedge and split open Zeus's skull. Out of the skull sprang Athena, full grown and in a full set of armor. Greeks believed that the men were solely responsible for conception of a child, and the woman's only role was to carry it until it was born, therefore Metis is not given any credit for Athena birth.

There are two distinctly different representations of Athena's character. In the Iliad she is a fierce and ruthless warrior- goddess, who takes pleasure in war and fighting. In the Odyssey and all alter poetry she is still very powerful, but only fights to defend the State. She was the embodiment of wisdom, purity and reason, as well as the patron of the handicrafts and sciences and agriculture. She gave men the bridle allowing them to tame and use Poseidon's gift - horses. She also invented the trumpet, the flute, the pot, the rake, the plow, the yoke, the ship, and the chariot. Of the three virgin goddesses (Athena, Artemis and Hestia) she was chief and called the Maiden, Parthenos, accordingly her temple in Athens was called the Parthenon.

Athena was perhaps the most recognizable of the gods. She was always depicted with her unmistakable helmet and the ever- present spear. Because she was Zeus' favorite she was allowed to use his weapons and armor, including the awful aegis, his buckler and even his thunderbolt. Her shield was also very distinctive, after Perseus defeated the gorgon Medusa, Athena affixed its head to her shield.

Athena's special city was Athens, patronage of which she won from Poseidon by giving the city the olive tree which Cecrops judged to be a better gift than the water spring that Poseidon provided. Her tree is the olive, which she herself created. Her bird is the owl, also a symbol of wisdom.

Demeter

Demeter was the Goddess of Corn and therefore also harvest. She was the daughter of Cronus and Rhea and thus Zeus' sister. Along with Dionysus (also Bacchus, God of Wine) Demeter was one of the two most important gods in the everyday lives of people. While most other gods did little to help people and people would have done much better without them, even when they were not outright harmful; these two were truly mankind's best friends. What also made them very different from other gods, was that they were the only two to have known and felt suffering and true grief, while the other gods lived happy blissful lives.

Demeter's tragic story is her search for Persephone. Persephone was Demeter's only daughter; Zeus was the father, Persephone was abducted by Hades and later returned to earth with the condition that she spends four months of each year with Hades. In these months Demeter misses her daughter so much that she withdraws her gifts from the earth, and winter comes. But when her daughter returns, Demeter is so happy that she restores all her gifts and spring starts.

One of Greece's most important and interesting festivals was associated with Demeter and in fact held in her honor. This celebration of harvest was held every five years for nine days in September. The festival included processions, sacrifices, dance, song and all other kinds of general rejoicing common to such festivities. But we know little about the most important part, the Eleusinian Mysteries, since all the participants vowed never to reveal what they have witnessed. Although some limited accounts do exist, and many different theories have been presented. This mysterious part of the festival was held in Eleusis, a small town not far from Athens.

Leto

Leto was the daughter of Coeus and Phoebe. She was an early and favorite lover of Zeus. Zeus married Hera while Leto was pregnant, while the pregnancy began before the marriage Hera was still jealous of Leto. For the duration of her pregnancy Leto was hunted by Hera. First, Leto was exiled from Olympus, as she wandered over the earth no place would allow her to stay, for fear of angering Hera. Hera ordered the snake Python to chase Leto, Zeus saved her by sending the Boreas (North Wind) to carry her out to sea.

Finally, the desolate rocky island of Delos, accepted her, because it had little to lose. The other goddesses gathered to help Leto as she gave birth. Hera stayed away and managed to detain Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, until Iris fetched her. Leto first gave birth to Artemis and then, after another nine days of labor, to Apollo.

Still fleeing Hera's wrath Leto went to Lycia. There her problems persisted, for example, the peasants did not want her to drink from their well; of course she, being a goddess, promptly responded by turning them into frogs. However, now she had her two children, both of whom were becoming powerful archers, to protect her. When only four days old Apollo was able to slay Python (Apollo's slaying of the Python developed quite differently in another version of the story). Later the Euboean giant Tityus tried to rape Leto only to be killed by her children. As they grew into their full power the twins became willing to avenge Leto's honor as well as to protect her safety. Niobe boasted that she was more deserving of adulation then Leto because she had borne seven sons and seven daughters. The twins replied to this by slaying all but two of Niobe's children; Meliboea renamed to Chloris (pale) after the slaying, and Amyclas were the only ones who survived and only because they prayed to Leto and later erected a temple for her. But according to Homer none of Niobe's children survived.

As the mother of two powerful gods Leto returned to Zeus's favor despite Hera's disapproval. After Apollo killed the Cyclopes, Leto was able to persuade Zeus to lighten his punishment. She spent much of her time hunting with Artemis. During the Trojan War she sided with the Trojans and helped heal Aeneas from his battle wounds.

Harmonia

The "uniter," Harmonia is the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares. Some stories say the legendary Amazons claimed descent from her. Harmonia also founded the dynasty of Thebes and bore the famous Dionysian women Semele, Agave, Autonoe, and Ino. At Harmonia's wedding, all the Olympians bore magical gifts, including a famous necklace from Aphrodite that gave irresistible sexuality (or undying beauty, depending on the source) to the wearer.

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