The Gods of Ancient Greece

Explore the Gods of ancient Greece and their unique powers through the World Museum's sculpture collection.

By National Museums Liverpool

Krater by Telos painterNational Museums Liverpool

In ancient Greek religion and mythology, there were 12 gods called Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Hermes, and either Hestia or Dionysus.  They were called 'Olympians' because they lived in Mount Olympus. They were immortal but looked and behaved like humans.

Statue of ZeusNational Museums Liverpool

Zeus statue

As the King of Gods Zeus or Jupiter for the Romans had absolute power over the other gods and the mortals. He had fought his father Kronus in a long war with his brothers and sisters. 

The eagle, the sceptre and the thunderbolt are some of his attributes for identifying him. 

Statue of AthenaNational Museums Liverpool

Athena statue

Athena was Zeus’ daughter, born out of his head and a warrior goddess. It was her strategy and wisdom which made her great at war, rather than the masculine vigour and strength of the god Ares (Mars). 

She was a supporter of many heroes and warriors. Herakles or Hercules sought her advice during his 12 labors. Athena also supported the Greeks in Homer’s poem of the Trojan war.  

Statuette of AphroditeNational Museums Liverpool

Aphrodite Statue

While many people identify Aphrodite as the ancient goddess of beauty and love, less known is her role as the protector of seafarers and maritime trade. Many of her temples were in ancient ports and one of her adjectives was Euploia (smooth sailing). 

There is a dolphin by Aphrodite’s bent left leg and such a maritime attribute symbolizes her role as the patron of sailors. Her body is sensual and she wears a diadem on her head representing her divine identity. There are traces of water wear around the dolphin’s mouth; it is possible that in Roman times the statue decorated a bath or a gymnasium. 

Statue of Apollo SauroktonosNational Museums Liverpool

Apollo as the lizzard killer

Apollo, the god of music and the famous oracle of Delpi was the twin brother of the goddess Artemis (Diana). One of his names was of the Pythian Apollo, after his slaying of the Pythian snake in the site of Dephi. 

The story was recorded in Homer’s Hymn to Apollo. The lizzard, the young Apollo turns and faces in this statue was probably inspired by that story.  

The Ince Diana'National Museums Liverpool

Ince Diana

The twin sister of the god Apollo, Artemis (Diana) was the protector of young women, and the goddess of hunting. Her quiver hangs at the back of her left arm while her right arm may have held a bow.

Around her waist and above her thick tunic, she wears the skin of a deer, known as 'nebris'. Her boots are open-toed.

Her hair has a knot at the top with a bun at the back. The statue was a creation of Carlo Abacini (c.1735-1813), who restored many of the 18th century Grant Tourists’ collections. He built the statuette out of 127 pieces of marble around only one ancient piece at the torso. 

Statue of DionysosNational Museums Liverpool

Statue of Dionysus

Dionysus was the god of wine, theatre and the famous Dionysian festivals. In his hip shot pose, he is naked with an animal skin underneath his left arm, which is a restoration. He also holds the kantharos, a drinking cup.

With his right arm, he embraces a thyrsos, a stick decorated with laurel or myrtle leafs, often associated with the Dionysian revellers. He is young and feminine, and his long hair is untamed with a fillet around the crown of his head. The head is ancient but from a different statue.  

Statuette of IsisNational Museums Liverpool

Statuette of Isis

Isis was originally an Egyptian goddess associated with Osiris. Her worship spread in Greece and Asia Minor during the 3rd and 2nd century BC and later on in Rome. Her cult became extremely popular and was even banned in the Roman Republic and Early Imperial era. 

She holds a metal sistrum and wears a chiton with sleeves and a tunic knotted around her breasts. She can be identified as Isis because of the way she is dressed. Her hair is typical of the goddess and her attendants. Her face is idealised and not showing any signs that it is a portrait of a priestess rather than the goddess.

Statuette of AsclepiusNational Museums Liverpool

Statue of Asclepius

Aslcepius was the god of healing and medicine. The son of Apollo, and according to the Delphic tradition, born in the temple of Apollo in Delphi. Asclepius’ most famous temple was in Epidauros, also well-known for its theatre. 

The statue is similar to the one in the Hermitage; it shows Asclepius as a bearded man with a paternal and calm expression and curly, heavily drilled hair. 

The cult of Asclepius developed in the late 5th century BC but gained extreme popularity during Roman times.

The snake around his baton is a symbol of the Asclepius’ healing powers. The large scale of this statue suggests that the statue was displayed in a public location, possibly a sanctuary, gymnasium or bath.

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